How to use the Internet without all those PRISM-accused Web properties

browsing-625x1000So you’ve been hearing a lot about PRISM and how your conversations just might have been monitored of the government. Well, if you’re among the majority of people that support the NSA and its phone record digging for the sake of preventing terrorist attacks, then read no further. If you’re the 41 percent of U.S. citizens that actually care about your phone call privacy and 52 percent that care about the government snooping in on your emails, here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself from the prying eyes of the U.S. government.

Granted that what the PRISM slide show says is true – which hasn’t been verifiable yet considering that technology firms have been denying their involvement in PRISM left and right – you have some options available, although they aren’t all convenient. In some cases, you’ll have to give up your go-to sites and apps. 

We have to warn you that these recommendations aren’t fool-proof, so if the government really thinks you’re a terrorist and wants to know where you sleep, who you are, what you’re doing, what you’re browsing, who you’re talking to, among other personal details, they’ll find ways around it – probably even if that means digging through your trash.

But if you want to at least try to fly under the radar, you can start off with these methods.

Phone calls

If you really love your Verizon iPhone but are seriously concerned about being monitored, you can keep your phone, but we’d recommend you to pick up a burner phone. Yes, those cheap ones you see actors throw away after one or two uses in the movies. Or you might want to pick up a disposable phone number, which would mean purchasing a SIM. And of course use cash. There may be records of your calls but these calls can’t be tied to you, which is what matters at the end of the day. Also don’t forget to dispose of the burner phone since it’s tied to you location.

Skype alternatives

no skype

Assuming that Microsoft and Skype have been compromised, there are plenty of free alternatives out there. ooVoo has been around for some time and might be the next best alternative if you’re an avid Skype user, or you can opt for goober or VoxOx.

Messaging and VoIP-supporting apps like LINE, Tango, and Voxer might be right up your alley, although the latter two are based out of the United States, which means that they very may well comply to a FISA request.

Alternatively, for those of you that want to be extra careful, there are some free open source encrypted VoIP apps out there like WhisperSystem’s RedPhone, which encrypts calls from end-to-end and even uses your own phone number to make and receive calls. The caveat is that the app is only available on Android. For iOS users (and Android as well) we’d recommend SilentCircle, which also offers end-to-end encrypted calls, and Silent Eyes for encrypted VoIP on your desktop.

YouTube alternatives

Google’s YouTube saves a history of the type of content you’re watching. If you’re watching bomb-making and 3D gun-printing videos, like every curious teenager has perhaps done once in their lives, then we’d advise that for starters, you log out of your Google account before doing so. At the same time, you’ll want to be using a proxy or VPN, which we’ll get into later.

For now, there are plenty of alternatives out there that haven’t been identified by the NSA. You can check out Vimeo, Veoh, Metacafe, Dailymotion, and of course Liveleak. There is life beyond YouTube, we promise. 


pidginThankfully there are plenty of messaging alternatives out there. You could opt for LINE, Whatsapp, Nimbuzz, MessageMe, KakaoTalk for mobile messaging since AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Paltalk, and Google are likely compromised. But to be frank, these messaging platforms are probably not going to decline a legal request from the government to gain access to a user’s information. So really the best option here, since messaging is one of the key focuses of the government’s snooping efforts, is to encrypt your conversations.

Once again WhisperSystem has a text messaging service for Android phones called TextSecure. And SilentCircle offers an iOS app aptly called Silent Text. You’ll be able to dig around and find other end-to-end encryption messaging apps like Threema and soon-to-be-launched Redact.

A personal preference that doesn’t completely sacrifice the user experience is Pidgin, an end-to-end encrypted messaging client. The only way to unecrypt the messages that you send to the other party is if the government has access to their or your computer. The app is free, and it integrates with messaging services like GTalk, AIM, Yahoo, IRC, MSN, ICQ, Jabber, and others. However if you want to set up the end-to-end encryption chats the other user will need Pidgin installed as well. What’s fun is that you’ll notice that even if you’re technically using GTalk to talk to each other by way of Pidgin, your conversations show up in your GTalk window as garbled letters and numbers, which shows you first-hand that your messages are for the most part safe from prying eyes. 

You can also try your hand at Trillian, which offers encrypted messaging with its SecureIM feature.

Social media

Facebook (and the Facebook-owned Instagram) and Google+ are out of the question. You’ve probably disclosed enough personal information about yourself on there already, but it’s time to cut the cord if you’re serious. Fortunately there are plenty of places where you can get your social networking fix. You might even find these options to be a breath of fresh air. There’s the obvious options, like LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Path. But really, these social networks serve somewhat of a different purpose, and in Path’s case the company gets audited by the FTC anyway so you might want to steer clear for now.

You might have heard of other other up-and-comers that once made a splash like Diaspora and App.net, but lesser known social networks like Zurker, Tagged, and Harnu might be able to satisfy your social media needs. They are more internationally focused, but hey, the benefit is you get a more global view of the Internet. 

Encryption and browsing

encrypt the web

First of all, you probably should avoid the services outlined by PRISM, but in case you’re being snooped on if you’re using Chrome for instance, you can start with downloading the EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere plugin for both Firefox and Chrome so you’re using HTTPS to surf the Web.

The next step can be to setting up a proxy or a VPN to mask your IP and location. There are multiple ways to do this. You might set one up using Google’s App Engine to create your own server, set one up for your browser using proxies from proxy-list.org, or even use Himachi to set up a proxy server that you’ll point your browser to.

Finally, you can always opt to use TOR and the TOR browser.

As for VPNs, there are plenty of services out there including Astrill, StrongVPN, or you could set one up for yourself using Amazon’s Web Services to mask your IP address. The latter will be a cheaper alternative, but technically advanced for most people.

File sharing and storage


Dropbox and Google Drive might be out of question. You can always switch to Box.com or other cloud storage services like Mega from Kim Dotcom, but to err on the side of caution – especially with hackers lurking – you can always take safety measures into your own hands and encrypt the files that you end up uploading to Dropbox or Drive. This means that even if someone ends up getting their hands on your files, they wouldn’t be able to crack it open. The most popular service for the job would have to be Boxcryptor and Cloudfogger. The more advanced users can try their hand at Truecrypt which will actually encrypt entire Windows drives. Or you might find other alternatives like SODA (free) and Egnyte (free-to-try, but pay to use), however the types of storage services that these platforms can encrypt files for vary.


Well, Gmail, Yahoo’s Mail service, Outlook, and even Apple are the hardest platforms to give up. But there are other options: You could try alternative email services Zoho Mail, Inbox.com, or opt for encryption-based services like Hushmail, and Mozilla’s email client, Thunderbird, which offers email encryption by way of an extension called Enigmail.

If you can’t give up your current inbox though, it’s OK – we know, that’s asking a lot. So there are a few third party clients that can help you send encrypted email. We’ll warn you, they aren’t super user-friendly, but they will get the job done.

Easy-to-use encryption services that don’t require any downloads or installations are Infoencrypt, Sendinc, Sbwave Encryptor, and Mobrien.

Plugin services that you might want to check out in addition to Enigmail include Mailvelope for Chrome (and soon Firefox) (it works with Google Apps, Outlook, and Yahoo Mail), Trend Micro Email Encryption Client to encrypt Outlook emails, and SafeGmail.

Search Engines


Finally, while we’ve recommended proxies and VPNs to swap to other types of search engines since you don’t want to browse Google and Bing without protection, you can always check out DuckDuckGo and Blekko.

Since these methods might not be 100 percent guaranteed to protect you, let us know in the comments below if you have a personal favorite or an alternative.


Cloudflare’s privacy-enhancing DNS service comes to iOS and Android

Cloudflare's DNS resolver service has been ported to mobile devices, and now anyone with an Android or iOS device can download it for free to take advantage of its speed and privacy-boosting features.

Windows Update not working after October 2018 patch? Here’s how to fix it

Windows update not working? It's a more common problem than you might think. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to troubleshoot it and in this guide we'll break them down for you, step by step.

The 100 best Android apps turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

Choosing which apps to download is tricky, especially given how enormous and cluttered the Google Play Store has become. We rounded up 100 of the best Android apps and divided them neatly, with each suited for a different occasion.

Check out 25 of the best Wear OS apps for your smartwatch

Looking for some ways to spruce up that new Android smartwatch of yours? Here are the best Wear OS apps to download and use with any Android smartwatch, including a few specially enhanced for Wear OS 2.0.

Apple to boost its Amazon presence with listings for iPhones, iPads, and more

Apple is about to start offering more of its kit on Amazon. The tech giant currently only has very limited listings on the shopping site, but the deal will see the arrival of the latest iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, and more.

If you've lost a software key, these handy tools can find it for you

Missing product keys getting you down? We've chosen some of the best software license and product key finders in existence, so you can locate and document your precious keys on your Windows or MacOS machine.

Zoom in on famous works through the Art Institute of Chicago’s new website

Art lovers, listen up. The Art Institute of Chicago has given its website a serious makeover with new features that let you get up close and personal with more than 50,000 artworks by famous (and not so famous) artists.

Will Chrome remain our favorite web browser with the arrival of newest version?

Choosing a web browser for surfing the web can be tough with all the great options available. Here we pit the latest versions of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Edge, and Vivaldi against one another to find the best browsers for most users.

Over a million veterans now eligible for Comcast’s Internet Essentials program

Comcast's low-cost Internet Essentials program, which provides internet access for just $10 per month, has expanded to include U.S. veterans. One million veterans now qualify for the service.

Google’s Squoosh will get an image web-ready with in-browser compression

Google's latest web app development is an image editing and compression tool, Squoosh. In just a few clicks, it can take a huge image and make it much lighter and web-friendly, all in your browser.

Want to save a webpage as a PDF? Just follow these steps

Need to quickly save and share a webpage? The best way is to learn how to save a webpage as a PDF file, as they're fully featured and can handle images and text with ease. Here's how.
Social Media

‘Superwoman’ YouTuber Lilly Singh taking a break for her mental health

Claiming to be "mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted," popular YouTuber Lilly Singh has told her millions of fans she's taking a break from making videos in order to recuperate.
Smart Home

Amazon has a huge team dedicated to enhancing Alexa and Echo

An Amazon executive on Tuesday, November 13 revealed the huge size of the team that's tasked with developing the Echo, the company's smart speaker, and Alexa, the digital assistant that powers it.

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.