The Facebook data fiasco highlights a harsh fact of your Internet life: You are being tracked. All the time. Here are some small ways to deal with it.
By Anand Parthasarathy
March 30 2018: The reclusive movie star Greta Garbo, spoke a famous line in the 1932 film, "Grand Hotel" which became her trademark cry: 'I want to be alone'! She banged shut the windows, pulled the curtains -- and that was that. Privacy was easier to achieve in those uncomplicated times.
Today, we would be surprised if reminded how we violate our own privacy on a regular basis. Every time we sign up for so-called free social media services like Facebook and WhatsApp, email and e-commerce accounts like Gmail and Amazon, we part with personal details and give implicit permission to these services to 'use' this information. Thanks to the GPS, all these devices know what you are doing, when and where; what websites you visit; with whom you interact; where you spend money, on what and how much.
Using tools like Artificial Intelligence, this raw data is used to build a very accurate profile of YOU. The more we add devices to our connected lifestyle, the more 'Big Brother Is Watching You'. Smart TVs are connected to the same home WiFi that is used by your smart phone and desktop PC. Many of these TVs now add your TV watching habits to your profile: Do you prefer romance or action films or sport? All priceless information -- and as of last week, we know it is a multimillion rupee business to churn this date and sell your profile to governments, politicians and others who want to target you.
Last week a "Delete Facebook" movement gathered momentum -- but it is doubtful if it will achieve much by way of getting back your privacy. You may be using Facebook to open other accounts like WhatsApp, Flickr, Instagram etc., because you are too lazy to set up separate passwords. Even if you cancel your Facebook account, it won't stop these other linked apps from tracking you. So it may be pragmatic to enjoy the social media reach of Facebook, WhatsApp etc, but tweak some of their privacy settings and exercise a bit of self restraint when it comes to posting every little detail of your life -- especially things that could end up embarrassing you later.
In a recent blog, Jon von Tetzchner, founder- CEO of the browser-company, Vivaldi , points to another instrument of rampant privacy invasion: Bluetooth beacons -- first introduced by Apple and Google. They are all over the place, especially in malls and shopping streets. They track every mobile phone that passes by, and know exactly which phone owner entered which shop and for how long. Chilling!
The latest version of the Vivaldi browser (Version 1.14) has incorporated DuckDuckGo, a search engine that does not track you. Opening a Private Window in Vivaldi allows users to browse with this search tool in a more secure way: sites visited, cookies and temporary files will not be stored.
Many websites spy on you and tell other partners where you browses. They do this by sending tiny data files or cookies that track and analyze what you watch and read. You can prevent this by installing a blocker like AdBlock, UBlock, Disconnect etc. Some web browsers ( like Opera or the latest versions of Chrome) come with built-in ad blockers .There is a useful service to block unsolicited ads offered by the Digital Advertising Alliance at http://optout.aboutads.info. It lists all the companies who are sending you targeted ads on a particular device. You can then select all or some of them to "opt out" of receiving their ads. When I checked my PC, I found 136 companies were targeting my machine. I opted out of all of them.
These limited tweaks will go a long say to give us back our privacy -- even if never fully. We made a decision to sacrifice some privacy as a tradeoff for all the benefits of social media. Like it or lump it.