Protect your privacy on Google: Tips from Computerworld

Tue, May 25, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Protect your privacy on Google: Tips from Computerworld

    A great “smart paranoid’s guide to using Google” at Computerworld today takes you step by step through “down-and-dirty details on how to maintain your privacy while using Google’s myriad services.” It’s chock full of precautions, security tips and instructions on how to disengage from Google collections of  information about you. The guide takes you from simple to complex, and you can choose the level of protection you prefer.

    Top tip: “The simplest thing you can do to prevent the accumulation of search data is to make sure you’re logged out of your Google account before searching.”

    While you’re there, be sure to read “What Google Knows About You” as well.

    “It is the breathtaking scope of data under Google’s control, generated by an expanding list of products and services, that has put the company at the center of the online privacy debate. According to Pam Dixon, executive director at the World Privacy Forum, “No company has ever had this much consumer data” — an assertion that Google disputes.”

    I’ve been using Google web search since 1998, when it showed me the most useful and relevant results, and had an exclamation mark, like Yahoo!

    Twelve years and a couple of dozen products and services later, I have been trying to regain some of the privacy I’ve given up in return for the “free ride.”  My Gmail, Toolbar, Bookmarks, iGoogle home page, Groups, Docs, and Translation — all useful and innovative tools —  have captured the trails of my queries, communications, preferences and purchases in my online life, and those of my employers in various research jobs.

    Although I should have known better (and did) about the breadth of personal information I have contributed to the Google’s databases, for me, the wake up call was “making ads more interesting.”   On March 11, 2010, Google announced that “ads will associate categories of interest — say sports, gardening, cars, pets — with your browser, based on the types of sites you visit and the pages you view.”

    Like many people I know, I don’t often look at the advertisements. I know how to shop. But I avoided installing add-ons to deliberately block advertisements (like AdSweep), as a tip of the hat to Google for providing its services. But “interest-based” advertising  — or behavioral targeting – gave me the creeps.

    As advised, I clicked through to Google’s Ad Preferences Manager and saw that I had automatically been signed up for several preference groups, like “Industries – Aerospace & Defense – Defense Industry,” according to sites I been visiting. These preferences, which I had not chosen, were saved on an advertising cookie in my browser.

    Google gave me the option to edit or delete my preferences there, or to opt out of “interest based advertising, “ with the warning “You will see the same number of ads as before, but they may not be as relevant when you opt out.” Fine. My opinion: the ads are not relevant because I am not shopping. I am researching.  I am not looking for stuff. I am looking for information.

    So opt me out. Step 1: Set a new “opt out” cookie.

    But wait: if by any reason I delete the opt-out cookie, I would be opted in again.

    Step 2: Google gave me the option of downloading a plug-in that will save the opt out preference permanently. Done.

    But wait: that was just the opt out for the Firefox browser on my laptop.

    Step 3: Do the same thing for Internet Explorer on my laptop.

    Step 4: Do the same thing for Firefox on my desktop.

    Step 5: Do the same thing for IE on my desktop. Done.

    Next step? Web History i.e. “personalized search.”

    Google: “We store information related to the pages you visit..”

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