When it comes to privacy, we’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves for the lack of it. Should we really be surprised that the government has tapped into the wealth of data Google, Facebook, and our mobile phone companies have on us? In the name of convenience and giddy connectivity, we asked for this. Don’t blame the U.S. government for walking into your virtual house. You probably handed them not only the keys, but the alarm code, the blueprints, your dog’s favorite snack, and the combination to your safe.
As the authors of Big Data point out, “The ability to capture personal data is often built deep into the tools we use every day, from websites to smartphone apps.”
There are some heavy-duty things you can do to truly protect your privacy if you’re willing to put a lot of effort into it (see the last part of this post), but for painless ways to keep at least a modicum of your secrets from the government, insurance companies, and big corporations, here are some easy things to do now.
9) Don’t automatically give up location info.
Many apps and software programs ask to track your location, without really needing it for the functioning of the app/program. Uncheck that box or say no!
8) Don’t talk loudly on your cell phone in a crowded place.
Besides this being bad manners, it’s stupid. A few months ago I heard a guy in an airport lounge give his social security number, credit card number, expiration date, 3-digit code, and address over the phone. Loud enough for at least 20 people to hear. Because you have to talk really loud into a cell phone mic for other people to hear you on the other end, right?
7) Erase your cookies (preferably each day).
Do you realize how much privacy you give up by leaving 7, 14, 30 days worth of tracking cookies in your browser cache? If you don’t even know what a browser cache is, think of cookies like this: Someone is walking behind you as you go down the sidewalk, following you into each store and taking notes on not only what you bought, but what you looked at and how long you looked at it. A cookieless society is a better society, no matter what the advertising guys say.
In Firefox go to Tool>Options>Security and under the cookies part check “Keep until I close Firefox.” It’s similar for other browsers, though Google makes it much more difficult since they have a vested interest in tracking your every move and they own Chrome. The best you can do in the settings is choose “Keep local data only until I quit my browser,” but really you need to still delete your cookies periodically. Go to Tools> Clear browsing data.
6) Turn off GPS when you’re not using it.
This saves battery life too—a bonus. In Android you can turn off the cell tower triangulation too. They’ll still have a rough idea where you’ve been but not every step, every day, for the past month…
5) Don’t post your every action, medical condition, and purchase on social media.
You’re making it way too easy to be charged more, targeted more, hacked more, scammed more.
4) Don’t use Gmail as your primary e-mail address.
You didn’t think it was a bit creepy that when you pulled up your e-mail you got ads based on what you just told your girlfriend in an e-mail? Really? And you think that info isn’t going to show up on some NSA server somewhere, ready to be pulled when needed? Big Brother makes you sign up for their e-mail to access any of their services, including posting to YouTube or Google Docs. But that doesn’t mean you have to use it for anything else.
3) Don’t log into Google or Facebook when it’s not necessary to access their services.
Same for Amazon. And Yahoo. And anyone else who’s watching your every move. Then log out when you’re done. They make that sign-out link hard to find, but it’s usually somewhere top right, near your account or profile arrow. Remember, when you log in with Facebook to another website, you’ve just shared a whole host of data. Do that 10 times a day and someone you’ve never met knows more about you than your spouse probably.
Oh, and use Bing at least half the time too. It’ll split your search data to two companies and you’ll probably notice you’re getting more content, fewer ad-spending commercial companies in the first page results.
2) Treat every e-mail like it’s a postcard.
As many pundits have pointed out, if the head of the CIA couldn’t keep his affair a secret—even by writing draft e-mails that never went out (they both accessed the drafts)—you can’t assume anything you write is truly secret. If it needs to be a secret, let Tony Soprano show you how that’s done.
1) Don’t use Foursquare.
Otherwise, you’re just telling people Please Rob Me! And giving anyone who wants to know, including the government, precise details on where you go and who you see.
Really freaked? Going to Spy Level
If you really want to keep your movements to yourself, check out this MIAMobi Silent Pocket that goes over your smartphone. The paranoid know that the only way to keep your cell phone from continually emitting data (including your location) is to remove the battery. This $68 sleeve blocks out all signals, however, so you’re incognito until you remove your device from the sleeve. Of course that also means you won’t receive calls, texts, or e-mails.
This article will tell you how to stay anonymous online. I’ll admit I don’t do any of those things listed in the article except using a proxy server abroad—and I’m doing that so I can still use Netflix, iTunes, etc without issues more than for privacy. Though the latter is a bonus. I think I’ll check out The Onion Router now and then though just to get Big Brother Google off my trail now and then.
How to be sure of being tracked and having everyone you look at be tracked too:
Buy Google Glass when it comes out. You’ll be an instant walking surveillance camera. And a glasshole.