I’ve never been an advocate for internet privacy. I’ve used all types of services without reading any of those privacy policies (who reads that shit? It’s unreadable), I’ve had location services active in my phone for long time, etc. I think at some point I let myself go, I trusted the don’t be evil motto. When they give you great products for free you don’t question as much what Google (and others) are doing with your data.
But this attitude has negative effects. I (we) have given this companies a message: do whatever the fuck you want, I’m not going to do anything about it.
The Instagram listener and behavioral retargeting
I think what made me think about it seriously about it, was this Medium article about Instagram making use of the phone’s microphone to listen and process the collected data to show relevant ads. If what is explained on that articles is 100 percent accurate is irrelevant. It’s consistent enough with my personal experience using Instagram/Facebook/Google/whatever.
Reading that article made me think about what I already knew. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple… they all have an extense file on my with interests, internet habits, search, how I use their software, etc. This data has my name all over it. That way they can show me “relevant” ads everywhere, all the time.
I’m not going to go into why this is a bad thing. If you don’t thing it is, good for you. If on the other hand, you don’t like massive corporations having so much information about you, I’ll move to share some tips I believe can be helpful. But first let me be clear about something. This will not save you from this problem, it will only help you you in some fronts.
Start using Firefox Quantum
Mozilla Firefox has been with us since the late 90s. Their last version, Firefox Quantum, is a great browser, fast and efficient. More importantly, Firefox is developed by Mozilla, a non-profit organization that has demonstrated over 2 decades that the care about internet freedom and the users right to surf the net safe and privately.
Search with DuckDuckGo
But Google is the best! What are you talking about? Yeah, well, I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for a few weeks and there’s barely any different. Actually I’m gonna say something crazy: DuckDuckGo results are better thatn Google’s.
DuckDuckGo only personalizes your results based in location. That’s not the case with Google, they try to predict the most accurate results having in mind your previous searches (and I think other factors like pages you’ve visited). This could seem like a great idea, and I think it’s done in good faith, but the result of this system is biased search results. This might seem irrelevant. It probably is when you’re looking to buy a new tv, but it is not when you are looking for things like politics, news, etc. What Google will show you will be biased and will reinforce your belives without letting you see the other point of views. If you can’t see what is bad about that…
I highly recommend you to read this post by DuckDuckGo’s CEO in Quora.
Review your phone settings
I’ve spent some time lately going through app permissions on my phone. Things like location, mic, etc. are rarely going to be used by apps to offer you their service, but they still ask you for it. I was amazed by how many apps on my phone had location perms requirement, when at the end only 5 or 6 do we really needed them.
Taking five minutes to review these permissions can help you avoid sharing undesired data. Same applies to your desktop OS of choice. Spend some time looking at what you are sharing with the OS provider.
Other steps you can take
- Consider using Linux: Yes, I’m serious. Linux can be rough, but there are distributions that are very user friendly (Ubuntu, ElementaryOS, etc). Unless you need a specific software not available for Linux (photoshop, 3d studio…) there is no reason to stick to Windows/Mac OS.
- Use Proton mail: Proton Mail is a secure and encrypted mail service. It’s free and has apps for the main OS in the market. I’m seriously considering this move, but is no doubt one of the most painful you can do. I’m sure there are other options out there that offer a similar. approach
- Be careful with what you share in social media: if Facebook or other SM can identify your face in photos, bad.
There aremore things that can be done, but I’m not an expert on the mater and I don’t want to talk without knowing.
We are not products, but massive companies with huge ecosystems and advertising interests are using us as such. We must be aware that even if their intentions are not bad, their actions are guided by the rules of capitalism. That is not bad per se, but it can become an issue with actors of this size.