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We’ve all looked for something online to buy, and the routine is usually the same – you go to Google and type in what you’re looking for. But somehow, when you’re done shopping around, the items you were looking for seem to follow you around the internet.
You go to check Facebook, and there they are, the same items from earlier. Reading an article on The New York Times? Well, there they are again.
There are a few reasons this happens. The most common reason is because of something called “data collection.” Data collection is when websites gather your search queries, scan your emails for keywords, use your viewing history on YouTube, collect your travel history through your GPS apps and more.
All of this information helps build a “profile” about you, and that profile can be sold to other companies. Usually, they want to advertise a product, service or even a political candidate to you with that data! That might not bother you – but for those that are a little sketched out by data collection, luckily there are many great alternatives to the mainstream websites that won’t track you or collect any data. Listed below are the mainstream offenders and their privacy-focused counterparts.
One of the most notorious data collectors in the game, Google, has been known to have so many concerns regarding user privacy that an entire Wiki article has been written about it.
When you first go to DuckDuckGo, you can see the quote “The search engine that doesn’t track you.” They’re loud and proud about the fact that they don’t track your location, store your searches or follow you around with ads. One great feature of both macOS and iOS is that you can set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine.
No surprise here, because YouTube is a conglomerate video site that was purchased by Google in 2006. Avoiding YouTube is a tough one because it’s become a staple in almost everyone’s lives. But there are a few options.
Going back to DuckDuckGo for a minute, when you search for a specific video on their site, it will post the results and give you the option to watch the video right from DuckDuckGo’s interface, which can protect you from being tracked.
Another option is Vimeo. Unfortunately, Vimeo doesn’t have nearly as many videos, but many video bloggers and channels post on multiple sites and Vimeo makes sure your privacy comes first.
When Waze came on the scene in 2006, so many people jumped on board it became a massive (and near instant) success. The app is unique because you get more than just quick routes and a sleek interface, it will also notify you of police, potholes, and even cars on the side of the road. But just like YouTube, Google purchased this application.
Alternative: Apple Maps
Now we’ve all heard of the blunders Apple Maps went through when it was first released in 2012 and thereafter. But since then, it’s been thoroughly refined and has similar features to its Google counterpart. It now has live traffic updates, lane guidance and will even give you the weather and Air Quality Index of your destination. Not to mention, it doesn’t keep track of where you go.
One of the most commonly used services Google provides is Gmail, and yes, even that’s not exactly a “safe” bet when it comes to privacy.
Tutanota is a great email application that is very, very focused on privacy. They’re a free email provider that uses end-to-end encryption to make your email as secure as possible. Their service is available on all major platforms (for free) and they offer affordably priced business services as well.
While it may be difficult to be 100% private online, built-in macOS and iOS privacy tools can be a huge help in making sure you don’t become the product of big-data. Oh, and be sure to use a VPN as well.
Stay tuned, because over next few weeks, we’ll cover other great tools that are available to keep your personal information safe from data collectors.