Privacy Tools That Help You Protect Your Personal Data
Services like DuckDuckGo, ProtonMail, and Signal allow you to have a digital life without sharing too much info
Facebook, Google, and other tech giants are so adept at tracking our every move via our electronic devices that it can be hard to imagine escaping their digital surveillance. But Americans are getting savvier about protecting their personal info, too.
According to a recent Consumer Reports survey,* 60 percent now bar mobile apps from accessing the camera, GPS data, and contact list on their phones. And half protect their online accounts with two-factor authentication.
If you're ready to get serious about safeguarding your data, here are some privacy-friendly alternatives to Google's search engine and Gmail, and Facebook's WhatsApp messaging service.
Search Savvy: DuckDuckGo
Each time you do a web search using Google, the company archives the details of that search, alongside data on your web-browsing history, to help target you with personalized ads. (The company serves ads to millions of sites, and it can note each time you go to those sites, too.) With DuckDuckGo, you can avoid that tracking. The search engine delivers the info you request without building a user profile, generating revenue by showing you ads related only to that single query. Type in “women’s running shoes” and appropriate ads pop up on DuckDuckGo’s results page—and nowhere else.
Encrypted Email: ProtonMail
Free email services, such as Gmail and Yahoo Mail, may scan your communications for anything from ad targeting to integrating mail with other apps.
Better Messaging: Signal
This isn’t the only messaging app to provide end-to-end encryption, scrambling data so that only the sender and recipient can read the contents. But Signal—available on Android phones, iPhones, and desktops—stands out for several reasons. It lets you send messages that self-delete from both parties’ phones (though the recipient could preserve the contents in a screenshot). And according to its creators, the service does not store your user name, location, or data related to your contact list—info that others, such as Facebook’s WhatsApp, can use for marketing. Signal has even tested a feature that lets you encrypt other metadata, so would-be snoops can’t identify who wrote the texts.
How Targeted Ads Work
Do you often see online ads that relate to your likes and hobbies? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports expert Thomas Germain explains to host Jack Rico what targeted ads are and how they work.
Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the October 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.