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Hacked iPhones, Instagram Privacy, Awesome Discounts for Students

Megan Ellis and Christian Cawley catch up to bring you the latest tech news that matters in the Really Useful Podcast, the tech podcast for technophobes.

This week, Megan has details about the launch of the Huawei Mate 30, an Android phone that significantly ships without Google apps. We also find out if your iPhone was hacked by a website, how you can get a free Grand Theft Auto game, and the end of MoviePass.

Plus some educational YouTube channels, Instagram privacy settings, and amazing discounts you can get with a .EDU email address.

Really Useful Podcast Season 4 Episode 4 Shownotes

What did we talk about this time?

Reckon you could help us reach more people? If you know anyone who would would benefit from some clarity about tech and how to make the most of phones, websites, and computers, share this podcast with them!

They’ll find the Really Useful Podcast on these services:

If you enjoyed this show, don’t forget to subscribe to the Really Useful Podcast today!



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Enjoy Total Freedom and Privacy on the Web With Le VPN

Back in the early 2000s, the web was pretty open and safe. There were no paywalls or restrictions, meaning you could just enjoy surfing. Unfortunately, times have changed. Many sites will only allow you to access content if you are in specific countries. Worse still, you are tracked around the web. If you want to escape the restrictions, Le VPN can help. This highly-rated service offers fast connections, total privacy, and military-grade security on all your devices. You can get a one-year subscription now for $59.99 at MakeUseOf Deals.

Total Freedom

To escape the spider’s web of paywalls, geo-restrictions, and trackers, you need a VPN that has a worldwide presence. With over 800 servers in 120 countries, Le VPN definitely fits that description.

Available on all major desktop and mobile platforms, this highly-rated service masks your IP address and physical location. At the same time, all your traffic is protected by AES-256 encryption. This means that no-one can track you across the web or hack your connection on public Wi-Fi. Just as importantly, Le VPN keeps no logs.

To help you stream content on sites such as iPlayer, Sky, and ITV, this VPN offers SmartDNS. This essentially masks your IP address without rerouting your traffic. As a result, you get a much faster connection — essential if you want to watch HD content.

One Year for $59.99

Order now for just $59.99 to get a one-year subscription, worth $119.40.



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Is It the Right Choice to Protect Your Privacy?

Looking for a VPN tool for macOS or iOS, but don’t know which service to choose? If you’re looking for an affordable and reliable VPN solution for your Mac, iPhone, iPad, or Android device,  Hotspot VPN might seem like an attractive option.

But does it deliver the private, secure, fast, and reliable VPN solution you’re looking for? Let’s find out.

Why Choose Hotspot VPN Unlimited?

Virtual Private Network (VPN) services should be fast, private, and secure. So why choose Hotspot VPN?

On offer is a product described as an “ultra-fast VPN,” something we’ll come back to later. Hotspot VPN offers unlimited browsing and streaming, and will keep you safe and anonymous when using a public Wi-Fi network.

The Hotspot VPN iPad app

Hotspot VPN supports content unblocking, which means you can use an overseas VPN to access certain sites. For example, many people in the UK use VPNs to access the US version of Netflix and its larger library. You can take advantage of more than 1,200 servers around the world to protect your online privacy and hide your IP address with Hotspot VPN.

How many devices do you want to protect with your VPN subscription? Hotspot VPN offers protection for up to five simultaneous connections from your account. So while you might have the app installed on more than this, only five can connect at once.

The ad-free service has no restrictions on use and offers “high quality” customer support, along with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Pricing for Hotspot VPN Unlimited

Thinking of signing up for this VPN service?

All you need to do is head to Hotspot VPN’s pricing page and select a package, add your email address, then pay. The service accepts major credit cards; there is no support for Bitcoin (or other cryptocurrency) or PayPal.

Three packages are on offer:

  • The 1-month plan is $9.99 per month
  • A 12-month plan is $27.99 a year, which works out to $2.33 a month
  • You can also select the “Lifelong plan” for a single $59.99 fee

Of course, there is no guarantee how long any VPN service service will stick around. As such, you might prefer to take the monthly or annual plan if you’re careful with cash.

Where Can You Install Hotspot VPN Unlimited?

Hotspot VPN is available on Apple devices, as well as Android. You will find two versions in the App Store: Hotspot VPN Unlimited Proxy X, and Hotspot VPN Best Super X+Free. The Unlimited Proxy X version is what’s linked on the developer’s website, so we reviewed this version on a first-generation iPad Air.

In addition, Hotspot VPN has a desktop version for macOS. The installation file for this is hosted on Google Drive, which is a bit out of the ordinary. In any case, the Mac offering has a similar appearance to the mobile app.

Finally, you’ll find the Android version of Hotspot VPN on Google Play.

Hotspot VPN: Easy to Set Up

You can sign up for Hotspot VPN on the website, or via the app. You’ll need to give permission in both macOS and iOS for the app to add a VPN configuration to your system.

Once your username and password are confirmed, simply sign into the Hotspot VPN app to start using it.

The Fast connection option selects the nearest quick VPN server for you to connect to. In testing, the first such VPN was based in the Netherlands. As I’m in the North East of the UK, this is not too surprising.

Choose fast or advanced in Hotspot VPN

An alternative Advanced connection is also available. When tapped, this states “IP address hidden”—but isn’t this the point of a VPN anyway? It’s not entirely clear what the Advanced mode brings to the party.

The side menu is largely for account management and feedback, though it also holds a tool for switching Protocols. These are not clearly labeled other than Protocol A, Protocol B, etc., with each configured in a specific way. For example, Protocol B is more suited to security and unblocking content.

The Protocols menu in VPN Hotspot

Like the Advanced connection option, this feature appears useful but brings a degree of obfuscation to an otherwise simple app.

What Can You Do With Hotspot VPN Unlimited?

Hotspot VPN features a straightforward user interface that makes the app easy to use. But what other benefits does it offer?

  • Get online quick: The Hotspot VPN app has a smart, intuitive user interface. With the app open, simply tap the Connect button to get online. You can select VPN servers from the dropdown menu at the top of the screen.
  • Surf anonymously: Hotspot VPN is designed to retain your privacy while surfing the web. So long as you’re not signed into websites and apps, your activity will be completely anonymous.
  • Stream video: When testing Hotspot VPN with Amazon Prime Video, we streamed an episode of The Grand Tour. The quality setting was set to Good, with the iPad situated within six feet of the router. Despite problems with the Prime Video app displaying TV and movie show covers, the video streamed well, with some occasional pixelization.

Is Hotspot VPN Really “Ultra-Fast”?

Hotspot VPN claims to be “ultra-fast,” but what does this really mean?

To find out, we compared connections using the Speedtest.com mobile app. On the first attempt, with the VPN enabled and connected to a London-based server, the Speedtest app also connected to a London server. You’ll notice the low ping rate (which is good).

Hotspot VPN speedtest with VPN on

Following this, we ran the test again with the VPN disabled. The Speedtest app connected to a UK server, this time closer, in Gateshead. Again, see the solid ping rate.

Hotspot VPN speedtest with VPN off

You’ll notice the results with the VPN connected are noticeably slower, although the ping rates also differ. It’s worth highlighting that the connection to the VPN dropped during the speed test, despite proximity to the router. It’s not clear why this happened, but certainly raises some questions.

Ultimately, “ultra-fast” appears to be marketing jargon. With everything considered, it’s likely that Hotspot VPN is no faster or slower than other VPN services.

Hotspot VPN’s Logging Policy

Hotspot VPN’s logging policy states the following:

  • “Hotspot VPN guarantees a strict no-logs policy for Hotspot VPN services, meaning that your activities using Hotspot VPN Services are provided by automated technical process, are not monitored, recorded, logged, stored or passed to any third party.”
  • “We do not store connection time stamps, session information, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses or other data.”

The recently updated privacy policy does not provide specific information about encryption protocols.

Hotspot VPN Privacy Updated

 

In addition, the policy states that “Hotspot VPN stores limited personal data for the whole period when the Hotspot VPN Services are used and for no longer than 2 years after last use of the App and/or the Services.”

How Private Is Hotspot VPN?

One of the key reasons to use a VPN is privacy. While the Hotspot VPN website details the level of encryption in use, we don’t know what VPN protocols is employs. There’s also no mention of OpenVPN support.

So while Hotspot VPN boasts a detailed logging policy, the service is something of a riddle. Any questions over the privacy of a VPN service should be a red flag.

Should You Use Hotspot VPN Unlimited?

Hotspot VPN is an affordable VPN service for macOS, iOS, and Android. We tested it on an iPad and were reasonably impressed.

In terms of the software and service, the app is good, the VPN service works, and the privacy policy is satisfactory. There is some question over its suitability for torrenting, but for video streaming, Hotspot VPN works fine.

Better still, the service is affordable, with one of the best VPN subscription prices available.

However, despite a logging policy that instills confidence, the absence of information about protocols and encryption should encourage you to look elsewhere for a VPN.



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A Kid’s Phone Watch for Privacy

Tracking your kids will become more private, secure, and safe when SpaceTalk, a 3G, GPS-equipped phone-watch for communicating with your kids, releases in the United States or United Kingdom in late 2019.

The SpaceTalk kid-tracking watch features all the basics, such as a torch light, and weather forecasts. For many, the higher attention paid to privacy may prove a key selling point. SpaceTalk specifically designed their device to keep your kid’s data from being sent across the ocean to remote servers. But there’s a lot more going on than just privacy.

SpaceTalk Watch: Safety and Security

image of spacetalk app

SpaceTalk comes with an application for ease of use.

The SpaceTalk app allows parents to remotely interface with their children through the smartwatch. It works like this, parents access the application in order to find their child’s whereabouts. If they want to update the watch’s firmware, they can also shoot off a remote update using the SpaceTalk application, which is available in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

Battery Life

While the watch doesn’t come with a lot of applications by design, it also gets longer battery life than you might expect. The SpaceTalk watch gets around two-days of battery life. But users can stretch the battery life out even longer if they decrease the GPS polling rate.

SpaceTalk’s SOS Button

spacetalk is a smartwatch for kids

Like many assistive technologies for kids (and equally appropriate for seniors), the SpaceTalk watch also permits the user to emit a SOS distress call through triggering a special button on the side of the watch. The SOS button works like similar devices. All the child needs to do is press the button and the SpaceTalk watch fires out a call, SMS, and notification to a pre-approved list of contacts.

SpaceTalk Watch Cost and Availability

The SpaceTalk watch is already available in Australia and New Zealand. It should release in the United States and elsewhere before the end of the year. The price in the UK will be GBP 199. It’s currently selling for 349 in Australian dollars.



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5 Tools to Understand Facebook’s Privacy Violations and Defeat It

Facebook is waging a war on many fronts today. It is misleading users into thinking their information is more secure than it is. It is using powerful political lobbies to influence government policies. And you can’t be anywhere on the internet without being tracked by Facebook.

If you don’t know how bad the situation is, you need to find out before it’s too late. These websites and apps explain why Facebook is a security and privacy nightmare


4 Reasons Why Facebook Is a Security and Privacy Nightmare




4 Reasons Why Facebook Is a Security and Privacy Nightmare

Facebook is no longer the king of the social media castle. If you value your anonymity, security, and privacy, here are some great reasons to quit Facebook today.
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, and suggest ways to take back control over your data.

Stop Using FB lists all the reasons you need to quit Facebook

Digital rights activist Joel Hernández wanted a single place where people could understand, in simple words, what Facebook was doing wrong. Stop Using Facebook is the weekend project he put together.

Go through the series of 15 bullet points. You’ll learn about the different ways in which Facebook is being immoral or unethical. Also, you will realize how badly it deals with the responsibility of being the world’s largest social network. These revelations include how Facebook is manipulating your emotions by showing specific content, to how some of its employees openly say they care more about money than ethics.

Each point is ably backed up by a link to a reputed source like news media, analysts, or fact-checkers. Then, Hernández lists “how” you can quit Facebook, providing alternatives to popular Facebook apps as recommended by Ethical.net.

2. Pretty Zucky (Web): Timeline of Facebook’s Privacy Misdeeds

Pretty Zucky is a timeline of Facebook's privacy misdeeds and violations since 2006 when it was formed

If you thought that the problems with Facebook are cropping up just now, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Facebook has always been problematic, as you can see with this timeline of its misdeeds with privacy-related matters.

Pretty Zucky tracks news about the social network from the time Zuckerberg left Harvard to work on it full-time. You’ll see that even back in 2006, users found the News Feed creepy, that Wired pointed out private profiles aren’t private, that it faced a class action suit in 2008, and that it first hired lobbyists back in 2009 to push its privacy agenda.

Each item on the timeline is a placard with a headline, a brief description or extract of the relevant information, and a link to the original source. From November 2005 to June 2019, you’ll see the growth of Facebook and how it pushed the boundaries of privacy.

3. Block FB (Chrome): Simple Extension to Block Facebook

Block FB is a simple Chrome extension to stop all Facebook activity in the browser

There are some excellent websites and apps to find out what Facebook knows about you and block it


6 Apps to Find What Facebook Knows About You (And How to Block It)




6 Apps to Find What Facebook Knows About You (And How to Block It)

These sites and apps will show you what Facebook knows about you, how it collects data, and what it does with it. Prepare yourself; it’s alarming.
Read More

. Firefox users can grab Mozilla’s own Facebook Container to thwart the social network, but there isn’t a Google Chrome version of it. For now, Block FB is one of the simplest ways for Chrome users to stop Facebook in its tracks.

The extension launches a two-pronged attack on Facebook. First, it blocks common Facebook URLs, such as the homepage, apps, developer pages, and so on. If you try to visit it, it simply won’t work.

Next, it also stops all Facebook tracking through elements like the Share button on a web page. By stopping a Facebook pixel from firing on a third-party’s page, the social network cannot create records of your browsing activity.

Download: Block FB for Chrome (Free)

Replace Facebook by SaaSHub has alternatives for every Facebook app and service

It’s great if you’ve decided to end your dependence on Facebook. But once you see Facebook owns several different services that you depend on, you might wonder if it’s possible to quit Facebook. SaaSHub created a handy page of all major Facebook products and its alternatives.

Each app has at least three alternatives, with their salient features. While the four big ones (Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram) deserve dedicated articles on them, it’s the smaller Facebook apps that matter.

This isn’t a list of privacy-centric apps alone. You will find apps from other companies which aren’t squeaky clean and even some that are as notorious as Facebook. The idea is to give you options and let you choose.

5. SocialVault (Web): Store and Re-Browse Your Facebook Data

SocialVault lets you store and browse all your facebook data even after deleting the account

If you delete your Facebook account, all the data you uploaded on it is going to be gone forever. Facebook lets you download all that data to your computer, but it’s likely going to be a large file and you can’t really browse it easily. SocialVault is a quick-fix solution to these problems.

SocialVault is built on Blockstack, the decentralized internet ecosystem, so you’ll need a Blockstack account to use it. Once you download all your Facebook information, follow SocialVault’s instructions to upload it all to the decentralized Gaia server, which is also automatically encrypted so that the app developer can’t see your data, while you get a backup.

Once the upload is finished, you’ll find an easy interface to browse the history of your Facebook data, such as posts, photos, and so on. There are currently some issues with large files and messages, but the developer intends to fix those soon.

Should You Deactivate or Delete Facebook?

These warnings and advice about Facebook make it clear that using the social network is detrimental to anyone who cares about their privacy and digital activity. If you think you can do away with Facebook entirely, it might be better to cut the cord for good.

But there’s a difference between deactivating and deleting Facebook


What Deactivating or Deleting Facebook Really Means for Privacy




What Deactivating or Deleting Facebook Really Means for Privacy

Thinking about quitting Facebook? Here’s how deleting or deactivating Facebook can improve your online privacy.
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. Deactivating your account still lets Facebook store your personal data on its servers. If you delete your account, that data will be erased after 30 days. But your privacy is still not entirely protected, as the article suggests.



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3 Google privacy tips for Mac and iOS users

Alternative search engines such as DuckDuckGo are attracting growing numbers of privacy focused users, but there’s no doubt that Google dominates the industry, even on Apple products. Fortunately, there are several ways to make your Google activity more private.

Do you have a Google account? (You probably do)

Do you use Gmail? Did you one use Google +? Perhaps you employ Google Drive, Google Docs or any of the company’s other products. If so, you have a Google account.

You can sign into this account online (at google.com) or through the app – just tap the identity icon at the top right of the browser and choose Account.

You’ll be directed to a page which offers several topics (Home, Personal Info, etc). The Home page lists multiple privacy and security topics.

These are tools that regulate your use of Google services via an Apple (or any) device, in a sense they override the privacy settings on your Apple product, so you should get to know Google’s settings, too.

How to control Web & App Activity on Google

Google collects information about your search and app activity. That is all the searches you’ve made, and more. It keeps this data indefinitely by default, but you can control this.

  • From the Home page in your Google account, tap Data & Personalization, and then choose Take the Privacy Checkup and select Activity Controls.
  • In the Web & App Activity section, select Manage Web & App Activity (this should be in blue).
  • You should see a note telling you this feature is active with a small grey icon beside it. Tap the icon and in the next page you’ll be able to toggle Web & App Activity to off, meaning Google will no longer gather some of this data.
  • You should then tap Manage Activity, written in blue below.

You will probably find your data is being kept automatically until you choose to delete it.

You can override that setting:

Tap Choose to Delete automatically and you’ll be presented with three options:

  • Keep until you delete it manually,
  • Or keep for 18-months and then delete automatically,
  • Or keep for three months until automatically deleting this data.

How long you choose is up to you: How often do you intend scratching away deep inside Google’s privacy settings?

Not too often, I imagine – I use the three-month option. I still think that’s too long for Google to be analysing my data, but it is at least automatically deleted, albeit three months later than I want. However, I also switch Web & App Activity off.

How to stop Google tracking your location

Google uses a huge host of technologies to track users. It gathers this data to help optimize its advertising business, as well as to support its services.

You should first find out what Google knows about where you have been. Visit myactivity.google.com and you’ll find a plethora of settings to control the company’s data collection.

These include the Web & App Activity we looked at above, and adds:

  • Device information
  • Voice & Audio Activity
  • YouTube Watch History
  • YouTube Search
  • Location History

There’s also a catch-all section called “Other Activity”.

While this seems to mainly consist of YouTube habits, it also includes Google Ads Settings, purchases and reservations (more below) and a host of other information, some of which you may not have realised Google keeps about you. There are over 20 topics in ‘Other Activity alone!

To control Location history, tap the blue Manage Activity button and see what data is there. I have mine toggled to Off, which means no data is collected.

To do so, tap Manage Location History (again) from the page that shows you where you’ve been on the map.

To delete item(s) from this history, select it and tap the insanely hard to see tiny black trashcan icon at the lower right area on the map.

How to stop Google knowing what you’ve purchased

If you use Gmail then you probably know that Google analyses your messages for information.

One thing you may not have known is that this analysis is smart enough to identify sales receipts and maintains a record of all the things you’ve ever bought that have sent a sales receipt to you. That’s all your Amazon purchases made via that Gmail account, for example.

You probably need to take a look at what they know.

Visit: myaccount.google.com/purchases and login to your Google account and you’ll see purchases split into Google purchases and Gmail confirmations. The latter will surface all the confirmation receipts you receive particularly from Amazon. That’s right, it means anyone who can get into your Google account can review all the items you purchased from Amazon when confirmation emails are sent to you by Gmail.

My advice?

Change your default Amazon account email address to use another email service. That’s a much easier way to stop this tracking than manually tapping on each purchase listing in order to choose “Remove Purchase” in the next window.

Explore the rest

I’ve really only scratched the surface of the information Google collects. It’s worth exploring all the sections listed on your myaccount.google.com pages as you attempt to control it – did you even realize it kept your travel reservations? I didn’t until I began writing this short article…

One more thing

If nothing else, the extent of the information Google holds about you – including recordings of all your Google Assistant requests – underlines why every user should be vigilant about the permissions for data collection they give any online service.

It’s also why everyone should enable dual factor authentication to access their account and use complex alphanumeric passcodes.

After all, it’s not just you and Google who has access to this information, it’s anyone who can guess your passcode.So don’t use 123456 as your password, please.

Also read: How to stay as private as possible on Apple’s iPad and iPhone.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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The best privacy and security apps for Android

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: If you’re looking for recommendations about Android security suites or other malware-scanning software, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Why? Because, like most people who closely study Android, I don’t recommend using those types of apps at all. Android malware isn’t the massive real-world threat it’s frequently made out to be, and Google Play Protect and other native Android features are more than enough to keep most devices safe.

There are, however, some areas where third-party apps can add valuable layers onto your Android security picture. They’re less about fighting off theoretical boogeymen and more about proactively protecting your accounts and data.

These are the actions that will actually boost privacy and security on your Android device, and the apps I’d suggest installing for each:

Manage your passwords

LastPass Password Manager

Your passwords are the gatekeepers to your digital life — for the foreseeable future, at least — and it’s up to you to make sure they’re properly armed. The secret? Let a password manager serve as your muscle. A good password manager makes it easy to create and maintain strong, unique passwords for however many apps, sites, and services you use.

And on Android, LastPass is the cream of the crop. I recently deemed it to be the best all-around password manager for Android — and for good reason: It’s thoughtfully designed, simple to use, and effective as can be at securely storing your credentials and allowing you to sign in anywhere a password is required.

Once LastPass learns (or creates) your various sign-ins, it’ll pop up a box with autofill info anytime you’re prompted to sign into a service — be it through an app or on a website within your favorite Android browser. All you have to do is touch your finger to your phone’s fingerprint sensor, confirm the credentials you want to use, and that’s it: LastPass handles the rest.

android privacy security apps lastpass JR Raphael/IDG

LastPass takes the pain out of creating and then using complex passwords all across Android.

LastPass works equally well on the desktop and seamlessly syncs your info across multiple devices and platforms (using its own secure cloud storage and device-level encryption). Its core features are completely free, while a $36-a-year premium subscription will get you expanded storage space for notes and documents, the ability to use advanced two-factor authentication methods, and the ability to create an emergency access plan that’d give someone else access to your account after an extended period of inactivity.

Family plans, team plans, and enterprise plans are also available for $48 a year (for up to six people), $48 per user per year, and $72 per user per year, respectively.

Protect your accounts with 2FA

Authy 2-Factor Authentication

Aside from using strong passwords, the smartest thing you can do to keep your online accounts safe is to use two-factor authentication everywhere it’s offered. Two-factor authentication requires you to have a second form of identifying information — like a code generated by an app on your phone — in addition to your primary password, thus making it substantially more difficult for a modern-day ruffian to get into your account.

The best app for managing two-factor authentication on Android is Authy. The Twilio-owned program outshines Google’s own Authenticator offering with a modern, intuitive design that makes it a cinch to find and copy codes for any number of 2FA-enabled accounts. It has handy advanced features like support for app-level fingerprint protection, too, and you can even set Authy up to function on multiple devices — including, if you’re so inclined, your desktop computer.

Authy is free.

Secure your connection

NordVPN

Virtual private networks, or VPNs, can be an effective way of keeping your phone-based data transmissions private and secure — particularly when you’re using public Wi-Fi networks, which are notorious for letting outsiders “snoop” and see all sorts of sensitive info from your sessions.

Your best bet for work is to use your company’s own VPN service, assuming an app for it is available. If not, NordVPN is one of the most widely recommended third-party options, earning strong praise from privacy guru (and frequent Computerworld contributor) Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols and landing within the top Android VPN picks of Android Central, PCMag, TechRadar, Tom’s Guide, and numerous other prominent outlets.

The service taps into nearly 5,500 servers across five dozen countries and promises “military-grade” encryption for all your mobile traffic. It’ll set you back 12 bucks a month, $7 a month if you pay for a year in advance, or $4 a month if you’re willing to pay a lump sum of $96 up front for two years of service.

Android privacy security apps - NordVPN JR Raphael / IDG

NordVPN allows you to create secure connections from a variety of servers around the world.

Now, all of this isn’t to say that other Android VPN providers won’t be effective. Evaluating a VPN app is incredibly complex and difficult to do definitively — and the number of variables involved makes it virtually impossible to offer an unconditional recommendation. (The good folks at Ars Technica sum up the challenge well.) Heck, one look at this comparison chart by That One Privacy Site — a highly regarded independent VPN reviewer cited by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among other noteworthy organizations — is enough to make you want to crawl into a bunker and live a life free from all networked technology.

Until we have a standardized system for effectively auditing VPNs and their many layers, most privacy experts suggest going with a well-reviewed and widely evaluated service from a reputable provider. NordVPN fits that description to a T — more so than any other contender at the moment — hence its inclusion in this collection.

Encrypt your emails

ProtonMail

When you need to know your emails won’t be intercepted, ProtonMail is the app you want to use. Founded by scientists at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), ProtonMail uses an open-source method of end-to-end encryption to keep your messages safe from prying eyes. You don’t have to provide any personal information, and the company says it keeps no records of IP addresses or anything else that could link you to your account. In fact, the company says even its own employees couldn’t read or access your messages if they wanted to.

(You might have heard of ProtonMail on the TV show Mr. Robot, by the way — where master hacker Elliot Alderson uses the app to secure transmissions — as well as in the news by way of Cambridge Analytica, the “data analytics” firm at the center of the Facebook data debacle, which apparently used ProtonMail to create secure and self-destructing messages.)

The best part about all of ProtonMail’s security is that it requires next to no effort on your behalf: You simply create an account with the service and then email away. If you’re emailing someone else with a ProtonMail address, encryption is automatic. If you need to contact someone with a non-ProtonMail address, you can tap an icon in the app’s compose tool to create a password and a hint; the recipient will then be sent only that information and will have to use the password to decrypt your message.

Android privacy security apps - ProtonMail JR Raphael / IDG

ProtonMail’s encryption is both effective and easy to use — even with recipients who aren’t using ProtonMail themselves.

Security aside, ProtonMail’s Android app is cleanly designed and pleasant to use. The app has customizable labels and folders and even allows you to define custom swipe gestures for your inbox (swiping left on a message to mark it as read, for instance, and swiping right to archive or delete). And, yes, it has an option for creating self-destructing messages, should the need ever arise.

ProtonMail is free at its most basic level, which includes one address, 500MB of storage, and up to 150 messages a day. You can get more storage, more messages per day, and additional features — including email filters, an auto-responder system, and support for custom domains — starting at $48 a year.

Encrypt your texts and calls

Signal Private Messenger

Signal does for texting what ProtonMail does for email: The open-source service allows you to communicate securely with contacts, using end-to-end encryption and without any of your data ever being accessed or stored on a remote server. The app also now allows you to conduct encrypted voice and video calls with other Signal users.

On the surface, Signal looks and feels just like any other texting app: You can find people from your regular contacts database or simply enter a phone number to start a conversation. If the other person also uses Signal, the conversation will be secure — and you’ll see the option to launch a secure voice or video chat as well. If your recipient isn’t using Signal, you’ll still be able to text normally and will see a prominent “Unsecured SMS” warning in the message field.

Android privacy security apps - Signal JR Raphael / IDG

Signal feels like any other texting app, but when you communicate with another Signal user, all of your transmissions are automatically encrypted.

Signal is free, and no accounts are required; you just open the app, input and then verify your phone number, and you’re ready to roll.

Turn up your browser privacy dial

Firefox Focus

Firefox Focus provides the simplest and most effortless private browsing experience on Android. Quite literally, all you do is open the app and go: No history, cookies, or passwords are ever saved, and the app automatically blocks trackers and ads across the web. When you’re done with a page, you tap a floating trash can icon in the corner of the screen, and poof: It’s gone forever, with no trail left behind.

android privacy security apps firefox focus JR Raphael/IDG

Firefox Focus makes privacy-first browsing as simple as can be.

Firefox Focus, which is free, has a handful of settings for controlling the nuances of its blocking features, but there’s really not much more to it. If you want to browse the web without leaving a trace (at least, as far as the browser itself is concerned), this is by far the easiest way to do it.

Note: Mozilla recently announced that it is putting the development of Focus on hold as it works on a new Android browser, currently called Firefox Preview and due to be released later this year. The company says that the new app will have all the privacy features of Focus combined with full browser features, and it sounds like it may eventually replace Focus. We’ll revisit our recommendation when the new app is released, but for now, Focus is still around and still the best and simplest privacy-centric browser out there.

Brave Browser

For private browsing power in a more traditional browser environment, Brave Browser is the way to go. The free app — created by a co-founder of Mozilla, the company behind Firefox — looks and acts an awful lot like Google’s Chrome Android browser. (Perhaps not surprisingly, the program uses Google’s open source Chromium code as its base.)

Brave’s main interface and menus are almost undistinguishable from Chrome’s, in fact, and the app even has Chrome-reminiscent History, Downloads, and Bookmarks sections along with features for auto-filling information and saving passwords (though the data from those areas won’t sync with your Google account or be available on other devices, as it would in Chrome).

On top of that foundation, however, Brave includes a variety of built-in tools for blocking ads, pop-ups, scripts, and different types of website-based tracking systems. Unlike Firefox Focus, it doesn’t operate in a permanent incognito mode — so if you want to avoid having your history, cookies, site data, and cache saved, you’ll have to either manually open incognito windows (just like you would in Chrome) or dig through the app’s settings to clear that data whenever needed.

android privacy security apps brave JR Raphael/IDG

Brave is basically like Chrome — only with a bunch of extra privacy-oriented options added in.

It’s less of a no-frills, purely private browser and more of a standard browser with additional privacy features baked in — which could be an asset or a liability, depending on your preferences.

Avoid unnecessary app permissions

Bouncer

Apps often require sensitive system permissions in order to perform their full range of functions — but if you tap into some of those functions only on occasion, you might not want to leave the associated permissions active forever.

The aptly named Bouncer app is an easy way to make your permission decisions more nuanced. With Bouncer on your phone, every time you give an app a new permission — be it for accessing your location, getting on the internet, viewing your phone’s storage, or whatever the case may be — you’ll see a notification appear at the top of your device. You can tap that notification to tell Bouncer to remove the permission as soon as you exit the app (by switching to another app or returning to your home screen) or after a set amount of time.



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What Is “Do Not Track” and Does It Protect Your Privacy?

All of the major web browsers offer a Do Not Track feature which lets websites know that you don’t want to be tracked. It seems like a great idea, but does it protect your privacy?

Let’s take a look at the evidence provided for us to decide for ourselves.

What Is “Do Not Track”?

Woman at the office making a stop gesture with hands
Image Credit: AsierRomeroCarballo/DepositPhotos

According to DoNotTrack.us:

“Do Not Track is a technology and policy proposal that enables users to opt out of tracking by websites they do not visit, including analytics services, advertising networks, and social platforms.”

When you tick the Do Not Track box in your browser’s settings, your browser adds an HTTP header to all of your web traffic. This lets websites know that you don’t want them to track you. You don’t wish for tracking cookies from analytics or advertising networks, and you don’t want information about your browsing transmitted to social networks.

Ideally, this means you wouldn’t receive browser cookies that enable ad retargeting or the mass collection of data about your browsing habits. Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, this HTTP header can, in theory, be ignored by the website. Nothing is stopping an organization from tracking you, even after you ask nicely.

As such, let’s explore whether or not organizations are allowed to ignore your request not to track you.

Is “Do Not Track” Legally Enforced?

A hammer and gavel to represent law
Image Credit: JanPietruszka/DepositPhotos

In a perfect world, any website receiving web traffic with a Do Not Track header would do just that: not track the user. The idea to make it legally binding has been proposed to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) several times.

Deciding not to get officially involved in the privacy of users, the FTC instead tasked the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to work out the details of the Do Not Track technology. Unfortunately, the W3C includes Adobe, Facebook, Google, eBay, Netflix, PayPal, Kaiser Permanente, Twitter, Yahoo!, and a couple of hundred other organizations, many of which are interested in collecting your data.

As a result, the case of making “Do Not Track” a legally binding requirement fizzled out. Businesses could freely disregard the Do Not Track setting without fear of legal repercussion. As such, businesses were free to choose if they wanted to respect it or not.

Does “Do Not Track” Work?

These days, only a small number of websites respect Do Not Track. The rest will ignore the request, and some will even show you privacy-related advertisements in the assumption that it’s relevant to your interests.

As a result, the tech world’s faith in Do Not Track is slowly diminishing. When Internet Explorer 10 was released, Microsoft enabled Do Not Track in the browser by default. They stated that users should make a conscious decision to share information with advertisers, and not the other way around.

The Digital Advertising Alliance made a fuss. As a result, Microsoft gave in to the demands; as of Windows 10, users now have to turn on the feature themselves. Now their privacy statement says:

“Because there is not yet a common understanding of how to interpret the [Do Not Track] signal, Microsoft services do not currently respond to browser [Do Not Track] signals.”

Online service providers commonly used this as a reason to not respect the setting. No standard or law backs up Do Not Track, and as such, there is no incentive for anyone to use it.

Although some companies—including, Twitter, Medium, Reddit, and Pinterest—have committed to respecting users’ Do Not Track requests, most advertisers ignore it. They cite a lack of an implemented standard, while also not putting effort into actually creating one.

As a result, the “Do Not Track” option in your browser doesn’t do much. While some companies do honor it, it has no legally binding requirements to back it up. Companies that want to track you can and will ignore the tag and harvest your information regardless.

How to Protect Your Online Browser Privacy

Do Not Track is a great idea, but the lack of solid rules and the broader industry decision to ignore it was its downfall. Despite this, there are other options you can use to protect your privacy.

Set Your Browser to Reject Third-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are from the websites you visit, and they can be beneficial. Third-party cookies, however, come from advertisers and social networks and track you around the internet.

Opt Out of as Many Tracking Services as You Can

There are a lot of them, and many don’t offer an opt-out solution, but you can opt-out of the big ones, like Facebook and Google. You can also go to NetworkAdvertising.org/choices to opt-out of ad networks, but the effectiveness of this is questionable.

Use Browser Extensions to Limit Tracking

Several browser extensions are available that protect you from third-party tracking. Disconnect.me is probably your best bet, though you should be able to find some others.

Use a Privacy-Focused Browser

Some browsers, like Epic and Dragon, commit to your privacy. Others, like Tor, which we’ve discussed at length


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, aims to absolutely maximize privacy.

For a full explanation of avoiding internet surveillance, check out “Avoiding internet Surveillance: The Complete Guide


Avoiding Internet Surveillance: The Complete Guide




Avoiding Internet Surveillance: The Complete Guide

Internet surveillance continues to be a hot topic so we’ve produced this comprehensive resource on why it’s such a big deal, who’s behind it, whether you can completely avoid it, and more.
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.” It has everything a beginner and intermediate privacy enthusiast would need to beef up their security.

Take Online Privacy Into Your Own Hands

Do Not Track is a great idea, but when it comes down it, the technology has no bite. Companies can—and usually do—choose to ignore it and face no consequences for doing so.

Despite this, you should enable the setting for the few sites that honor the setting. If you want to keep organizations from tracking you across the internet, however, you’ll need to do more than send a polite request. You’ll need to take your privacy into your own hands with more direct measures.

Ready to take control of your privacy? Time to subscribe to one of the best VPN services


The Best VPN Services




The Best VPN Services

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for some ideas.



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Privacy Precautions for Travel, Use Technology for Vacations

Planning a trip this summer? Looking forward to a hot vacation, or simply traveling to see family and friends? Whatever you’re up to, it helps to plan in advance, stay secure, and not share your activity online.

In this Really Useful Podcast we take a look what precautions you can take for travel and vacations and how technology can help.

Really Useful Podcast Season 3 Episode 9 Shownotes

In this week’s show:

Want to hear more from James Frew and Christian Cawley? They’re on Twitter, so why not give them a follow?

This is the tech podcast for technophobes. It would be great if you could share our podcast with any friends or family you think would benefit from clarity and honesty about technology. Show them how to subscribe to the Really Useful Podcast on:

We’re taking a few weeks off for the summer—we’ll see you in September.



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How Facial Recognition Search Is Destroying Your Privacy

Facial recognition technology has quickly moved from science fiction to reality. Over the past few years, companies have been racing to release facial recognition products. You can now unlock your phone, board a plane, and enter your home without lifting a finger.

Governments, too, have been quick to chase the facial recognition trend. Law enforcement agencies around the world have begun deploying invasive and controversial monitoring products. But, with so much development and so little regulation, could facial recognition technologies spell the end of individual privacy?

How Does Facial Recognition Work?

President's face on a dollar bill with facial recognition patterns mapped
Image Credit: watman/DepositPhotos

Security cameras and video surveillance have become ever more present since the cities began rolling out Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras in the mid-1990s. These cameras capture events, help detect and prosecute crimes and make many people feel safer.

In the decades since computer hardware and software have improved rapidly. There’s also been a proliferation of smartphones, which we collectively use to take and post millions of photos and videos each day.

Facial recognition systems make use of this abundance of visual data. The photos and videos are analyzed using software that often contains elements of machine learning and artificial intelligence. These algorithms look for, analyze, and store identifying facial information.

Just as your web browser can be used to identify you, so too can your facial data. This information is stored in a facial recognition database and is used to compare new images and video against. These databases are often controversial as there is no way to remove yourself from them. The databases may be operated by private companies or by governmental bodies and law enforcement.

The Surveillance State

Security camera on office building
Image Credit: blasbike/DepositPhotos

Law enforcement has been using facial recognition systems since at least 2001. A system was set up for Super Bowl XXXV which resulted in 19 people being provisionally identified as holding criminal records.

However, as the cost decreased and availability has increased, facial recognition has become commonplace. It’s not unusual to have your face scanned at an airport. The US Department of Homeland Security expects to use facial recognition on 97 percent of travelers by 2023.

While it proved effective at identifying 7,000 passengers who had overstayed their visa, many have raised concerns about the government building a facial database of millions of passengers. It would be easy to share this database with other departments or even foreign governments.

As with many governmental programs, like all the times our data was handed over to the NSA


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, we have little say in their deployment. This raises the unnerving possibility that you might be incorrectly flagged as a concern, your face used to identify you around the world, and with no recourse to change this.

In March 2017, a House oversight committee was told that over half of all adult Americans’ photographs are stored in facial recognition databases accessible by the FBI. More than 80 percent of those photographs came from non-criminal sources like passports and driver’s licenses. Even more worrying was that the algorithms used are wrong 15 percent of the time and are more likely to misidentify black people.

In the UK, London’s Metropolitan Police ran facial recognition trials throughout 2018 and 2019. The results of those trials were published in June 2019, where it was revealed how invasive, yet ineffective the systems are. Out of the 42 people stopped as a result of the trials, just eight were correctly identified as wanted.

Photography and Photo Tagging

Photo of four people with facial recognition tagging
Image Credit: Corepics/DepositPhotos

Facebook was one of the first websites to popularize the idea of tagging someone in a photograph. In the early days, this was a manual process where you had to click through your photos and enter the names of each of your friends.

The company soon realized that they could do this for you automatically. They had amassed a vast database of faces that had already been tagged as specific individuals which could be analyzed. Now, if you upload a photo onto Facebook, the social network will automatically suggest who is in the photo using a Facebook facial recognition search.

Some people viewed this as an invasion of privacy as you were auto-enrolled in the feature. The EU even ruled that Facebook had to turn the feature off in member states. However, after the 2018 implementation of the EU’s GDPR, Facebook subsequently turned it back on. If you’d prefer the company wasn’t identifying your face, you may want to take a look at the Facebook photo privacy settings you should know about


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Facebook Photo Privacy Settings You Need To Know About

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.

Facebook isn’t the only large technology company to experiment with facial recognition in your photos. Apple and Google both offer similar features in their cloud photo storage. One of the main differences, though, is that Facebook identifies the person in the photo; Google and Apple group similar faces together for you to assign a name to.

Facial Recognition in Business

Screenshot of Amazon's Rekognition marketing website

More recently, facial recognition has filtered into our offline lives too. The world’s largest retailer, Amazon, has been expanding into physical shops with their acquisition of Whole Foods, and the Amazon Go grocery stores. The Amazon Go stores are checkout-free, and although they do rely on cameras, they reportedly don’t use facial recognition.

The company has developed a facial recognition product though, dubbed Amazon Rekognition. The company has licensed the product to law enforcement agencies in the US. These agreements were put in place just as Congress was considering drafting regulation of facial recognition.

Civil liberties groups campaigned hard against the adoption of such a system. However, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. At the time of writing, Congress has declined to regulate facial recognition, and Amazon’s board voted to continue selling the software. Their lack of transparency makes them one of the companies that don’t really care about your security


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.

Facial recognition is also being used even at live music venues. A system was in place during Taylor Swift’s Rose Bowl concert in May 2018. According to Rolling Stone, a kiosk set up to allow fans to watch a recording of Swift’s rehearsal had a facial recognition camera hidden inside.

Each face was sent to a command post in Nashville. There, a facial recognition search was done against a database of known Taylor Swift stalkers. Being up-front about their use of this technology may have decreased its usefulness but does call into question the ethics of doing so without informing the vast majority of law-abiding music fans whose faces were scanned.

Can You Protect Yourself From Facial Recognition?

In isolation, facial recognition systems seem useful. In theory, they can help identify criminals, enable us to seamlessly login to our devices, and automatically organize our photo collections. However, without regulation, they may contribute to the erosion of your privacy. The fast pace of change in technology makes it difficult for regulators to keep up.

It doesn’t help that the large businesses who operate these systems hold tremendous influence over the debate. The implementation of facial recognition is often sold to us under the guise of security. However, you may wonder if the current trade-off is worth sacrificing your right to privacy for.

If you’d rather your face wasn’t scanned at every available opportunity, consider using one of these techniques to avoid facial recognition


4 Ways to Avoid Facial Recognition Online and in Public




4 Ways to Avoid Facial Recognition Online and in Public

Facial recognition is becoming an increasing privacy concern. How can you avoid facial recognition surveillance and ads?
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.



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