Inspite of the fact that we live in a world where hackers yell at sleeping babies and home automation devices send your private squabbles to friends, I will start with an infographic to make the point on the need for conscious efforts to online privacy.
What you see above is the actual weeklong metrics based off of a single device that I use for casual evening browsing.
For context, I have 7 friends on all my social media accounts combined and I was single for about a quarter of a century. Which should make you wonder, why would anyone waste any resources to track this dude online? Or can anyone be too boring to be tracked?
Based on that screenshot, it doesn’t seem to be the case. You probably know that any major retailer can predict your teen’s pregnancy with great accuracy just based on her shopping trends. A media giant can hack your habit loop to influence your behavior, trigger purchase or voting decisions or glue you to bingewatch your television screen for hours. While you may think you are in control, you are a slave of the device you are staring into. And you are a slave by the virtue of the data you keep feeding it.
While we can go at great lengths to discuss if it is true or ethical or of any value to capture such intricate details of someone’s life, such a discourse may not amount to much. The big giants know what you browse, where you go, who you hate, your darkest desires and your deepest secrets. Data has officially surpassed oil as the most valuable resource. Your current credit cards are worth about $10, your online activity can go well into hundreds of dollars and your sensitive medical history could be worth even more and is probably out on sale in the dark net (more on this, some other time).
We will try to to focus on a few actionable steps to reduce traceability. Let’s start with our whereabouts. You probably do not need more that a couple of apps to know your location. For instance, does the TV app really need to know where I spent the evening (it was on the couch, sulking).
We can see what apps access the microphone, camera, contacts, etc. If you extend this to your online accounts (ex. google, facebook) to see what services have access to your data, this can take a while. But like I said, I have just 7 friends, online, 3 of those are being polite. Spare a weekend and block off everything you can. (Almost) nobody needs to know who you know (contacts), where you go (location and photos) what you say (mic) or how you look (camera/photos).
On another weekend of a bingewatching sacrifice, you may want to look yourselves up on the internet. Google yourself, you mini-celeb! Maybe, be kind to Bing? What do you see? On the 7th link? The third page? Are you proud? If not, run a plug-in or a script to delete your facebook activity. Or perhaps consider deleting the account? Try searching for yourself on spokeo.com. Did you find all your past home and work locations yet? If not, you probably are not doing it right.
While what you find on spokeo about yourself can be spooky, you can try to minimize your digital footprint. With the new privacy laws, you can request deletion of your data. With a risk of sounding prescriptive, please try the below setting.
While these settings are a good start, these will barely amount to anything. If you want to keep your online search private, consider DuckDuckGo.
Want to keep your puppy pics private as the the internet bunnies hop around to get those to their destination? Consider VPNs. VPNs are a brilliant invention. The shrinking populations lions worried about the humans taping their private lives invented virtual private networks (VPNs). Any communication sent over VPNs, whether it is beard gel for the lions or claw paint swags for the teen cubs can be ordered without the feline version amazon stalking them. Lion shopping, banking and sexting is purely confidential. ProtonVPN and Phantom VPN are some examples for both desktops and mobile devices in the human world.
If you aren’t yet sold on the need to make online privacy a priority, just connect your venmo account to your contact list or facebook account and try stalking your ex(-crush, for people who have been single for decades).
On a parting note, just by the screenshot above can you tell who among my connects is likely to buy a moscato, fall for a quick-tan product, opt-in for home delivery service or may consider buying a car/try out the new credit card from uber?
If you can guess that for my random acquaintances, based on an image that can be compressed into a few kilobytes, imagine what world class algorithms can predict based on your terabytes worth of data combined with the petabytes of profiled data correlated to make everyone think, want and act alike.
Be like the lions, use VPNs. Also, try securing the router with your grandma.