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Kudos to Apple for privacy-focussed features

I have been using ProtonMail, Signal, DuckDuckGo and SimpleLogin for a fairly long time. These make up an integral part of my online presence, and I cannot go back to a time where these didn’t exist.

Without doubt, I truly enjoy and recommend using privacy-respecting products.

In a recent conference, Tim Cook committed to advancing user privacy by giving them tools to control where their data is shared. Especially in today’s world, it’s important to understand the implications of online data tracking, and it’s necessary to be informed about ways to prevent that. Apple’s recent release of an illustration explaining implications of data tracking will be a great read. While the conclusion of that report focusses on Apple-centric tools to prevent data tracking, the content of the report holds true, that companies profit by monitoring users.

At Apple, we made our choice a long time ago. We believe that ethical technology is technology that works for you. It’s technology that helps you sleep, not keeps you up. It tells you when you’ve had enough, it gives you space to create, or draw, or write or learn, not refresh just one more time. It’s technology that can fade into the background when you’re on a hike or going for a swim but is there to warn you when your heart rate spikes or help you when you’ve had a nasty fall. And with all of this, always, it’s privacy and security first, because no-one needs to trade away the rights of their users to deliver a great product.

Tim Cook at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference, MacRumors

Starting with the next beta release of iOS 14, Apple will be launching a new tool called App Tracking Transparency that will enable users of apps to control sharing of data with app makers. By taking away data tracking functionality within the iOS ecosystem, Apple is definitely making a sizeable dent in businesses that primarily focus on monetizing user data, read Facebook.

An image showing Apple's new App Tracking Transparency feature
Apple’s new App Tracking Transparency feature that will be available in the next beta release of iOS 14

Open-source software like Pi-hole has existed for a while, and recently, online services like NextDNS and AdGuard have emerged that offer similar controls. I am a happy user of these products and services, but I particularly like how Apple is championing this effort.

iOS takes up 50% of the market share in the US, which is Facebook’s largest market. If Facebook is feeling threatened by Apple iOS 14’s new privacy features, we are moving in the right direction.

It’s also worth noting that WhatsApp will be sharing user data with Facebook group of companies. It’s particularly worse for those WhatsApp Business API users as their messages wouldn’t be end-to-end encrypted. Differently put, they will be visible to third-party Business Solutions Providers, including cloud-based version of the API hosted by Facebook:

Some organizations may choose to delegate management of their WhatsApp Business API endpoint to a third-party Business Solution Provider. In these instances, communication still uses the same Signal protocol encryption. However, because the WhatsApp Business API user has chosen a third party to manage their endpoint, WhatsApp does not consider these messages end-to-end encrypted. In the future, in 2021, this will also apply to businesses that choose to leverage the cloud-based version of the API hosted by Facebook.

Gizmodo – This Was WhatsApp’s Plan All Along

On the flip side, Apple is fighting back, highlighting that this will impact small businesses that depend on personalized ads for sales. Facebook also highlights that Apple’s own apps will be exempted from App Tracking Transparency, but it’s not clear if that’s true, based on Apple’s press release.

Other privacy efforts by Apple that I appreciate

In June of 2020, Apple announced support for native encrypted DNS throughout the device. This is a big deal for users like me that have a NextDNS subscription.

In iOS 14 and iPad OS 14, Apple also launched a new App Store functionality, called the privacy nutrition labels. It gives users a quick overview of the apps’ privacy practices — as in, what level of data is obtained by the app, what these details are used for, and also outlines how they may be linked to an individual. Apple’s own apps, like Apple Music, are required to show these labels; they are not exempted.

An image showing the new privacy nutrition labels feature on the Apple App Store
An image showing the new privacy nutrition labels feature on the Apple App Store

If you are not aware, the messaging app Signal collects only your mobile number. It doesn’t link that mobile number to your identity either! If you are a WhatsApp or Telegram user, it’s time to consider switching to Signal.

An image highlighting the data that the messaging app Signal may collect and link to your identity
Signal’s privacy nutrition labels on the App Store

I am keen on seeing where things head from here!

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“A Day in the Life of Your Data” by Apple

It’s a great illustration!

While the conclusion of that story is Apple-centric, with recommendation being to use their products to protect one’s privacy, the content is very true. We all must give it a read, possibly with our parents or children, to bring awareness on what’s truly happening.

It’s available here: A Day in the Life of Your Data by Apple.

Majority of these companies’ focus is on mining user data, for profit.

Choosing privacy-respecting alternatives do not have to come with a compromise.

Most think that by choosing Signal over WhatsApp, they will have to give up on connections with their friends. It’s true to some extent — I understand that network effect can be a friction, I can only hope that we consider privacy-feature-set tradeoff to make the jump. Signal is growing fast and already has basic features to get your communication going.

That’s one example.

NextDNS, ProtonMail, Tutanota, SimpleLogin are a few other privacy-respecting products that I use every day.

If you are looking for privacy-respecting choices in other categories, Privacy Tools has a great list here.

In particular, I want to note NextDNS.

There is nothing to lose by NextDNS. You will only see benefits by using such a DNS resolver, in that, your ISP (Internet Service Provider, like Airtel, Jio, Comcast) will not be able to monitor your DNS queries anymore. You will also get a great level of flexibility, like blocking ads/trackers from these data mining corporations, and like preventing unwanted content from appearing on yourΒ children’s devices.

Pi-hole is an alternative to NextDNS. It is a free, open-source software as well that you can further extend to devices on the go.

Let your change begin today!

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Signal on GitHub trends

So cool to see Signal‘s repositories on the top 5 for this week on GitHub! If you have benefited from this open source, free, privacy-respecting software, you may consider supporting them with donations as well.


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Limiting Facebook and Google activities to specific Firefox containers

Mozilla Firefox’s one of the best features is the ability to use multiple logins on a specific website at the time, using the Multi-account containers feature. This feature is available as an extension for Firefox on the desktop, since Firefox 57.0, Firefox Quantum.
Cookies are contained with the color-coded tabs on the same browser session, allowing one to use multiple logins of a particular website at the same time. You can learn more on how this feature works here.

I recently came across two plugins that takes this feature even further, making it very useful. Meet Facebook container and Google container.
The Facebook container is made by Mozilla, while the Google container is a fork by another developer.
When you activate these extensions on your Firefox browser, your Facebook and Google cookies are deleted. The next time you visit Google or Facebook, the respective content will open on a tab that is contained within this container.

A Facebook link contained within the Facebook container on Firefox Quantum

This means, Facebook and Google will no longer will able to read your activities on other websites. You can safely contain to browser other websites that you need, as usual, and these tabs will open on your regular container.

Only Facebook and Google sites will load on their specific containers.
Something even better is that, these extensions do not necessarily apply only to facebook.com and google.com domains.

I read the code a bit, and it looks like most Facebook-owned domains are listed which includes WhatsApp and Instagram.

Likewise blogspot domains are contained within the Google container.
It should be possible that you can extend this code to other domains that Facebook and Google own as well, or fork the original Mozilla code for Facebook container and write your extension.

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1Password is offering 6 months trial if you haven't signed up yet

I came across a deal today that’s offering 1Password trial for 6 months. I am not quite sure if this has been around since 2017, or even before that, but the good thing is that, 1Password is actively promoting the same and is encouraging new users to use that deal. Link here if you want to sign up without reading any further.
1Password has been my favorite choice of password manager these days. I have tried LastPass in the past, and have been using 1Password since April. I haven’t tried any other password managers so far. I am pretty happy with 1Password’s UI and customer support that I haven’t had a reason to move away.
Some of my most favorite things about 1Password:

The 2FA detector is a bit broken, but one can fix broken items by adding 2fa tag to it. πŸ”
I am not a huge fan of the other browser extensions as they are not consistent. 1Password X aims at offering the consistency in UI. I wish 1Password X is available for Brave and Tor soon. 🌏
Related: Compare your 1Password passwords with haveibeenpwned.com list fast
If you haven’t signed up for 1Password yet, you should. The 6 months trial is a steal, and online security matters.