Since the advent of smartphones, how we go about our daily lives is recorded every minute and data about our habits and health are collected for commercial uses behind the public's scrutiny. Overtaking the price of oil, data has become the world's most valuable single resource. It is therefore unsurprising why companies are so eager to get their hands on data. However, companies are using increasingly intelligent methods to extract data that could be sensitive without users' consent. For example, the recent revelation of TikTok's data structure raised a few eyebrows as it was exposed that the Chinese social-media giant was regularly reading the copy-and-paste clipboards of users.
If we were to stop such suspicious data collection, not only should we raise public awareness around this, but we should also adopt measures to protect our own data. Our recent Jargon Buster explained how they track you online, in this edition we show a few ways to prevent websites from collecting your data.
Privacy-focused Web Search Engines
A search engine is a software system that carries out a search across the internet based on your input keywords.
Chances are you are reading this blog post on one of the most commonly used web browsers: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, or Apple Safari. Web browsers are great at delivering content on devices and remembering your web history. However, most are not designed for privacy by default. Have you ever had a look at your web history and browser settings? Even at incognito mode, a web browser sends, receives and stores a lot of data that you may not want to be recorded and stored forever.
Privacy Browser Extensions
If you liked the sound of having the privacy which privacy-focused browsers offer but cannot imagine the prospect of becoming disloyal to your internet browser, privacy browser extensions are ideal. Extensions such as uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger, and Ghostery can be installed as an add-on to common browsers to block trackers, scripts that may leach your browser's CPU and data for malicious purposes in addition to advertisements, giving your existing browser the muscles it needs to fight against data-hungry websites.
Adblockers are a subset of privacy browser extensions. Operating in a very similar way, they are installable plugins to your desired browser in order to remove, alter or hide advertising content on any given webpage. Whilst some are designed to purely remove ads or to ensure your precious time is saved by not having to watch that 5-second advert before viewing your favourite music videos, others are more complex. For example, blockers like uBlock go further by blocking widgets which could compromise a user's privacy.
By blocking these widgets, third parties are unable to get their hands on valuable information such as the length of time you spent on a specific page, or how long your cursor was hovering over those new pair of trainers which you were so close to purchasing.
Virtual Private Networks
A virtual private network (VPN) should not be a stranger to many office workers since the Covid-19 lockdown. VPN was initially designed to provide access to corporate applications to remote users using an encrypted tunnelling protocol. Increasingly they can also be used to connect to proxy servers in order to protect personal identity and ensure privacy.
Let's all make the effort to ensure we protect ourselves when going online. After all, we spend 24 hours a week on average online – that's a lot of data to companies to take and monetise!