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80% less distractions with 20% more privacy

Less notifications and less targeted ads over blocking apps/sites reduces my internet addiction and this post is about how I did that. I was addicted to distractions limiting my attention and memory span:

  1. recommendations by chrome to news sites, tech blogs and youtube
  2. push notifications of my gmail

I don't know if I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder but I do know that blogging is helping me and I make friends this way too!

Things started when I watched Social Dilemma and wrote my post Privacy is not about addiction. I have realized that the root cause of my stress is internet addiction, not any lack of privacy. By taking the following measures to protect my privacy, I have managed also to reduce my internet addiction too. Now it is less trivial for any kind of recommendation system to grab my attention as:

  1. the content it recommends me is less relevant to me
  2. it is harder to push me to do something as there are less temptations, less Like buttons, less ads and less push notifications

If I want something, I consciously do something about it or plan for it without wasting my time so even play-time like watching a movie is a conscious act. Sounds liberating, isn't it?

Search engine

Ecosia is using Bing search engine but with an interesting privacy page and when I cannot find what I need (like a technical term), I just put 'g' as the first word in my search and it switches to google search.

📱 Email client

Spark knows for which emails received it is worth creating push notifications and which are just a matter of putting a number next to its icon at the wallpaper in my phone screen. It can block images so that you can block pixels too.

📱 Youtube client

Newpipe on fdroid is a youtube client without ads and without tracking. On desktop, to avoid tracking and ads on youtube, I search for a specific video on google, copy address, paste it and go to youtubepp and download it.

📱 Less apps

Log in intentionally to your social media accounts from your desktop/laptop instead of checking such apps contantly in your mobile. Delete the apps and if you cannot do so, disable them. For example, do you really need google phoyos? Delete it. Do you really need facebook and the "Google" app? Disable them.

Create an email account for newsletters you care but do not add it in your mobile. Instead, plan a timing in a day/week/month to check that from your desktop/laptop.

Replace your mobile homescreen with just a few key apps or notes or photos or contacts of your loved ones. Make it less tempting to distract yourself.

Less notifications

Less push notifications means less distractions. Turn off notifications from all apps apart from what you really need to be notified and not just check it on demand. About any device remember, we are the masters, they are the slaves, not the opposite. Ok, you needs notifications for calls and sms but are all of your communication apps so important? Bank apps, password manager, firewall, antivirus, yes but are you calendar reminders properly configured?

Internet browser

Changing browser can be a small or a big effort depending on how deep you want to go. The 4 extensions below are for firefox browser in a desktop. And if you really need chrome, keep the first 3 and use vivaldi browser or just use vivaldi without any extension in a desktop and in your mobile. In any case, I don't like syncing my browser with gmail and letting my gmail know everything I do online. Now instead of relying on syncing browsers with an account at firefox/vivaldi, I just have 1password (as a password manager and as an authenticator and if you don't mind filling your credentials with a keyboard shortcut use bitwarden which is cheaper) and keep a few notes of my setup. Afterall, when I tried syncing, I found the UX a bit messy and sometimes buggy too. So the browser extensions is more a matter of diminishing returns than a core change.

Privacy Badge: Blocks cookies with domains cookies collecting unique identifiers after it was sent a Do Not Track message. Focus only on google, facebook and amazon and check

Ghostery: Blocks cookies with unique identifiers and keeps data sent in headers and the URL path that cannot be unique

Trace is spoofing browser fingerprinting. Check here the section "fingerprinting resistance".

Multi-account containers: Prevents one tab from reading your activity on another tab. To get an idea, check the BrowserLeaks tool from Pixel Privacy and their guide about Browser Fingerprinting. For example, you need facebook to interract with specific individuals or groups? Fine but open it in an empty container and then logout. Same for twitter and linkedin.

As regards the tracking cookies, they are usually used for advertising purposes, retargeting in particular. Retargeting is a tactic that often relies on tracking cookies to show ads to people who have previously visited a specific site or shown interest in a particular product. Tracking cookies can record all kinds of information: browsing history, search queries, purchases, device information, location, when and where you saw previous advertisements, how many times you’ve seen an ad, and what links you click on. So for sites that you always want to be logged in and you can properly manage their cookies, use their apps or find alternative services.

Diminishing returns

Now the 80% of the effort for more privacy would go I guess to things like the following but it won't make any big different in e.g. the relevance of the ads I get:

  1. Email service provider. As a rule of thumb, use an email account that people know and another one that services know. The first one is hard to change but for new services you can start using a new one and gradually move away from what you have. Zoho mail has a nice privacy page and its online versions of word, spreadsheet, powerpoint, calendar and google drive alternatives are pretty interesting and free.
  2. Delete social media accounts you don't need and ask friends not to tag you on social media you keep.
  3. Switch from google maps to Osmand
  4. Entering paranoid mode about IP... hide your IP with a VPN that is also sold by mozilla and its privacy policy is the most transparent I have ever seen or a new VPN that also protects you from your ISP spying on the domains you visit
  5. Use Tor on top of VPN to hide from your ISP the fact that you use Tor and route all of your traffic through Tor. I wouldn't recommend the most popular tor-over-vpn services like nordvpn because that would defeat the purpose as for the most popular services it would be tempting to sell your data. At this point you would watch videos on which of the endless settings of your phone to disable like turning off the Samsung Customization Service from all apps.
  6. Entering paranoid mode about GPS... Forget uber, buy a GPS navigator, use mainly your desktop/laptop and buy a lightphone
  7. Entering paranoid mode about GSM... VoIP through your laptop instead of your phone to avoid IMSI geofencing
  8. When travelling, get an international SIM card as stated here like this
  9. The sky is the limit.

Personally I started following the first 3 but I didn't bother with the rest as I would need first to radically change my habits and I don't want that now. For example I managed to delete my facebook but my colleagues are on whatsapp so I still use whatsapp. Technology alone is not enough, you need discipline but the few changes above gave me less temptations for distractions.

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