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Big Brother Is Watching You Online: How To Avoid Being Tracked

Big Brother Is Watching You Online: How To Avoid Being Tracked

News briefs bombard television sets and computer screens around the globe, with cases of government whistleblowers, spying, cell phone hacking, private photographs leaked via iCloud, and more. Reports of the United States’ government usage of the PRISM program allegedly tracking over 1 million persons in the United States alone, has been particularly startling. Naturally, growing interest and attention has been placed on privacy and security, not only in banks and boardrooms but bedrooms and coffee shops around the world. Many want to avoid being tracked online, followed, spied on and their information automatically gathered, even if just to “check” on their Google searches, Skype calls, Facebook posts or email messages.

There are many ways to protect yourself from the prowling eyes of Big Brother and others who make a living following your every cyber move, but do keep in mind that nothing is 100% fool-proof. You have to assume that scammers, spammers, and others spend their days and nights finding ways to make your online experience vulnerable and under constant threat. That doesn’t mean you should succumb or act recklessly online, however.

Just to be extra cautious, before you even start reading this article, put a small strip of black electrical tape over your built-in computer camera. Hackers can remotely activate your webcam. Usually you’ll be able to tell it’s been turned on due to the red light, but that’s not always the case. There are techniques hackers and scammers use to avoid detection; don’t fall prey to their prying eyes.

These are 12 ways to keep your information out of the crosshairs.

1. Clean your Internet browsing history after every use.

You are most commonly tracked online by your IP address and emails. Every site you visit online tracks your time spent there and leaves what are called ‘cookies’ on your computer. ‘Cookies,’ also known as ‘HTTP cookie,’ ‘web cookie,’ or ‘browser cookies’ are best thought of like crumbs. They remain, like little crumbs after you’ve eaten a cookie, in your machine and keep track of everything you’ve done. This is what allows you to log-in to previously viewed websites without being prompted to manually enter passwords and usernames every time. It keeps you logged in, or your data will already be pre-filled out before you log on. This is also one way that companies can see what items you are viewing when shopping or what articles you are reading on a news site or what you are researching on any given day. This helps companies and organizations determine how to engage with you and which product descriptions and pop-up ads will attract you to buy or click.

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To get around this, you have to actively clean out your search history, and set your viewing patterns to private. Anything from Google Chrome, Firefox, all versions of Safari, Internet Explorer, Opera, and AOL, among others, can be cleaned out. Click each service above for specific instructions on how to delete your browsing history.

You can also download Piriform for deleting some bits of your online footprint. Ensuring you erase this data is one way to avoid being tracked online. You’ll need to keep better track of passwords, when you do this. If you are having a hard time managing your passwords, KeePassX is a password vault stored locally on your computer and encrypted.

2. Create specific passwords for each account.

Don’t rely on the Internet to keep you safe. And don’t assume that no one will attempt to hack into your accounts because you’re not that interesting or you don’t have anything worth stealing. The lazier you are online the more chance for harm against you. Avoid passwords like ‘abcdef’ or ‘12345,’ and certainly never ‘password.’ Don’t share your passwords. Stay organized while creating online accounts. Keep them stored on a USB key document or in a notebook only you have access to. Take time to make passwords that are hard to guess and devoid of information that many people might know. If you are having trouble developing a good password, try LastPass.

3. Avoid JavaScript search engines.

StartPage, Google Chrome, Firefox, Duck Duck Go, and Cyber Ghost are alternative options to traditional search engines that track your behavior and choices online. Basic search engines use JavaScript. JavaScript is like the glue that keeps the Internet together. But it’s also what’s used in ‘cookies.’ If you are trying to avoid being tracked online, JavaScript, in a sense, is your enemy. You should take precautions to protect yourself from its power.

4. Use Tor and a Linux Live Image, like Tails.

Tor is one of the best methods of protection and security. Tor is free to download and install. By using Tor, you scramble your IP address, disguising your location and personal data. Your IP address, or Internet Protocol, is a numeric access code needed to use the internet. Your computer is automatically assigned an IP address via your internet provider, like Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, among many others, and remains your online identifier. Tor is a trusted source for the likes of businesses, activists, journalists, military, law enforcement agencies, and even Edward Snowden.

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BBC is reporting, as of Monday, November 3, 2014, that Facebook is now allowing users to connect directly to the social network via Tor. This will be particularly beneficial for those in nations like North Korea, China, and Cuba, where Internet usage is heavily comprised.

A Linux Live Image, like Tails, is another useful method to avoid being tracked online. You can download the service, and burn it to a CD or USB key. It won’t allow any storing of your Internet activity, so after you shut down your computer, all your searches and other work will not be stored. If you opt for this, make sure you save your files, in pdf form, directly to the computer or on a USB key.

5. Don’t reply to suspicious emails and never accept friendship requests from people you don’t personally know.

This is one easy way Internet users slip up and invite spying and stalking, without knowing it. In recent news, police were using fake Facebook accounts to spy on users. Of course, the film Catfish is another cautionary tale of revealing too much online to people you don’t know. Take time to look through all your online accounts, like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Remove and block contacts that send you spam messages; don’t positively engage in your network or those with whom you have no connections or don’t know in real life. It’s not impolite to decline invitations that won’t work for you, especially if you don’t even know the person extending the invitation or what their intention is.

If you are an Apple user, you can forward suspicious emails purporting to be from the company, to [email protected]. Microsoft users can visit their Security and Privacy page for more details on reporting questionable activity. Don’t shy away from the Facebook Report button, either.

6. Encrypt your email messages.

You can encrypt e-mails and files using GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG or GPG). Your files will be bullet-proof and unreadable unless one has your pass phrase and the answer to your ‘‘secret question’’. When you install GPG, you are asked to provide a pass phrase and generate private and public keys. Keep the private key and pass phrase as safe as a newborn baby. These will allow you to decrypt your messages and files. When someone wants to send you a message or file they will use your public key to encrypt it. Feel free to share your public key with all persons you want to communicate with under the radar. This is how Edward Snowden leaked information to guerrilla film maker, Laura Poitras and The Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald.

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7. Use a burner laptop and cell phone.

A ‘burner’ laptop or cellphone is a normal device. You can purchase a ‘burner’ like you normally would purchase a computer or cell phone. Choose whichever is in your price range, but the cheaper the better. For a ‘burner’ cell phone, choose a pre-paid version and pay only in cash. The ‘burner laptop’ is the only laptop you will ever use to connect to the internet. That includes streaming YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, or social networking sites. All internet access should go through this laptop, if you are intent on avoiding being tracked online. You can keep a computer for personal documents, diary entries, numbers, spread sheets or other personal files. Never save anything to the burner laptop. Once a month re-install the operating system you’ve chosen, and completely re-format the drive.

8. Use Bitcoins.

The usage of Bitcoin is still a questionable monetary system, and not in general use with the public but still gaining considerable momentum in the financial arena. Bitcoin and Pay Pal have been joining forces. Some claim, using Bitcoins allow you to avoid paying taxes, and can be purchased anonymously, so you may avoid being tracked online or by other electronic means. It’s also a threat to central governments and disrupting the traditional banking system.

9. Don’t post overly personal details anywhere online.

Avoid birth dates, middle names, maiden names, social security numbers, telephone numbers, bank numbers or personal information on family members. Don’t post photographs that you would feel uncomfortable for others to see or potentially copy and re-use. This can be difficult, but setting your accounts to private and screening all friend requests is one to protect yourself and avoid being tracked online.

10. Read all the fine print.

When setting up online accounts, you are offered a User Agreement policy to read. Don’t ignore them. Copy and paste for later in-depth reading, wait to set up an account until you have the time to read through all the rules associated with that online forum or account. Make yourself aware of the implications involved. Avoid agreeing to contracts that you feel uncomfortable with or are unsure about. Some online accounts, apps or forums take liberty to use your personal details and even your networks personal details.

11. Pay attention to your privacy settings and updates to privacy options.

Look through your current online privacy settings, and set them according to your comfort level. Remember that when a company alters their privacy settings and security contracts, your previous settings are often not retained. Stay up to date and edit your settings. You may even wish to set a reminder on your phone for a monthly password change and check-up. The documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, takes a critical look at the ever-changing User Agreement policies.

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12. For the really paranoid: abandon all tech; use only paper, pen, typewriters and in-person chats and photo-sharing, the old-fashioned way.

Don’t assume spying or malicious hacking is only an American problem. After dozens of documents were released following government whistleblowers and data on the United States monitoring German intelligence, the German government took to typewriters, instead of electronic messaging services. Brazil, the United Kingdom and a number of other nations have also revealed aggressive means of data mining of their citizens.

Caveats and Pro-Tips to all information previously mentioned:

A. The trouble with all these methods is that criminals, and what the tech community calls, ‘black hat hackers,’ can also make use of these strategies and are often many steps ahead of you. This is what makes it hard to police the internet or prevent malicious use. The Dark Net, the nefarious underbelly of the internet, unseen by the general public, can be found using Tor. It is also home to The Silk Road, which allows criminals to sell anything from children to cocaine to hired killers.

B. Using public computer terminals, like those found at your local library or university, to avoid being tracked online, is not the answer. Your internet usage is still being tracked and is attached to your library account, which may include your Social Security Number, State Driver’s License or Identification Number. Government agencies, police and other authorities can still request your public internet behaviour, should you ever be accused of or charged with a crime. The positive side to this is that a criminal can be caught, like the recent murder case of Maribel Ramos in Orange County, California. Her murderer was found using the local library computer to pin-point a burial site using Google Maps.

Stay safe!

Featured photo credit: kennymatic via flickr.com

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Last Updated on June 17, 2019

40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2019 Updated)

40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2019 Updated)

Over the years here at Lifehack, we’ve discussed plenty of apps that you can use to improve your overall productivity.

There are certain ones that many of our contributors and editors (past and present) have adopted over the long-term — there are always the stalwarts that stick around. But there are also new apps that crop up every day, adding more and more depth to the app category.

Some of the apps are incredibly plain and simple, while others are more robust and offer more features than you can shake a stick at. And everyone has the one they prefer.

It’s been our job (and still is our job) to keep abreast of all of the productivity-type apps out there. As a result — and as a bit of a refresher — we’ve put together a list of 40 best productivity apps for iPhone (all categorized based on their functions) to provide you with an all-in-one resource for you.

For Getting Things Done

1. OmniFocus

This app is, while pricey, considered to be one of the (if not the) most robust and full-featured productivity apps on the market.

Download it here.

    2. Forest

    Train yourself to put your phone down and stay focused on the task at hand by playing with this planting game. It’s fun and will help you achieve more.

    Download it here.

      3. Things

      Another robust choice, this app is a favorite amongst “productivityists”.[1]

      Download it here.

        4. 30/30

        Recently covered here at Lifehack

        , 30/30 is a newcomer to the game that incorporates lists and timing of tasks into an elegant and easy-to-use interface.

        Download it here.

          5. Any.Do

          A beautiful-looking app that is both easy on the eyes and your wallet.

          Download it here.

            6. PocketLife Calendar

            This calendar app is specifically designed to be stylish and super easy-to-use. You can organize your life easily with different modern features.

            Download it here.

              7. Asana

              We’ve covered Asana here at Lifehack

              , and it is being actively developed by a strong team committed to making collaborative task management a more efficient and effective experience.

              Download it here.

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                8. ToDoist

                This app keeps track of everything – from simple errands to your most important projects – so you can get it all done and enjoy more peace of mind along the way.

                Download it here.

                  9. FlowTasks

                  From the folks at MetaLab, Flow is a gorgeous collaborative task management app that is easy-to-use and incredibly functional.

                  Download it here.

                    10. Calendars 5

                    This calendar app focuses on events that help you to keep track of upcoming events and tasks easily. It has everything you need to organize, track and complete your to-dos.

                    Download it here.

                      11. Clear – Tasks, Reminders & To-Do Lists

                      A fun and innovative list-making app that relies on swiping and pinching to make things happen. Clear created a lot of buzz when it launched, and might be the perfect to-do list gateway app for many.

                      Download it here.

                        12. Due

                        A robust reminders app that lets you store and maintain reminders of all types. It’s replaced Reminders for me when it comes to the basics, and it’s worth a look if you want to keep the mundane stuff out of your head and cluttering your mind.

                        Download it here.

                          13. Checkmark 2

                          I use this app

                          for location-based reminders (such as groceries I need to get or single items I need to pick up from various locations). Checkmark is simple to use and a valuable addition to my productivity arsenal.

                          Download it here.

                            14. TeuxDeux

                            Created by Tina Roth Eisenberg and Fictive Kin — Teux Deux is simple and incredibly stellar in terms of design. If you like lists (including the popular “Someday Bucket”) and want to associate dates with tasks, then Teux Deux will be right up your alley.

                            Download it here.

                              15. Wunderlist 

                              Another incredibly popular choice is Wunderlist. Part of 6Wunderkinder’s software family, it sports a gorgeous design and is incredibly functional. We’ve talked about the app a couple of times here at Lifehack, so check those posts out here.

                              Download it here.

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                                16. Nirvana

                                For the GTD enthusiasts, there’s Nirvana. Straight from the source: “Nirvana frees your mind to focus on actually getting things done. If you’ve had enough of generic to-do lists, it’s time for Nirvana.”

                                Download it here.

                                  17. Priorities

                                  An elegant-looking task management app that has received decent reviews,[2] this could be the one for you if you’re not a fan of OmniFocus or Things — especially if you need (or want) to share tasks with others.

                                  Download it here.

                                    For Building Habits

                                    18. Productive

                                    With this app, you can plan your habits with an easy-to-use interface, schedule habits for any time of the day, set smart reminders for each time of the day and stay on track with useful feedback. This app is perfect for anyone who wants to build a habit that sticks.

                                    Download it here.

                                      19. Habitica: Gamified Taskmanager

                                      You can complete tasks and build habits in a more fun way with this app. Input your Habits, your Daily goals, and your To-Do list, and then create a custom avatar. Check off tasks to level up your avatar and unlock features such as armor, pets, skills, and even quests.

                                      Download it here.

                                        20. Streaks

                                        This app follows the model of the popular “don’t break the chain method” in that you use the app to track how you are donig in the pursuit of your goal. Great for goal-setting — and an easy and elegant interface to boot.

                                        Download it here.

                                          21. Remember The Milk

                                          Another popular to-do list app, Remember The Milk has a huge following. It has plenty to offer, including the ability to share tasks with others.

                                          Download it here.

                                            22. Day One Journal

                                            When it comes to journaling, nothing really beats Day One. Its latest update added a slew of features that will make you want to start making journaling a habit.

                                            Download it here.

                                              For Files Organization

                                              23. Evernote

                                              Touted as the world’s most widely-used productivity app, Evernote an be used simply as a notetaking app or can be customized to be your GTD app of choice — among other things.

                                              Download it here.

                                                24. Pocket

                                                You can save an article, video or link you want to read or watch later to Pocket from anywhere including your computer, Safari, email, and your favorite apps like Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, and Feedly.

                                                Download it here.

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                                                  25. Sync.Me

                                                  This app identifies unknown phone calls, warns you from annoying spam calls, and adds a caller picture to your contacts from Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

                                                  Download it here.

                                                    26. Droplr

                                                    One of the most popular file-sharing apps out there today. Straight from the source: “Stay productive on the go. Droplr for iPhone keeps you in sync and makes sharing on the iPhone natural.”

                                                    Download it here.

                                                      27. Dropbox

                                                      Before iCloud, there was Dropbox. And there still is Dropbox, which is still widely used by both Mac and PC users all over the globe. It’s like having a flash drive in your iPhone. A must-have.

                                                      Download it here.

                                                        28. iDolly 

                                                        In conjunction with Dolly Drive and DollySync, iDolly allows you to edit and share your documents from your iPhone.

                                                        Since all your changes sync automatically to all your devices, the current version of a document will always be accessible because Dolly Sync keeps everything in sync. Very handy.

                                                        Download it here.

                                                          29. Soulver

                                                          It may seem odd that a calculator app shows up on this list, but this is no ordinary calendar app. Ben Brooks over at The Brooks review describes Soulver as follows: “It is what calculators would have been if they were invented at the same time computers were, instead of what we have with most calculator apps.” [3]

                                                          Download it here.

                                                            For Working Smarter

                                                            30. Captio

                                                            A simple capture tool. Straight from the developers: “It’s simple. Open Captio and start typing. When you’re done, hit Send. The note is immediately delivered to your email inbox.”

                                                            Download it here.

                                                              31. Drafts

                                                              A tremendous capture tool that allows for simple capture, followed by sending items to various applications such as OmniFocus, Things and more.

                                                              Download it here.

                                                                32. NoteShelf 2

                                                                This is a perfect note-taking app for you. You can take beautiful handwritten notes, type, annotate PDFs, record audio & create lists. You can organize them into categories or groups.

                                                                Download it here.

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                                                                  33. Doodle

                                                                  This app links directly with the Doodle service, which is one that allows you to plan and organize meetings far more efficiently and effectively. Lifehack contributor Steve Dotto has written about Doodle more in-depth here.

                                                                  Download it here.

                                                                    34. TextExpander (Legacy)

                                                                    I have saved countless hours of time with TextExpander, and despite its inability to be as robust on iOS as it is on the Mac, it is still a worthy app to have in your arsenal.

                                                                    Download it here.

                                                                      35. Launch Center Pro

                                                                      A quick launcher for the iPhone that doesn’t just launch an app…with some of them it can do much more. This app saves you time by launching complex actions in a single tap.

                                                                      Download it here.

                                                                        36. GoodReader

                                                                        This may seem to be an odd one to make this list, but here are plenty of reasons why it is here with this article.

                                                                        Download it here.

                                                                          37. LogMeIn

                                                                          Want to be able to control your Mac from wherever you are? Then get this app.

                                                                          Download it here.

                                                                            For Improving Security

                                                                            38. 1Password

                                                                            There is simply no better password manager out there. I’ve even put together a 1Password Emergency Kit worth looking at here.

                                                                            Download it here.

                                                                              39. LastPass Password Manager

                                                                              You can store passwords and logins, create online shopping profiles, generate strong passwords, track personal information in photo and audio notes.

                                                                              All you have to do is remember your LastPass master password, and LastPass autofills web browser and app logins for you.

                                                                              Download it here.

                                                                                40. Truecallers

                                                                                Identify and block spammers, search for unknown numbers and call friends easily with this app. With a community-based spam list from over 250 million users, you’ll need this app.

                                                                                Download it here.

                                                                                  There are plenty of other options out there (and we’ve heard from readers in the past as to what they enjoyed using), but these 40 are among the best.

                                                                                  More Great Apps Recommendations

                                                                                  Reference

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