How Important Is Online Privacy to You?

laptop with screen showing "secured"
Image by Dan Nelson from Pixabay

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 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?

44 thoughts on “How Important Is Online Privacy to You?”

  1. Privacy and security go hand-in-hand. Because we cannot count on companies to protect their data (insurers are hacked on almost a daily basis, much less Facebook), the more information there is about you in circulation, the more you are likely to be subject of phishing attacks.

    I work in insurance and keep all truly confidential information on an external hard drive that is connected to the computer only when required. What is not online cannot be hacked.

    Personally, I find personalized ads to be somewhere between stupid and hysterically funny. I do a lot of casual searches related to either work or blogging and in return see ads in which I have absolutely no interest. I’ve learned to treat online ads the same way I treat robot calls, with the same level of lack of trust and lack of respect.

    1. I find the more blatant ads pretty funny, like if I looked at a pair of shoes and all of a sudden ads for those shoes are being shown to me everywhere. I find that Youtube is a lot more subtle with targeting; for example, Google knows that I’m interested in SEO , so they show me SEO-related ads on Youtube for sites other than those that I’ve visited.

  2. The cross-device shit unnerves me, too. I do get a wee bit irritated by the slew of “privacy” settings on pages lately, half of which I seem to have to keep agreeing on each new visit. I don’t mind exploiting my privacy if I get something from it (preferably a discount or something free). I can’t say I’m interested in targeted ads all that much though, and that’s all you typically get. I still say no to sharing data to things where possible, not that it’ll be enough to stop their spamalot efforts. xx

  3. I have accepted that I have no privacy online from the ad trackers. My friend Roy just posted that he discovered IG has a record of every google search he’s made and I assume FB has mine as well, or at least since April 2020 when I returned after a 2-year break. Basically, these are big companies making money off the ad revenue that smaller companies pay them to shove ads in my face. I find it annoying sometimes but not scary.

    What scares me are the hackers and scammers who could get enough info to use my credit/bank info. This is what I try to guard against by not taking quizzes that ask specific personal info and using the highest security when I do biz online. But nothing’s perfect, so… 🙁

    1. Good point about those quizzes and such – I’m not sure if most people realize those are all about harvesting information.

      FB really creeps me out. I’m not entirely why I find them so much creepier than everyone else., but I do.

  4. Is the cross-device tracking (with Facebook) specific to Chrome, that you’ve noticed? I have really tried not to download anything FB related but do use Safari. I have a dying phone and a new one. I use Google and Apple so they know everything.

    I’m sort of resigned to the fact that we don’t have privacy but like to maintain a little illusion that particular CEOs/founders – especially of FB – don’t make money from me. Not that it matters to these billionaires.

    1. I think Mark Zuckerberg is making money off of everyone.

      The cross-device thing does seem to be specific to Chrome. In my settings I’ve told Chrome to delete cookies when I quit, but I don’t think it is. This morning, I deleted Facebook and Insta cookies manually. I just went and looked and there’s a damn Facebook cookie, and I have no idea how it got there.

  5. I have a pretty similar attitude to you in terms of privacy. I don’t love the thought of companies knowing everything about me. At the same time, there isn’t much to hide on my end (I have the soul of a boring old man lol). Great post! 🙂

  6. I do like to have some privacy…

    If I use chrome, I often will use the incognito setting.

    I have gone into the Google, chrome settings and you can turn off a lot of these things… I can turn off personalised ads etc. And you can turn off tracking etc to a large degree.

    I also clear out my browser history on Google and chrome regularly as that may be where hackers can start to see what you are looking at.

    I cover the selfie camera on my phone most of the time too.

    I don’t put up a lot of personal stuff on Facebook, and I mainly keep it to just my photography stuff.

    I no longer put any pictures of myself up anywhere or use them for profiles because people can use them and pretend to be other people.

    There are so many things people can do these days, and information is kept. I read that nothing is ever truly deleted. I do not know how true that is.

    It is important to be safety concious online as much as you can be.

    I make sure my passwords are numbers and letters and I regularly change them. It was only yesterday I got an email saying, have I wanted to change my password on something because someone tried to gain access. 🙄

  7. I definitely value my privacy a lot, but I value comfort of using the Internet just as much so I like things syncing between devices, and I like Apple keychaincomputer. I think I’m very much like you when it comes to Google that it knows more about me than I do. Sofi and I actually recently talked about how the best way to get to know someone really well is probably to go through their Google search history. It’s been almost a year since I used free YouTube but I honestly don’t remember it being more subtle with ads than the rest of Google, it always seemed very random to me.
    As an introvert with not many friends I never liked Facebook particularly much, though I had an account on there ages ago but was never very active on it because back then Facebook wasn’t very accessible. I wanted to rejoin Facebook for very specific purposes a couple years ago but it creeped me out very effectively right during registering and I’m never coming back again. 😀 Even if it didn’t creep me out though, there’s something very offputting about so many aspects of it. Later on I joined WhatsApp for a couple months when I got my iPhone, because my family was on there and it was the most convenient way to communicate from a distance, but then I decided I like Signal more and that’s what I’m using now.
    Phone number is also something I’m generally reluctant to share without a very good reason, and I usually don’t like websites which don’t handle payments via a third party like PayPal or something and which directly want to know your payment info.

    1. Google search history would say so much about a person. I don’t mind Google knowing it, but I wouldn’t want an actual person knowing it. I remember reading a book a while back about how it would be useful for psychiatrists to access patients’ search histories, and there’s absolutely no way I would ever agree to hand over access to a health professional. It just feels way too personal.

  8. I think there’s a lot of discomfort which can come from knowing that a stranger that may or may not be malicious has a lot of info on us. However, I do recognise that there’s also a trade in order to use their services, so I have to accept that those are the terms they’ve set for me to use it.

    I still won’t randomly share my info without reason though. I’m still shy about anything and everything.

  9. “I want to maintain a fantasy that I don’t have to think about privacy,” ← This is EXACTLY how I feel!
    What shatters my illusion is when I start getting a bunch of facebook ads for something after I googled it one time….ugh…

  10. We opened a private browsing session today to research physical symptoms we’re experiencing, so we must not want Google to know about it

    We don’t like to give phone number either. We have a landline, too, and so can sacrifice that number if needed.

    We have a shit-fuck email address, too, for the deluge of garbage. But it’s really not much anymore. We must not use the web much or sites know we’re poor so why try to sell us crap 😂

    1. I think everyone needs a shit-fuck email address. Mine was involved in a data breach a while back, and since then, every couple of months I get a massive deluge of spam promoting the same particular things, including shoulder holsters. I guess they don’t realize I’m Canadian and we don’t do that here…

  11. I’m actually way more bothered by sharing my birthdate out to people I know, like friends or coworkers or something. Google or whatever internet site account isn’t going to judge me, whereas I am convinced that everyone I know will judge the shit out of me for what I have (and have not) accomplished at my age. It doesn’t faze me to enter my birthdate for some account verification, but there are less than 5 people whom I’m not related to who know/remember my birthday and I like it that way. I’m self-aware enough to realize my thinking on birthdate dissemination is deeply stupid and irrational.

    1. Age can definitely bring out questions about having kids.

      I wonder if social expectations will gradually catch up to the reality that a lot of people haven’t accomplished A, B, and C by age X. Maybe it will be a generational thing, and it’s harder to make that mental shift when evaluating the self when we’ve been raised with expectations from a world that really doesn’t exist anymore.

      1. I actually fear more judgment from people approximately my age or younger (aka people who should understand how society has made accomplishing A, B, and C by age X more challenging) vs. from older generations. My job/industry/career trajectory sounds impressive enough to outsiders that my parents can talk about me to their friends, and I still come across as not a loser even though I have not given my parents any grandchildren. But I have similar-aged-or-younger friends with functional marriages, kids, houses, and impressive careers, and I have a boss and other in my field who are younger than me with much higher titles, so the generational factors idea doesn’t hold.

  12. I don’t buy much so I kinda like the thought that all this digital effort is going into advertising to my supposed desires with no effect. I don’t really care about privacy but I’m aware that’s foolish… I do try to avoid putting details online that would enable hackers or rapists

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