Browse Social Media Without the Tracking
Published on 27 Mar 2022
| Updated on 05 May 2022
Written by Pranav Chakkarwar
8 min to read
Privacy vs Anonymity & Censorship
This isn’t a guide that will help you become anonymous on social media, but a guide to help you stay updated, without giving up your privacy. It’s not about politics or platform liberties, sometimes I just want to know about new features introduced by a chat app or get the latest news even if they use twitter or facebook instead of Mastodon. At the same time, I don’t want the social platforms to track how much time I spend on their app, which posts I like/comment on, how long I watch videos, or how long I stare at a particular post.
Likewise, I will only cover platforms that most people use. Alternatives such as Odyssey (an alternative to YouTube) or Mastodon (an alternative to Twitter) and others are trying to solve problems other than just privacy. So it’s best if I write a separate article on them and don’t confuse you by explaining multiple views at once.
I hope my recommendations will make your life easier while avoid being profiled for an advertisement. I felt a need to write this because most people end up spending money or putting in a lot of effort to protect their privacy, only to end up back where they started.
Define Your Approach
I don’t believe there is a “one-size-fits-all” approach to prevent all tracking. You must define or choose a strategy based on your threat model. I may mention some apps, but I won’t go over their features.
Opt Out of Tracking
Social media is free because you have to see ads that are generalized or curated just for you. The first step is to make your intentions clear by changing your privacy settings and opt out of tracking, personalized ads, etc. Most online services allow users to opt out of personalized advertisements, but in some cases opting out won’t stop them from collecting data about you. It may mean that they will not use the collected data for targeted advertisements and even if a service allows you to opt out of tracking, there is no guarantee that the service will respect your settings. Due to lax privacy laws in many countries, some businesses consider breaking law and put money aside to fight a potential lawsuit. As, sometimes, your data is more valuable than the money required to settle a lawsuit. They can track you illegally, make large profits, and then spend a small percentage of the profit to settle a lawsuit.
As people say,
Taxes are paid to do the right thing, while fines are paid to do the wrong thing.
For reasons like this, I recommend you to do more than just opt out. Read along to learn the techniques.
Use Web Apps and Use Ad, Tracker Blockers
Apps downloaded from app stores have more privileges than websites in your browser. So, it’s better to use websites or install the PWA version of a website. Also, try to use a more private browser and If possible you should install extensions like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger. Extensions are not a problem on desktop versions of browsers, but mobile browsers may or may not allow you to install extensions. Like, Firefox for iPhone does not allow extensions, but Firefox for Android does. The Brave browser maybe a good choice for most people as it includes built-in ad and tracker blocking, but it’s not ultimate. Personally, I’ve noticed brave allowing a lot of trackers from Twitter. For Android, I recommend using Bromite or FOSS browser.
If installing extensions is not possible, or you wish to block trackers in native apps, you will need additional apps or use external services. Some apps block ads and trackers at the system level, while others do so at the network level. Pi-hole or NextDNS do it at the network level, whereas AdAway or Portmaster block trackers locally on the device.
Keep Your Account Private
Apart from the service, you might want to prevent other users from tracking your activities. It’s better to keep your account private and only accept follow requests from people you know. This prevents stalking and your social media activity will be hidden from search engines. But keep in mind, this will not protect you from the service itself. For example, you can use a private Instagram account with no followers to store unlimited photos that no one can see but Instagram very well can.
Hide Your Identity
You can consider hiding your real name If you don’t intend to use social media to connect with people you know. Again, the platform on which you are creating an account most likely knows who you are as you provide them an email or phone number and other metadata like IP addresses. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter because the goal of an alt account is to hide your identity from other people, not the service itself. If you need anonymity, consider using a VPN or TOR, but nothing can make your activity untraceable.
With enough determination, funds, and power, almost anyone can be tracked down.
Although I came up with this quote, it’s possible that it’s been said before.
Going accountless will limit your ability to interact with accounts or posts, but that will not necessarily prevent you from customizing your feed’s content. You could also use the accountless approach to get updates and only visit your account once in a while. Open source third-party apps such as Fritter (for Twitter), Infinity (for Reddit), and NewPipe (for YouTube, SoundCloud, and PeerTube) let you browse the underlying services without creating an account. For e.g. Fritter allows you to follow Twitter accounts and even create account groups. These apps will retrieve the content from services and display the posts in chronological order. Along with ads and trackers, these apps will also remove service specific bloatware. Like, Fritter removes Twitter shortened URLs or NewPipe helps you stay focused by giving you an option to turn off recommended videos.
If you prefer using a browser, you can use privacy frontends for these apps. These also allow you to follow channels and accounts using feeds.
- Twitter = Nitter
- Facebook = Frost for Facebook
- Instagram = Bibliogram
- Reddit = Teddit
- YouTube = Invidious
- TikTok = Proxitok
Alongside all this, UnTrackMe is a fantastic app to set up automatic redirects of popular services to their respective privacy frontends. For example, YouTube links can be redirected to Invidious, Reddit links to Teddit, and so on.
Use Site Feeds
Feeds are the next level of going accountless. Yes, feeds still exist and are still one of the best ways to get updates while also aggregating all of your sources. Feed readers also give you an advantage over other methods because they allow you to hide your IP address from original services. The trick is to use the feeds of privacy frontends, so the content is loaded from servers of frontends and if you decide to visit a site from your feed app, It will launch the frontend and not the underlying platform. This way, you do not reveal your IP address to underlying services. If you use feeds, may have to give up some service specific features that other apps provide.
Personally, I use Feeder on Android and Fluent Reader on desktop. For Apple users, NetNewsWire is a good option. Thunderbird also has a feed reader, but It feels outdated. If you are looking for a self-hosted alternative, I recommend Miniflux.
Aside from privacy benefits, you will spend less time on social media and avoid unnecessary interactions curated for you by the algorithms. Please let me know If you know an app that I should include. I’ll add your recommendations, as well as a link to your profile. Thanks for reading and Happy browsing :)