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The 6 Best Facebook Messenger Alternatives for Private Chats

If you’re trying to cut Facebook out of your life, Messenger is one of the apps you need to replace.

Its chats are not end-to-end encrypted by default, meaning that Facebook could access your chats if it wanted to. And because Facebook thrives on collecting as much data as possible, you’re probably not comfortable with the company spying on what you say to your friends.

So, with that in mind, we have compiled a list of Facebook Messenger alternatives which allow you to chat privately with family and friends. Once you’ve chosen one you’ll just have to convince your friends to sign up to it too.

1. Signal

If you’re looking for a super secure messaging client that’s also easy to use, Signal could be the one for you. Signal is an open source messaging service available on Android, iPhone, Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Signal is developed by Signal Foundation, a successor to Open Whisper Systems. The best part about Signal’s privacy is that the backend code is also open source and verifiable. A lot of secure messaging services only open source the frontend application code (“client-side”) while keeping the backend platform proprietary (“server-side”).

That’s not the case with Signal. This might seem like a small thing, but this layer of transparency adds more confidence and trust to the system. It’s one of the reasons why Edward Snowden has endorsed Signal. Regardless of how you feel about him, he certainly knows about privacy.

With the application itself, you’ll find all the features you’d look for in a messaging service. You can text, make voice calls, send pictures and videos, share documents, create group chats, and similar.

Signal is extremely simple to use. You sign up using your phone number and a one-time password that’s sent to you via SMS. Then, just give your name and you’re all set. There’s no email address or password to worry about.

Signal will ask your permission to look up your contacts, but it only uses this temporarily to see who you also know on Signal. Those details aren’t kept on Signal’s servers.

Download: Signal for Android | iOS (Free)

2. Telegram

Telegram has arisen as a hugely popular alternative to the more mainstream messaging apps. With over 400 million monthly active users at the time of writing, there’s clearly lots to love about Telegram.

You’ll find its interface familiar to Facebook Messenger, with a lot of the same features and characteristics—minus the bad parts. Telegram is available on every major platform including iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and the web. The app’s UI is clean and simple to use.

When you’re looking for secure and private alternatives to popular messaging clients, Telegram is usually one of the first options to pop up. But while Telegram is open source, only the client-side code is available to the public. The server-side code is all proprietary, so you have to trust the company’s word on its security.

Some security experts criticize Telegram because it doesn’t use end-to-end encryption by default. For this, you need to open a Secret Chat with every person you’re talking to. Without it, Telegram works just like every other messaging service: keeping your messages protected on its servers, where it has access to all of your data. This conveniently allows you to use it on all your devices, though.

So why is Telegram on this list? Because it’s way better than Facebook Messenger. There are no annoying ads or stories. And Telegram boasts some really useful bots. Because the service is so popular, you’ll probably find that your friends are already using Telegram. If not, you can hopefully convince them to jump ship.

Download: Telegram for Android | iOS (Free)

3. Threema

Threema is a paid messaging app with a focus on privacy and gimmick-free features. It includes all of the essentials you’d expect, like group chats, voice calls, media sharing, and more. In addition to these standard tools, Threema lets you protect sensitive chats with a PIN, agree or disagree with messages using reactions, and choose whether to sync your contacts.

Everything is end-to-end encrypted to protect your privacy. However, Threema goes one step further, as it doesn’t require you to use your phone number or email address to sign up. The app provides you with a random ID instead, which can’t be connected to you. See Threema’s Security page for more information.

The app costs a one-time fee of $3, and doesn’t include any ads or other nonsense once you’re in. You can also use the app on the web after installing it on your phone.

Download: Threema for Android | iOS ($2.99)

4. Wire

Wire is intended for business-level collaboration, but features a basic free tier for personal use. It’s completely open source and features end-to-end encryption across all communication. The service has received independent audits from many security firms, so you can trust that it’s secure.

For chatting one-on-one or with a few friends, Wire is probably overkill since it’s intended as something more akin to Slack. But if you have a bigger group and want to set up secure communication with them, Wire could work.

Download: Wire for Android | iOS (Free, subscription available)

5. WhatsApp

With over two billion monthly users, WhatsApp is certainly the biggest messaging platform in the world. It’s owned by Facebook which may rightfully give you pause for thought. But for now, the app has managed to stay mostly independent from Facebook.

WhatsApp’s Status feature isn’t in your face all the time. There are no ads in the app. And even its business features are tastefully implemented.

There are two big reasons WhatsApp makes for a solid alternative to Facebook Messenger. First, WhatsApp uses end-to-end AES 256-bit encryption by default on all chats. As long as you (and the person you’re talking to) are running the latest version of WhatsApp, your chats are encrypted.

WhatsApp states its position on encryption clearly in the WhatsApp FAQs:

“WhatsApp has no ability to see the content of messages or listen to calls on WhatsApp. That’s because the encryption and decryption of messages sent on WhatsApp occurs entirely on your device. Before a message ever leaves your device, it is secured with a cryptographic lock, and only the recipient has the keys.

In addition, the keys change with every single message that is sent. While all of this happens behind the scenes, you can confirm your conversations are protected by checking the security verification code on your device.”

Also, WhatsApp uses the Signal Protocol end-to-end encryption system, which is the same open source setup used by Signal. Furthermore, you can use two-step authentication to secure the WhatsApp data on your phone.

So the world’s most popular messaging app, which is owned by Facebook, is also one of the most secure and privacy-focused messaging apps. This is ironic, but means that WhatsApp is better for privacy than you might at first think.

Download: WhatsApp for Android | iOS (Free)

6. Messenger Lite (Android) or Friendly (iOS)

If you can’t pull yourself away from Facebook Messenger because all your friends and family use it, you could try Messenger Lite instead.

The lightweight version of Messenger gives you all the essential messaging features (including media sharing) but does away with everything unnecessary. There are no ads, Messenger Day stories section, third-party apps, sticker store, or other such nonsense.

After switching to Messenger Lite, make sure you’re not continuously uploading your contact book to Facebook by going to Profile > People > Sync Contacts.

Messenger Lite is optimized to take up less space on your phone and use mobile data more efficiently, so it’s also great for older devices. While you’re still using Facebook’s service, it’s a better way to use Facebook Messenger if and when you have to.

Unfortunately, it’s not available for iOS outside of Turkey. We recommend trying Friendly instead, which is a lightweight wrapper on the mobile Facebook website. It lets you access Messenger without all the usual bloat. It’s free, with a small purchase available to remove ads.

Download: Messenger Lite for Android (Free)
Download: Friendly for iOS (Free, in-app purchase available)

More Facebook Messenger Alternatives to Try

In this article, we’ve looked at several apps like Messenger which focus on privacy. Hopefully, you can abandon Facebook Messenger and convince everyone you chat with to join you on an alternative app. But if that’s not an option, remember that you can use Messenger without Facebook.

However, if you still want to move away from Messenger but don’t like any of these options, here are some more Facebook Messenger alternatives to try.

Read the full article: The 6 Best Facebook Messenger Alternatives for Private Chats

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Facebook Buys Giphy: Should You Worry About Your Personal Data?

The GIF-making brand, Giphy, has been acquired by Facebook for a reported $400 million. It joins a portfolio that already boasts Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. This isn’t a huge surprise: Giphy started as a search engine, but users could soon share these GIFs on Facebook. Giphy’s reach grew, as did Facebook’s.

But after the news was announced, users immediately panicked about their security and personal details. After all, Facebook’s suffered a number of privacy breaches recently. So can you trust Giphy now? What data does it actually collect? And how can you ensure your private information stays secure?

What Does Facebook Gain From Buying Giphy?

Facebook reports 50 percent of Giphy’s traffic comes from its brands, predominantly Instagram. That’s why Vishal Shah, Instagram’s VP of product, announced the acquisition, noting that the takeover is in a bid for better integration with Instagram. Shah also says Facebook will work to develop Giphy’s technology and content.

It already has the largest library of independent GIFs. Its main competitor, Tenor, was bought by Google in 2018, so this once more advances the battle between two internet giants.

And Giphy is certainly a heavy-hitter.

Let’s look at Giphy’s integration across online services. It claims to be “everywhere your conversations are happening”—so that’s social networking sites like Twitter, TikTok, and Snapchat. You can also find it on iMessage, Google Chat, and Slack, as well as Facebook properties like Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp.

Then there’s Tinder, Signal, Trello, Mailchimp, and Telegram. Giphy has become an important part of communication apps.

It’s not difficult to see why this is such a valuable asset to Facebook. In particular, Snapchat is a major rival, as it has a predominantly youthful demographic.

However, it’s important to note that we don’t know which services will continue to support Giphy after the acquisition. It may disappear from competitors and be replaced. Or it may be business as usual. Facebook apparently intends for little to change right now. We doubt it will make any difference to apps which encourage logging in via Facebook, like Tinder and TikTok.

What Data Does Giphy Collect?

After so many privacy scandals, it’s only natural users question whether Facebook also wants more access to data, especially on rival systems like Twitter. But this is only an app that provides GIFs—surely nothing personal is collected about you… right?

GIFs library Facebook

Actually, Giphy collects data you submit yourself directly, indirectly from third-parties, and automatically. The latter includes your IP address, device information, and cookies, chiefly for targeted ads, although the Privacy Policy also argues it’s to combat spam and malware. Otherwise, Giphy says all information is collected “to personalize, improve, understand and continue to operate the Services.”

Any developers that integrate it into apps have to inform Giphy of the device’s tracking ID.

It’s taken until the acquisition for the most concerning aspect of Giphy to come to light. Whenever you use it, the company can track how a GIF is shared, where (i.e. the platform), and what it expresses. Giphy literally knows if you’re annoyed, happy, or in hysterics.

Giphy can also can track keystrokes—meaning the service can tell what you’re searching for by spying on what you’re typing.

Embedded within GIFs is a tracking identifier which informs Giphy of your online browsing habits: that’s what you search for on the web, and which apps you use.

Couple this with what Facebook already knows about you. Ads might become scarily accurate (if they’re not already).

You might not be on Facebook. You might block its tracking cookies. But through Giphy, Facebook could—potentially—still track you.

How to Keep Your Data Secure

GIFs graphic data

If you want to keep further information about yourself out of Facebook’s hands, your best option is to delete your Giphy account before the switchover occurs.

That isn’t a fix-all solution because other services you use might share data. Check the privacy policies of third-parties; what do they do with your personal information? If you can’t find enough details about sharing, contact them.

Take iMessages, for example. Open a conversation thread, swipe across to More then locate Giphy in the app list. Swipe right to left on it and click Delete. But without it, iMessages uses the search engine, Bing, for its GIFs. This would be fine, except Bing could still source these from Giphy.

Do you trust Apple not to share personal information?

Instead, try another service like the Google-owned Tenor or independents like GIFwrapped. It depends who you want seeing your information—a big company like Facebook or Google, or a smaller entity. You can use software to convert videos to GIFs too.

Of course, you should support services which don’t share details, like Signal. The messenger app acts as a proxy so searches can’t be traced back to you. Instead, searches look like they’re made by Signal.

The same is true of Slack, which refuses to send personally identifiable data.

It doesn’t seem like either will stop using Giphy after Facebook’s acquisition, unless the social media giant forces the issue. We’d be especially surprised, however, if Twitter continues using Giphy without initiating a proxy protocol to mask users’ details. They are, after all, key rivals.

This puts Snapchat in a quandary: will they cooperate with a major competitor to keep delivering a popular image format to its youthful demographic? Will it find a similar service to replace Giphy? Or will it develop its own GIF library?

Should You Stop Using Giphy?

This isn’t the first time Giphy has been involved in some controversy. Artists receive no fees whenever their work is used in GIFs. In fact, they don’t even get credit. Doing this would cause various practical issues, but you can’t blame creatives for feeling irked that their hard work isn’t acknowledged.

But Giphy isn’t all bad. It’s immensely popular because it boasts such an impressive library. It’s also trying to make the world better by, for instance, teaching people sign language—so whether you delete the app or not might be a tougher decision than you initially think.

Read the full article: Facebook Buys Giphy: Should You Worry About Your Personal Data?

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What Is a Website Cookie? How Cookies Affect Your Online Privacy

Whether you’re browsing Google search results, logging into Facebook, or just innocently chatting away on an online forum, you’ve encountered cookies. They aren’t inherently harmful but, just like passwords or email addresses, they are exploitable when placed in the wrong hands.

Keep reading to learn about what cookies are and why they can be so dangerous in the wrong hands.

What Is a Website Cookie?

Cookies are files on your computer that begin their life when you visit a website. They store bits of information about your interactions with the website. A cookie is created on your first visit and then checked on repeat visits by the website that made it.

Why Do Cookies Have That Name?

The cookie has an odd name, yet nobody has a straight answer on why it’s called such. One theory is that it’s derived from the term “magic cookie,” which was a term used for a packet of data back in 1979. Another is that it’s a reference to Hansel and Gretel, who navigated a forest using cookie crumbs. Another says it’s because, at the time, a show called the Andy Williams Show had a character called the “Cookie Bear” who would ask for a cookie, much like a computer does.

How Your Computer Gets Cookies

Regardless of how cookies got their name, you’ve probably seen websites inform you that they’re going to give you one. You may even get options to customize what gets stored in it. This popup is due to the EU’s GDPR law, which states that users must agree to cookies that store personal data. That’s why websites these days seem so keen to tell you about their cookie usage.

Cookies are specific to you, and it can be read by the webserver when you interact with it. Programs on your computer can also read them.

A diagram showing how cookies are created and used.
Image Credit: Tizio/Wikimedia

Your browser mediates the cookies between your computer and the website. The website can tailor the content you see, depending on what cookies you have stored. Cookies can expire after a given period (usually determined by the website issuing the cookie), but if necessary, you can delete them yourself.

Why Do Cookies Exist?

So, why do we use cookies on the internet? Because they’re convenient and efficient. If a website wants to service thousands of users without cookies, it would have to store and process all of the interaction data. By offloading that work to your browser, it becomes a faster and less difficult procedure.

Cookies identify you on the website. Cookies can store all sorts of information, like your preferences, your browser type, your location, etc. The website can then use this information to enhance your experience.

For example, have you ever closed your web browser, re-opened it, and saw that you the website didn’t sign you out? This was possible via the power of cookies. The cookie for the website remembered your login information and used it to log you back in quickly.

How Do Cookies Affect You?

A login screen representing what information a cookie stores.
Image Credit: mishoo/Depositphotos

For the most part, cookies are not harmful. They’re just another protocol used on the internet to facilitate communication between users and servers. Cookies cannot carry viruses or malware, nor can they transfer malicious programs to other users.

As such, going on the warpath on cookies isn’t necessary most of the time. You lose the convenience of staying logged into your favorite websites and gain very little.

So, what should you worry about? The worst possible scenario would be the interception or forgery of one of your cookies, which would allow another user to impersonate you on some website. This could result in them eavesdropping on your user data or hijacking your account credentials.

However, there’s no need to worry. Cookie security mostly depends on the website and your browser; a cookie encryption feature, for example, can help protect you from hackers.

A more prevalent issue is a specific type of cookie called the “tracking cookie.” These cookies do not have your wellbeing in mind. Instead, they keep track of all of your actions on certain websites.

These harvest data to build browsing history profiles, which can then target specific ads to you. As such, this causes a privacy issue where cookies snoop on your every move.

Protecting Your Privacy With Cookies

Here’s what you need to know about cookie privacy: they cannot see any information that you don’t personally provide. In other words, just because a website has a cookie on you doesn’t mean that they know everyone in your family and which schools you’ve attended—unless you entered that information to the website.

The biggest problem with tracking cookies is that an advertising agency can view your browsing history, as that’s what they use to target ads relevant to your interests. You can prevent them from doing this, of course, by playing with your browser settings and disabling cookies.

If you’re using a modern-day browser, there’s likely a chance you already have tracking cookie protection. For example, back in 2019, Firefox began blocking tracking cookies by default. As such, it’s worth checking what your browser is doing to protect you from tracking cookies.

If you don’t want to disable all cookies and keep a level of convenience, some browsers let you disable specific cookies from certain domains. Meanwhile, more advanced browsers allow you to synchronize with blacklists maintained by people or communities to block domains with shady cookie practices. You can also enable HSTS to prevent cookie hijacking.

Ultimately, when it comes to cookie privacy, it’s all about trust. Do you trust that website to log every interaction? Read their privacy policy and terms of use—you can usually find these on the website near the header or footer. If you don’t trust them, you can always wipe your cookies later.

Getting the Facts Straight on Website Cookies

Website cookies store your data, but there’s no real reason to be afraid of them. They’re there to make your internet life more manageable by remembering who you are and how you use the website. If you dislike the idea of cookies, however, you can always tell your browser never to store them.

If you’re hungry for more cookies, be sure to learn about the different types of browser cookies.

Read the full article: What Is a Website Cookie? How Cookies Affect Your Online Privacy

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5 Reasons Why Home and Remote Workers Should Use a VPN

You’ve heard about virtual private networks, and probably read somewhere that they’re great for improving security and privacy. But for some reason, you’re not using a VPN. After all, your time is taken up with work.

You don’t have time for Netflix, social networking, online gaming, or any other activity that benefits from using a VPN.

As it turns out, there are many more reasons for using a VPN, especially if you work from home.

How Does a VPN Work?

Despite VPN usage rocketing, there remains some mystery around how VPNs work.

Think of it as a secure tunnel between two online locations (perhaps your home and work, or your favorite website). No one on the outside can see what you’re doing in this secret tunnel. Various security and privacy benefits come with using a VPN. In some cases they can improve your internet speed too, by circumventing your ISP’s data prioritization.

Two types of VPN are available:

  • Access to a single VPN server (perhaps provided by your employer)
  • Connecting to the internet via a third-party VPN subscription service

While similar, they have slightly different uses. Our complete guide to how VPNs work explains this further.

Here are five reasons why anyone working remotely should be using a VPN.

Using a Work VPN? Follow Your Company’s IT Policy!

Working remotely? If you’re accessing your organization’s network or using hardware provided by your employer, ensure you’re adhering to the IT policy. As you’ve probably already signed your agreement to this, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Just make sure you use the equipment as you would in the office: for work purposes.

It’s also worth pointing out that the policy may exclude you from working from your favorite café or brasserie. Regardless of whether you have a VPN running on your computer, this could be a big no-no, so tread carefully. Contact your IT department for advice here.

Working from home during a precautionary lockdown? Check you have the latest version of the IT policy as it may have been updated to reflect recent events.

1. A Secure VPN Is Vital During Pandemics

Social lockdown to combat the effects of a pandemic has been proven to seriously impact working practices. While there are various solutions to this, for office workers a key weapon is a VPN.

Remote working is a security risk in many ways, not least in giving cybercriminals new avenues for attack. Hackers can intercept unencrypted connections, for example. Passwords can be sniffed, stolen, and used, and sensitive data stolen.

With a connection to your employer’s network secured by a VPN, you can work with confidence. Encrypted connections cannot be sniffed. Your password remains safe.

Ideally this VPN would be provided by your employer. If no VPN provision has been made, reach out to your IT colleagues. While it’s possible you’ll be refused, it would be short-sighted.

Freelancer or virtual assistant? Perhaps there is a collaborative portal you use. Your vital files might be stored in the cloud. Or you might be concerned about the security of VOIP calls.

You can still use a VPN here. Simply subscribe to a top VPN service, like ExpressVPN, and go from there.

2. Home VPNs Are Cheaper Than Commuting

Stop commuting - work from home via a VPN

Incredibly, staying at home and using a VPN to connect to your corporate network is cheaper than commuting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a health emergency or some other reason for prolonged home working.

Even when you consider the electricity costs and the VPN subscription, it’s still cheaper. If your IT department has configured a VPN from your computer direct to your workplace, even better!

You wake up, burn your hand on the cafetière, fall into your car with your tie on wrong, or your makeup still to do. Nothing goes right. And then you realize you’re short on gas, which means a stop on the way to the office. Then you get caught in traffic, making you late. And you forgot to sort out your tie/makeup.

It’s horrible. Really, if you can avoid living like that, you should.

If working from home is an option, you can keep your data private and secure using a VPN. Your current work projects are protected from hackers by the VPN’s encryption. All for a few dollars a month.

3. Productivity Is Increased With VPN Privacy Software

Working from home, or at a table in your favorite café, or even in a hot-desking workspace is great. You’re swapping the water cooler for a cat and a coffee machine. If you have the determination and discipline to work rather than play, you should experience a marked increase in productivity.

Is it really that easy? Well, it takes some effort to get in the zone. But one thing you don’t want is to be worrying about the security and privacy of your connection. That sort of distraction will reduce productivity, not increase it.

Simply enabling your VPN client can help immeasurably.

4. Remote Access Your Work PC With a Secure VPN

While reading this, you’re probably wondering “how am I going to connect to my work PC?” It’s quite simple. Using remote access software you can establish a remote connection with your work desktop.

Several options are available here, from SSH to VNC and the most popular, RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol).

All you need to do is ensure your work computer is switched on, which a colleague can do for you. If your organization’s IT policy permits VPN access and it is enabled, you should be able to connect.

Again, a private work-arranged VPN will be required here.

5. A VPN Protects You on Public Wi-Fi

Use a VPN to safely work from home

One of the greatest things about working as a freelancer is that you can work anywhere. Cafés are popular, but you may prefer transport hubs, shopping malls, or other places with free Wi-Fi.

If you don’t have Wi-Fi at home, free wireless access might be the only chance you have of getting online for remote work.

But is free Wi-Fi safe?

Over the years, various threats dwelling in free Wi-Fi hotspots have been uncovered. Wi-Fi sniffer software installed on laptops, tablets, and smartphones can detect and capture unencrypted data. Fake wireless networks posing as real record everything you do while connected.

You probably don’t fancy losing your username and password to a stranger sat nearby.

But actually, it doesn’t matter if the Wi-Fi is free or paid. If it isn’t yours and you don’t have control over it, you shouldn’t connect without a VPN. Simply subscribe to a VPN and install the app on your laptop, tablet, or mobile to protect your data.

Which VPN Should You Use?

Many VPN services are available to subscribe to. However, they differ in quality, reliability, and privacy policy.

So, how do you make the right choice? Well, you need to look for a service that is highly regarded, fast, and with enough servers to ensure reliability. But you also need a VPN that has a clear no-logging policy.

Netflix support is irrelevant for work, but you might need torrent access. Many organizations rely on peer-to-peer (P2P) networking to transfer data. Microsoft distributes updates using P2P too, making it additionally important to have.

Further, you’ll need a VPN that is affordable. If encrypted VPN tunneling isn’t provided by your employer to its network, they may be persuaded to cough up. Otherwise, consider paying for a VPN over a longer period (such as six months) to gain a discount.

Free VPNs are available, but while a handful are good, most are designed to farm your personal data. They’re best avoided.

Want a suggestion for a VPN? We have a reader exclusive: Get 49% off on our top recommended VPN, ExpressVPN.

Working From Home? You Need a VPN

Whether you’re in lockdown, need a few days to work from home, or freelance full-time, you need a VPN.

Freelancers and virtual assistants can take their pick from a range of great VPN services. If you’re employed, meanwhile, your employer should be able to provide you with a VPN connection to the network. You might even get a remote connection to your work PC!

Read the full article: 5 Reasons Why Home and Remote Workers Should Use a VPN

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How to Hide “Typing” and “Seen” on Facebook Messenger

Like most modern messaging apps, Facebook Messenger shows you when someone has either seen your message or is typing one themselves. These are useful for silently acknowledging the latest message or knowing when the other person is getting back to you. But many people don’t like them.

If you feel that read receipts and typing indicators are more harmful than useful, we’ll show you how to hide them in Facebook Messenger.

How to Hide the Seen and Typing Icons in Desktop Messenger

There’s no built-in option for turning off “typing” or “seen” on the desktop version of Facebook Messenger. As a result, you need to turn to browser extensions to do the job.

You’ll find several Chrome extensions that claim to disable the typing and seen indicators in Messenger. Unfortunately, these tend to come and go, and there’s no guarantee that an extension like this won’t be bought out by spammers. At the time of writing, though, the following options are functional.

We didn’t include Unseen for Facebook, another popular tool, due to several reviews reporting that it hijacked search results.

Unseen: Chat Privacy

Unseen Chat Privacy Messenger

This extension allows you to disable several Facebook Messenger features:

  • The “message seen” icon
  • Read receipts
  • When you were last active
  • The “typing…” indicator

You can also choose to use the extension on messenger.com in addition to Facebook’s Messenger page. The app is well-reviewed and while it hasn’t been updated since January 2019, during testing it functioned properly.

It does require access to all the data on every website you visit, though, which is excessive. Our next option is more privacy-conscious.

Messenger Unread

Messenger Unread

This is a less popular extension for the job, but it works just as well. Instead of a list of options, Messenger Unread simply disables read receipts and typing indicators. You can click the extension icon in your toolbar to toggle it on or off—when it’s blue, read receipts are disabled.

Messenger Unread was last updated in February 2020, meaning it’s more current than some of the other choices. The tool is also open-source; the developer advertises that it’s only 30 lines of code. This means you can check the source for yourself to make sure there’s nothing shady going on.

In our testing, the “read” indicator still appeared next to our own messages for the other person, but they didn’t know when we had seen their messages.

How to Appear Offline on Facebook Messenger

If you don’t care about read receipts but want friends to think you’re offline on Messenger, you can toggle a setting. Click the Gear icon at the top-left of the Facebook Messenger window. Here, you’ll see a slider labeled Show when you’re active.

Messenger Show When Active

Turn this off, and friends won’t see if you’re online or not. Please note that to fully disappear you’ll need to disable it everywhere you use Facebook or Messenger, so you should turn it off on your phone too. To do that, open the Messenger app, tap your profile picture in the top-left, select Active Status, and toggle the slider Off.

How to Hide Read Receipts in Mobile Messenger

There aren’t any extensions like the above when using Facebook Messenger on Android or iOS. For that, you’ll need to employ a few tricks to check messages without showing that you have read them.

Use Notifications to Preview Messages

The first way to peek at Facebook Messenger messages is using the notifications on your device. Both Android and iOS allow you to show banners for new notifications and review them at a later time.

Using these, you can see a preview of incoming messages without alerting the other party. The downside to this is that if a message is longer than a few lines, you’ll only see the first part of it in the notification.

First, in the Messenger app, tap your profile picture at the top-left to access options. Here, select Notifications & Sounds and make sure you have notifications On and Notification previews enabled.

From there, you can read a snippet of incoming messages through your phone’s notification list at any time. It will appear on your lock screen, as well as by dragging down from the top of the screen to show your notification list on both Android and iPhone.

If you want, you can further customize how notifications appear and whether they play a sound—and on iPhone, if they persist until dismissed.

To change Android notification settings, go to Settings > Apps & notifications > See all X apps > Messenger > Notifications. Here you can change the individual notification settings for the various types of alerts.

On iOS, visit Settings, scroll down to Messenger, and select Notifications to change iOS notification settings. You can choose to toggle the alerts on your lock screen, notification center, or banners. Change the Banner Style to Persistent if you want it to stay until you dismiss it.

Use Airplane Mode to Preview Messages

Another classic trick to read messages in secret is using airplane mode on your phone. This allows you to open the app and read the message while offline, so Messenger doesn’t know that you looked at it.

After you receive a message, you’ll want to turn on airplane mode on your phone before accessing it. On Android, swipe down twice from the top of the screen to access the Quick Settings panel and tap Airplane mode.

If you’re an iPhone user you can do this by opening Control Center and tapping the Airplane mode icon. On an iPhone with Face ID, swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen to access Control Center. If your iPhone has a physical Home button, swipe up from the bottom of the screen instead.

Once you’re in airplane mode, open Messenger and look at the message you want to read. After you’ve checked it out, you should force-close the app from the app switcher. This prevents the app from letting Facebook know that you’ve opened the message.

On Android, you can do this by swiping up from the bottom of the screen and holding for a moment. If your phone still uses the classic three-button navigation scheme, tap the Square icon on your navigation bar. Then swipe Messenger away to fully close it.

If you have an iPhone with Face ID, open the app switcher by swiping up from the bottom of the screen and holding in the middle for a second. On iPhone models with a Home button, double-press the Home button to open the app switcher. Then simply swipe away the Messenger app.

After you close the app, you can disable airplane mode. You’ve successfully read the message without letting the other person know.

The Best Facebook Messenger Features

In this article we’ve looked at how to hide the “seen” and “typing” messages in Facebook Messenger as best you can. So if you can’t see that someone is typing in Messenger, the chances are that they used one of the above strategies to get around this function.

Alternatively, they might have copied and pasted their message from another app to avoid the “typing” indicator showing.

For more tips and tricks, check out the best Facebook Messenger features to try.

Image Credit: Pathdoc/Shutterstock

Read the full article: How to Hide “Typing” and “Seen” on Facebook Messenger

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Here’s What People Are Searching Google for About You

You may be a father, mother, boss, or employee. However you identify, there are people out there searching Google about you. It’s amazing how many life secrets you can learn from a simple Google search.

The Google Autocomplete feature reveals a lot of search trends. What are people “Googling” about you? What are kids searching for about their parents? What do employees want to know about their boss?

The clues might help you build better relationships, improve your career, and it could even improve your family life. Ready for some amazing insights into what other people want to know about you? Let’s start.

Why Is Someone Googling You?

While online, especially when using social networks, it can be easy to forget your digital footprint. How many times have you looked up your own name lately?

The results may surprise you, but they can do a lot more for those who Google about you.

There are different reasons why someone would look you up, but some of the common ones involve social networking.

Just remember, those results provide an often unexpected amount of information to anyone searching for you. Before we discuss those results, here are some of the most common reasons people will look you up with Google Search.

Googling Before You First Meet

First impressions are important, but they can often occur before you’ve ever met a person.

Consider this, you’re about to meet someone, but you’re nervous. You want to leave a good impression, and you think you could use a little help.

By Googling someone, you’ll often get a glimpse into their hobbies and likes via social media channels. It’s a great way to gain information, and you’re not exempt from it.

Googling After Dating

Another reason you might end up a search result comes after dating. Your first date could go wonderfully, but your date might wonder if you’re too good to be true. A small amount of curiosity can turn into them finding all your social networks and other personal details.

This is one reason it’s important to know how to protect your privacy while online dating.

Googling by Employers

While potential employers Google you after an interview may seem unlikely to you, it occurs much more often than you think. Employers value their image, so they’re likely to respond to anyone who might indirectly tarnish it.

Some companies make it a policy to screen social media accounts and any reference on the web while others might check-in after a tip-off.

You don’t want your job security held hostage by a disgruntled coworker. This is why online privacy matters and you should reclaim it.

See What People Google About You

Regardless of what reason caused someone to Google you, it’s important to get a look through their eyes. There are different ways to go about doing this. However, the easiest first step is simply Google your name for yourself.

Depending on how common your name is, the nature of your work, and how active you are on social media all factor into what you’re going to see. If you’re comfortable with the results, you can stop right there.

However, you should do your due diligence to get a truly neutral look through a lens such as a VPN.

Use VPN Browser Add-Ons

Browsing for a VPN that works consistently can prove stressful. If you’re using Firefox, look at the best free VPN for Firefox. However, if you’re using Google Chrome, you’ll be able to use many of the same VPN options just as easily.

Once you’ve decided on one of the reliable VPNs to use, head back to Google. Search for your name and make sure the results haven’t shifted at all.

Use Free Anonymous Proxy Browsers

If you don’t want to use an add-on, you can also use anonymous proxy browsers. There are several proxies you can use but hide.me consistently works and makes it super easy to double-check your information.

On the site, enter Google’s address and choose a proxy located outside your native country.

Once you use Google to search your own information via proxy, you can move onto your response.

How to Respond to People Googling You

Now that you know what others are seeing, you’re probably wondering who’s exactly looking. Take advantage of these ways to find out who’s searching for you online. Even if you can’t figure out who is, between your Google results and mentions, you can begin to shape your privacy actively.

Be Self-Aware of Your Online Footprint

While it’s difficult to advise and provide information relevant to everyone, there are some details you can control.

If you Google yourself, and your results point unquestionably to your social media, personal websites, or work history then consider whether or not you’re leaving the right impression.

You can change your posting habits and the content on any social media or websites you control.

If you find yourself listed erroneously (say wrongful information about your work history) anywhere, you can also reach out via a site’s contact information to try and get it corrected.

Take Active Approaches to Improve Your Privacy

On the other hand, your information is fine, but you might want to keep it private from others. For instance, you don’t want just anyone to stumble onto your public social media page and glean information about you.

Also, be extra careful when linking your phone number to all your accounts. Personal contact information, like phone numbers or addresses are the most common things searched for and misused.

Still, an easy way to stay more private involves learning the privacy controls and protocol for the sites you’re on. These can vary widely between sites, so it’s important to stay informed.

However, it sometimes can be as simple as setting your profile information to private versus public.

Be Aware of What People Google About You

Someone Googling you may have never occurred to you before. But it’s important to know your information is out on the internet. Depending on your lifestyle and comfort levels, your response will differ. The important part is that you know now, and you have options.

Protecting you personal information is easier when you set tiny online habits. For instance, one way to stop Google’s data gathering involves simply avoiding Google and Bing and using alternative search engines that value your privacy.

Read the full article: Here’s What People Are Searching Google for About You

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The 8 Best Parental Control Apps for Windows

As the world continues its relentless charge into the digital age, it’s more important than ever to ensure your children are protected from some of the web’s more mature content.

It’s impossible to know just how much of the internet is devoted to adult material, but estimates suggest pornography alone accounts for anywhere from 5–35 percent of all websites. And that’s before you count topics such as gambling, extreme profanity, dating sites, and other associated themes.

Luckily, the number of parental control apps has been growing at an impressive rate over the last few years. Parents now have a wide choice of software to choose from.

But which should you use? Keep reading to learning about some of the parental control software for Windows 10.

1. Windows User Accounts

Family accounts screen on Windows 10

Microsoft beefed up its native parental control offering with the release of Windows 10. It’s now possible to designate a user account as a “Child Account.”

Creating a Child Account lets you manage the account across all services the account is connected to, including Windows, Xbox, and the Microsoft Store.

Before explaining how to create a Child Account, you need to be aware of two important caveats.

First, your own user account on Windows 10 must be linked to a Microsoft Account—you cannot create Child Accounts if your account is a local account.

Second, you need to create the account within your “Family.” More on that shortly.

To create a Child Account, head to Start > Settings > Accounts. In the panel on the left of the window, click Family and Other Users.

Below Your Family, click Add a Family Member. A new window will pop up. Make sure you select Add a Child. If your child already has an email, enter it in the space provided.

If they don’t, click The Person Who I Want to Add Doesn’t Have an Email Address. You can then either create a new email or register the new account against your existing email.

Click through the next couple of screens and you’ll get a confirmation message. The new account will be visible under Your Family.

To manage the account, click Manage Family Settings Online. You have options to block websites, limit their screen time, add money to their account so they can buy content in the app store, and even get weekly reports about what sites your child has been visiting.

If you want something more powerful than the native Windows tool, you have many options to choose from.

2. Qustodio

Qustodio is arguably the best third-party parental control app for Windows 10. It has a free version and a premium version, though the free version is comprehensive enough for most users. The entry-level premium version costs $40 per year.

The free version offers website filters, search result filters, customizable time limits for games and apps, live notifications if your child accesses questionable content, and even a register of what they’ve been doing on the computer.

The biggest drawback: it’s only available on one device.

The premium version adds social media monitoring, location tracking, call tracking and blocking, SMS tracking and blocking, and an expanded dashboard. Depending on the plan you choose, you can manage up to 15 devices.

Using Qustodio is simple: you just need to make an account on the website and install the app on all your devices. You can then manage the individual settings from the web portal.

The software is also available on Mac, Android, iOS, and Kindle, meaning your kids will be protected regardless of which device they are using.

3. OpenDNS

OpenDNS Benefit Matrix

You should also consider OpenDNS. The company offers four plans, two of which—Family Shield and Home—are available for free.

Family Shield is pre-configured to block adult content and provides a set-it-and-forget-about-it solution. The Home package is more customizable, and thus, more complicated to set up for beginners.

Although the two free services can only block sites and nothing more, they will still restrict access to anything concerning proxies, anonymizers, sexuality, or pornography.

Of course, the beauty of using a DNS-based app is it works at a network level—just add the DNS address to your router’s control panel. If network-wide filtering is too extreme, it can still work on a per device basis.

Parental controls are just one of the many security benefits you can enjoy by changing your DNS server. There are a few reasons why third-party DNS servers care more secure.

4. Kaspersky Safe Kids

Like Qustodio, Kaspersky Safe Kids has both a free and a paid tier. To use the free version, you only need to make an account on Kaspersky’s homepage. You can then download and activate the app on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices.

Features of the service include screen limits, time limits for social networks and games, and activity monitoring. For $15, the premium version adds reporting tools, location tracking, and Facebook activity tracking.

Kaspersky Safe Kids premium is included for free if you already have a Kaspersky Total Security plan.

5. Norton Family

Norton Family is a premium parental control app for Windows, Android, and iOS.

Some of the app’s key features include web supervision, time supervision, search supervision, video supervision, weekly and monthly reports on your kids’ activity, and instant lock which allows a parent to lock a child’s device from their own app.

Norton Family also supports access requests. If a child thinks an app or site has been blocked unfairly, they can ask you to whitelist it.

Sadly, if you live in a household with lots of different devices, the software might not be suitable—there is no Mac version.

A plan costs $50 per year.

6. Clean Router

If you’d prefer a network-based solution, check out Clean Router. It replaces your home router and adds monitoring and parental controls to any device on your network.

And you don’t need to worry about locking yourself out of adult content. You can apply device-specific filters, and even choose which time of day you want the filters to apply.

On the downside, as a router, the device does not perform as well as some of the more well-known brands on the market; it is not as fast as equivalent 802.11ac devices.

You also still need to pay a monthly fee. It’s $10 for the basic plan and $15 for the premium plan.

Check out our article if you’d like to learn more about the best routers on the market this year.

7. KidLogger

kidlogger

KidLogger doubles as both parental control software for Windows 10 and a keylogger. It means you can restrict what content your children have access to while also making sure they’re not using the apps you have given them permission to use in an irresponsible way.

If you deploy the app for an extended period of time, it builds up a comprehensive picture of how your kid is using the computer, including their most-used apps and most frequently accessed files.

It also has a cool feature that secretly takes a screenshot of your computer at predetermined intervals before saving them in the cloud, allowing you to see what your child was doing within each app.

Because the app is a keylogger, you will be able to see exactly what your child wrote in messages to friends and on social media. That’s obviously a powerful tool that some parents might feel uncomfortable using. If it is not for you, try one of the more traditional services we have discussed above.

In addition to Windows, the app is available on Mac, iOS, and Android.

8. Spyrix Personal Monitor

Spyrix is a powerful remote monitoring app that doubles as some of the best Windows 10 parental control software.

The list of features is impressive if a little scary. It offers a keylogger, live screen viewing, remote screenshots, microphone surveillance, webcam surveillance, search engine monitoring, URL logging, clipboard control, alerts, analytics, and a lot more.

For one PC, the software costs $60. If you only want to use the keylogger (perhaps to gain an insight into what might be troubling your kid), you can download it for free.

How to Choose the Right Parental Control Software for Windows 10

Before you purchase a premium app, first make sure you are clear about what you want your parental control software to achieve. If you have a young child, something as simple as website blocking might be sufficient. As kids age, the features you need from the app will change.

If you would like to learn more, make sure you check out our list of parental control apps for Chromebook.

Read the full article: The 8 Best Parental Control Apps for Windows

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How to Block Facebook Page Invites and Game Requests

Facebook invites can get annoying quickly. While you probably don’t mind someone inviting you to like a page every once in a while, getting spammed with game or page invites constantly is a huge hassle.

So, in this article, we’ll show you how to turn off Facebook invites. While it’s not possible to flip a single switch and stop all invites on Facebook, you can disable a lot of them manually.

How to Stop Getting Invites on Facebook

Facebook has an entire page in its Settings panel dedicated to blocking. This is the best way to manage your blocked pages and stop new invites on Facebook.

To have a look, click the small arrowat the top-right of Facebook and choose Settings. On the resulting page, select Blocking from the left side. Here you’ll see several categories of content you can block.

Facebook Blocking Page

To add a new blocked user or app, just enter a name in the box and select the match when it appears. Let’s quickly take a look at each blocking method in turn.

Block Users

This is the most heavy-handed blocking option. If you block someone on Facebook, they can’t see anything you post, invite you to events, chat with you, or send you a friend request.

Using this is overkill if you just want to stop receiving game invites from someone, as we’ll show how to block individual invites in a moment. Keep this option in mind if someone is overly creepy or annoying, though. We have previously detailed how to find out who has blocked you on Facebook.

Block Messages

Next is Block Messages, which prevents a friend from contacting you on Facebook Messenger. Use this if their messages are annoying, but you don’t want to fully block them from interacting with your timeline content.

Block App Invites

Facebook Block App Invites

The next option is extremely useful if you have a friend who constantly begs you to play a game so they can get more lives or credits. Enter a friend’s name here, and you’ll automatically ignore all future app requests from them.

This is a good solution if you have one annoying friend who plays lots of games on Facebook.

Block Event Invites

Do you have a friend who invites you to parties and other get-togethers you don’t care about? You can block event invites from anyone on your friends list here.

Like apps, adding their name will ignore all event requests going forward.

Block Apps

Above, we mentioned how to block app requests from specific people. Further down is the flipside of that option: blocking an entire app, no matter who tries to invite you to it.

While this is useful for blocking all contact from popular Facebook games, it also lets you prevent other apps from using your Facebook information. While Facebook apps aren’t as popular as they once were, it’s worth blocking any that you don’t trust.

Block Pages

A page is a Facebook account for a brand, celebrity, company, or similar. If you need to for some reason, you can block a page on this options menu. Doing so prevents the page from interacting with you. If you’ve liked that page, blocking it will unlike and unfollow it for you.

You probably won’t need this one as much as the others unless you come across an abusive brand page, but it’s nice to have the option.

How to Block Page Invites on Facebook

There’s one major omission in the above list: stopping page invites on Facebook. Anyone who likes a page can invite their friends to like it as well, and Facebook even encourages you to do this sometimes. You’ve almost certainly been swarmed with page invites on Facebook at some point.

Facebook Page Invite

Unfortunately, there’s currently no way to turn off page invites on Facebook. Based on our testing, locking event invites doesn’t stop page invites.

Your only real options are using the tools above. If people invite you to a particular page all of the time, use the Block Pages tool to stop seeing content from it. Otherwise, if there’s a certain friend who invites you to like pages all the time, you may want to consider unfriending and/or blocking them.

If that’s not an option, consider posting a status update letting your friends know that you don’t want to receive page invites anymore. This probably won’t stop everything, but it’s worth a try.

Using the Apps and Websites Page

Facebook has a page dedicated to letting you manage how apps interact with your account. It shows all of the apps you’ve used Facebook to log into, so it’s worth reviewing while you’re managing blocking on your account.

Head to Settings > Apps and Websites on Facebook to access this. You’ll see three boxes under Preferences, which we’ll discuss in a moment.

How to Completely Block All Facebook Apps

If you want to prevent all apps and games from using your Facebook account, you can disable the Facebook App Platform.

This is found in the Apps, Websites, and Games box on the mentioned page. Turning it off lets you completely block apps and websites from using your Facebook account. Click the Edit button to change the setting.

Facebook App Website Preferences

A new window will open to explain what happens if you remove access for apps, websites, and games to use your Facebook account. Essentially, you won’t be able to use Facebook to sign into or connect anything. For just a few examples, that means the following integrations won’t work:

  • Signing into websites and services like Spotify with your Facebook account.
  • Playing games that require you to connect with Facebook.
  • Using Facebook integration with services like the Nintendo Switch, which lets you find friends from and share screenshots to Facebook.

In addition, if you disable this, posts that apps and websites made to your account may be deleted. Doing so may also cause you to lose access to accounts that you use Facebook to log into.

Facebook Turn Off App Website Access

While this is a viable way to block apps from accessing your data on Facebook, we recommend thinking this through carefully before using it. You should make sure you don’t have any important accounts or integrations using your Facebook account that you would miss.

How to Turn Off All Game and App Notifications

Also on the Apps and Websites page, you’ll see a second box titled Game and App Notifications. Click Edit, then Turn Off to hide all notifications from games and apps.

If you don’t care about any content from these apps or don’t want to block them individually using the above controls, this is a handy way to stop all notifications in one sweep. It doesn’t affect the games themselves, so you can continue to play them.

How to Manage What Facebook Apps Know About You

Finally, since you’re taking the time to block invites on Facebook, you should also check what apps have your information on the platform. With Facebook’s many privacy concerns, it’s smart to know what’s accessing your data.

On the Apps and Websites page, you’ll see three tabs at the top:

Facebook Expired Apps

  • Active means that you’ve logged into the app or service recently. It can request the info you’ve shared with it at any time.
  • Expired indicates that you haven’t been active with the app for more than 90 days (or that Facebook has marked it as expired). The app may still be able to access anything you shared in the past, but can’t ask for new information.
  • Removed apps are ones you’ve removed from your account since 2015. Like expired apps, they may have previous info but can’t access anything new.

You should review each service on the Active tab to make sure you still trust it. Open apps in the Expired section and you can click Renew Access to restore them.

For Active and Expired services, it’s possible to disable individual settings, such as preventing the app from seeing your friends list or turning off notifications. For apps you don’t use any more, check the boxes to the right and choose Remove.

Facebook Active App Settings

The Easy Way to Block Facebook Invites

In this article, we’ve looked at how to block invites on Facebook. While it’s unfortunately not possible to stop getting page invites, you can control most other forms of Facebook invite. Using these tips will let you keep your notification box from overflowing with unwanted invitations.

For more tips on how to make Facebook usable, take a look at our article detailing how to fix common Facebook problems.

Read the full article: How to Block Facebook Page Invites and Game Requests

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Risking Your Privacy Is More Fun Than the Librem 5

Our verdict of the Purism Librem 5 :
With a solid operating system and privacy-focused hardware kill switches, the Librem 5 is bulkier than expected and eats through battery. While the philosophy behind the phone is sound, Librem 5 is unlikely to be picked up by anyone other than Linux users and privacy advocates.
510

Smartphones deliver untold conveniences into our lives, barely thought of 20 years ago. Mobile internet, email, social networking, gaming, productivity, shopping, even media production. The list goes on—but it comes with a price.

Your phone is tracking you. GPS can detect your position; the mic and camera can eavesdrop; online services record your activity. We’ve traded privacy for convenience at a slow-burning rate that continues to smolder.

Social purpose technology company Purism believes it can change this. It’s developed Librem 5, a Linux-based smartphone with built-in kill switches for internet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as the camera and microphone.

It sounds promising, but does the Librem 5 deliver on the promise of a “security and privacy-focused phone” that can replace your Android or iPhone?

What’s Inside the Librem 5?

Two versions of the Librem 5 have been announced: Librem 5, and Librem 5 USA. Purism kindly sent us the original Librem 5 for review.

Inside the phone is a Quad-core Cortex A53, 64bit ARM CPU running at a maximum 1.5GHz. 3GB of RAM is also squeezed in, with a Vivante GC7000Lite GPU. The Librem 5 has 32GB eMMC storage with a microSD card slot for up to 2TB more.

Also behind the 5.7-inch 720×1440 IPS TFT display is a choice of baseband radio (Gemalto PLS8 or Broadmobi BM818), nanoSIM tray, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4. The phone features a TESEO LIV3 multi-constellation GNSS GPS receiver. Note that NFC is not included. However, there is a nine-axis accelerometer, (gyro, accel, magnetometer) and ambient light and proximity sensor.

Librem 5 smartphone from Purism

Two ports are included: a USB-C input for power, data, and DisplayPort, and the “Courage Jack”. This is a 3.5mm headphone jack—Purism states that unlike established competitors, it has “no intention of doing vendor lock-in.”

The Librem 5 features a removable back panel. Here you can access the user replaceable 3,500mAh battery.

As you look at the phone in your hand, the right-hand side features a power button and volume buttons. The left side features the kill switches. These are for Wi-Fi, cellular, and the cameras and mic. Activating all three kill also disable GPS.

An RGB LED is provided for notifications and the phone features two cameras: a front facing 8MP camera and a 13MP main cam with LED flash.

The review device we received included the Librem 5 phone, a USB-C to USB-C cable, mains adaptor, and earbuds.

Do You Need a Secure Phone?

Your phone is leaking data about you all the time. Either that data is recorded by Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, or any number of online entities, or your mobile provider is logging activity. A VPN is a smart way to encrypt internet activity, but that doesn’t stop GPS, cellular and Wi-Fi positioning. Cameras and mics aren’t easily encrypted either.

The Librem 5 is described as “a security and privacy focused phone” and comes with software trackers disabled by default.

Kill switches disable wireless, mobile internet, and GPS

Throw in the kill switches, the Linux operating system, free and open source software, and drivers, and Librem 5 is secure in a way other phones cannot hope to be.

While it’s straightforward enough to disable GPS, cellular and wireless on an Android or iPhone, kill switches simplify it and give peace of mind. These physical switches can enhance security and privacy wherever you are.

Meanwhile, the Librem 5 is almost unique in not relying on any chips compromised by the Meltdown or Spectre vulnerabilities. This alone makes it more secure than many devices.

Operating System and Software

It doesn’t run Android or iOS—so what is running on the Librem 5?

PureOS is a Linux distribution maintained by Purism for its own devices. Based on Debian, this is an operating system with a focus on privacy. For example, the default web browser is Mozilla Firefox with DuckDuckGo providing search.

First impressions are odd. After logging in what you see is a blank home screen. The only indication of what comes next is a single chevron, a keyboard icon, and notification icons at the top. Quick note about the keyboard—having it accessible on every screen is an excellent idea. Sadly, implementation of text entry is terrible, from finger accuracy to access to secondary characters. A software keyboard that works shouldn’t be a big ask.

Librem 5 from Purism

While the app drawer is easy to access via an upward swipe, the Librem 5 is short on apps. Linux apps are available for almost every purpose, but few are suitable for the phone user interface. Happily, HTML5 web apps run the browser. Meanwhile a small number of dedicated apps and games are also available.

In addition, standard Linux apps with ARM compatibility can also run. These are subject to hardware and privacy limitations, however. For example, capturing a screenshot from the Librem 5 proved impossible.

However, a word of warning. The Librem 5’s Linux phone predecessors running on Ubuntu Touch struggled with the reliance on web apps. While in theory web apps are preferable to apps that install on your device demanding resources, they’re slightly less usable. The comparative speed of Firefox limits things further—it’s unclear whether the seemingly slow browser is limited pending optimization tweaks.

Our review of the Librem 5 has taken several weeks, partly due to battery limitations. The review device seemed prone to running dry with just a few hours use. Regardless, I was able to spend more time than usual evaluating the phone and how it feels to use.

Overall, the user experience of the Librem 5 is pleasant—it’s just that using it as a phone is currently limited.

Updates Philosophy for the Librem 5

Purism has clearly spent a lot of time considering the state of the smartphone industry. From the challenge of providing an alternative mobile operating system to working to enhance security and privacy for users, there is much to reflect upon.

Librem 5 camera lens

An issue with iOS and Android (and other platforms) that is often overlooked is that of updates. Consequently, Purism states it will provide security updates, privacy improvements, bug fixes, and new features for the device’s lifetime.

This is a welcome change from the Apple and Google approach of issuing updates that only cover recent releases.

Booting Librem 5

Switching on the phone is as simple as you would expect. Hold the power button for a second, and it boots up—remarkably fast. I timed it at five seconds, which is about as fast as you can expect for any phone.

At times, however, I found that the Librem 5 would not boot. Despite my initial concerns, this wasn’t a power issue; I tried reseating the battery, recharging again, the usual tricks. Fortunately, I was directed to a support page revealing the solution. Within seconds the phone was up and running.

While frustrating, this support issue was nevertheless effectively solved. Having support pages in place for the phone at this stage is good news for all users of the Librem 5.

Back panel on the Librem 5 phone

But this bulky phone gets hot when charging. No doubt an issue for future correction, you basically need to power if off before plugging in to charge.

Using Librem 5 for Calls

With so few options on the software side, the Librem 5 handles calls and contacts reasonably well.

However, call volume is impossible to change while the call is taking place. Meanwhile, speaker mode is… disappointing to say the least. It appears to push the same audio through the main speaker at exactly the same volume as the call.

So while calls are easy enough to make, and the audio quality is good, basic accessibility suffers.

As a phone you can pick up and take with you, the Librem 5 is unsurprisingly chunky. It weighs 230 grams, a good 100 grams more than average, although this is due to the components and build materials. It feels comfortable in the hand, however, which is always a good thing.

A Glimpse of the Future

The Librem 5 promises much, a whole new attitude towards digital privacy. But there is a long way to go. There’s no working camera app at this stage; the browser is slow; battery life is terrible; desktop convergence mode is absent. Call volume is strangely quiet and speaker mode follows suit.

At this stage, the Librem 5 is far from a write-off, however. In terms of using it as a basic phone, the hardware is sound. The privacy aspects are sound. But it feels that PureOS offers less of a mobile experience than Ubuntu Touch did (and UBPorts continues to do).

While the Librem 5 is available to buy today, it is important to appreciate that it remains a work in progress.

An Ultra-Secure Linux Phone With Potential

Open source phones have long been touted as a secure and workable alternative to Android and iPhone. Firefox OS, Meego, and others have been and gone, while previous Linux attempts such as UBPorts have stalled.

The Librem 5 represents an opportunity to change the way we use mobiles. Having the option to physically disable key tracking and surveillance hardware on your phone is obviously a massive advantage.

USB-C port on the Librem 5

For this, however, you sacrifice the convenience that comes with an Android or iOS phone.

Like many others, I really want this phone to shape the future of smartphones and mobile technology. On this showing, it’s at least five years out of step. Purism’s good intentions are clear, but the Librem 5 is a far cry from the quality of its laptops. More worryingly for Purism, there’s a strong chance its efforts could be overshadowed by the PinePhone, another Linux project that is far more affordable.

Do we want a future where we have granular control over privacy? Of course we do. And that’s why Librem 5 must be admired. As a concept, it sounds great on paper, but in practice, it leaves much to be desired.

Ultimately, Librem 5 is a privacy-focused phone that limits you to HTML5 apps and a few bundled Linux tools. There is a lot to like here, but not enough for the Librem 5 to go mainstream.

Read the full article: Risking Your Privacy Is More Fun Than the Librem 5

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What You Need to Know About Houseparty’s Privacy and Security

Houseparty, like Zoom, is a video chat app that has surged in popularity as social distancing has taken effect across the globe. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from Zoom’s surge, it’s that popular apps aren’t always secure or compliant with expectations around privacy and data sharing.

So is Houseparty safe to use? What does its privacy policy say regarding data collection? And has the app experienced any data breaches? Here’s what you need to know about Houseparty’s security and privacy…

What Is Houseparty?

houseparty video call games

Houseparty is a face-to-face social networking app—allowing up to eight people to video chat in their own call or “room”. The app is available on Android, iOS, macOS, and as a Chrome browser extension. You can also access the app via your browser at app.houseparty.com.

Within these rooms or chats, you can play games with friends or just hang out. You can join the chats of any friends who are online on the app, with the focus being on connecting and being able to drop in whenever friends are online.

Who Owns Houseparty?

Epic Games owns Houseparty as a result of the company acquiring the app’s developers Life on Air. Epic Games is a US games and software developer/publisher, known mostly for its development of Unreal Tournament, Fortnite, and the Unreal game development engine.

The company’s founder, Tim Sweeney, owns the majority of shares in Epic Games. Tencent Holdings, a Chinese company and the largest video games company in the world, owns a 40% stake.

What Data Does Houseparty Collect?

houseparty app on mac

Houseparty outlines the data the app collects in its privacy policy.

According to the app, it collects the following information:

  • Account information including names, email addresses, birthdays, usernames and passwords
  • Profile pictures and phone numbers (if provided)
  • Information on friends and imported contacts
  • Usage information, including time spent in chats with friends, and purchases
  • Information on third-party accounts linked to the app, such as social media accounts
  • If you grant address book access, the app collects information on friends’ phone numbers and addresses
  • Location information, such as ZIP code, IP address, and state/region
  • Feedback information from surveys, contests, promotions, suggestions, and reviews
  • Device information such as your browser, hardware model, operating system, and mobile carrier
  • Certain browsing information, such as the site you visited before visiting Houseparty and the site you visit after leaving Houseparty

The company also specifies where it gets this information from, including directly from you, using browser cookies and web beacons, and via the app’s usage tracking features. Houseparty is also able to get information from third-party apps and social media platforms, depending on how you join the app and whether you link accounts.

“We might get information, for example, from Snapchat or Facebook if you choose to link your Houseparty account with these third-party platforms. Information they share with us includes certain details from your profile,” the company says in its privacy policy.

The company can also collect and collate data across different devices. This means if you use Houseparty on both your phone and computer, the app gets information from both devices and combines it.

Houseparty Privacy

Houseparty, with its default settings, is not exactly an app you’d use for private conversations and calls. Friends of friends can join your conversations, so while you won’t get random strangers dropping in, people you don’t personally know may join your chat.

The app also informs your connections whenever you’re online and allows them to jump right into a video call. It is possible to “sneak” into the app, which is essentially an incognito mode that doesn’t inform your contacts of your arrival.

houseparty sneak into the house private mode

This is done by holding down the icon for the app and selecting Sneak into House. This mode lets you use Houseparty without alerting your contacts.

You can also lock a conversation if you don’t want friends of friends to join. However, any participant in the chat can unlock the group session to let others in. Enabling private mode in the app also locks your chats by default, but participants are able to unlock these chats too.

When it comes to data sharing, there are a few important things to note regarding who Houseparty shares your data with.

When using the app, you should note regarding its data sharing:

  • Houseparty shares your public profile with your connections, as well as their connections
  • Other users can view your name, username, and the connections you interact with the most
  • Your information may be shared with third-party vendors, including Houseparty’s social media and advertising partners
  • Houseparty will share data with government and law enforcement agencies if they have a court order or subpoena
  • Your information may be shared with businesses who merge with or acquire Houseparty or part of Houseparty’s business

You are able to opt out of some marketing and tracking on the app.

What Permissions Does Houseparty Request?

The mobile version of Houseparty requests access to your camera, contacts, microphone, and storage. These Android app permissions relate to the app’s functionality, since it needs access to this hardware to initiate video calls.

Under “other” permissions, the app requests permission to:

  • Download files without notification
  • Run foreground service and run at startup
  • Control phone vibration
  • View network and Wi-Fi connections, with full network access
  • Prevent phone from sleeping
  • Receive data from the internet
  • App store billing service and installer API
  • Send sticky broadcasts
  • Change your audio settings and pairing with Bluetooth devices

Certain permissions can be denied. For example, if you deny the app access to your contacts, you won’t be able to automatically find friends who use the app. Rather, you will need to ask for their usernames and add them manually.

houseparty chrome permissions privacy

However, on the browser extension for Chrome, Houseparty requests additional information that relates to tracking rather than functionality.

In addition to the normal data permissions for app.houseparty.com, the extension also requests the ability to read your browsing history and communicate with cooperating websites.

Was Houseparty Hacked?

While most users aren’t that concerned with Houesparty’s privacy policy or permissions, most want to know whether the app was hacked. Hacking rumors emerged via social media accounts who claimed that Houseparty leaked their third-party accounts data. These include Spotify and Snapchat accounts.

Some users went as far as claiming that hackers had even accessed their banking accounts.

Houseparty issued a statement regarding the claims, saying that an investigation found no breaches or data leaks.

“Immediately upon hearing these false reports, we assembled an internal team who worked alongside external experts to investigate. We determined these claims were not true,” the statement said.

The company suspects that the rumors formed part of a coordinated commercial smear campaign, offering a $1 million bounty for anyone who can find evidence.

According to a BBC report, one of the users who was hacked said that they use the same username and password across multiple accounts. This makes them a high-risk target whose information could have been accessed via a leak on any of the services where they use those credentials.

So far, no evidence points to a Houseparty hack. Rather, it seems that users recycling login details on multiple accounts may be the culprit. These users then blamed Houseparty since they installed it recently.

However, if you re-use login details across accounts, even years-old breaches can put you at risk for new account hacks.

Enjoy Video Chat Apps Safely

While Houseparty does collect information for marketing purposes, there’s no evidence that data from the service reached hackers.

Furthermore, at the time of writing, no egregious flaws in security have been found. This is in contrast with Zoom, which has attracted a significant amount of negative coverage due to its security and privacy issues.

If you’re looking for more options for video chat apps, check out our list of the best free apps for group video chats.

Read the full article: What You Need to Know About Houseparty’s Privacy and Security