Is someone watching you online?
'I always feel like somebody's watching me. And I have no privacy.' Is this a 1984 Rockwell song, or an omen of the future? The short answer is yes. Many businesses are watching you, but it's not what you think. So, before you rush home to unplug your computer—slow down, take a breath, and read on.
There is no vast, hidden secret warehouse somewhere where corporate employees are staring at screens that are monitoring what you are doing moment by moment on your PC. Luckily, this isn't China (and I doubt they even have that). However, what they are monitoring are your clicks, visits, likes, shares, views, searches, etc. All that data is collected and aggregated to create a 'digital version of you.' That digital version of you is then marketed to thousands of companies looking to sell you your next bottle of shampoo, or—whatever was in or related to that link you just clicked.
How do I keep companies from collecting my data online?
If you don’t mind going to the extreme, try these tips:
- De-everything your online life. No more social media. No more Google. No more Microsoft, and definitely no more Amazon.
- Get rid of that smartphone. Yep, they are collecting a ton of data there too.
- Use a VPN service to hide your actual IP address. This is a good tactic to use even if you do decide to keep Googling stuff.
- Change your browser. We're not endorsing browsers here—just Google it! (Told you it's almost impossible.)
- Change your search engine. Again, we're not endorsing a product, but you'd be 'Quakers' not to look around.
- Pay for your email service. Nothing is free, right? And in this case, your data is payment for your email service if you are using free email. This will also reduce your incoming spam.
- The only real way to prevent personal data collection is to cease internet use, throw out your smartphone, and return those cable boxes—yep, they know what you watch and track that too!
If you want a more balanced approach, try these tips:
- Email - Maintain two personal email accounts. Use one for all of those accounts, signups, social accounts, and everything else that ends up leading to more junk mail on that account (think Gmail). Purchase another email address (yes, I said purchase) for $10/year and use that account for all of your important stuff. Protect your private email like you would your wallet.
- Passwords - Use a password manager. There are plenty of options (and some free). Make your password manager password very complex, but something only you could remember. I like phrases as passwords (example: The cow jumped over the Destin bridge!).
- Social Media - There is no getting around this; it's not going to be private. These companies mine your data, and that's just how they make money.
- Online Searches - I use a combo of Google and Duckduckgo. I google random stuff, I Duckduckgo important stuff.
Online privacy is attainable to a degree, but you have to break old habits.