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The Best Replacements For Privacy-Invading Services

It sometimes seems as if every major web service has ridiculous privacy-violating conditions attached. What can you do if you care deeply about privacy but don’t want to leave the internet altogether? Here are some good alternatives to the privacy-sapping big guys.

Many services (Google and Facebook for example) are relatively transparent in their privacy policies when you sign up (presuming you actually read it). Their data collection is often for internal purposes rather than anything obviously nefarious, but they still collect a lot of data.

This week, Facebook is giving users a chance to vote on your ability to vote on future site changes (including privacy changes). We don’t know what the outcome of that vote will be, but either way, it serves as a reminder: you get free services because you provide free information about yourself, and that doesn’t sit comfortably with everyone. (That’s also the reason fake privacy notices get so much traction.)

We can’t provide privacy-centric alternatives to every service out there, but here are a few potential replacements for popular services.

Piecemeal Service Or Glassboard Instead Of Facebook

As we’ve mentioned before, Facebook tracks most of what you do online, and uses that information for commercial purposes. Facebook makes this general approach clear in its Privacy Policy. Facebook’s privacy practices change regularly, and you should check out our guide to maintaining total Facebook privacy if you regularly use it. With Facebook, you also need to worry about third party apps and games because they may leak your data as well.

We’ve previously talked about building your own piecemeal social networking service using different networks, and that’s one of the best replacements for Facebook. Instead of handing over all your private data to one service, you can piece various elements; perhaps Flickr for pictures and your own blog so you can easily control which content is shared.

As an alternative, we like Glassboard because it’s incredibly easy to use, and the Privacy Policy is very simple. Your data is encrypted on Glassboard’s servers, and Glassboard doesn’t sell your personal information for targeted ads. Most importantly, Glassboard doesn’t have privacy settings because everything you do on the service is private and is only seen by people you approve. Of course, a social network is only as good as the people on it, so you’ll have to convince your friends and family to pick up a different service if you want it to truly work.

Other alternatives: Turn your email into a private social network.

DuckDuckGo Instead Of Google Search

Google is up-front about how it uses data collection in order to make its services work better. Google tracks your activity in order to keep your data in sync across devices, serve you targeted ads, and provide personalised search information to you based on your history. According to Google’s Privacy Policy, the company shares your information with domain administrators, for external processing legal reasons. It also shares non-personally identifiable information with partners (this could include your history, ad impressions and other similar information).

DuckDuckGo is already one of our favourite alternatives to Google Search, and its Privacy Policy makes it a good choice for privacy advocates. DuckDuckGo doesn’t use cookies to track your searches, it doesn’t save personally identifiable information (not even your IP address), and most importantly it doesn’t use targeted ads.

DuckDuckGo doesn’t have the advanced search options that Google has, and since it doesn’t track your browsing history the results aren’t nearly as tuned to you as Google’s. However, if you’re worried about the amount of data collected on your browsing habits, it’s a better options than Google.

Other alternatives: Ixquick, Blekko, Startpage

Lavabit Instead If Gmail

Gmail is great from a security point of view, but the fact Google scans your email to serve you targeted ads is a little worrisome for some. You can opt out pretty easily, but if you’re bothered about how Google is collecting the data it might be best to step away from it entirely.

If you’re more worried about privacy in general, your best bet is a service that doesn’t hold onto information for very long. Lavabit is an email service that logs the least amount of data as possible while still maintaining a service that actually functions. Most importantly, according to its Privacy Policy, Lavabit doesn’t store your IP address, outgoing messages are only stored on the server for about 7 days, and every email you send is encrypted in such a way that even the administrators can’t access it.

Other alternatives: Make your own mail server, Valtletmail, Enigmail for Thunderbird

App.net Instead Of Twitter

Twitter’s Privacy Policy is relatively strong (and transparent) compared to most social networks, but as we’ve pointed out before, Twitter is still tracking what you do online in order to serve you personalised content and ads. Your account is also public by default, which not only means anyone can check it out, but also means it’s liable to be archived by third-party services.

As an alternative, App.net has a Privacy Policy that doesn’t use your information to serve ads. It only shares your information with third party vendors required for the service to work (such as the payment processors for your account), law enforcement (when required), and anonymised data with other third parties. Also, when you delete something from App.net, it’s gone from the servers within two weeks. It’s not a completely private experience, but it’s about as close to one as a social network can get.

Other alternatives: Identica.

SpiderOak Instead Of Dropbox

Dropbox has a relatively solid Privacy Policy, but employees still have file level access to your files in the case of a DMCA take down request which theoretically means staff could peek at your files at any time. The other big cloud storage services have similar approaches in this area.

The best alternative is SpiderOak, for a simple reason: it has no idea what you’re storing online. The SpiderOak Privacy Policy outlines that it only collects information from you necessary to provide you a service (like your name and billing information). Other than that, it doesn’t know much about you or your files. It doesn’t know your password, and all your data is encrypted using that password — which essentially means employees at SpiderOak have no way to access it. SpiderOak isn’t nearly as slick and easy to use as Dropbox, nor does it have the simple file-sharing for collaborative projects, but as a secure place to back up your private data it’s a solid alternative to Dropbox.

Other alternatives: Roll your own personal file sharing service, encrypt all your data on Dropbox.

TuneIn Radio Instead Of Pandora

By its nature, Pandora has to track a lot of your personal information for it to work properly. Subsequently, its Privacy Policy allows for a lot of sharing of your data. Your data is shared with advertisers and third parties, and advertisers can place cookies in your browser to track you further. More importantly, your account, which includes your listening activity and profile page, is public by default. You can turn this feature off, but it’s a little unsettling that it’s on by default.

Unfortunately, it’s basically impossible for a service to exist that mimics Pandora’s intelligent radio recommendations and also respects your privacy. If you want to just listen to the a programmed radio station, TuneIn Radio has a Privacy Policy that doesn’t track you for advertising. It holds any information you hand over, but at least you can listen to most of its radio streams without a profile.

Other alternatives: None (most streaming services track you for advertising).

Jitsi Instead Of Skype

Skype has been accused of releasing private data before, and it has even been suggested that it eavesdrops on some calls. As Skype’s Privacy Policy notes, your data, including instant messages, voicemail messages and videomail messages, is stored for up to 90 days, and it will hand over any data to government officials when required.

As an alternative, we like the open source software Jitsi. Jitsi has encryption on both ends of the conversation, messages aren’t saved online, and it uses the more private Session Initial Protocol so your data doesn’t go anywhere. Essentially, everything you do with Jitsi is encrypted, and since nothing is stored online you don’t need to worry about that data falling into the wrong hands.

Other alternatives: VSee


Nearly every single web site you visit has a privacy policy; some are better than others. What really matters is how much of your data you’re willing to let companies have and use. In some cases, data collection is under the guise of building a better service, but with advertising and the ever-increasing danger of having your personal information leaked in a hack, it’s a good idea to use services that store the smallest feadible amount of information about you.

If you’re mostly upset about how your data is sent to advertisers, we like the Collusion and PrivacyScore extensions because they show you exactly where your browsing data is going. You can also snag the Disconnect extensions to stop Facebook, Google and Twitter from tracking you. To opt out of the other advertising that tracks you and invades your privacy, the Network Advertising Initiative has a opt-out page that shows who’s tracking you in your browser and allows you to disable it.

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