Alternative to Google Search: DuckDuckGo
Billed as the ‘search engine that doesn’t track you’, DuckDuckGo works in broadly the same way as any other search engine, Google included, by crawling through hundreds of sources to surface the most relevant search results. However unlike Google it doesn’t track what you search for, collect IP addresses, or sell users’ personal information to advertisers. It also minimises cookie use so people aren’t tracked as they move around the web.
Beyond the search website the company also offers a browser app for smartphones and a desktop Chrome plug-in to block Google trackers and rate the safety of online services, as well as a full VPN product. The DuckDuckGo search engine does serve ads, but they’re not targeted.
Alternative to Google Chrome: Brave Browser
There are a number of great options for anyone looking for a secure browser that protects your privacy, but Brave has quickly become my default option simply because it doesn’t sacrifice speed for security. Brave renders websites faster than Google Chrome while protecting your identity online by blocking ads and trackers. It also prevents browser fingerprinting and automatically upgrades website connections to HTTPS for secure encrypted browsing.
Unlike Google Chrome, Brave doesn’t see or store your browsing data; it stays private on your devices so it won’t ever be sold to third parties. You can also opt in to Brave’s anonymous advertising model where you can decide how many ads you see per hour. Users are paid 70 per cent of the advertising revenue and can have an amount automatically sent to the websites they visit.
Alternative to Gmail: ProtonMail
In 2017, Google stopped its controversial practice of scanning the content of free Gmail accounts for the purpose of targeting ads. But it still allows third party companies to do so. Google also still scans users’ emails, extracting keyword data and shopping history for use in other Google products and services and to improve its machine learning capabilities.
ProtonMail is an email service based in privacy-friendly Switzerland that appeared on the scene in the wake of the Snowden revelations and was widely promoted by the media as the “only email system the NSA can’t access”. Although it has since been bought out by a US-based company, ProtonMail still remains one of the most secure email services on the market. It does not store the IP address you use to access your email and aims to offer end-to-end encrypted email by default. However as with most privacy focused email services, you will need to spring for a paid plan if you intend on using it for all your emails. The free tier only offers 500MB of storage.
Alternative to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp: Signal
There’s no shortage of messaging apps but if privacy and security are your key concerns then the choice comes down to two; Signal or Telegram. Both are great alternatives to the ad-driven data gathering machines of Messenger and WhatsApp, but I would give the edge to Signal since all chats and calls are encrypted end-to-end by default. The encryption keys are stored on users’ phones and computers, never on servers.
You can use Signal as your default SMS message app as well, replacing the one that ships with your phone. I really like the Screen Security feature which essentially blocks other apps on your phone from taking screenshots of your chats, meaning you can be sure that even if there’s an app which is keeping tabs on your activities on your phone, it can’t capture what’s happening inside your Signal app.
Being an Open Source project supported by grants and donations means that the underlying code is open to greater scrutiny. As the non-profit organisation points out on its website; “there are no ads, no affiliate marketers and no creepy tracking”.
Krishan is a multi-award-winning Australian technology journalist.