The rise of social media applications has unfortunately been coupled with a rise in consumer data harvesting, often without the consent of users.

In addition to the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has also been shown to collect user phone calls on Android devices. Anything from call dates, times, duration, recipients, and phone numbers were collected by the social media giant, renewing worries of tech companies spying on consumers.

In light of this worrying trend of consumer data harvesting, here are 5 ways to set up a spy-free life.

Check your app permissions

Nowadays, it’s incredibly easy to get a new app up and running on your mobile device. Just head to the app store, tap “Download”, and grant app permissions as needed.

The problem is, many users often skip over the types of permissions requested by the app. If you’re downloading a photo app, it should not be asking to read your text messages. If you’re getting a news app, it should be requesting access to your call records.

When downloading an app, carefully review what permissions the app is asking for. If an app is asking for an excessive amount of permissions and those have nothing to do with the function the app claims to perform, do not install the app.

You can also use services such as Google account security to review which apps you’re using and what permissions they’ve been granted.

Use a VPN

A VPN is an indispensable digital survival tool. It creates an encrypted tunnel between you and the parties you communicate with online, ensuring your data won’t fall into the hands of snoops while in transit.

To be clear, a VPN will not protect your data if you choose to use online services that harvest and share your information. Rather, a VPN uses encryption to make sure only the parties you intend to reach can receive your data. You’ll still have to exercise caution and common sense when using apps and services, but a VPN makes sure no one else is peaking into your device traffic.

Setting up a VPN used to be a tedious and complicated affair, but the today’s premium providers offer a quick, hassle-free VPN setup.

Disable ads

Ads may seem like harmless distractions to your online browsing, but many actually use cookies to spy on your browsing behavior and may send your information to third parties without your permission.

To guard against rogue ads, enable your browser’s ad-blocker, consider plugins like Privacy Badger, and never click on ads that you don’t trust.

Also, develop the habit of frequently clearing your cookies. No matter how careful you are online, there’s always a chance that an unwanted cookie finds it way onto your browser. Periodically review your cookies and delete the ones you don’t need/know.

Be anonymous online

Another way to live “spy-free” is to go invisible online. There are a few ways to do this.

First, delete your social media profiles. From Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and LinkedIn, peruse the settings and either deactivate or delete your account. Be sure to understand the different options available on each site and select the option that completely removes your information. While it’ll take some time for your account to be removed, be warned that there will be no going back once the process is completed. At the very least, you’ll be one step closer to living “spy-free”.

Next, set up anonymous accounts online. Create email accounts that don’t reveal your real name, using anonymous, Bitcoin-accepting services like Onion Mail. Ideally, you would also be accessing your encrypted mail service over a VPN-secured connection. As for chat apps, use a secure option like Telegram.

Stay informed of the latest news

While the principles above should protect you from existing spying threats, there are simply too many new technologies, bugs, and breaches emerging daily.

Make a habit of keeping up with the latest tech headlines and take action as soon as you hear about a potential loophole for spying. If a social media service has been revealed to be collecting user data, consider quitting the service. If government policies are granting your ISP more surveillance power, use a VPN and anonymized browsers like Tor to encrypt and hide your data.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed, so remember to use common sense, keep up with the latest news, and evaluate the privacy tools at your disposal. It’s hard to live “spy-free” in this day and age, but it’s certainly possible, and definitely worth it.