Four Ways to Move off the Cloud to Protect Your Privacy
Hacking reports aren’t new. However, events like the hacking of celebrity accounts on iCloud, NSA surveillance and Facebook’s (Finally!) changing the default for new posts from “public” to “friends” have people re-thinking the storing of private and confidential information in the cloud. Believe it or not, the younger generation is concerned about privacy and looking to moving off the cloud.
Although Millennials have grown up in a digital world, The New York Times reports they care about protecting their privacy as shown in the popularity of apps that erase messages like Snapchat. The article has several interesting quotes from Justin Brookman, director of the Consumer Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
“Previously there had been a sort of undue trust in the magic of cloud services. People are starting to reconsider that.”
“For some people, the results will be that we don’t have any privacy and we should get over that. But I don’t think people want that. We’ve seen the younger generation search out tools that let them communicate in more private ways.”
For most people, it’s not realistic to have complete control over the information shared in the cloud. Still you can take steps to limit what you share and store in the cloud.
Here are four ways that can help you move away from the cloud.
1. Use computer email software.
Web-based email clients like Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Outlook.com may be convenient because you can access your emails from any connected device. Considering researchers have found that Gmail can be hacked with a 92 percent success rate, you might want to switch from web-based emails to a local email client like Microsoft Outlook (not that same as Outlook.com), Thunderbird or Apple Mail.
As a compromise, you can set up your phone to download emails while keeping messages on the server. This way you can still check the latest emails when you’re away from your computer. Then when you get back to your computer, it downloads the emails off the server.
If you want to boost email security, you can install encryption software to encrypt your messages. This will make it difficult for surveillance agents to read your emails. Email Self-Defense provides instructions to install encryption for Mac OS, GNU/Linux and Windows.
2. Save confidential files and photos on your local hard drive.
Saving files in the cloud with services like Dropbox and Google Drive makes it easy to share and access the files. Unfortunately, these files can be hacked or accidentally accessed. Should you need to store documents in the cloud, limit it to non-confidential files. When you save the files in the cloud, be sure to review and set its privacy settings. Many cloud-based services tend to default to the “public” setting.
For the files you already have in the cloud that need updated privacy settings, delete them. Then upload the files again with the proper privacy setting.
As for photos, the old-fashioned approach of storing photos on your computer protects them from being tracked online. Rather than storing every photo taken with your phone in the cloud, you can be selective about what you share in social media and online elsewhere.
The same goes for word processors, spreadsheets and presentations. Rather than typing them up online using Google Docs or Office 365, keep the documents private by doing the work locally on your computer using old-fashioned Microsoft Office (not 365) or Apache OpenOffice.
3. Sync your information across devices with cloudless sync software.
We all make appointments and exchange phone numbers on the go. Most of us also store this information on a computer using Microsoft Outlook contacts and calendar. It’d be a waste of time to enter a new event in your phone and then enter it again it on your computer when you return home.
Instead, use third party sync software like AkrutoSync to automatically sync Outlook with Android, Windows Phone and iOS devices. It has the convenience of the cloud — being able to sync and access information from anywhere — without risking your privacy because AkrutoSync does not sync your information through the cloud.
Next time you schedule an appointment on your phone, it’ll show up on your computer as soon as you get home. You don’t have to get out the USB cable or manually start the sync process.
4. Share files with an encrypted USB flash drive.
Since you want to limit using Dropbox and other online file sharing services, you need a way to share and move files between computers and devices. An encrypted USB thumb drive provides extra security.
These four ways cover the most common computing activities that can easily be done off the cloud to protect your privacy. What other ways can you protect your privacy in today’s very connected world? Post your thoughts in the comments.