In a better timeline, I’d be writing this month about local comic and toy shops, or the new Pokémon games, or the diversity of Overwatch. It wouldn’t be a perfect timeline, there would still be a need to stay awake about the geek side of pop culture, but it wouldn’t be… this.
But here we are, in the darkest timeline, facing down Nazis not in a game but in our own country. It’s time to talk data hygiene again.
The basics: Turn off geotagging on anything that doesn’t absolutely need it. Turn it off on your phone’s camera. Turn it off on Twitter. Turn it off on Facebook. While we’re at it, for the love of Loki, uninstall Facebook from your phone and change your name there to a pseudonym. Don’t store anything in Dropbox that you wouldn’t want Condoleezza Rice to read. And cover your laptop’s camera.
Okay, now what?
Start with your passwords. This is a good step even if you’re not looking at a stay in a privately-run gulag. You may be familiar with services that generate random passwords and store them for you, but the majority of these keep your database on their own servers. The open-source KeePass tool lets you save your password database on your own computer and supports more authentication options than just another password. It’s also free, though some of the phone versions cost a couple dollars.
The cloud is not a friend to privacy, but sometimes it’s necessary to keep files there. SpiderOak is a fully encrypted Dropbox alternative that also serves as a file backup service. All encryption is done on your end, meaning they never have access to raw versions of your files or even your password. It won’t automatically back up your phone pics, but you should try to avoid that anyway. For $5/mo. you get 100GB to do with as you please.
The Tor browser is another important tool – so important that one of its core developers left the country last year when the FBI took an interest in her. In 2014, German journalists discovered the NSA tracking people who had downloaded it. So what is it? Based on the Firefox browser, Tor connects you to web sites through a series of anonymizing relays that hide your IP address, meaning your online history can’t be tracked back to you. Its privacy-centric settings give some particularly intrusive websites fits, but it’s the best way to look up information the state doesn’t want you to have. Or anonymously troll someone on Tumblr.
Finally, use a VPN. This serves the same basic function as Tor, but for all of your internet communications. There are a lot of services out there in a lot of different price ranges, so it’s best to do some research to see what’s right for your purposes. Like Tor, you likely won’t want to use it all the time, but when you need to stay anonymous – or your country decides to start censoring things and you need a Swiss IP to read real news – it’s necessary.
To all the woke geeks, those of us in minority communities and the allies willing to fight for us, stay safe out there.