Locking it down

I received a message from a shady Twitter account a few weeks ago asking if I’d be up for selling my URL. We had a back and forth about price, but when he decided it was higher than he was willing to pay, he started asking why all my passwords were a variation on the same word. And he knew the word. Which really gave me the willies.


I stopped replying and decided it was time to finally sort out my antiquated, circa-2001 password.

Enter Dashlane, a super-secure password manager. (There are a few of these that are more or less the same — I just picked Dashlane for its snazzy design and whizzy app.) Within an hour — a very boring hour — I’d changed all my important passwords to secure, unpronounceable gobbledigook. I’m paying a small amount for the Premium account so that my passwords are synced across devices — but it’s more than worth it for the peace of mind it provides. I’m now totally troll-ready.

Then, while flying to Mexico on Christmas Day, I read an illuminating / terrifying interview with Aral Balkan — a ‘cyborg rights activist’ who travels the world teaching us about the dangers of the algorithms that are taking over our lives — in Offscreen Magazine. Again, it really gave me the willies.

I use all the Google products (Gmail, search, maps, calendar, etc.) and find its tailored features useful, mostly. But Balkan made me think about how these useful features might actually be pretty creepy. Or if they’re not creepy now, they could well be in the future. In the age of Trump, and a UK prime minister with a track record of heavy-handed surveillance measures, the future feels a lot more unknown than it used to.

So when I got home this week, I made a few changes to my internet set-up:

  • I switched my default browser from Chrome to Safari, combined with Balkan’s own Better Blocker plugin, which eliminates ads and trackers that monitor you as you go about your browsing. As well as meaning I’m not being stalked as I go about my business, it’s also sped up the loading time of pages. Zing!
  • I stopped using Google search. Instead, I’m using Ecosia on desktop (which plants trees with its ad revenue) and DuckDuckGo’s iOS app (which doesn’t store your info or track you.)
  • I’m using Telegram instead of WhatsApp and iMessage. It’s not possible in all cases (it’s pretty difficult to persuade all your friends to switch). But I’m using it for my most important, and frequent, conversations — with my wife, BFF and housemate.

With Black Mirror back on our screens, maybe 2018’s the year to start thinking about your online security and privacy. I’ll report back later in the year on whether I’ve stuck with the new set-up and whether it’s made any difference.

Stay safe out there, kids!

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