We know that Google and Facebook have all our information and then pass it on for renumeration. Most websites add “cookies” and they know exactly where we go and what we do online. They know where you are planning your next vacation, what video games you are interested in and when you check in to your Fair Go casino login. There are no secrets. Even governments track what we are doing.

It seems that privacy on line is pretty much impossible.  It really seems we have no real choice but to accept the status quo.  How do we stand up to these giants Is there anything that we can do to change this situation and This question has been thrown out there?

The usual responses and suggestions are put forward. The first is to use a different password for everything and use a program that will memorize your passwords.

The second is to have an ad blocker installed in your web browser and the third is to make sure you go into your Facebook privacy settings and ensure that you have limited their ability to make you the recipient of ads.

However, are there some ideas that perhaps are less apparent?  And it seems that the meaning of digital privacy is not the same for everyone. People have a variety of different concerns.

These issues range from private messaging to government interference and surveillance to third party trackers on the internet.  Each of these need to be addressed differently and need different techniques to deal with them.

Refrain from using Google

Some say the first thing people should do is stop using Google.  Google knows more about you than anyone else if you have a Gmail account and if you use Google as a search engine.  This increases if you use, for example, Google maps, Waze, and Google Docs.

You could switch to a different search engine, DuckDuckGo.   The results found may not be quite as good as Google’s, but it does promise not to continually track your searches.

Instead of using Gmail, you could try using ProtonMail which you will pay for. It is not free but is not expensive either – about $4 per month. It pays to pay for your email account. It will turn off ads and will be less likely that your account will be scrutinized by your account provider.   It has many privacy features and includes an anonymous sign up.

Block Google

The advertisements you are seeing online represent the personal searches you have made on the web and also the posts on Facebook that interest you and you have liked.  A way to trick Google is to create a search for bogus things. It will throw a spanner into the works and will muddle up Google’s algorithm.   It can be a little like radio jamming.  Others will change genders when opening an account on a new website which also creates interesting ads. appearing.

There is of course a down side to this. Family and friends will get a notification to “wish her or him a happy birthday”, depending on what gender you signed up with.

Avoid needless web tracking 

It is worth mentioning that many people like all these ads popping up that correspond to their interests.  And this is perfectly fine.  But many others find it very disconcerting to know that these ads are a result of their being scrutinized and there every move being watched.

If you are in the latter group, Ghostery, may suit you. It is a free plug in for web browsers and will effectively block the trackers.  There are sites that have a huge number of trackers whose job is only to track your every move in order to make the advertisement more relevant.

Be wary of public Wi Fi 

Using public Wi Fi networks should be avoided.  Those available in airports, hotels and cafes are not private, even if you need to enter a password.  It is possible for others in the same café for instance to access any of your material, emails or other content if they are using free ‘sniffer’ programs. This is something you should surely be aware of.

The same, however, is not true for WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessages because they are encrypted before they exist your mobile device. Websites that begin with https are also okay because they also encrypt information before it arrives in your browser.  However, the site’s address can be viewed but the data will not be visible.

You can invest in phone and computer apps that will encrypt everything received and sent, and will even disguise your location. A Virtual Private Network. TunnelBear is one such app and is suitable for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS.

Choose Apple  

Apple makes your data security a priority. It sees this as an important requirement.  You see many examples of this. For instance, it is not necessary to sign into Apple Maps or into Apple’s web browser, Safari. Therefore, none of your searches will be linked to you. Safari has a “don’t track me” feature which is on and therefore Apple receives none of your information. Even when you buy something, Apple has no access to anything concerning the purchase.

The difference with Apple is that it is a hardware company and relies on receiving money from us.  Google and Facebook, on the other hand, get money from selling our data to others.

Avoid “Sign in with Facebook”  

Don’t use the shortcuts to signing in with Facebook or Google. If you do, this will enable them to track you on any other sites you visit.   Better to take the longer route and sign in with an email address and password.

Apple is also offering this shortcut on many sites but the difference being that Apple promises not to track your searches.

Prevent identitytheft  

A book called “Scam Me If You Can” is put out by former con artist, Frank Abagnale, and looks at the different ways you can be caught. He points out that if you give Facebook your birth details and the place where you were born, it is possible for anyone on the look out to steal your identity.  The other good piece of advice is to never upload a regular full facial photo of yourself that can be used in a phony id.

We are forever being asked to share personal information about ourselves online.  We are often answering questions about our personal preferences and personal details about our jobs or salaries.  There is no reason to be giving out this information.  Avoid it whenever you can.

Odds and ends – a few more suggestions  

It is useful to have different email addresses for each service you opt for.  This way you can learn which one has shared your data and then do what it takes to stop them.

There are Apps which provide a one-off credit card number which can be used for singular purchases and then disposed of. Privacy and Token Virtual are two of these.  Definitely worth looking into.

It is good practice to refrain from using apps on your mobile phone whenever possible.  Better to go into the website connected to it on your phone’s browser. For instance, dailybeast.com.  Here your data will still be tracked but to a much lesser degree than if you enter via the app.

Things may begin to change.  Awareness of this problem is growing and pressure is being felt.  In 2017 the EU passed the General Data Protection Regulation which states that companies need to clarify the information they are

Collecting and to either delete or edit that data. Many countries around the world have, or are in the process of introducing similar regulations.

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