-by David Taylor (@SaraGFunk4)
If you’re like me, you’re a little freaked out about all of the tracking that is done on the internet. The whole act of utilizing one’s personal computer to search the internet in one’s own house creates the illusion of privacy and security when, in fact, those features are absent. Whatever you type into Google now belongs to Google, to share with whomever they see fit. Google’s business model is basically to give away free stuff (gmail, search engine, etc..) and then sell the personal data to companies willing to pay for it. So you spend the morning on Google searching for hotels near white-water rivers and that afternoon ads are targeting you to sell kayaks. My own mother finds this kind of advertising “quite clever”, but I have to admit I find it quite freaky.
In the case of advertising, this kind of tracking and information gathering is typically benign. But it doesn’t have to be. I was reading a story about a man convicted for murder recently and the article included information on what the man had searched for on the internet that day. In this case I certainly hope that the police got the right man and that his personal data helped build the case, but what if it didn’t? What kind of crime could be pegged onto an innocent person or shift the minds of a jury by revealing private internet activity? Edward Snowden, whether you like or loathe his politics, revealed a few years ago just how encompassing standard NSA internet surveillance procedures had become. Again, what’s the harm in the NSA storing all of your internet searches, page clicks, and video activity. Nothing, typically. Until suddenly it is. Imagine what Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, or Senator McCarthy would have done with unlimited access to your internet activity?
One small tool that is free and simple to download that you can use to partially protect yourself is the Ghostery tool. Ghostery is a small company that vows to protect your internet surfing privacy no matter what. They have small plug-ins to download that work on most major web browsers. including those on iOS and android devices. Whenever you visit a web-site, Ghostery will identify and block (you can customize which are blocked and unblocked) all 3rd-party entities trying to communicate with your computer at that moment. This includes common tracking tools like Google or Twitter analytics and advertising trackers like those from Amazon. Using Ghostery actually tends to speed up your internet experience because all those 3rd-party entities take some time to load on each page you visit. If interested, you can check out the free download at ghostery.com.