Most of us are so used to the apps we rely on, it's easy to stop thinking about how they work and what they do with our data. Most free services make their money from ads, and that means collecting data about our likes, our online activities, and our app usage.
There are better options: apps that will keep your data safe from unwelcome visitors and eager advertisers. And they might fit into your daily routine more easily than you expect.
Of course, Apple and Google take different approaches to user privacy—Apple makes money by selling hardware, whereas Google makes money selling ads, and that requires a lot of data collection and profiling. Even though Google promises to keep your actual personal data private, it does sell ads against the profile it creates.
By comparison, a lot of Apple's apps are already fairly well locked down from a privacy standpoint: Safari, Mail, Apple Maps, and so on. However, we've avoided both Apple and Google in this rundown to give you options across multiple devices and platforms.
Signal for Messaging
You have a number of apps to choose for text messaging, but few are as security-focused as Signal (Android, iOS) while also working across multiple platforms with ease. As you would expect, end-to-end encryption is baked in as standard, and there's also a disappearing-messages option so you leave no trail behind.
While Signal might not be bursting with quite as many options and features as some of the other instant messengers in app stores, it does support voice and video calls, as well as group chats, file transfers, audio clips, and the all-important GIFs. Your biggest problem with the app might be convincing everyone in your contacts list to switch over to it, but we have a whole guide to Signal here to help you make the case.
Firefox for Web Browsing
While several web browsers promise to put user privacy first, Firefox (Android, iOS) might just be the best one in terms of features, cross-platform compatibility, and speed. The impressive list of features begins with what Firefox calls Enhanced Tracking Protection, where the most invasive online trackers are blocked automatically as you browse around the web.
Dive into Firefox's settings and you can take more control over what is and isn't blocked, and what data is and isn't collected as you open up new sites and tabs. The browsing data that you've accrued on your travels can be wiped with a couple of taps, and of course there's a Private Browsing mode available if you want to browse without leaving any traces on your device.
DuckDuckGo for Search
The appeal of DuckDuckGo (Android, iOS) is that it's really not interested in tracking what you're looking for or serving up ads based on your demographic. Open tabs and your browsing history can be deleted with a tap, while trackers that you come across during your travels online are automatically blocked so they can't monitor your browsing.
The DuckDuckGo app is actually a web browser and a search app all in one. Individual sites are given a privacy rating as you visit them, and the app gives you full details on which companies are trying to track your movements and from which sites. Simple and effective privacy on the web.
OsmAnd for Maps
OsmAnd (Android, iOS) is based on the open source OpenStreetMap data, a sort of Wikipedia for maps, and it gives you just about everything you could need from a mapping app: turn-by-turn directions, offline map support, information on places of interest, and so on. Even better, it's not trying to build up a marketing profile on you to sell ads against.
There's support for biking and walking as well as driving, a choice of map views that include a useful contour mode, and the ability to quickly bookmark or share particular points on the map as and when needed. The app is supported through map area and type purchases, though you can download seven maps of your choice free of charge first.
ProtonMail for Email
If you want your email to be locked down and secured from prying eyes—rather than scanned to generate ads and connect other services—then ProtonMail (Android, iOS) is one of the best options available to you. It's open source (which helps transparency), it's end-to-end encrypted, and it comes with cool features like self-destructing messages.
All of the necessary encryption is handled behind the scenes, so all you see is a slick, user-friendly email client with the usual features like filters and spam control, safe in the knowledge that no one but the intended recipients can read your messages (and that includes the ProtonMail team). Most features are free to use, so it's easy to get started.
Jumbo for Social Media
Jumbo (Android, iOS) isn't a social media app replacement as such, but it can help you lock down the social networks that you're already signed up for (and where your friends will already be). At the moment it comprehensively covers Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and though some of its features require a subscription, you do get a lot for free.
One of the best features that Jumbo brings to the table is auto-deleting your posts after a certain amount of time has elapsed, so you're never leaving behind a long digital trail. It'll also advise you on ways in which you can limit your exposure and increase your privacy on the apps you've got connected (by turning off face recognition or photo tags, for instance).