One simple way to evade corporate peeping toms (in which I quote the Founding Fathers and a 1980s TV show)

February 12, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb 12, 2014

The great Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum put up a short post yesterday. The title captures the content pretty well: “Google Reads My Mind (And My Web Searches) Once Again.”

You should read the whole article, though. It’s just three brief paragraphs and 180 words long. Go ahead, check it out. Just click on the link above. I’ll wait.

I’ve been reading Drum on and off for years, and he strikes me as a pretty savvy character. He’s also someone who’s taken a noted interest in the issue of privacy. To be fair, Drum is mostly concerned with government surveillance, but he’s certainly aware of the potential that corporate data mining has to infringe on privacy.

So what did I find most shocking about Drum’s post from Tuesday?

It’s not that his Google searches about USB cables resulted in his receiving a targeted advertisement in his e-mail inbox. It’s that Drum was conducting Google searches while being signed into Google and without using a private browsing tab.

Like Drum, I am a Google user. I use their e-mail service, and I do most of my web searches with Google. Google Chrome was also my primary web browser for a few years; I ended up ditching it for Safari because Chrome kept on hanging up while running on my then four-year-old MacBook Pro. I have a bunch of stuff stored in the cloud thanks to Google Drive (formerly Google Docs). I also have my own (rather seldom used) channel with YouTube, which of course is a Google affiliate.

One advantage of using Google, of course, is integration: Sign in with one account and Google can provide you with a wide variety of useful services. But in fact, that feature is really a double-edged sword: Sign in with one account and you provide Google with a wide variety of useful information about yourself.

Look, I’m no technophobe. I’ve written earlier about my infatuation with space travel, and some of my family and friends were relatively quick to buy personal computers and to start exploring cyberspace.

Do you remember dial-up modems and BBSes — bulletin board services? I do. When I went to college, e-mail was in its infancy. When I graduated from college, Netscape was just about to become first popular World Wide Web browser.

I love Apple products, and I like many things about the way — oops, MobileMe — um, I meant iCloud — makes my data easily accessible on my various iDevices.

But it’s important not to trust large (or small) corporations and web services blindly. As this nation’s Founding Fathers warned us, eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty. Put another way, citizens have to take steps to protect themselves.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying this…

Do you like using Google? That’s cool. Do you hate Google using your information for marketing purposes? Well, do one of the following things:

• Don’t use Google for your web searches.

• Don’t sign into Google when you do use Google for web searches.

• If you do use Google for your web searches, and if you also remain signed into Google when doing so, for heaven’s sake — use a private browsing tab when you do so.

To quote that immortal line from Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”

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