CC.4: Privacy tools and strategies

  • Of the strategies and tools that we discussed, which have you used?
  • What is your experience using and/or teaching them?

I’ve been using Firefox for years with a variety of different add-ons. My favorite was one I had in high school that was specifically designed to click on every single ad link in the backgound, so that Google couldn’t collect any useful data on your interests. It just looked like you clicked on every single ad. Predictably, that made my computer run like a tortoise, so I did sadly have to get rid of it and then forgot the name of it. I currently use the Strict privacy mode except when I get mad because it breaks sites I am forced to use for school. PrivacyBadger, UBlockOrigin, Cookie AutoDelete, and ClearCache. I also like to utilize the Firefix master password function, and don’t allow password or email autofill.

For my password manager, I actually use LessPass (not LastPass). It’s a bit of a controversial tool, but I like it because it’s a password encryptor that I can host on my own device (rather than on a website, which could be mined). There’s a master password to get in, and then I use unique passwords with different generation rules for each website. I recognize that it has its own flaws, but I feel pretty good about the way that I use it, and I like not having my passwords stored anywhere. In the past I have used both Dashlane and Bitwarden, and just got a bit uncomfortable with them (fortunately before the data breaches). LessPass also has an app version, and will store the rules for generating your passwords to a shared account, but not the passwords themselves. I’ve found it to be the easiest to use, actually, because it doesn’t ever try to autofill the wrong password. Dashlane used to make me scream with frustration because of how aggressively it would autofill (usually on the wrong website).

I utilize DuckDuckGo probably 50% of the time. If I really really don’t want anyone to know what I’m doing, I use DDG and Tor, but I’d say the majority of my browsing I do via either Google or DDG on Firefox incognito mode. I have a protonmail account that I don’t utilize as well as I probably should, but I do use the ProtonVPN pretty heavily. Most of the emails that I send are not sensitive, so I don’t tend to bother. My mortgage and loan information though, I utilize ProtonMail for.

With my phone, I have an iPhone. I also do this weird thing where I don’t like to have all my apple products connected to the same apple ID. I don’t really know why, it just bothers me, so my laptop and iPad both have separate apple IDs. I have Signal and WhatsApp, but they’re mostly just my backup for if I ever need to commit crimes or discuss committing them. I don’t have a lot of buy in from friends and I tend not to text enough to feel like it’s a useful alternative. I like to use a VPN on my phone, for whatever good it does (it mostly just breaks my apps). I’ve been going back and forth about going back to a dumb phone for years. I’ve looked into Punkt and MuditaPure and both are appealing, just a bit expensive to test if they don’t end up working. I particularly like phone models that allow you to turn the phone completely off with a button or manually disconnect the microphone and camera (I think one of the sustainable repairable phones has this feature?). The appeal for the Punkt. or MuditaPure would be largely the removal of screens from my life, because they would essentially remove my ability to use secure messaging like Signal or WhatsApp.

Some other things I have been thinking about within reproductive justice threat models are wearables and cars with GPS functions. I utilize the dumbest Garmin model, the Vivomove HR 1 or 2, but it does track heart rate and steps etc. and can connect to my phone to sync information. My car is also a 2013 so it has a pre-installed GPS system. Also Garmin, who, last time I checked, has pretty good privacy policies, but not something I’d want to gamble with. I’ve warned all my friends that if abortion does become restricted, they need to think about the computerized components of the car they might drive to seek care. This is less of an issue for situations where someone can access pills in the mail, but if someone has to cross state lines, navigating with an old fashioned map in a car that does not have GPS in it would be the safest way.

I think the biggest hurdle to teaching these tools has been trying to get buy in. They do decrease usability of devices, and my extended family is pretty happy to trade security for convenience. That’s their decision, but I try to explain to them why some of this could be bad. For my husband, the additional steps involved in using a password manager etc. can make his already sporadic communication even worse. He has pretty severe ADHD, which can make it hard for him to accomplish the additional steps needed to keep these things secure, so he utilizes the built in password manager on his iPhone and Firefox. The biggest barrier I face is people asking why they should care if they’re not a criminal. Which, the answer to that is so multifaceted and takes so long to explain that I tend to say something quippy about hating Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg unless someone is actually interested.

Like grapebasil, I also own an iPhone, although until this week’s class I did not realize how much better it was than other phones with regards to privacy and security. I do appreciate that in the past year or two, they’ve added a feature that helps users determine which apps are tracking data.

Aside from iPhone usage, I do also predominantly use end-to-end encrypted messaging services like Signal or WhatsApp. I am not a frequent texter (nor are most of my friends), so it’s been relatively easy to get most of my friends (especially Android using friends) to switch. However, I am not very careful with my phone calls at the moment! I tend to default to typical cell service phone calls, since several of the people I call don’t have access to consistent WiFi and I dislike video chatting since I’m often doing chores or walking during my chats. I do often use my incognito browser, although that is something I should be more consistent with!

I haven’t done any formal teaching about any of these tools, but I have often attempted to get my friends and family to switch over to more secure messaging and browsing. Anytime I’m chatting with folks about privacy, I think of a professor I had in grad school who noted that a good portion of the time, you have to trade privacy for convenience. Limiting what data Google has to offer means you no longer have access to some of the convenient things it has to offer. My mother, for example, loves that Google will populate dates into your calendar for you. Obviously this isn’t always the case, but a lot of folks are willing to surrender a lot of privacy for convenience.

It sounds like you’re thinking of AdNauseum, and yeah this was a really interesting tool! It’s a shame that it caused latency problems in practice though. But I love that people tried this as a concept.

What’s controversial about LessPass? I’m not familiar.

I don’t know about phones that offer this, but there have been multiple laptop models that offered hardware switches for mic and camera. I had one of the early Purism laptops some years ago that did this, but unfortunately it was a little too much of a prototype to be a functioning computer.

This is so important for this threat model! Also important to consider are toll cameras, and automated license plate readers. There’s a lot of surveillance on the road. Those extra details might not be as important in a reproductive care threat model as they would be for someone like, literally on the run from the law. But I think having a holistic model of what surveillance you may encounter is still important.

We’re gonna be talking about all this in today’s session but yeah, this is one of the hardest mental models to counter. In general I don’t think it’s worth it to try to convince everyone – we just don’t have time for that, it’s exhausting, and there are many people who can be convinced that we can spend our energy on. I usually respond to these kinds of arguments by talking to the person about their threat model, and that’s the best luck I get with changing minds. But there will always be people who don’t have much of a threat model or who just don’t care.

Sometimes circumstances force us to choose these less secure options! For me, it still helps to have the awareness of what is more or less secure, because then I can choose to moderate my own behavior if it feels necessary.

It’s incredibly common. We’ll be talking about that in today’s session, and like I wrote to @grapebasil, it’s hard to counter this attitude from people who really don’t have a meaningful threat model. You can talk about the costs of convenience and what might happen, but it will only be theoretical to some. And that’s fine – those might be people that we can’t convince. Ideally, we can just get them to a place where they recognize the importance of privacy for OTHERS, so that if their influence is ever needed to protect privacy for the collective, they understand why it’s necessary.

For personal accounts, BitWarden seems like a good alternative to Lastpass. Was there a Bitwarden data breach? I feel like this has been alluded to here but I can’t find a new item. On enterprise, Lastpass’ features are robust but they are definitely engaging in surveillance capitalism / corporate data gathering on their customers. These are just my observations as user of Lastpass for my work.

I’ve noticed that 2FA is often now referred to as MFA (multi-factor authentication). Using an authenticator app is more secure than SMS message. For years, I have used and recommended FreeOTP, a standards compliant utility from Redhat, and it still works but hasn’t been updated in years.

There are some forks if anyone has thoughts please chime in:

Friendly reminder too that you can always root your Android phone and install your on OS on it:

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I’ve used Signal, Whatsapp, and Telegram (is this one bad now? I haven’t seen anyone mention it and it was the first end to end encrypted messaging service I was introduced to). I do have an iPhone and have done some things like toggle off location data and tracking for apps where it is possible. I feel like I haven’t implemented a lot of these tools because of how much extra work it seems to be – and the ones I have implemented were because of significant peer pressure/support (like everyone in a group using Signal for a groupchat, or an IG infographic with instructions on how to fix a privacy setting on your phone that most people I follow have shared).
I took a lot of notes during class though and am excited to use what I learned and share with others! My partner is especially excited this class has finally convinced me to use lastpass.

I really agree with what @rachelnevada said about giving up privacy for convenience. I think about this dynamic with how most people treat “terms of service” agreements. So many people, including myself, simply agree without reading or understanding. The few times a patron has asked me about TOS for, say, opening a new email account, I often fumble on how to best (and most quickly!) explain that most people click “agree” and you have to do so to open the account – but the practices of the group you’re registering with might not be the most ideal in terms of privacy.
My experience teaching privacy tools - much like someone mentioned during class - is often sidelined because there’s so many more urgent things someone is coming into the library for – and because it isn’t a value of the system where I work. However, sometimes tools like protonmail (which doesn’t require a phone number to sign up!) can actually be even more convenient for a patron’s needs.
I have been thinking of asking for us to put Firefox on the desktops systemwide, and I am hoping I might be able to teach a class to other workers in our system using what I have learned here.

I have used Firefox, privacy badger, and always try to set up 2-factor authentication. I need to get better at having unique passwords! So, I am going to look more into LastPass, and the other ones mentioned last week.

Usually in my library system we do very broad computer courses for our patrons like help with email, resumes, and downloading eBooks. I am interested in maybe trying to establish more specific courses on subjects like passwords, privacy, and protecting your identity. I often see patrons who cannot remember their passwords and have no cellphone, or they write their passwords on pieces of papers but then have like a hundred pieces of paper. And they sometimes are reluctant to hear strategies about privacy and security, when they may have just come into the library to use their email or to print something.

I can’t find any evidence of this, and the company claims no!

Can you share more about what you’ve seen?

Telegram is not great, it’s had a number of issues over the years. Here’s a two-year old article about it, and afaik the issues listed here remain the same: Five Reasons You Should Delete Telegram from Your Phone

When TOS issues come up I try to make points about how the companies fucked up here. We should not be asked to read 18 pages of legalese just to use basic services. I usually say things like, yeah I never read these either, isn’t it messed up that they violate our privacy and rights this way, etc. That way, the person doesn’t feel shamed for just clicking through, because it’s not their fault.

There are all kinds of small ways to incorporate privacy into those general courses, too!

My library system is so hesitant to make recommendations to patrons, I guess they are afraid of being sued or something. But I wish we could be more comfortable recommending things like protonmail! I also hope to teach my colleagues about the things I have been learning in this class, because I think a lot of it could actually make working with patrons a little easier.

LessPass uses an algorithm to encrypt your master password on the spot, a little bit like a decoder ring. You have to type in the same master password each time in order to generate the correct password. LessPass does not store your master password or the generated password, ONLY the rules used to generate the password. You sign in to your account to access the rules to generate your master passcode. (I’ve said passcode so many times now) Because it technically uses the same algorithm for everyone’s account, if someone knew the rules you use and your master passcode, they could generate all your passcodes. Secondly, because there is a web version, someone could attack their webpage and harvest the password to your account, your master passwords for the website, and the generated passcode. I get around this by having a fairly complex unique master passcode for every single website (which I keep in a physical notebook that stays at home because I hate myself) and only using the downloaded applications that are hosted either on my computer or iPhone, and I feel safe enough with it. I did check that they do work independently of a network connection, which made me feel better about their privacy in regards to that. For me, I like that my passwords aren’t stored anywhere.

The phone I was thinking of is the Librem 5 from Purism, and there has been some discussion of incorporating a similar feature into the Mudita Pure, which currently already has a physical switch to trigger airplane mode and a total toggle off. I believe PinePhone also has kill switches for each component as well. If I had the money I would love to try all of them, but as you’ve noted, they’re very prototypical. One thing I have looked into is GrapheneOS installed on a Pixel7. It’s similar to the PureOS, in that it is open source etc. and privacy minded. If I had access to an android I didn’t mind gutting I would try it out, but I don’t so I haven’t looked into it super well and can’t speak to its actual functionality.

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Lastpass is definitely tracking IPs and marketing it as a security feature.

From what I have heard the Librem 5 isn’t really usable day to day as a phone yet. PinePhone is the way I would go.

Of the strategies and tools that we discussed, which have you used?
What is your experience using and/or teaching them?

I have an iPhone (I primarily preferred it because of its accessibility features, but it was really nice to know that they’re more secure as well!). I also use Firefox, because of its privacy features, and duckduckgo for searching. Part of why I prefer duckduckgo is not just because of its privacy aspect but because Google Search has dwindled greatly in quality over the last few years thanks to SEO. I’ve experimented with both Signal and WhatsApp, but it’s hard to get buy-in from people I talk with regularly, so I don’t use those much if at all.

Thanks to our discussion, I started trying out LastPass and Privacy Badger. I also clear out my cache and cookies from time to time.

I’ve never really taught these tools, though! I will recommend them to others, though.

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Yeah, I agree. Google result quality has gone down hill drastically. It is almost always ads at the very of the results! I need to start using duckduckgo.