Today, we are going to talk about online privacy in Myanmar. This post will show you simple techniques to protect your online privacy on Android and MIUI-based smartphones.
According to the last report from We Are Social, Internet penetration in Myanmar rose to 39% in February 2019. The report also says that 99% of these Internet users are mobile.
In 2017, MOA established that Myanmar Internet users mainly browse the Internet on smartphones and especially Android smartphones. The top brand at that time was Samsung.
According to a recent report from statcounter, Xiaomi represents nearly one third of every smartphone sold in Myanmar. It is followed by Huawei and Samsung. Apple represents only 8% of smartphones in Myanmar.
Xiaomi has its own operating system, MIUI which is based on Android. As we will see below, most of the recommendations are the same for both operating systems.
So first of all, why should I care about online privacy?
Online privacy relates to the ability to control what information you reveal about yourself over the internet.
Nowadays technology has become part of our daily life and we would not imagine one day or even one hour without our smartphone. We rely on our smartphone to communicate but also to get access to a wide range of very useful services such as food delivery, ride hailing or mobile banking.
Using all these apps is great and makes our life so much easier. But by using these services, we also share a lot of sensitive information about ourselves such as our location, our areas of interest or even our bank credentials.
This data needs to be protected.
It needs to be protected from cyber-criminals who will try by any means to get a hand over some of your sensible and private data.
And do not think that because you do not own a credit card, you present no interest to hackers. There is a market for every piece of private information on the Internet. Your social account, your passport or ID scan, your health record, there is a market for it on the dark web.
But you also need to protect yourself from Google, Facebook and all the large tech giants that thrive by reselling your private data to third parties or by offering marketing companies segmented audiences to push their products.
If you have been on Facebook for some time, you probably already received this hoax which stated that you will soon have to pay to keep you Facebook account. Let me put it bluntly: it will never happen. The reason is that your account is much more valuable than a potential subscription fee.
Facebook made more than $40 billion in revenue in 2017, approximately 89 percent of which came from digital advertisements.
Facebook is the largest billboard in the world. Plus, Facebook gives advertisers the capability to profile their target audience by sex, age, location and also area of interest.
Facebook is tracking you outside Facebook
Facebook has a giant network of plugins, cookies and trackers whose whole purpose is to track you even when you are not on the social network.
First of all, Facebook uses what it calls a Pixel. a piece of code that partners incorporate into their website to track the conversion rate of their social network campaigns. This Pixel allows Facebook to know exactly what you are doing out of Facebook, which page you visit, which product you like etc…
Second, you may have seen Facebook comments and social login boxes proliferate on personal blogs and websites. These plugins are little spies that also track your moves and report them to Facebook.
If you want to avoid being tracked, you may think that logging out of Facebook would be enough but it is not.
Facebook is not the only tech company interested in your data. Google is also making most of its revenue from advertisements and as such, it is critical to take a closer look at your Android settings and ensure that you are not handing over private data to Google.
1. Tune your Android Settings
Google OS is Android and Android is the most popular mobile OS in Myanmar. Even Xiaomi OS, MIUI, is built on Android.
To protect your online privacy, start by disabling targeted ads:
Go to Settings –> Google –> Ads and Activate “Opt out of Ads Personalization”
2. Change your app permission
On Android like on MIUI, you can fine tune the access level provided to every app installed on your smartphone. It is critical to make sure every app has the right access level to serve its purpose, no more, no less.
In a recent cybersecurity investigation, experts found that more than 17,000 apps available in the Play Store track your activity and capture your personal data. This includes popular applications like Angry Birds and AudioBooks.
To change the app permissions on Android:
1. Go to Settings.
2. Tap Apps or Application Manager (depending on your device, this may look different).
3. Tap on one app.
4. Tap Permissions.
5. Turn the permissions that are not required OFF
To change the app permissions on MIUI:
1. Open the Settings app.
2. Tap General settings > Apps > All tab.
3. Find and tap the app you want to edit its permissions.
4. Scroll to the bottom and then tap Manage permissions.
5. Disable permissions that are not required.
3. Use 2 Factor (2FA) Authentication
2 Factor Authentication helps you protect your account from unauthorized access by requiring one additional authentication step.
Activate Google 2 Factor Authentication on Android is pretty easy:
1. On your Android phone or tablet, open your device’s Settings app –> Google –> Google Account.
2. At the top, tap Security.
3. Under “Signing in to Google,” tap 2-Step Verification.
4. Tap Get Started.
5. Follow the steps on the screen.
4. Mute Google Activity History
Your Google account is tracking you closely. Web history, voice control, location tracking, Youtube searches… Google collects a lot of information about you which you probably don’t know.
If you want to change that, click here or go to Settings > Google > Google Account > Data & Personalization and disable what is not required.
5. Enable screen lock
You have to keep in mind that your smartphone contains a lot of sensitive data. Make sure your data does not fall into the wrong hands by locking your phone with a solid password.
Both Android and MIUI offer several methods to lock and unlock your smartphone.
The most popular methods are PIN Number, Pattern Lock, and Fingerprint.
Facial recognition is also available on high end smartphones. Biometric authentication is definitely the most secure way of authentication.
If you choose to go for a PIN number or a pattern lock, make sure it is not too easy to guess.
6. Encrypt your device
MIUI is encrypted by default so you do not need to do anything if you use a Xiaomi phone.
For Android, go to Settings > System > Security > Encrypt device and select Encrypt phone
7. Finally, here is a list of softwares that you should consider to protect your privacy:
In the web browser category, we would definitely recommend using Mozilla Firefox.
Firefox is super fast, light weight and open source. Plus it comes with a super useful feature called the Facebook Container.
This extension makes things very difficult for Facebook to track your activity outside of Facebook. It achieves this by running Facebook into a separate container. Therefore, there is no way for Facebook to link your identity inside this container to your browsing activity outside the container.
You know that every time you look for something on Google, you give the tech giant a lot of information about your habits and areas of interest. Information that could be reused for target ads.
DuckDuckGo is a simple search engine that respects your privacy. Try it now!
A personal VPN is a very useful piece of software if you are worried that your Internet Service Provider may be tracking your moves.
This application creates a tunnel between your smartphone and a server located in a remote area. All the data flowing through this tunnel is totally encrypted.
We recommend that you stay away from the free VPN applications.
The main reason is that the only sustainable business model of these free applications is to monetize your private data. By using a free VPN, you are basically offering them full access to your browsing history and behavior. Your data is captured, scrutinized and sold to advertisers.
Here are two VPN solutions that are safe to use:
Free but limited: Windscribe is a Canadian VPN that gives you a free allowance of 10 GB per month.
Unlimited: PureVPN is the best VPN around so far. It is totally secure, super fast and cost effective.
Herbert is a nom de plume.
I am an experienced telecom professional blogging about the fastest growing Internet market in the world: Myanmar.