Remember those FBI surveillance memes? When we all joked about someone watching our online activity? As the country awaits the final verdict on the Anti-Terror Bill, many of us are also becoming aware of how dangerous it might be to continue sharing our thoughts, concerns, critiques and woes on the internet. Let’s be real—the internet is a scary place that never forgets. Embarrassing selfies from ages ago cannot be scrubbed off, online stan culture can find any incriminating statement published online and hackers can access the public’s personal data just by hacking a telco company’s Twitter account.
Thankfully, measures exist to lessen the risk of cybercrime, mass surveillance and to protect one’s online privacy. I won’t be going into a full-on “Mr. Robot” deep dive, but I will show you some of the basic ways you can lead a private online life (without resorting to gay lingo, jejemon or conyo language).
If you’re not using a search engine that doesn’t log search history like DuckDuckGo or Startpage, then you’ve probably said “wow, Google knows exactly what I’m looking for” to yourself a bunch of times. When your question was automatically completed in the search bar, this is a classic example of internet browsers keeping tabs on your search and browsing history.
Normally, your browser records the websites you visit, information on forms you’ve filled out, searches and downloads. Some of these settings can be toggled with, in order to disable autocomplete for forms or passwords and you can even say no to a website trying to collect your cookies.
Incognito or private mode essentially protects your data from other people who might be snooping around on your phone or computer. When turned on, the browser won’t be storing your search history or passwords. The accounts you logged on to will also be considered isolated sessions, meaning that once you exit the incognito window, the browser will no longer be able to autocomplete that embarrassing email you use for Facebook.
It’s important to remember though that incognito mode only protects you from the browser recording your online movements. What you put out into the world wide web, even if you’re on private browsing, will still be there after and will still be tied to your social media handle or username.
Social media privacy settings
Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can easily become a hive of personal information that you didn’t mean to share. Aside from selfies, you can “check-in” and have your posts or stories geo-tagged, join a group that can be infiltrated and even identify your family members and closest friends with the photo tagging feature.
While I’m not telling you to stop doing these things—because hey, I love joining Facebook groups—the first thing you can do to safeguard privacy is to switch your profile from public to private. Make sure that you only accept people you know as your friends or followers. From there, you can control who sees posts and who can send you further friend or follower requests. You can also block people from seeing or sharing your stories on Instagram. Twitter is rolling out a new feature that helps you limit the number of people who can reply to you. You can also disconnect your account from apps that have access to your email address, like shopping or mobile wallet apps.
You can explore the privacy settings of the app you use (especially now when there’s nothing but time on your hands) to make sure that you’re personalizing your settings. Not all apps are the same and some can offer a bit more privacy than others. A good rule of thumb though? Try not to post anything personal that can be used to locate or identify you—no more passport pictures, or online shopping pictures where your card is visible and no more “lunch with my officemates” selfies where an ID can be seen.
Encryption is the process of encoding information to make sure that no one except the intended recipient reads the message. It’s like when you’d assign codenames to your high school crush to make sure no one knows you have a crush on them.
Of course, technology has become far more complicated than high school gossip. The way modern message encryption works is that an algorithm converts a message into a random set of characters and when opened by the intended contact, the algorithm breaks it down again to the original message. It also ensures that what you send using your mobile phone won’t be reflected in other gadgets that you have also logged into. It also protects against online monitoring. No one but you and the person you’re contacting can see the message.
For reference, here are the messaging apps that use end-to-end encryption: Viber, Wire, Threema, Wickr, Signal and Line. They’re all available on IOS, Android and on your browser. Telegram and KakaoTalk don’t automatically enable end-to-end encryption, it needs to be activated. Sadly, Messenger, Instagram, Twitter and Zoom are not as safe as they don’t have end-to-end encryption protocols.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Knowing the implications of having your data mined and used against you, a VPN is your best bet against that happening. When a VPN is activated, it encrypts all data you send out and hides your location. VPNs offer secure and private browsing by changing your IP address. In some cases, VPNs have been used to access content that normally isn’t available in your own country with the geoshifting feature.
VPNs can be intimidating for first-timers, especially when there’s no easy verification process on how trustworthy a VPN is. Still, there are really good ones that take online privacy seriously. Wirecutter, The New York Times’ resource for gears and gadgets, recommends Tunnel Bear because of its highly transparent reports that confirm they aren’t logging customer traffic for their own profit. The process for using their service is easy to understand, once you have the app, you simply have to turn the VPN on, select a location and wait for it to connect, and once you get it running, it works on its own, in the background, without you having to check up or update every time.
There are some free VPN services like Monster VPN that are also pretty reliable in terms of keeping your online traffic private, but it’s best to look into other safer and more trustworthy ones, like ExpressVPN or Mullvad. They do come with a hefty price but it’s still a worthwhile investment that will not only protect you now but can serve you even later on.
Don’t give up, join the Anti-Terror Bill email protests
Sharpen your wits, we’re using secret languages to protest now
Here’s a list of #JunkTerrorBill protests and indignation rallies
The people of the internet have spoken and they said #JunkTerrorBill