By Christopher Carlson
The privacy of one’s online information is becoming a popular topic lately thanks in part to Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma”. While I confess I have yet to see the documentary, I am very much aware of the value your personal information brings to internet companies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook and why protecting it is important.
Targeted marketing allows these companies to focus their advertising directly to the people who are looking for it or posting about it online. It becomes extremely lucrative for companies when they can focus their efforts on the thousands of people who search for fishing lures rather than the millions of people who do not.
Effectively, your information such as what you search for, what you post about on social media, where you live, your demographic information, and what you purchase becomes the product the companies are selling.
A situation many people often experience is searching for something such as flannel sheets, and then flannel shirts, flannel lined pants, and even flannel jackets for your dog (they know you have a dog because you searched for dog food last week) start showing up in your day-to-day online activities.
The more information some has about your online activities, the more they can capitalize on your information with their targeted marketing campaigns. What many have assumed to be private information and/or not worth anything becomes the foundation of these multi-billion-dollar companies.
So how does one start to protect their personal and private information online?
1) Change your default search engine. Search engines are one of the major players in collecting and capitalizing on personal and private information. There are a few popular private search engines but the one I end up recommending the most is DuckDuckGo. Update your browser to use this search engine by default. You can find it at https://duckduckgo.com.
2) Limit information gathering with web browser plugins such as Privacy Badger. The Electronic Freedom Foundation provides this popular plugin for most major web browsers to help protect your privacy even when using your favorite social media such as Facebook. https://privacybadger.org/
3) Use web browsers that do not make money off your personal information. Chrome is great, but it is published by Google. Edge is published by Microsoft. Try FireFox from Mozilla https://www.firefox.com/ or Opera https://www.opera.com/.
For the more technical person, I recommend the following options.
1) Use private DNS Servers. More advanced individuals can make this change ‘whole house’ by updating your DNS servers in your routers DHCP Server. See https://22.214.171.124/ for CloudFlare’s private DNS Servers. OpenNIC, OpenDNS, Quad9 as well as others are also available to protect your domain lookups.
2) Build a Pi-Hole. You can build out a Pi-Hole server from a Raspberry Pi computer, Virtual Machine, or Docker Container. This is probably one of the best (if not coolest) options you have that protects the privacy of yourself and your family online. You can find more information about the Pi-hole project at https://pi-hole.net.
While in no way is this information complete, it does give you some steps you can take to start taking your online privacy seriously and begin protecting it.
If you have a technology related question, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org (Attn: Technology Voice)
Christopher Carlson, MA, MBA is a Grand Rapids native. He leads the critical database team for Optum, a part of UnitedHealth Group. He has an undergraduate degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato as well as graduate degrees from St. John’s University and St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. He resides in Grand Rapids with his beautiful wife and wonderful daughter.