Let’s address the elephant in the room. It’s no big secret that Big Tech… has all our secrets. And unless you have the luxury to delete Facebook, Twitter, Gmail etc. from your life, you very likely have to get comfortable with the fact that these companies know you well. For a lot of us, the problem isn’t that they have our data, the problem is how that data is used and shared without our knowledge.
In early 2021 I was glad to see more people engage in the topic of data privacy following the WhatsApp policy update that shot Signal right to the top of the app store. Signal amassed 7.5 million downloads that week — up 4,200% from the previous week.
And while it was great to see people take their privacy seriously, I couldn’t help but ask, “if you’re switching to Signal, what are you doing about Facebook, Messenger and Instagram?” In fact, WhatsApp was always sharing that data with Facebook, but people just got reacquainted with that Terms & Conditions pop-up. A lot of the users who ditched WhatsApp based on what Elon Musk & Edward Snowden said, continue using Facebook — which collects much more data than WhatsApp does. So here’s my question to you: where do you draw the line?
It’s a slippery slope, and I get that. If you’re like me, you want to take advantage of the power of social — but also be aware of what they know about you, and be able to control what you can. Instead of just assuming “they know too much about us,” let’s dig into what exactly they know and find out 3 things you can do RIGHT NOW to take more control over your data!
1. Ever Wonder Exactly What Google Has On You? Head Over To adssettings.google.com
As long as you are using a device that’s logged into your Google account, this should work. On this site, you will see a long list of data that Google has on you. Wild list, right? Mine too.
From here you can do a few things, depending on your preferences —
◆ Turn off Ad Personalization (see in red below.) Please note that this might have an impact on your usual Google experience.
◆ If you do not wish to turn off Ad Personalization, you can browse through the list and turn off (see image below and refer to red circle) particular items you do not wish to be associated with or further Manage Your Activity (see image below and refer to green marker)
◆ Once you click on Manage Your Activity, you have the option to turn off your Web & App Activity, Location Services and YouTube History. I recommend spending some time on this page and browsing your options before you make your decision! You can even scroll down and delete specific “activities” you don’t want advertisers to use to show you ads.
2. Not Comfortable With Google Having So Much Data On You? There Are Some Other Alternatives
Disclaimer: For me, Google is still #1 in terms of relevant search results and user experience, but I have been testing some alternatives to compare.
I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for a few weeks now and I love that they are serious about your privacy. They don’t store your personal information, they don’t sell your search history to advertisers and they show the same search results for a given search term to all users. For DuckDuckGo, privacy matters.
This isn’t to say that they don’t make money through good old advertising. They do, but the difference is you’re not seeing personalized ads based on your data, instead you just see ads based on your search query. And I’m happy to report they are growing in popularity. While Google still commands a 94% market share in the US, DuckDuckGo is now in second place with 2.25%, followed by Yahoo at 1.94%.
Other than Google & DuckDuckGo, here’s a few more alternatives for you to test:
3. Facebook Has A New Way Of Tracking You. It’s Called “Off-Facebook Activity” And It’s Buried Deep Within Your Settings
Picture this: you add a phone stand to your Amazon or Lazada cart and later when you browse Facebook, you get an ad for that very item! We’ve all been there, and last month, Facebook finally gave us a glimpse into its tracker. Even with the Facebook app closed on my phone, my Spotify, LinkedIn, and many other apps are sharing my data with Facebook. If you want to turn this feature off, get your phone ready and follow along. The image below will give you an overall view of what we’re about to do, but there are step-by-step instructions under it as well. So let’s get started:
Step 1: Go to your Facebook App Settings
Step 2: Scroll all the way down to “Off-Facebook Activity”
Step 3: This is where you’ll find some of the apps and websites that have shared your activity with Facebook. Under the “What You Can Do” section, hit “Clear History”
Step 4: Don’t stop there! You still need to inform Facebook that you want them to stop collecting this data about you. So after you’ve cleared your history, under the “What You Can Do” section, click “More Options”
Step 5: Go to “Manage Future Activity” — I was asked to login again after this step. You might be asked to do the same.
Step 6: Make sure to toggle “Future Off-Facebook Activity” OFF and you’re good to go!
And there you have it! 3 things you can do today to understand more about your online experience. As you can tell, the topic of data privacy is very intriguing to me. Whether it was Snowden’s revelations 10 years ago, or the hearings in the US congress as recently as last year — we know that social media companies and other online entities track our data en masse. With all the controversies as well as developments of last year such as the General Data Protection Regulation, California Consumer Privacy Act, and New Zealand Privacy Act 2020 to name a few, I believe we’re in for a very interesting time in the data privacy dialogue.
My job, as always, is to let you have more control and insight into your data, show you easy ways to protect your personal information, and make you feel more secure online. It’s time to take more ownership of your data and privacy.
Disclaimer: I have contributed this article in my personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed in this article are mine and are not shared, supported, or endorsed in any manner by another organization, company or employer which have been, will be, or are associated with me in a professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. This is a personal post.
Thoughts on data privacy? I’d love to hear it. Feel free to drop it in the comments down below or reach out to me via Twitter.