opinion

COLUMN: How to take your data back from companies like Google



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The National Security Agency has been collecting data on millions of Americans since the passage of the Patriot Act of 2001. Companies like Facebook and Google sell user data to help marketing firms advertise in a more tailored manner.

Even the operating system you work on is quietly sending information on your habits to a server. All of this has been accepted as normal and frankly it shouldn’t be.

Information gathering might not seem like a big deal. Companies track your browsing habits to give you better ads and make life more convenient. However, this is just the surface of the kind of information data companies gather. 

Ultimately companies will be able to predict behavior and attitudes. Armed with that information, they can shift entire countries perceptions and opinions by shaping a person's experience online. Companies have been responsible for such shifts before, but never has such a scale been possible before now. 

One of my friends told me it didn’t matter because there was nothing they could do about it. This defeatist attitude is both disgusting and untrue. There are several steps you can take to limit the amount of information you give away and, if truly desired, to stop it entirely.

When you access a website, you are not just connecting but also running all its background processes. The primary concern with that is many websites run a process that places a malicious cookie called a tracker onto your computer. This cookie is designed to track your browsing habits to better show you ads. It's extremely invasive, especially when it doesn't ask your permission.

You can get rid of them by simply not allowing cookies on websites you don’t trust or by downloading an extension to your browser that gets rid of them. But trackers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to data collection. 

Google takes data from any person who uses the search engine. While Google makes things convenient, there are alternatives that are just as good that don't do that. DuckDuckGo is a browser which specializes in securing user searches so that your privacy is protected.

While it is hard for many to accept, any social media profile is being seen by more than just friends and family. Any social media presence, private or public, is being used in a massive data collection program that is being sold to advertisers and used for the companies own purposes.

Social media may be the crux of many people’s lives, but the only way to stop data getting out is to delete social media accounts. If that is unacceptable, then there is an alternative. Simply limiting one's own social media presence will help stop user data from being stolen. 

The operating system any computer runs has programs installed that report back to companies every time someone access the internet with them. However, there is an easy fix. By deleting those programs, you can stop that transmission.

Those solutions were easy compared to what you have to do to stop the NSA from spying. That requires new hardware, software and people willing to join you in your usage of those things. A secure network requires security on both sides of the transmission. That is difficult in the age of convenience, but if you want to make sure nothing you say is recorded, that is the route you must take. 

All these steps mentioned above will protect you from malicious entities wishing to use your information. Absolute security might be a step too far for some people, but at the very least you can prevent advertisers from tracking you. 

We have access to convenient technology that keeps your data secure. It doesn’t require anything but a few clicks of the mouse button. There is no excuse for being careless with the amount of data you give away every day.

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