Data Privacy Week Spotlight: Mobile Habits

This week is Data Privacy Week. To celebrate, this week I will be making a series of short blog posts highlighting tools, services, products, and techniques that I feel are underrated to help improve your privacy.

Today I want to talk about mobile habits. As most privacy enthusiasts know, phones are some of the most effective surveillance devices out there, recording everywhere you go, everyone you talk to, every app you use – which can betray your interests and more – and in some cases can even infer information about you like sexual orientation and health. Truthfully, I think many privacy types dream of being able to live without a cell phone, but sadly for most of us that’s just not reasonable. If you can, good for you. But many cannot. While there are a number of steps we can take to reduce phone data collection – like using a deGoogle OS or even just changing a few settings – there’s also a lot of tricks that frequently get ignored, and those mainly involve mobile habits.

On the website, I offer a number of behavioral suggestions to help reduce the tracking of your phone. The biggest one, in my opinion, is simply to use it less. While you may need your phone at work to get important messages, there’s no need to take it to the grocery store or out to dinner. You can safely leave it at home and bring a paper grocery list, talk to your dinner date, or bring a book if you’re eating alone. Another technique is simply to rely on less apps. While some apps have a place – like encrypted messaging or a more private browser – some may not really be necessary. Most of my loved ones use Signal, therefore I see no reason to have Matrix and Session on there too since I rarely get messages there. I also removed all email from my phone. Phones these days come with a stock mail app, but email was never designed to be realtime communication. If you’re emailing me, then that tells me whatever you’re asking can wait. Instead of swapping a bad email app for an encrypted one, I just deleted it altogether. Desktop only now. And on that note, I mentioned a privacy browser. Just because you have a better browser right there doesn’t mean you should always use it. Sure, I use it to find items in the store when I’m at work or to check what time the store closes on the way home, but I try not to use it figure out what Daniel Radcliffe has been up to since Harry Potter ended (note: Miracle Workers. It’s hilarious. I highly recommend it) or what’s the furthest object ever observed in space. Point being: I try not to do things on my phone unless it’s an emergency or highly important. If it can wait til I’m at my desktop, I try to do that because I have more control over my data there. Phones are difficult to harden in a really meaningful, effective way. No matter what apps we download or steps we take, we should always be skeptical of them.

Hopefully this article has given you some thought and helped you rethink your relationship with your miniature surveillance device. Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for my phone. It has made my life easier in so many ways, providing endless hours of entertainment and contact with those I care about nearly 24/7. But it’s important that I stay in control of it and not the other way around. Happy Data Privacy Week, hopefully this helps you protect your privacy just a little better!

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.