In the world of cheap and free applications our private data is the currency we pay for these services.
Many developers incorporate GPS location tracking codes in their apps that relentlessly and remorselessly gather and send precise location data—both current activity and historical.
Then, shockingly, it gets send from users’ phones to servers of more than 70 companies that deal in location data. Their entire raisons d'être are literally based on collecting and analyzing location data, mostly for advertising purposes. We know that the vast majority of this user data is collected and used without user awareness or understanding of its significance or potential consequences.
Looking at weather apps, for example, some of the most popular ones are owned by companies dealing in the location data markets. IBM is the sole owner of the Weather Channel mobile app and GroundTruth, one of the major location companies, owns WeatherBug. And let’s not forget about AccuWeather's location tracking and sharing scandal.
The situation isn’t much better when it comes to other app types we use on a daily basis.
Google allowed third-party developers to read users’ emails. Facebook is tracking your every move even when you’re not using its app or website. And many location sharing apps implement extremely poor security (or don’t implement it at all) which is like leaving open doors to any potential hacker wanting to access that kind of data. in gthe worst cases they haven't only left the door unlocked; they've unlocked it and left it wide open for anyone to enter.
This isn’t surprising in a world where 7 in 10 apps share data with third-party services like location companies, Facebook, or Google. So, what can you do to prevent this?
Well, for starters you can start using apps that keep your data private and do not share it with anyone who’s willing to pay a pretty penny—and earning handsomely—for it.
This list contains apps that are safe to use and that won’t share your private data with anyone. Most of them use advanced encryption protocols or are made by non-profit organizations that don’t have any reason to share and sell your data.
You will find a couple of chat apps, an alternative to Gmail email client, a location sharing app that utilizes advanced two-way encryption, a couple of secure browsers that are just as good as Chrome (and arguably better), one keyboard app that doesn’t store and share your typing data, and even one excellent weather app (believe us, finding a weather app that does not share location data with anyone was the hardest part).
Check them out, they are excellent!
Before we start...
This is a brief checklist of apps which keep your private data safe and don't share it with anyone:
Chatting without worries:
Browsing the web anonymously, for real:
An email client that’s totally secure:
Check local weather without your weather app checking (and sharing) your location:
A keyboard used solely for typing:
Share your location with two-factor encryption:
Chatting without worries
When it comes to chat apps there are a few that offer excellent security without you having to worry whether your data is being shared, sold, or whether it isn’t encrypted. Our two choices for secure chat apps are Signal and Telegram.
Signal is already known as one of the safest apps in the world.
It is universally acclaimed as the perfect choice for everyone who wants their data to be completely safe. The app uses two-way encryption and it doesn’t store any user-related information on outside servers. That means that when you send a message to someone, it is encrypted on both sides and it arrives at the other side without stopping by at any server where it might get stored (even in encrypted form).
As a chat app, Signal is quite alright. It isn’t loaded with features but it provides a fast, simple and intuitive chat experience. Also, there is no need to create an account; all you have to do is to enter and verify your mobile number and that’s it!
You can set your messages to self-destruct after a certain time period, and you can chat with users who don’t use the app via regular SMS. In case you use SMS, the app will inform you that this way of communicating isn’t secure. A great chat app that is secure as it can possibly be. And no, it won’t share your location data with anyone.
Also, you have to select “Secret Chat” in options in order for your chat to be encrypted.
We would recommend Telegram a year ago but recent changes made to the app make it less secure than Signal but it's a good runner up.
Browsing the web anonymously, for real
When it comes to secure browsers, the situation is pretty solid.
First, we have the Firefox Focus, a privacy-focused browser from Firefox. You simply install and run it and you can browse the web without having to worry about being tracked and followed. The app doesn’t store any kind of info that could be shared or sold to third parties.
No cookies, no history, no location data stored on your device, and not a single thing you enter while browsing will be saved (that doesn’t mean your keyboard won’t collect that same data) when using Firefox Focus.
Every site you visit will have its ads and trackers blocked the app forces use of secure connections where available, and there’s still the neat option to turn on desktop versions of your favorite sites. Nice looking and extremely lightweight Firefox Focus is an excellent choice for privacy-concerned users.
The alternative comes from the company that provides alternative to Google Search.
DuckDuckGo is a known search engine that doesn’t collect your data for ad (and any other) purposes and now you can use a browser made by the same company.
DuckDuckGo browser provides all the same benefits as Firefox Focus but it comes in a bit different package when it comes to UI. It’s still extremely secure and won’t share your location data with anyone (it won’t even collect it or store it in any form). It’s as good as Firefox Focus so it all comes down to your personal taste when deciding to use one or the other. Our advice is to install both, test them for a couple of days and then keep your personal favorite.
And while we’re at it, DuckDuckGo is an excellent (yet less powerful and accurate because it doesn’t collect any data) alternative to Google Search.
An email client that’s totally secure
Gmail is virtually a synonym for an email client, especially for Android users. But the platform is known for its data collection and for its lack of privacy.
If you want to use an email client that won’t snoop on your emails and that won’t collect any form of data including location check out ProtonMail.
It is created by scientists at CERN so you can bet the app won’t collect any form of data. It’s simple, they created the app because they want a fully anonymous and secure email client and since they didn’t do this for profit the app doesn’t have to share anything because it is not profit-based.
Since then people from all around the world contributed with donations and their contributions to building the perfect web client that’s secure, anonymous, and seamless to use. Simply install the app, create an account and start sending and receiving secure emails.
ProtonMail won’t share a single byte of your data and it also features neat things like seamless end-to-end encryption, nice looking UI, swiping gestures, and the ability to send self-destructing emails.
As a bonus treat, all servers used by ProtonMail are hosted in Switzerland, the land with the world’s best privacy laws.
Check local weather without your weather app checking (and sharing) your location
Weather apps along with local news apps are the best sources of location data that is frequently shared or sold to location advertising firms. And as you already read in this article notable weather apps either share your location or are owned by location companies.
That’s why finding a weather app that doesn’t collect and share location data is extremely difficult. In fact, we’ve found just one app that ticks all the boxes.
It’s called Weather (yup, not quite imaginative name) and it comes from developers that are part of the research group SECUSO at Technische Universität Darmstadt. This privacy focused group has many privacy-focused apps that are worth a look.
The app provides weather info along with a few other details and all data is provided by the OpenWeatherMap. The app doesn’t come with fancy UI, different skins and widget icons, or automatic location feature. Instead, it comes with just one permission (the permission to access internet in order to download weather data) and it offers a non-permanent location option that deletes selected location once you exit the app (and in case you use this option know that the widget works only if you select a permanent location).
Anyway, if you want a weather app that doesn’t share your location this one is probably your only choice out there.
A keyboard used solely for typing
Practically every popular keyboard app collects typing data in order to improve its predictions, or for better accuracy, or for some other purpose. Collecting and storing data locally isn’t something bad, because that’s needed in order to make an app used for typing better.
What’s not okay is that many keyboard apps send collected data to remote servers, and in some cases have been caught leaking sensitive user data.
If you want to use a keyboard that can be improved by monitoring your typing habits but that is at the same time secure and privacy-oriented you should check out AnySoftKeyboard.The app is filled with features and it allows users to download multiple language packs. It learns your behavior in order to provide word predictions, it supports gestures and voice input, multiple layouts and themes but it won’t send any data it collects to remote servers.
AnySoftKeyboard is a privacy oriented keyboard app that won’t leak any private data but bear in mind that it still collects your typing data in order to provide better predictions.
Share your location with two-factor encryption
Location sharing apps are great to use in many situations but, as we already noted above, many of them implement either extremely poor security or none at all (and both are equally bad).
On the other side, we have Turtler. Our location sharing app utilizes two-way encryption that guarantees not a single piece of location data will be shared with anyone, leaked, or hacked. If you want to use Turtler as your go-to location sharing platform you will be able to do it starting late spring of 2019.
Bonus advice: use a VPN
VPN apps are the perfect way of hiding your location.
By using a VPN app everyone will still be able to track and share your location but at least they won’t get your actual location. There are many different solutions but we recommend using paid versions of TunnelBear, NordVPN, VPN.ac, or VyprVPN.
There are free VPN apps that offer access to many servers located around the globe along with unlimited data and solid connection speed but some of them are known for (oh, the irony) selling location and other forms of private data to third-party firms. This is expected because they are free and in free to use economy user data is the main currency even for VPN services.
So, if you decide to go with a VPN app we recommend using one that’s paid and that offers both mobile and PC versions (and all apps mentioned above offer that).