The recent revelations about the NSA's digital spying program "PRISM" have raised a wave of discontent and concern amongst internet users. Luckily, there are a number of steps that can be taken to protect your private information from snooping...
Operating System: Microsoft and Apple were important participants in PRISM and they dominate the OS market with MS Windows and Mac OS. The open-source, free and independent Linux operating system is not supported by the same aggressive marketing but gives excellent performance, compatibility and very decent stability. There is really no reason not to use it.
Browser: On desktop computers, forget about Safari, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. Choose Mozilla Foundation's Firefox for more confidentiality and equivalent (if not superior) speed and performance. When it comes to smartphone OS, favour BlackBerry for compliance with stringent Canadian privacy laws or wait for Firefox OS from Mozilla's open source, non-profit programs.
Confidential access: Secure your information and IP address from hackers, spies and internet provider interference by using TOR mirroring system or a Virtual Private Network provider. Even then, choose to be redirected through servers in Europe or Canada for extra security.
Email: You'll have to ditch Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, Yahoo!, AOL and Apple. Use the free accounts offered by media outlets, postal services and some retail brands in Europe. Encryption is also an option but as emails are kept on record, snoopers might have time to crack the code.
Search: No Google, no Bing and no Yahoo! (so basically no Google). Ixquick and Startpage give you exactly the same search results as Google but without recording your search pattern and identification data. They were both selected by the EU Commission for being the "most confidential search engines".
Chatting online: You can keep using your usual programs from tech giants on desktop. All you have to do is download "Off The Record", which will encrypt your conversation as you go. Even if the NSA could crack and encryption from OTR, the duration of intercepting the live conversation would be too lengthy to do it on time.
Text: Avoid using instant messaging from American tech giants on your smartphone. Use BlackBerry Messenger (available soon for iOS and Android). You can also use LINE for its secure Japanese servers and awesome manga-style emoticons.
Social Media: Twitter was not part of PRISM and has demonstrated great effort in fighting to protect user information. The only instance where Twitter would release your information is after a long legal battle with a final court order. Korean group messaging app KaKaoTalk can also be used as a social platform.
Pictures: Avoid Facebook-owned Pinterest and Yahoo!-owned Flickr. Share your pictures directly on Twitter or use Reddit's Imgur app.
Video: Twitter's video sharing app (Vine) is a perfect place to share quick videos, you can also integrate them onto the main Twitter client. Replace your YouTube addiction with French player Dailymotion (knowing that the French government recently blocked its takeover by Yahoo!).
Filesharing: Dropbox has already entered talks with the NSA to join prism, so if you absolutely have to use it make sure you encrypt any file you upload. Even safer alternatives include Mega, Ubuntu One and Sparkle Share.
If a great number of users do make these changes in their internet habits; not only will they protect their data from immediate violations, they could also set a long-term change in motion. It would break digital monopolies, make abusive surveillance financially inefficient and remind tech giants not to take their users for granted.For all the latest mobile phone news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.