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Taking baby steps to protect privacy!

rahul_ramfort profile image Rahul ・5 min read

You would have already read a number of articles related to privacy and said this to yourself, "I don't have anything to hide. Why should I be concerned?". This argument is totally wrong. Allow me to explain.

Look at these for instance.

  • You google search to explore something like, "Which one should you buy, MacBook Air vs Pro?", the next day you would have received an email digest from Quora,

Still curious about MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro

  • You want to check out a product that your friend has bought, you explore it.

You start getting ads for that product from different e-commerce platforms for a lesser price. (No, I don't want to buy that thing.)

There are a lot of instances like these where a third-party slyly sends you something based on your usage and history. This is because of cross-site trackers that track and monitor you all the time.
You could still feel this is really helpful to you and there's no harm in someone capturing all the data.

Let me explain in a way that makes you feel it's wrong.

  1. You talk with your friend and someone is listening to all your talk. Will you be okay with this?

  2. You have someone observing and taking notes on you all the time from morning till you hit the bed on things like, what you like, what you don't like, whom do you talk to often, which app do you use frequently, what are your wants and many more.

Now, you would definitely want to run away from this person even though he assures you that he is only going to help you with these data. Right? This is what is happening currently when you do anything online. Every activity of yours gets recorded.

Data is Power

You have given them (read Google) the unsupervised access to your everyday activities, usage pattern, your preferences, your photos, your locations, and everything and anything that can be tracked online. The amount of data that they possess on you is huge. Even you wouldn't be sure of all the insights that they get from your data.

If you're still not convinced about protecting your privacy, read these posts, this and this. This will help you get started.

Okay, But why now?

Recently Netflix released a docudrama Social Dilemma that explains a lot of essential points like the impact of social media on mental health, how social media tries to exploit the users and manipulates them, how it segments each profile and sends addictive content one after the other to keep the user engaged for a long time, how it fine-tunes the notifications to bring the user back to the app and a lot more.

The one thing that made me sad after watching it is that the number of actionable items is very less. After explaining all the things, the show just tells you to Turn off Notifications and nothing else.

I decided to explore more on this and take baby steps in protecting my privacy.
I wanted to take one step at a time.

Chrome - the browser

Moving away from Chrome has forever been on my todo list. Having been used to several extensions, I didn't want to leave the ecosystem even with a lot of complaints on Chrome's battery consumption and higher RAM consumption.

What are the alternatives?

There are a lot of alternatives but I chose Brave because then I wouldn't miss the ecosystem. Brave like Chrome is also a Chromium-based web browser, so all the extensions would work here as well. Apparently, it has also received a lot of recommendations because it blocks ads and website trackers by default.

The migration was pretty smooth. Loving it so far.

Google as a search engine

Hands down, Google is the undisputed winner here. It is the best search engine we have ever had. But the fear with Google as the search engine is due to the amount of data it keeps collecting. If you haven't noticed it yet, spend some time here. It shows your entire online history. Scary, ain’t it?

What are the alternatives?

Duckduckgo and Qwant were my options as they don't profile users and respect user's privacy with the downside of not getting personalised results.

I tried them both but came back to Google instantly. Google has made giant leaps in terms of user experience, showing better results, showing the results in the search page itself for a lot of queries.

For instance, if you search for EPL table it would show the table in the search page itself. Being used to this, it is unthinkable to switch to other search engines that do not provide this luxury.

So, let's accept the fact that moving away from Google as the search engine is difficult and not everyone would do it. If you prefer to continue with Google, this is the least that you can do to protect your privacy.

  1. Delete your old web activity.
  2. Turn off Web and App Activity.

What did I do?

Having said these, I would still want to get the best results when I work, I didn't want to end up spending more time just because I moved to a different search engine. So I chose to continue with Google as my search engine but with a small change.

As of today, I have two combinations of browser and search engine.

Brave + Duckduckgo:

This takes care of all personal usage. Logged in with my personal mail and all personal stuff goes here. For eg: I am writing this post on Brave + Duckduckgo.

Chrome + Google Search Engine:

This is for all dev tasks and professional usage. I would also do the single page results here. I don't care even if I get tracked here because it would never affect my personal usage. I have used my office mail id to log in here but you can choose to even use a secondary/dummy mail for this. I have also installed the Privacy Badger extension that blocks the trackers.

Both these browsers are active always and I choose one of them based on the usage type. It was hard to do these switches at first, but having used this for over a month now, the muscle memory has started to kick in and the switch happens spontaneously.

If you are a strong consumer of youtube as me, you might feel regretful to turn off your activity as it affects the personalisation. The workaround I have done is to create a secondary google account for this. IMHO, it just took a week or two to get a similar kind of feed in this new account too.

I don't really know how effective the steps that I have taken are gonna be. But, I am happy that I have done something to protect my privacy.

* This is my first step. *

Check out these actionables in case you're interested. There is so much that we can do to take back our lost privacy!

Discussion (8)

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eduardfaus profile image
Eduard Faus

Thanks for this article it’s absolutely amazing. It was long but I read it all through. I’m all ready very interested in privacy and cyber security and I thought the social dilema would bring more light to the issue. Instead I have more people than ever asking me why should I care I’ve got nothing to hide and it triggers me. Also my current combination is Firefox + duck duck go + duck duck go extension + privacy badger. Sometimes I use quant but that’s once in a blue moon.

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jennrmillerdev profile image
Jen Miller

yeah, I totally get you.
Just because I got nothing to hide doesn't mean I want everything tracked.

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eduardfaus profile image
Eduard Faus

Yea I don’t know why it’s so hard for some people to grasp the subject

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eduardfaus profile image
Eduard Faus

I will be using this article as a response to my friends asking why should I care and I’ve got nothing to hide.

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rahul_ramfort profile image
Rahul Author

Thank you so much, Eduard.

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jennrmillerdev profile image
Jen Miller • Edited

Nice read.

I also don't like some things tracked about my life. As for using second accounts, I always wonder if youtube/google can link them based on my IP...because I "know" places that do try to link together independent accounts based on IP and other data.

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rahul_ramfort profile image
Rahul Author

I feel if we're connected to a WiFi which is the case, most of the times, then we're safe. Even if they could by any means, we are making it harder for them to profile us. That's the first win for us. We can always improvise and screw up their algorithm.

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sharpninja profile image
The Sharp Ninja

Yes, they link seconday accounts to your shadow profile.