Security cameras

2020 New Year's Resolution: Taking Control of My Data

New Year’s Resolutions are usually lip service. Take last year’s, for instance – it was simple enough (or, it should have been). All I had to do was start taking a men’s once-a-day multivitamin.

But I failed sometime in late January. I couldn’t even make it 31 days!

This year’s resolutions, though, will be different. I’m going to take proactive steps to take back control of my data from the internet and stop feeding large corporations information about me, my habits, and what I search/do on the internet. Sure, some of it will be impossible (thanks, mobile phone carriers), but I have some choices to make that should go a long way to reducing my dependency on services that use me as a data point to serve advertisements.

So, the following is a list of what I’m pledging to do in 2020.

Email

I’ve been a loyal Gmail user since April 2004. I have my entire adult digital life stored in my firstname.lastname@gmail.com address. My first two startups were run from that account and I can leverage the power of their search and summon anything in the 15+ years of use.

While completely amazing, that scares the bejeezus out of me because I have no control over my data or how it’s used. Everything is residing with Google, and likely used to help target advertisements specifically to me. No company should know that much about me.

Let’s be real: Google is not a good company when it comes to privacy and security (see: Exhibit A, Exhibit B). Google – or any company, for that matter – should not be able to cobble together data found in my Gmail inbox that contains recent online purchases, what credit cards I use, my mortgage documents, due dates, et cetera. It’s predatory bullshit, and I don’t have to acquiesce.

Solution: Fastmail

I did a lot of research over the past week or two about email hosting. The new provider had to, at a minimum:

  1. Value user privacy and prioritize security.
  2. Allow for a custom domain to sever dependencies on one service (e.g. I was locked into my firstname.lastname@gmail.com address and it isn’t portable – it’s tied to Google forever and ever).
  3. Never, ever rely on advertisements for revenue generation.
  4. Fully integrate with macOS, iPadOS, and iOS, as well as offer a robust webmail interface.
  5. Offer enough storage to last another 15+ years of email.

I found all that and more with Fastmail, who has an operating model based on  “service in exchange for money” — you know, the old fashioned way of running a business.

I made the switch to Fastmail with my bolen.co domain and couldn’t be happier. The service is $50/year, which I’m more than happy to pay to take back my data and provide a sense of privacy.

Try Fastmail and get 10% off your first year

2-Factor Authentication

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Hulu that someone in the U.K. signed into my account on their iPhone. I thought I had a pretty solid password, but as it turns out, it was reused, and likely found via a breach.

I’ve been using 1Password to manage passwords on macOS and iOS for a long time, but this was truly my wake-up call. While having a memorable, reusable password for multiple services is nice, it’s not as secure as a second-step authentication method (authenticator app, SMS, etc).

What I love about 1Password is the Watchtower feature. It shows, at a glance, the number of compromised passwords from breaches, passwords that may be vulnerable, passwords that you’ve reused, and passwords to unsecured (read: non-https) logins/websites.

My goal for the new year is twofold:

  1. Replace all duplicate and weak passwords with new, unique passwords.
  2. Use a 2-step authentication method on every site that offers one.

An added bonus: I have an Apple Watch and can store my One-Time Passwords (OTP) for frequently visited sites in the 1Password Apple Watch app for easy access. There’s really no excuse to not lock everything down. Plus, it works seamlessly on my iPad Pro, iPhone 11 Pro, and iMac. The ecosystem is strong.

Delete Facebook

Facebook sucks. It’s a pox on our democracy and is truly an evil company who’s quest for growth and engagement trumps (pun intended) your rights to privacy and security.

  1. The Facebook mobile application has access to your microphone (unless you disable it via settings).
  2. The Facebook mobile application destroys your phone battery life.
  3. Facebook, in general, tracks your every move across the internet.

I am not really in a position where I can fully close my Facebook account for myriad reasons, but I can control how I access the platform and how they access me/my usage. To that end, I am proactively:

  • Removing Facebook from all mobile and tablet devices.
  • Only accessing Facebook from a secure Facebook Container in Firefox.
  • Limiting my exposure to Facebook to only a few visits per week.

Besides, who needs to be exposed to casual white supremacy and anti-tax sentiments thanks to their news feed algorithm?