9 Free Privacy Apps Against Surveillance & Censorship

Many of us have uploaded our lives onto the Internet, to the point that we cannot imagine living without it. We use online services that we entrust to keep our data secure and private. Unfortunately, many of us don’t realize that it’s not truly secure as they are subject to any third parties that can view its content, from the company providing the service to the government itself.

Most of the time, we might not mind this but sometimes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. From sensitive personal data to work-related materials, we all have information that we wish to keep private. When we use the word crypto, we mean that these apps will help you make most of your online activity more secure and private, shielding it from being spied upon. With that said, here are 9 free apps that will help you protect your online privacy.

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1. Tails OS (Operating System)


Tails (The Amnesic Incognito Live System) is built upon the idea of privacy and anonymity for the user. Everything that could be done and every tool that could help has been added to the OS. For one, it is a live OS, meant to be run on a CD or a USB drive, leaving absolutely no trace of your activity on the computer’s drive.

Second is that every single connection through the internet must be relayed through the Tor network, meaning that your online activity will be anonymized. Every app in the OS has been configured with privacy and secrecy in mind. For example, both the e-mail and messaging client includes encryption tools.

2. Replicant (Operating System)


Replicant is a mobile OS based on Android that aims to replace every single bit of proprietary software on the phone with free (as in speech) software. The reasoning behind this is that those proprietary components could have a backdoor access in them to your phone and data. With free software, the source will be open and can be subjected to scrutiny.

Currently, Replicant is able to run mostly on Samsung devices, mainly the Galaxy S series and all of the software included is free software, meaning no Google Apps such as Gmail, Maps, Play Store, etc. It comes with its own app store, F-Droid, that is filled only with free, open source software.

3. Tor Browser (Web Browser)

Tor Browser

We have briefly covered the Tor Project on this site before and how it works. As a brief recap, Tor works by bouncing your online activity through several relay proxies that are part of the Tor network. Doing so will help obscure the point of origin and the requested content made from your machine.

The Tor Browser is a modified version of Firefox that is provided by the Tor Project, which gives the user an easy way to access the Tor network. In addition to Tor, the browser includes other tools to help with the anonymizing process, including NoScript (to prevent any sort of script from running) and HTTPS-Everywhere, which enables HTTPS on websites by default.

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4. OwnCloud (Online Storage)


When you are using an online storage provider such as Dropbox or Google Drive, you are trusting them with your data and its security. There have been several instances where the security of the data held by these companies have been compromised. The best solution is to create your own cloud.

OwnCloud allows you to build your own, personal cloud, where you control everything about it, from the disk size to the hardware. There is no third party involved in handling your data, meaning that the chances of someone peeking into your data is lower. The only one responsible and in charge of the privacy and security of your data is you.

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5. Boxcryptor (Online Storage)


Even with the risks, there are still reasons to use a third party online storage provider. It’s easy, cheap and convenient. In this case, there are ways to protect your online data from being pried upon. The best way is to encrypt the data stored on your online drive, so that no one will be able to view the contents.

Enter Boxcryptor, an app that will easily allow you to encrypt the files that live on your online storage drives. Boxcryptor will work on the major online storage providers and uses AES-256 and RSA encryption algorithms. The keys to decrypt your data are yours alone so even the company that created Boxcryptor cannot decrypt your data.

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6. ProtonMail (Email)


The majority of us rely on email in our day-to-day lives. Most people would prefer it that our emails are kept private, as some of them may contain sensitive information related to work or our private lives. While most of the major email providers have some sort of privacy tools to protect your email, most of them have the ability to read your email, if they wanted.

ProtonMail is a service currently in beta and you have to request for an invite to create an account but it promises to offer an easy way to keep your email safe and secure from any type of snooping. ProtonMail offers end-to-end encryption and no one but the person who holds the key to decrypt them can gain access, not even ProtonMail themselves. ProtonMail is cross platform and you can still send encrypted and unencrypted email to other services.

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7. Pidgin (Messaging)


Pidgin is a versatile, multi-platform instant messaging client, letting you chat with many of the online chat services that you may already be using, such as Facebook, so you can have all of your chat sessions under one app. The app is free and open source, so the source code can be viewed and studied.

The main reason that the app is on the list is its ability to add Off-The-Record Messaging on top of the those protocols. For example, with Pidgin, you and your friends are able to have a encrypted conversation over Facebook, meaning no one but you and the intended recipient will have access to the messages, not even Facebook.

8. Linphone (Telephony)


If you want an internet phone app that is both secure and encrypted, with immunity from wiretapping, Linphone provides both a service and app that can help you with that. Linphone is another free and open source app that lets you place calls using a standard known as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which is an open protocol, unlike Skype, which is closed.

In addition to the app, Linphone has a service where you can create your own SIP account with them to get you started using the app. The great thing about a SIP account is that you are not tied in to the app, and can be used by other telephony apps that support SIP.

9. OnionShare (File Sharing)


A new, command line based app written in Python and created by Micah Lee, who works for Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept news site. If the name Glenn Greenwald doesn’t ring a bell, he is the reporter who broke the news about the NSA leaks. The app has a single purpose, which is to allow you to share your files through the internet anonymously through Tor.

It does this by using the Tor hidden services. When you share a file, the app will create an unguessable .onion URL, which can only be accessed by using a Tor Browser, ensuring anonymity for the parties involved. To share the file, you will have to pass on the .onion URL to the intended recipient.