Five Privacy Respecting Gift Ideas

It’s the gift-giving season, and so this week I think I’ll stay on topic. Now of course, your mileage may vary. Not everyone will appreciate these or have the tech savvy to use them. It’s up to you to know what gifts are right for what person and what would actually make a good gift. But below are some items that I personally have dealt with or have my eye on that might also make good gifts for yourself, your home, or a tech-loving loved one around you. These gifts are not listed in any specific order.

iPhone SE: $400

I’m gonna piss off a lot of privacy people right off the bat with this one, so let me remind my readers that this site is aimed at normal, not-tech savvy people. If you can convince your friend or family member to use CalyxOS or a Pinephone – or you yourself are willing to do so – please do. But chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re either not comfortable flashing a phone yourself or you have family members who wouldn’t be comfortable using a flashed phone. When it comes to stock operating systems, I personally preach iOS over Android every single time simply because iOS has better security. They’re both pretty abysmal for privacy, so iOS has the edge in the security department. As such, if someone you know is in the market for a new mobile device, the iPhone SE series is my recommendation. It’s inexpensive (for a smart phone), and unless your loved one is a heavy app user it’ll do the job perfectly.

Silent Pocket Products: $10-$400

Silent Pocket sells a wide variety of items that help keep your devices off the grid to various degrees. This could include wallets that resist RFID tracking and wireless credit card chip skimming all the way up to full-on Faraday bags for laptops that black ALL wireless signals. If you’re reading this, you probably don’t see the need for a Faraday bag and personally I think that’s outside my own threat level, too, but like I said they have a lot of other really amazing products like phone cases, wallets, passport card holders, backpacks, and a multitool that has spots for your keys. If you or someone know is really into gifts that have a practical use, definitely check this site out.

A Better Router: $150-$515

The internet in our homes is something we typically don’t think about until it goes out. But it’s also one of the most critical things we have these days. Most people don’t think about their router or the settings, but you can do your family a huge favor by getting them a new router and securing it for them. They’ll probably never even notice, but you’ll rest easier knowing they’ve gained a new level of privacy and security. The routers I’ve linked here come pre-loaded with DD-WRT, an open-source firmware that allows you to do all kinds of powerful things like a load a VPN or a firewall or VLANs onto the router itself, meaning that any device that connects to it will automatically be protected. This is probably the most technical suggestion on this list, but if you can figure out your own router settings you can definitely figure out these ones, too. All the hard work has already been done for you.

A Pinebook Pro: $200

Pine64 is a nonprofit that aims to make ethical, open source Linux machines accessible and affordable to the masses. To that end, they have released the Pinebook Pro, a $200 laptop that ships with Debian, which is an operating system I recommend anyways. Just like the routers above, this is a device that you don’t have to worry about installing or setting up yourself. Debian is incredibly user friendly and there’s a ton of support online if you have any questions about it. However, it should be noted that the specs on this computer are slightly below average (in my opinion). If you or your intended gift recipient only uses your laptop for browsing the net, checking your email, and streaming Netflix this is more than enough. But if you use it for any kind of photo editing, video editing, gaming, or highly specific and specialized software that can only run on a Mac or Windows, this may not be the best gift idea.

Books

If you or someone you know is a big reader, there’s a wide range of privacy and security related books, ranging from philosophical to “how-to” to fiction. In the nonfiction category, we have “Click Here to Kill Everybody” by Bruce Schneier and “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff. In the How-To books, try “Extreme Privacy” by Michael Bazzell or “The Personal Digital Resilience Handbook” by David Wild. And for fiction, popular recommendations in the privacy community include Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother” series and “The Circle” by Dave Eggers.

Like I said, not all of these are great ideas. It’s up to you to know the people in your life. But even if you know people who aren’t crazy about privacy, some of these ideas might still work. You could buy your sister a phone case or a wallet from Silent Pocket. You could get your brother “Little Brother” from Cory Doctorow. You could get your mom a Pinebook or an iPhone. Granted, the Pinebook may require some getting used to, so first make sure they’re willing to learn a new operating system, but it’s not hard to get used to once you get over that initial learning curve. Hopefully this list has at least given you a few ideas. Good luck on your gift shopping, and remember to shop smart.

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.