The Internet allowed me to set up this site in 2005, start a business in 2006, leave my job in 2008, and to start travelling in 2014.
Now it’s 2019. And I continue to do what I want, where I want, when I want. And I remain extremely grateful for the amazing experiences that technology (as well as my upbringing) has afforded me.
But it’s not that simple.
Technology is ambivalent. It can be used for good or for ill.
Also in 2019, we have hacking, online bullying, toxic communities, flame wars, censorship, and disruption to livelihoods by technological advances.
As more of our lives are lived online, information about our friends, our habits, our whereabouts, our finances, our health, etc., is taken by Google, Facebook, and Amazon, sold to the highest bidder, and is out there for bad actors to abuse.
So, I thought I’d tell you what I do to maximise the good and minimise the bad online.
Device and password security and protection
If you lose your laptop or phone, can someone access your information? If that’s the case, stop reading this now, open the security settings or the device and enter a password to access it.
Never use the same password twice! If you’re in any doubt at all, go to this site and enter the email address you most regularly use online.
If I put my email address in there I find that 20 sites were breached by hackers who now have access to my email and password. These were sites such as Adobe, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Patreon, Tumblr.
Clearly, you should have a different password on each site so, if one site you use is hacked, you don’t have to change your password on multiple sites.
I use a password generator to create passwords and a password manager LastPass (1Password is another option) to save them. You should also get the password manager to save your credit card details which is safer than on the browser.
More info on how to secure a WordPress site against hackers here.
Safe surfing – use a VPN
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, allows you to create a secure connection over the Internet.
This dramatically decreases the chances of someone snooping on your communications, the so-called “man in the middle” attack. Use of VPNs is especially important when you are using your laptop or phone over public WiFi in a cafe or a restaurant.
VPNs also helps bypass regional restrictions for video and music as well as help you evade government censorship in certain parts of the world.
Reduce Google’s surveillance
“We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about. Your digital identity will live forever… because there’s no delete button.”
—Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, 2010.
Google’s access to my information used not to bother me. “I’ve got nothing to hide”, I used to say.
But I’m coming to see the error of that argument. It assumes that the people who have all my information will use it for good. And I can’t be sure about that.
Facebook and Google have admitted to, and paid fines for, stealing information without consent. I’ve found in life that if people have been dishonest once, they’ll be dishonest again. Also, the information is hoarded centrally and therefore prone to hacking.
For me, the potential for abuse is too much to ignore. So there are a number of things I do to limit their power.
Firstly, I can legally tell Google I don’t want them saving my activity. Go to myactivity.google.com navigate to Activity Controls and toggle off the activity monitoring for Web & App Activity, Location History, Device Information, Voice & Audio Activity, YouTube Search History, and YouTube Watch History.
At the bottom of that page, go to Search Settings, and under “Private results” choose “Do not use private results”, and click Save!
The above won’t stop Google spying on you but this is just a legal request to Google to not save some of your information in order to give you better results. I haven’t noticed any difference in Google’s performance since I made these changes.
Here is a great video about how to protect yourself against the tech behemoth.
Surveillance-free surfing and searching
All of your online activity will be tracked if you use Google’s browser, Chrome. So I use Brave, Opera, and Firefox on my laptop, and Brave on my mobile.
Surfing the web using an incognito window on the Brave browser, and searching with DuckDuckGo, allows you to access the world’s information with less of the biasses that Google has imposed on us these last few years – and your search history isn’t saved or snooped on.
The Brave browser is, in my opinion, awesome. It is built on the open source Chromium browser so it feels like Chrome. It has ad blockers built in so it’s quicker. All Chrome extensions work on Brave in exactly the same way. Added to that, it’s much more secure.
Stop the toxic power of the newsfeed and reduce negativity
Really, this is the most important part of this article.
There seems to be an increased “toxic” culture both online and off line these days – especially in America and the west.
The algorithms at Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc., are wired for profit. They’ll make more money if we become addicted to their platform.
This means we are taken down more and more extreme rabbit holes. Salacious talking points and click-bait headlines increase addiction to the newsfeed. And the more outraged, angry, and polarized we become, the easier it is for bad actors to exploit us.
The large tech companies (FANGs) have spent billions on developing algorithms and huge data centers. This sophisticated technology knows, for example, that I’m more likely to spend time reading a meaningless political argument than a positive article about meditation. The algorithms aren’t working for me, they’re working against me.
We are seduced into thinking that the newsfeed is what we want to look at. But, in actual fact, the newsfeed is what they want us to look at.
In the last couple of years I’ve pulled back from social media as I identified the newsfeed as an insidious, addictive, and negative element in my life. Browsing social media newsfeeds is also time-consuming and bad for productivity.
I installed Chrome extension News Feed Eradicator for Facebook – this works on the Brave browser as well. And I deleted the Facebook app from my phone.
I don’t miss any notifications from the Facebook groups I’m subscribed to. I get notifications if I’m tagged by anyone in a post. I can still see if someone messaged me (you can just use Messenger for that). In short, I get all of the benefits of Facebook without any of the negativity.
The YouTube algorithm, also, was a huge time-waster and force of negativity for me. The videos on your YouTube home page and on the “Up Next” right hand sidebar have been responsible for turning certain people onto extremism, conspiracy theories, misogyny and racism. This algorithm, by the way, is responsible for more than 70% of user’s time on the site.
I would rather see videos I’ve searched for than what the algorithm recommends I see. So, similar to Facebook, I’ve installed the Chrome extension Block the YouTube feed, which works on Brave as well, and deleted YouTube from my phone.
The above changes have resulted in huge productivity wins and have drastically cut down negativity in my life.
Further measures to increase positivity
Humans, quite simply, don’t understand happiness! We know we shouldn’t fight, argue, judge, drink and eat too much, etc., but we do.
There are so many things you can do to make sure you are balanced and happy. And I’m sure you’ve read elsewhere on the importance of gratitude, eating well, exercising, volunteering, and kindness.
But, for me, there is one activity that beats all of the above … and that’s meditation.
As I said before, we know we shouldn’t fight, argue, judge, drink and eat too much, etc. But, if you meditate, you’ll find that instead of trying to have good habits, you find it easier to have good habits.
Meditation is the non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. It gives us space to view ourselves and the outside world. And, occasionally, it enables us to see past our prejudices, biasses, and generalisations, that cloud our perception of ourselves and the outside world.
Meditation, therefore, is particular useful in toxic environments. It seems to enable you to “walk away” or to not get involved in arguments, fights or negativity.
In fact, I would recommend meditation to anyone at any time.
What do you think?
I seem to have covered a lot of different topics, that are loosely related to staying safe, secure and sane online.
But this isn’t complete! I need you!! What can you add?
Do you have any tips for securing computers and phones from hackers? Any advice on keeping your personal information free from the tech giants? Any words of comfort to save us from online abuse?
Please add your comments below and let us know what you think.
“Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now,”Jack Kerouac