How to have truly private conversations online in the surveillance age?

private conversations online

Privacy is a major concern as revelations about government surveillance programs and data breaches by hackers have our personal information being collected, stored, analyzed, and exploited on an enormous scale. For many people, there is the idea that their private conversations and personal details are being monitored without their consent rightfully so – we all need spaces where we communicate openly without fear of judgment or retribution.  The good news is that by understanding the risks and utilizing the right tools, we greatly increase the privacy of our online conversations. The key is taking proactive measures to reduce our digital footprints, encrypt our communications, and be selective about what details we share online.

 Encrypted messaging apps for sensitive conversations

The easiest way to instantly increase the privacy of your online conversations is to use encrypted messaging apps like Signal, WhatsApp, or Telegram. These services encrypt messages in transit and on their servers, it much more difficult for third parties to access your conversations. It prevents snooping by internet service providers, hackers, and even the apps themselves.  Encrypted chat apps like Signal offer end-to-end encryption, meaning messages are encrypted on your device before being sent, and only the recipient decrypts them. Even Signal’s servers access the contents of your messages. It is a powerful privacy feature not offered by traditional messaging services click to read more

When having a sensitive conversation online, notify the other party that you would like to switch to an encrypted messaging app if you aren’t already using one. Explain that this will keep your conversation more private. Most people will understand this request, as privacy concerns are mainstream today. While encrypted apps provide much stronger privacy than traditional messaging, they are not bulletproof. Apps themselves could have vulnerabilities that allow messages to be accessed, and phones could with spyware. However, encrypted apps provide a meaningful layer of protection and are easy to start using.

Disappearing message features for sensitive details

Many encrypted chat apps like Signal and Telegram offer disappearing messages features that automatically delete messages after a set period sharing ultra-sensitive details that you don’t want to linger in your conversation history, enable disappearing messages to make them erase automatically.  It prevents a situation where someone could peek at your unlocked phone and read earlier messages. It also limits the sensitive information that would be exposed if your messaging app account was ever compromised.

Be aware that disappearing messages don’t completely guarantee a message will be erased. Your conversation partner could screenshot or copies the message’s contents before it disappears. However, the auto-delete feature still gives you another layer of protection regarding stored chat history. Signal also offers a feature called Signal PINs that lets you chat anonymously using just a generated PIN. You don’t have to give out your actual phone number. Choose a conservative auto-delete interval like 24 hours or 7 days for sensitive messages. It will ensure they don’t stick around for too long, while still giving you and the recipient enough time to refer back to the info if needed.