Blog / Protecting Your Personal Privacy in an Online World
No one likes to have “The Man” looking over their shoulder all the time. A certain degree of monitoring is required and even expected for that extra layer of security (like cameras in the office, login monitoring, etc.), but when does it become too much? When is enough, well, enough? And how much tracking actually happens when your online?
A whole heck of a lot.
I’ve said it before and will again—don’t leave your security in someone else’s hands.
Take personal information, for example. Do you know how much gets thrown around online? The social media giant Facebook is a great example of an online space where people post plenty of personal information about themselves, and it’s free! Think about how much information Facebook may have? How many servers are needed to offer this website worldwide? How much storage do they need and how are the doing this for free?
To be fair, Facebook has been honest about their business model from the beginning. They make their money by selling your information to advertisers. If that doesn’t seem like a big deal, look at their profits; clearly, a lot of people are willing to pay a lot of money for Facebook’s information. What about Google? You need a Google account to access most of their free services, but they’re only free because Google can make money by selling your information.
It’s fairly easy to see the sort of information Facebook has on people. Just look at the details you can put into your account: age, location, sex, marital status, job, education, and plenty more. Changes you make to your profile information allow them to track the progress of your life, and that’s just from your Facebook account directly. The company can also gather information from your posts and your likes, who you’re friends with, that sort of thing. Facebook is a sociologist’s best friend and we’re not even done yet. Any website you visit that has the famous blue Facebook Like icon (or even just a link back to the platform) can send information about your activity that can be linked to your Facebook profile. Moreover, they can gather great swathes of information about from your computer, the browser, the OS, plugins, and all kinds of other juicy, monetizable information. As you can see, Facebook can rapidly gather a massive amount of data about people and their behavior.
Now, let’s look at another player in the information arena, Google. Unlike Facebook, your Google account by itself doesn’t actually have a lot of information about you, but of course, that not all Google does. In fact, their original product, the famous Google search engine, sends you through analytics websites before handing you off to the proper destination whenever you click on one of those links in your search results. A large portion of the World Wide Web makes use of Google services for webhosting and traffic reporting. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s the Android OS and all the phones (and tablets and security systems and other products) that operate on it. Google has an entire ecosystem of products that garner information about peoples’ behaviors.
Of course we all know most search engines track your searches. They learn your behavior, your likes and dislikes. Google of course has become exceptional at harnessing this information, and uses it to adjust the results it serves you to make them more pleasing. After all, how often do you wind up going to the second page of your search results? Usually what you’re looking for is in the first five items, and that’s because Google isn’t actually returning what you’re looking for, it’s returning what it thinks you like. If you like conspiracy theories or hate vaccines, your search results will reflect those preferences.
So is there anything that you can actually do about this? Yes, but some of it is pretty harsh.
1) Stop using search engines that track you.
There are very few search engines out there that don’t track you, but they do exist. DuckDuckGo is the biggest among them. It has similar capabilities to Googles search engine but they don’t do any sort of user tracking. Just remember that if you’re using the Chrome browser, you’re still not exactly getting away from Google.
2) You can delete your Facebook & Google accounts.
Any of the services those organizations offer can be found elsewhere, and a lot of people I know have actually done this. Just remember it doesn’t stop any of the data collection that happens through your smart phone or by visiting websites.
3) You can setup blocking for all ads and tracking that goes on in the websites you visit.
This is actually easy to do and not technically challenging. However, once it’s done, you’ll find that a surprisingly large portion of the World Wide Web suddenly becomes unusable. The reach of Facebook, Google, and other organizations like this is massive. It’s hard to describe how big it is.
My advice is to try and avoid the paranoia but still do what we can to protect ourselves. We should accept that information harvesting is a part of life on the web, and we should actively work to weaken the value of our own information. Only fill out the *Required fields on a website, and when you’re making an account somewhere, look at what they ask for and ask yourself why they might need that sort of information. In short, pay more attention to what your are doing online. Heck, you can even have some fun with it! Start googling a bunch of strange search requests you wouldn’t normally make. Spend a couple of days looking up recipes for sauerkraut, and see how long it takes for German food ads to start popping up all over the sites you visit. I promise it won’t take long.
As Shakespeare wrote in All’s Well that Ends Well, “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”.
If you have any questions about online privacy, please reach out to your TRINUS Account Manager for some stress-free IT.
By Kind Courtesy of Your Friendly Neighbourhood Cyber-Man.