There’s a saying: “If it’s free, you’re the product.” And that couldn’t be more true of digital platforms. A complex set of algorithms seek to keep you engaged in the product while backend systems auction off your attention to advertisers. We have never had such little privacy, Google, Facebook, Amazon and even Apple are all major exploiters of our personal info. From metadata, locations of where we’ve been, who we meet with frequently, where we buy, what we buy, our subscriptions, our contacts, our choice of books, films and even profiling in the sense of who we are as people. If you’re interested in learning more, check out The Social Dilemma on Netflix since, “This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.” That’s why we think privacy is a big concern in 2021. And here are some tips to start taking back control.
What’s to worry about?
Well, you probably know that governments are listening in. According to the Guardian, “Only those in the intelligence community had heard of “Prism”, another initiative that has given the NSA – and GCHQ too – access to millions of emails and live chat conversations held by the world’s major internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple.” But what do those tech companies do with your data? Well, they employ Bayes Theorem. According to Forbes, “But the real power of Bayes’ theorem is when you can assemble enough data to make very unobvious predictions—about what you’re going to buy, how much you’re willing to pay, who you’re going to vote for. This is what’s meant by “big data.” It has already revolutionized marketing and advertising, and some believe we’re only getting started.” These free tech tools are now powerful predictive platforms that set hunches about your future behaviour to the highest bidder. And before you say, “I have nothing to hide” – that may be true, but would you want everyone to see every purchase, post, image and search you make? Probably not.
What can you do?
There are some simple (and more advanced) things you can do to reduce your exposure:
1.) Remove Google Chrome – Google Chrome sees all of your browsing patterns, even in incognito mode as this suit shows. But there are many privacy-focused web browsers now. We use a mixture of Firefox, Brave, Vivaldi or Tor.
2.) Switch Google Search for DuckDuckGo – Just like Chrome, Google search stores all your search history. Plus, if you have a Google account all this information is synced. This then follows you around the internet serving you ads. DuckDuckGo is a privacy-focused search engine and doesn’t do that.
3.) Ditch In-home Voice Assistance – These personal home assistants record and store your voice commands. In a Which? test, they found the assistants recorded more conversations than they were supposed to. Triggering even when a wake word was not spoken.
4.) Drop WhatsApp and Messenger – Whilst they might be secure from the outside, they are both owned by Facebook who has a vested interest in serving you relevant ads. Instead, why not try Signal or Telegram. If you want something truly anonymous check out Session Messenger.
5.) Quit Social Media – We’re not joking. Since you’re the product, they are analysing everything you do to sell your data in a roundabout way to advertisers. If you can’t quit, first, cut down on the products you use if you can. Do you really need Snapchat? Twitter? Every social and digital account you can close reduces their predictive power over you. Also, you may want to consider what you’re liking. Every band, book, political figure and recipe tells advertisers something about you. Next, stop feeding them so much information about yourself. Post less frequently and spend less time on these platforms if you can. Finally, PC Mag has great info on how to limit your screen time here.
6.) Invest in a Good VPN – Norton says, “Surfing the web or transacting on an unsecured Wi-Fi network means you could be exposing your private information and browsing habits. That’s why a virtual private network, better known as a VPN, should be a must for anyone concerned about their online security and privacy.” Nord VPN or Proton are good options. And get a secure email provider while you’re at it like ProtonMail.
7.) Stop Using All Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple devices & services – Remember, you’re the product. They’re not giving you free tools before they are generous. They are mining your behaviour for valuable purchasing data. Delete any accounts you can and use guest accounts wherever possible. Avoid giving any platform your personal data.
More advanced tips
8.) Enable Encryption and Turn Off Location on All Devices – Windows 10 has Bitlocker installed as standard. It’s good, but you do need to enable it. Oh, and turn off your location permissions and GPS for any and all apps that don’t require it to operate.
9.) Don’t Click on Ads – Obviously, never click on an ad. If you do want to buy something that has been advertised to you, visit the website directly. This limits a platform’s ability to attribute that purchase to your profile. Overall, if you’re not seen to be converting (to a sale) you’re deemed less attractive to advertisers.
10.) Use a Flash Router – A flash router keeps your ISP from monitoring ( and then monetizing) your in-home internet activity. According to VPN Mentor, “If you want to run a VPN (which we highly recommend), flashing DD-WRT can help you balance out the potential slowdowns associated with the encryption and other services they provide so you can enjoy all of their benefits without reducing connection speeds. In addition, DD-WRT firmware makes it much easier to run a VPN directly through your router. This is called a VPN passthrough. It helps easily, conveniently secure every device connected to your internet. Most regular routers only support specific (and typically outdated) types of VPNs, if they provide any VPN functionality at all. DD-WRT often supports some of the most advanced VPN protocols so you can enjoy everything they have to offer consistently, on every device you connect.”
11.) Pay with Cash – Skip plastic for your purchases. And pay in cash wherever you can and when trading online use a cryptocurrency for maximum security. That’s a lot harder for the tech giants to tie to you. Remember, they want to know what you’re buying and when so they can predict your future habits. Deny them that info.
If you want more tips or need help with your privacy online, our team is ready to assist.