How to Take Control of Your Data & Privacy

Data Privacy

You don’t want to hear this, but . . . you are a product. You have forfeited your data and privacy for convenience.

You have grown to love Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. What is there to not to love about these services? They are free and they allow you to connect with people from all over the world? They are great!

Kinda . . .

Every like, every post, every web search and every social interaction you perform online feeds giant Silicon Valley companies with a LOT of personal data about YOU.

But who cares? You like consuming stuff. You don’t care if you see advertisements about things that you like.

We now live in the age of Surveillance Capitalism.

Where do we draw the line? These companies want to create compelling, useful products that get you to use their services. However, we need to be responsible for how much time we spend using their services and how much information we give them. They will not do this for us.

Once you realize that the amount of time you spend on a phone or in front of a computer you may begin to ask yourself; Do I really like this stuff? Did an algorithm tell me to like this stuff? If I spend the vast majority of my day online, are my decisions actually mine, or are my decisions being engineered? Could this affect other aspects of my life, not just my spending habits? Has it impacted me politically? Do I have my own personal beliefs and values or am I subtly being influenced slowly over time every time I get online?

Without your data, their algorithms cannot feed you curated advertising. Without curated advertising, what might your life begin to look like given the fact that we all spend way too much time online? What might happen to the business model’s of these corporations when their curated advertising platforms are no longer as effective because they don’t know anything about  you?

The following steps will help you stop giving these companies as much data.

Browse the Web Privately

Download a private web browser like Brave. This browser will block trackers allowing you to enjoy private, secure and fast browsing. It is private because it blocks trackers. It can be faster because you do not use bandwidth to download ads, they are blocked. You can also get Brave for iOS and Android.

Stop using a search engine that tracks you. Google tracks you. Use DuckDuckGo to search online. It may take some getting used to. It probably isn’t as good as what you are used to. Slowly try to use this search engine more than others. DuckDuckGo claims to be the “search engine that doesn’t track you”. Do  your research. You can never be 100% sure that a 3rd party actually does what they say they do.

Logout of Your Accounts When Browsing

For some people, being continuously logged into services like Facebook, Google, and Twitter is absolutely necessary. If you have to be logged into Google for Gmail at work for example, logging out and logging in every time you want to browse the internet would be very time consuming. In this case, use a traditional browser of your choice: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc, for “business as usual” web activities. Just don’t surf the web using this browser. Use Brave as a secondary browser for browsing privately and securely.

If you don’t have a problem logging in and out of all of the various websites you visit, you can use the Brave browser exclusively. You can also use a Brave incognito window. This will allow you to be logged into the services you need to, while remaining private in the incognito window.

Use Encrypted Email

Stop using publicly available free email providers like Gmail. It is difficult to ditch email services. You’ve probably been using the same email address for years. But they are collecting our information at a staggering rate. Use an alternative email provider like ProtonMail. ProtonMail is a privacy-enhanced email service in Switzerland. It offers end-to-end encryption, a Gmail-like user interface, secure compatibility with other email providers, and does not track its users. Do your research. You can never be 100% sure that a 3rd party actually does what they say they do.

Delete Unnecessary Social Media Accounts

This is the hard part.

In the same way that you declutter your house, you must declutter your data presence online. If you haven’t worn a shirt in 3 months, donate it, get rid of it. If you don’t use something, get rid of it. If you aren’t trolling Tinder for hookups anymore, delete your account, delete the app from your phone. The same applies to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.

If this seems too hard, that’s ok, get rid of what you can. Something is better than nothing. Some accounts might be absolutely necessary for work or for other reasons. Strive to get rid of as many social media accounts as you can. They are all hoarding your data and selling it. If you aren’t using them, they are just a distraction.

This, of all the steps may be the most difficult for most people. The thought of not seeing what your friends are doing may be unbearable. But, there is an entire world around you, waiting for you. People will prevail, while platforms like MySpace and Vine fade to a distant memory. In ten years, the apps you commonly use today may no longer exist.

Stop Using Credit Cards

Every credit card you use shares your information. Some credit cards allow you to “turn off” the sharing of some data. However, the vast majority of the data is shared without the ability to stop it. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Capital One’s Data Sharing Policy. You can only stop three of the seven options.

Here is the deal. I’m not a financial adviser. If you don’t have cash to buy something, you shouldn’t be buying it in the first place. I know what you are going to say. But . . . but . . . but . . . I pay my credit card bill in full every month, and I get free points for using the card. Yes, yes you do. But why are the points FREE? They are free because they want to keep you using the card, hopefully catch you in a bad spot, collect interest, while SHARING YOUR DATA. If you want your purchase history to be kept private, stop using a credit card.

I’m not suggesting that you cut up your cards. Not at all. Those can be useful in emergency situations, like when traveling. What I’m saying is to limit your usage of your cards. You obviously can’t write a check for your Spotify or Netflix subscription. What I am suggesting is that you use cash for day to day expenditures. Use your credit cards for things that most certainly have to be paid using credit Card. If you are really cutting edge and live in an area that supports it, use a crypto currency.

Summary

Take responsibility for your privacy and your data. Do not wait for Government Regulation to protect you. Do not rely on Silicon Valley to reform in order to respect you and your privacy. Do your research. Be an adult, own it, and change your reality.