Taking control on your privacy
We’ve touched on the topic of privacy a few times, especially as it relates to social networking sites. However, one company has frequently been in the news for privacy-related issues, and many people are concerned about how they can effectively manage what data is available about them on the web.
As such, we’d like to provide a brief overview of some simple things you can do to manage your privacy and security online. While these tips relate specifically to Google™, there are many other vital steps that you should take to keep yourself, your image, and your data secure. Of the top three basics, especially for Windows® users:
Upgrade your browser to the newest version, ESPECIALLY if you are using Internet Explorer 6. New versions of Internet Explorer are free, as are versions of Firefox, Chrome (operated by Google), and Safari (operated by Apple). These all offer improved security and privacy features.
Update your computer’s security. This includes using a firewall, anti-virus software, and anti-spyware software. There are many free options that provide good protection and coverage. Microsoft also offers free security options specifically for Windows computers.
Update your Operating System. Microsoft provides free security and system updates once a month (on the second Tuesday of each month). Other services, such as Java, Adobe Flash, and specific browsers also provide frequent updates. These updates help combat security threats, and keep your computer safe, your passwords safe, and your privacy secure. Install them as soon as possible.
So, jumping back to Google Privacy, here are 10 tips for controlling your data:
Top 5 ways to take control
1: Google Dashboard: https://www.google.com/dashboard
Launched in November 2009, the Google Dashboard combines most of the information that Google knows and stores about you. Most importantly, it clearly shows which items are public, or visible to others, using a little blue icon that looks like three little people.
If you don’t use a specific Google product, such as Gmail, then there is no need to modify what data that product stores. However, if you simply wish to manage your privacy within a product that you already frequently use, then the Dashboard is an excellent place to start.
A few of the following links are also available within the Dashboard, but we have chosen to highlight them separately.
2: Google Analytics: http://tools.google.com/dlpage/gaoptout
Analytics is mostly used by websites to track which sites you visit, how long you spend on certain sites, and other information about your browsing habits. Websites generally use this information to help create better content and navigation. However, since this tracks user data, it also means that there may be a potential privacy concern.
The link above will let you opt out of tracking; however, it requires the installation of a browser add-on in order to work. This will permanently opt you out of any analytics tracking, unless you remove the add-on, or uninstall your browser (or if you only install it on one browser, any time you use a different browser, then you would still be included in analytics tracking). If you upgrade to a new version of that same browser, you may also need to reinstall the opt-out extension.
3: Web History: https://www.google.com/history
Web History tracking is actually an opt-in option that associates your Internet use with a Google account. In other words, you need to activate it in order for it to work, and it does provide some interesting features, such as being able to look back on all the searches that you have ever made, or sites you have visited.
Even though this is “opt-in”, many people may have unsuspectingly signed up for the service while installing the Google Toolbar and associating a Google account to it. If you are not sure if you have active Google History, then it is pretty easy to check.
Either through the Google dashboard, or the https://www.google.com/history link, you can see if you have ever signed up for the service and easily deactivate it, or pause it if you only wish to temporarily stop tracking.
(Keep in mind however, that even opting out of Web History, Google may continue to track behaviour by IP address and store the data for 18 to 24 months, before anonymizing that data which is currently stored indefinitely.)
4: Ad Opt Out: http://www.google.com/privacy_ads.html
Google gathers data from its advertising display networks to gather information on users in order to display ads that relate to your interests. Ever wonder what Google thinks your interests are?
If you visit http://www.google.com/ads/preferences, Google shows what topics it thinks to interest you. It bases these interests off of sites you visit (as long as the site uses one of the Google advertising networks) as well as of your searches and other habits. It is somewhat interesting to see how your browsing behaviour translates into potential advertising. This page also lets you add interest areas, to help deliver ads that might actually interest you.
Keep in mind that opting out only means that Google will not track your interests, and deliver ads based on those interests. Instead, you will see ads related to the website or content that you are viewing. To block all ads, see #8 below.
5: Advertising Cookie Opt-Out: http://www.google.com/ads/preferences/plugin/
The previous opt-out modifies your Google browser cookies to no longer serve you with interest-based ads. (Instead, the ads will be delivered based on the content of the site you are viewing, and you will still see ads).
This is a decent solution, but if you ever clear your browser cookies (something that some people do fairly frequently) you may no longer be telling Google not to collect your data. To solve this, Google also offers another plug-in that permanently disables tracking your preferences. Like in #2 above, this is a browser plug-in, which still has some limitations.