Start an 8-day data detox

20 Dec

Recommended to me by Mozilla, I started a Creative Commons-licensed “Data Detox” that was produced for the Glass Room London in 2017, and is curated by Tactical Technology Collective. It was originally a printed/PDF kit created for the Glass Room New-York in 2016.

I thought I might try that little exercise to see if I could learn something more about e-privacy. Turns out there were quite a few things that I did not know about, especially when it came to Google settings, and iPhone configuration. (I am currently using a salvaged iPhone 4 which does not want to die – better for the planet.)

The Data Detox runs over 8 days and runs you through little tasks you can follow to leave less of a data trail while using your Internet-connected devices.

It is of course not covering 100% of what could be said about e-privacy, but I was surprised at how much it taught me about a bunch of privacy settings in my Google account, and about location services in my iPhone. I would recommend following the detox even if you feel you have a good grasp of what you need to do to stay safe and anonymous on the Internet.

Here is a couple of things I would add to the tasks already offered by the Data Detox, in no particular order. Feel free to add those to the list if you feel motivated, or cherry-pick whatever you feel like doing.

  • Using a password manager like KeePassX (which is mentioned in the detox) is a good way to safely store a bunch of diverse and complicated passwords, but another benefit I have learned to appreciate is that it constitutes a record of how many accounts you own, and allows you to review which unused ones you could delete. Here’s a challenge: every time you add a new account and password, try to delete a different one (or two?) so you don’t build up a collection of them.
  • When reading your emails, start directly deleting the ones you know you will never go back to. That will make your email account less of a data trove waiting to be mined. Another benefit is that you are freeing some valuable storage space for your ethical privacy-respecting email account provider (because you use one, right?).
  • The Alternative App Centre that the detox recommends is good, but I would also recommend to have a look at the Free services that Framasoft offers (more directed at offering Free Software alternatives to the ones offered by the GAFAM: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, i.e. the main huge data silos of the Internet), as well as the list of alternatives from PRISM Break (more directed at privacy-respecting apps to fight state surveillance). Another excellent website that lists alternatives, tools, add-ons and services to protect your privacy, along with valuable information, is PrivacyTools.io.
  • Related to the previous point, if you specifically want to get away from data-gathering social networks, I recommend two decentralised Free Software-based alternatives: Mastodon as a Twitter replacement, and Diaspora* as a Facebook replacement. They are both mature projects with a lively healthy community to interact with.
  • Finally, the detox probably didn’t mention it because of the technical knowledge required to set it up, but I’d also recommend looking into self-hosting your own cloud services. Nextcloud, YunoHost and Sandstorm are good starting points. You can also find a service provider that uses Free Software and guarantees to respect your privacy in exchange for some money. I am currently a happy subscriber of IndieHosters (they use Nextcloud for the most part) but you can find more providers on Chatons.org (at the time of writing, 48 providers mainly located in France).
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