We all have that friend who lives for news of the next big security breach, who groans when we unlock our phones with a simple swipe, and who never misses a chance to warn us that mega-corporations are harvesting our data. When an interest in privacy and security edges toward paranoia, it can be a bit much. But we still love our paranoid pals, right? And what better way to show the love than with a nice gift?
A necktie, jewelry, a magazine subscription…those won’t do. You need a gift that celebrates your buddy’s focus on privacy. Here are some ideas to consider, ranging from inexpensive gag gifts to impressive extravagances.
Recommended by Our Editors
Call James Bond on an Unhackable Phone
We rely on smartphones for everything these days, even though we know that government, law enforcement, and corporate interests can use them to track us. They can find out who we call, what we buy, and even where we walk or drive. For the most part, we simply accept the situation, unwilling to give up the convenience our devices bring. In a fraught situation such as a political protest, there are ways to lock down your phone without entirely disabling your ability to communicate with fellow travelers and catch video evidence of injustice, but you surely don’t want those restrictions every day.
That’s you. As for your paranoid friend, they may be perfectly fine with dumbing down a smartphone for the sake of privacy. What’s even better, though, is a burner phone. I’m talking about a phone that doesn’t identify you in any way. You can make calls, take pictures, access websites, all without identifying yourself. And if the burner phone is compromised in any way, you just burn it (well, not literally). Burner phones don’t stay anonymous, so a new one is always a great gift.
Clearly you don’t want to use an expensive phone as a burner, and in any case, the big fancy phones tend to come preloaded with apps that might rat you out. That’s why we recommend the Nokia 225 4G, which is so basic there really isn’t anything to hack. And it costs less than $50.
Nokia 225 4G Review
Pocket That Data
There’s a certain risk factor to putting any secrets on a computer. Laptops can be lost or stolen, and even a desktop computer can be compromised if a spy gets physical access. If you’re using Windows 11, you necessarily have whole-disk encryption, which helps. But plenty of people are still waiting to make that jump, quite likely including your paranoid pal.
One simple solution is to eschew storing important information on the computer entirely. Instead, keep your secrets on an encrypted portable drive such as the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD. It’s smaller than a smartphone and quite durable. Connect it while you’re working at the computer, then toss it in your pocket or hang it from your belt when you step away. As long as you choose a strong password for encryption, it’s a super-safe location for sensitive data. PCMag’s hardware experts have named this gadget an Editors’ Choice; you may name it the perfect gift.
Premium Option: If you’re willing to spend a little bit more, consider the ADATA SE800, also an Editors’ Choice. It’s even smaller than the Samsung model and has a higher durability rating, meaning it’s dustproof and waterproof to a depth of five feet for 30 minutes.
SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD V2 Review
Luxury Linux Laptop
A gift for a friend is one thing, a capital-G Gift for a spouse or partner is another. Maybe you buy a small gadget or gift card for an office buddy, but your partner gets a car…or a computer. Bear in mind that if your partner is paranoid about privacy, not just any computer will do. Windows boxes tend to come preloaded with bloatware, and Windows is the favorite target for those coding up malware attacks. Apple has done an impressive job hardening security in macOS, sure, but true privacy die-hards gravitate to Linux.
Which Linux computer, though? Well, you can hardly go wrong with Purism’s Librem 14. According to the company, it’s “designed chip-by-chip, line-by-line, to respect your rights to privacy, security, and freedom.”
This device runs PureOS, a privacy-focused Linux distro created by Purism that powers both laptops and cell phones. Hardware switches let you easily disable the webcam and mic or wireless and Bluetooth. The company offers privacy-enhancing hardware and services such as the Librem Key USB device to hold your encryption keys, and an anti-interdiction service to verify that nobody tampered with your device in transit. Put a big red bow on this Linux laptop and you’re golden. You may need to send new Linux users to our guide to switching from Windows to Linux.
Reclaim Their Good Name
Quite a few briefings at the latest Black Hat conference referenced OSint, a term borrowed from the military. OSint stands for open-source intelligence, meaning building a dossier using publicly available information. Harvesting and selling OSint can be a lucrative business, as evidenced by the growing number of data brokers and aggregators. It’s completely legal for a business to pull together public data about you and then sell the resulting profile, a fact that’s surely aggravating to those focused on privacy.
Fortunately, these legal businesses must comply with a law that requires them to remove your profile upon request. Unfortunately, there are a ton of them, and the opt-out process differs for each. Rather than leave your privacy-geek friend to wade through that mess alone, consider gifting a service like Optery that handles the process automatically.
A full-scale Optery subscription automatically seeks out your personal information on hundreds of data broker sites, then handles the opt-out process for you. It even provides before and after screenshots to prove that your data was present and is now gone. Less expensive tiers of service limit how much they automate things, all the way down to a free level that only finds your data, leaving you to make opt-out requests yourself. But hey! This is a gift—give the top tier of service.
When you shop at a brick-and-mortar store you can pay with cash and wear a face mask to hide from ubiquitous security cameras. Shopping online, strangely, you’re more exposed. You give the merchant your email, credit card, delivery address, and perhaps even a phone number. But unless you can grow or fabricate the items you need, you’ll have to shop one way or the other. It’s a real bind if you’re paranoid about privacy.
As it turns out, masking exists in the digital world as well. A gift of Abine Blur lets the recipient shop and communicate online without revealing their actual email address, credit card, or phone number. It even incorporates a basic password manager.
Your friend gives each merchant a different disposable email address—Blur handles shuttling messages back and forth to their actual email. If one of those addresses starts getting spam, they just shut it down. Likewise, each merchant receives a one-off credit card number that’s only funded for the amount of the transaction. The merchant simply can’t overcharge them or misuse the number. The delivery address is still a sticking point…perhaps you can offer to let your friend use your home address for deliveries.
Abine Blur Premium Review
Surf the Web From Timbuktu
When your browser requests a web page, it necessarily sends your IP address to the server. If it didn’t, the server wouldn’t know where to send its response. But that very IP address lets websites track your surfing habits and even provides insight into your physical location. Using a VPN, short for virtual private network, solves both privacy problems.
With a VPN active, all your web traffic goes through an encrypted connection to the selected VPN server. Your requests are tagged with that server’s address, and any geolocation attempts will get the server’s location, whether it’s in Kalamazoo or Timbuktu. Your ISP can’t track what you’re doing or spy on you. And even the owner of the shady Wi-Fi hotspot you’ve tapped can’t see a thing.
But here’s a worry. As noted, all your traffic goes through the VPN company’s servers. Have you just traded one set of spies for another? Not necessarily. Editors’ Choice Mullvad VPN goes to great lengths to preserve privacy for its users. Customers get an anonymous account code, with no requirement to share email, set up an account, or even configure recurring payments. Mullvad accepts payment in many privacy-friendly ways, including cryptocurrency and sending cash directly to Mullvad HQ.
It gets better. Rather than gifting something intangible, you can purchase a Mullvad activation code(Opens in a new window) from Amazon. It comes in the form of a small card that you can box or wrap any way you like.
Mullvad VPN Review
Privatize Their Texts and Chats
Texting is about as private as hollering out the window, and even iMessage conversations have been exposed. For secure instant communication, you need to use a dedicated app that puts privacy first, and Signal is among the best.
You might think that Signal doesn’t make a very good gift, since it’s totally free. That’s true, but sometimes the best gifts are the ones you create. Give your friend the gift of loading up Signal for yourself, and use it any time you’re inspired to text that friend. Signal isn’t limited to text messages—you can use it for voice and video chats, and group chats as well. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
Signal Private Messenger Review
Privatize Their Email
The email system we know today evolved from simple information-sharing conventions, without any thought for security. An unsecured message bounces from server to server in its travels, with as much privacy as a picture postcard. Even when a provider such as Gmail uses encryption, the provider itself can still read your messages. The solution, of course, is to use a dedicated service to encrypt your email.
When you give your buddy a premium subscription to Skiff, an Editors’ Choice for encrypted email, they start with a clean, spam-free Skiff email address. There’s an option to move messages from an existing email account, and to auto-send Skiff invites to all contacts. That doesn’t mean inviting them to spend hard-earned cash; Skiff has a free level that’s fine for simple email communication.
A premium Skiff subscription offers 100GB of storage for mail and 100GB of storage for files for $8 per month. The free edition just lets you have 10GB for mail and 1GB for files. Naturally you should get the free edition for yourself, to email privately with your pal.
Skiff doesn’t stop with email, though. You can also use it for secure cloud storage, and for secure online collaboration. In effect, it replaces services like Google Drive and Google Docs with secure equivalents. Your privacy-loving pal may enjoy the option to eschew cloud storage, even encrypted cloud storage, and instead use the highly decentralized Interplanetary Filesystem (IPFS)(Opens in a new window), which exists independent of Skiff.
Mute Microphone Malfeasance
Laptops and smartphones have microphones built in, and hackers have devised methods to turn those mics into eavesdropping snoops. If your device is compromised, a hacker could remotely activate the mic and listen to everything going on around you, including secret conversations. It’s enough to make you paranoid!
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. Most of these devices have a headphone jack to plug in an external headset. When you plug in that headset, the in-device mic and speakers shut down, naturally. That’s where the Mic-Lock Microphone Blocker comes in. Plugging it in disables the in-device mic, but it doesn’t act as a microphone itself. There’s also a version that plugs into the Lightning port on iPhones, and one for USB C connections. For a few dollars more, you can get a version that disables the mic but still lets you play music through the speakers.
Self-Censor With Sunglasses
Everyone has a camera close at hand these days, and they snap pics of everything and everyone. On a darker note, security cameras are everywhere, and some of them use facial recognition to profile anybody who walks by. Don’t want to be photographed or profiled? Don’t go out! But here’s a gift that might persuade your privacy-loving friend to step out the door.
You’ve seen news photos that protect the privacy of their subjects by putting a black “censored” bar over the eyes. Don zeroUV’s Internet Censorship Sunglasses and you’ve pre-censored your eyes right out of the picture. Admittedly it’s a little bit goofy, but sometimes you want a goofy gift.
Still Stumped? Roll Up Your Sleeves
If you’re still struggling for just the right idea, don’t ignore the charm of a handmade gift. Get yourself a roll of tinfoil and craft up your very best tinfoil hat, or sew a swatch of Faraday Fabric into a protective key fob cozy.