We are all aware that Big Tech collects data on us. Every online click, setting, or preference is recorded, noted, and usually applied to sell you something. All of the gathered information ends up somewhere in a data center, because it is, or will be, useful to someone.
To twist an old meme: what happens on the internet stays on the internet.
Nevertheless, there are many ways to mitigate this onslaught on your privacy. A good way to start is by first establishing what information about you is already out there, and then systematically removing the information.
Nuwber is a data aggregator site where you can look for family or friends you’ve lost track of. Data aggregators use specialized search software to gather massive amounts of personal information in one place, where it can be accessed with just a few clicks.
Nuwber isn’t the villain in this story. All aggregator and people search websites obtain their masses of information perfectly legally. They simply collate all your public information, official records, and especially social media data all in one place. Data like phone numbers, property records, addresses, job titles, marriage records, criminal history, and lifestyle activities are collected and consolidated from all corners of the internet and stored in one convenient hub.
You’ll agree that a complete information profile about someone else can be very useful. Think dodging a potentially super-awkward blind date, or vetting a new employee for a sensitive position. But the flip side is that it can be very unsettling to be confronted by a solid block of information presented as a complete and deeply personal profile of yourself.
Removing your data from Nuwber and other data aggregators will not make the information disappear. It is simply not possible to scrub your identity from the internet, and it’s usually not worth worrying about informational tidbits left here and there in odd corners of the web. Data removal will, however, make it much harder for someone else to obtain a complete profile of you.
After deleting your profile at as many data aggregators and people search sites as possible, you must stop feeding the beast. Minimize your digital footprint. Stop companies tracking you on the internet by taking a few basic precautions at first, and intensifying your efforts when caution becomes a way of life.
The “usual suspects” are Google and Facebook; two tech and internet juggernauts who have both made headlines several times for their data handling practices. Tech specialists agree that minimizing your exposure to both companies can give you a head start in taking your privacy back.
1. Your browser
Websites may legally use certain info to identify users and keep track of their activities. It is common practice to record your location, type of device, your site settings and preferences, anything you clicked on (behavioral data), and any personal information exchanged during a transaction. Internet providers may now also legally sell your browsing history without your explicit approval. Such information includes your identity, location, your contacts and associates, interests, and a lot more.
Replace your “convenient” Google browser with one that has been built with user privacy in mind. Mozilla Firefox is one of several excellent privacy-first browsers that will make a massive difference to your exposure on the internet from the minute you install it.
Another great option is TOR, affectionately know as the Onion Browser. It provides even deeper anonymity and will keep all eyes (including the eyes of your internet service provider) off your browsing history. All they will see is that you’re using Tor and nothing else.
2. Browser cookies and consent
Always block third-party cookies, which are inserted by tracking sites. Third-party cookies have no function other than tracking your activities across the internet, for the sole purpose of learning your preferences and habits.
3. Install a reputable privacy extension
4. Use an anonymizing search engine
A rather simple solution to most of our data tracking woes is to stop using Google as a primary search engine. DuckDuckGo has been specially built to prevent any kind of tracking. In a nutshell, its function is to provide an anonymous interface between you and Google. Google won’t be able to store your searches, and none of your personal information will be recorded.
5. Use a (paid) VPN
Virtual Private Networks or VPNs obscure your IP address to allow anonymous connections to your favorite websites. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for, as ‘free’ VPNs make their money by logging your surfing, searches, clicks, and actions, and selling it to the highest bidder. NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and CyberGhost have consistently adhered to high standards for many years.
6. Log out before you start
Last, but definitely not least: log out of your Facebook account and clear your cookies and browsing history before you surf. Anything you do while logged into Facebook will be logged in your data profile, as they employ powerful persistent cross-tracking cookies to record your internet activities.
Google is another culprit. Google provides easy and one-click login and access to your favorite sites while you are logged into your Gmail account. Even if you clear your browser history regularly, your activities are noted and logged.
7. Keep up the good work!
Companies will always try to track and collect your data on the internet. Internet users’ data is a valuable commodity and tracking users forms part of a vast and very profitable data industry. Since regulations are not yet in place to protect your privacy, it is up to you to make it as difficult as possible for bad actors to track you. There are already many anti-data collecting tools available to help you stay under the radar, and more tools will follow as users become more protective of their data.
Do your research, keep deleting your data aggregator profiles, and use the internet cautiously. While you can never eradicate the data that’s already out there, you can certainly limit your future exposure. You will thank yourself in the years to come.