My Favorite Privacy Apps and Services

This is a collection of my most used privacy tools and services. I have not been paid or sponsored by any of them.

Firefox

Official site: https://www.mozilla.org/

Firefox has always been a great alternative to Chrome for privacy purposes. The team continues to improve privacy with every iteration. For example, Firefox will have a cache partitioning feature soon that will enhance privacy even more. Other browsers like Chrome and Safari already have this feature, but Safari isn’t as extensible as Firefox, and Chrome offers no privacy from Google itself. For the average user it’s probably best to go with FireFox and add the uBlock Origin extension to block advertisements everywhere.

Unfortunately, the future of Firefox is a little uncertain. But for now it’s still, in my opinion, the best browser if you’re privacy-conscious.

Brave Browser

Official site: https://brave.com/

Brave browser is essentially Chrome without the Google stuff and with ad-blocking built in. Brave offers its own ad network that respects user privacy and rewards users who opt-in to these ads with a cryptocurrency called Basic Attention Token (BAT).

Due to the crypto features and advertisements, this browser can be a bit controversial. However, all the crypto and advertisement features can be disabled, so it’s still worth a shot if you’re not interested in earning crypto.

Tor

Official site: https://www.torproject.org/

If you really care about privacy to the point where you want to be anonymous, use Tor. When using Tor, your connection goes through several Tor servers that encrypt connections multiple times along the way. This way, your connection is difficult to trace and decrypt. Tor is widely used by journalists, whistleblowers, and activists to remain safe from government surveillance and punishment. This is just the gist of it, feel free to read more details on the official site about how it works.

Signal

Official site: https://signal.org/

Signal is a cross-platform messaging app. If you’ve ever used iMessage on Apple devices, then it’ll feel familiar, except Signal is not exclusive to Apple hardware. Signal is free, open source, end-to-end encrypted, and peer-reviewed. It’s used by privacy advocates around the world.

It has all the essential features that you’d expect from a modern messaging application like sending photos/videos, calls, video chat, stickers.

Mullvad VPN

Official site: https://mullvad.net/en/

Mullvad VPN is open-source, does not log any activity (and has been audited to prove it), and afforable. I know many people out there opt to use free VPNs, but there’s a 99% chance they’re selling your information to marketing companies. It’s much better to pay for a VPN.

Mullvad even encourages you to remain as anonymous as possible when buying their service. You don’t need an email to sign up and you can pay with Bitcoin.

Mullvad VPN is based in Sweden, which has generally good privacy laws.

Standard Notes

Official site: https://standardnotes.org/

Standard Notes is a free, open-source, and encrypted note-taking application. There is a paid tier that allows you to add extra functionality and change themes. The free tier is pretty barebones but it gets the job done. I personally enjoy taking notes in Markdown so this is perfect for my purposes. Standard Notes will also sync notes between all your devices which is very convenient.

VSCodium

Official site: https://vscodium.com/

VSCodium is VSCode with telemetry disabled by default. When the VSCode binary is downloaded from Microsoft, it comes with telemetry automatically enabled. You can build VSCode from source and avoid telemetry, but it’s more convenient to simply download VSCodium. If you’re using Homebrew, it’s as easy as running brew install --cask vscodium.

Bitwarden

Official site: https://bitwarden.com/

Bitwarden is a free and open source password manager. It’s very similar to other password managers like LastPass. There is a paid tier that’s useful for organizations, but for individuals you’re probably fine with the free tier. They have been audited as of 2020 to ensure their security is good. They have apps available on all major platforms so you always have your passwords handy.

ProtonMail

Official site: https://protonmail.com/

ProtonMail is free and open source email based in Switzerland. Emails are encrypted. Keep in mind email isn’t private by design, as someone can forward your email and all of a sudden you lose any encryption benefits. I personally don’t mind if people forward my emails. I decided to use Protonmail to simply avoid my emails being mined for data.

This article points out some fundamental flaws with email and why it can’t be 100% private. It’s a bit pessimistic in my opinion, but it’s still worth a read. I think it’s okay to keep using ProtonMail for the sole purpose of preventing my emails from being scanned and my data sold.

I still keep Gmail around for job purposes since it’s the most popular and there seems to be a favorable bias toward Gmail addresses.

DuckDuckGo

Official site: https://duckduckgo.com/

Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo does not sell user information and does not track users as they search. As a search engine, DuckDuckGo generally gets the job done. I still find myself using Google from time to time, but DuckDuckGo has definitely been improving. I hope that some day I’ll be able to completely leave Google behind.

Little Snitch

Official site: https://www.obdev.at/products/littlesnitch/index.html

Little Snitch is a MacOS-only application firewall that runs on your Mac and monitors all incoming and outgoing connections. It allows you to allow or deny connections as needed and gives you plenty of information about what your applications are connecting to. This is a paid app (and there’s a free trial), but I think it’s worth it.

If you want a free alternative, check out LuLu. It has less features, but It’s worth a try if you want to see what your machine is connecting to. The same developer has other Mac-related applications that may be useful: objective-see.com.

Further Research

These are my favorite tools and services, but there are many, many others out there. If you want to claim back more of your privacy, start by reading through privacytools.io.

I’ve also learned a lot about privacy in these subreddits:

/r/privacy

/r/privacytoolsio

/r/degoogle