I think online privacy is a bit of a myth, in that most of us don’t have much. So I’m curious, how important is it for you to try to maintain some modicum of privacy in the online world?
I recently came across a blog that was using Hu-manity.co for data privacy management. When I first got to this blogger’s site, there was a big notice that took up almost the bottom half of the page giving you privacy options. You had to save your preferences to make the notice go away. While I’m sure the privacy promotion is a good thing, the saving preferences part was a bit of a mental barrier for me. I don’t want to save preferences. I want to maintain a fantasy that I don’t have to think about privacy, and being forced to save preferences intrudes on that fantasy.
I’ve accepted that some entities will know everything about me, and I’m prepared to give in to the inevitable rather than fight it. I’m an Apple device person (Macbook and iPhone), so I don’t feel like I can keep many secrets from them.
Google knows all
I’m also a Google person. I’m always signed in to Google for email purposes, I do a lot of Google searching, and I mostly use the Google Chrome browser, so they know more about me than I do. I could try to minimize that, but I don’t think I’d be very effective at it, so why bother?
I know that cookies mean that if I look at a product on a website, chances are high that if that company runs ads on Google, their cookie will tell Google to show me an ad featuring that product when I visit a site that serves up Google ads. It may be able to stop that by clearing out my cookies, and I’ll do that sometimes if certain ads for something I’ve browsed are getting obnoxious. Going cookie-free is probably possible, but I imagine it would make many things more difficult and some things impossible (and it still wouldn’t stop Google from knowing everything about me).
In the last few months I’ve been watching more Youtube than I used to, and that’s where I really see the ad personalization. It’s far subtler than seeing ads for shoes I looked at on a website. Google knows me very well, and it shows.
I could use browsers like DuckDuckGo, but I figure it would still be hard to avoid having Google know me, so I’ve just accepted Google into my world. I also use multiple Google services without paying a cent in cash, and it seems logical to me that I would have to pay in some other way.
So does Facebook
Facebook is another company that knows everything about you. Personally, I find them a lot creepier than Google. I don’t use Facebook or Whatsapp. I use Instagram, but I’m not particularly active on it. Yet the personalized ads that they show me on Instagram indicate that they know far more about me than I think that they should. I occasionally open up Instagram in Google Chrome on my laptop, and they seem to be tracking me via Chrome, because I’ll open the Insta app on my phone and see an ad related to something I was looking at in Chrome on my laptop.
That cross-device shit creeps me out more than being an open book to Google does. I expect it from my Apple devices. It’s actually not too much of a thing with Google because most of my Google-related activity happens while I’m signed in with my blog-related Google account, and on my phone, I always use my personal Google account. Google doesn’t seem overly interested in mixing the two personalization-wise.
A Wired article says that the Facebook Pixel tracking tool lets sites collect information about their visitors, and, “A vast number of third parties are using Facebook’s advertising and tracking technologies, which means it isn’t just Facebook-owned sites are giving Facebook information about you.
Giving up some privacy can be useful
When I’m on the website of a WordPress blog, I want it to recognize that I’m signed into WordPress, and it’s annoying if I don’t. That involves giving up a bit of privacy.
I like that Apple’s password keychain means that my iPhone knows the same passwords I’ve saved on my laptop. It makes my life easier. My passwords are all complicated to be secure, but it means that I don’t know any of them. Would it be more secure to have simpler passwords that I could actually remember? I doubt it. And if someone is able to hack into Google or Apple to steal encrypted data, there are much bigger things for those hackers to go after than me.
What do you try to hide?
Are there certain bits of information that you’re reluctant to share? For me, it’s date of birth and phone number. I will sign up for a site using my email I reserve for sketchy purposes, but hell to the no am I giving a site my phone number unless there’s a good reason for it. Same with date of birth. I have a fake internet birthday (actually a friend’s date of birth) that I will whip out if I’m being asked to enter a date of birth without a good reason. Generally, I avoid saving my credit card number; I would rather physically get up and go to fetch my wallet each time I need to pay for something.
If I try to search my name along with my phone number and address, I can’t find any websites that have that info listed, so that’s a good thing. It seems like the US is worse for having sites that find and post identifying bits of personal info. I’ve Googled people before and been really surprised by how much detail you can find out about Americans on some of those sites. Canadians seem to be harder to track down.
I’m also careful about who I give out my personal email address to, but that’s more a matter of wanting to avoid junk mail.
Aside from my unwillingness to share certain bits of information, I don’t worry too much about privacy. I could go to more effort to be more careful, but I’m not sure it would actually accomplish that much in the end. I also know that my willingness to give up privacy is allowing me to access things “free” in the sense of not for cash.
Is online privacy something that you worry about? What kind of steps do you take to protect yourself?