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With all of the scares surrounding the NSA’s PRISM program and the potential backdoors in many of the top American websites, most people today are as privacy-aware as ever. One of the biggest Internet companies, Google, has become a part of everyone’s lives, but if you’re concerned about Google’s data collection policies in light of these privacy issues, it might not be a bad idea to keep Google away from your Internet activities. But just how can you do that when Google is practically everywhere on the web? Here are 5 tips you can follow so that Google has far less information about you.
Don’t Use A Google Account
The first step, obviously, is to not create a Google account, or sign into it if you already have one. By using a Google account, Google will have a central location to tie all data that could identify you. Logging into a Google account on all devices you use makes it a lot easier for Google to keep that data together — if you don’t use an account, Google won’t be able to relate each device you use to you. This means that Google has far less information on you that it can pool together to use on you.
Likewise, you should try to avoid Google+. Google already has enough muscle to collect various information from your Internet habits, and adding a profile to your Google account will only give it more information to work with. Plus, this information has a lot of weight in Google’s algorithms because it doesn’t have to guess what you like and don’t like — you directly tell Google yourself what you like, so it can use that information. If Google+ is a must for you for whatever reasons (for example, my girlfriend’s employer uses Google Hangouts for meetings), then try to keep your profile as incomplete and empty as possible. Don’t give unneccessary details and use privacy controls to limit data exposure. The less information you voluntarily give to Google, the better.
Android? No Thanks
If you’re focusing specifically on the privacy issues surrounding Google, then you may not wish to use Android either. Google can tie your devices to a central account (see the first point), track which apps you’ve installed on your devices, back up personal data such as your photos and videos, and even save your WiFi passwords.
Some people could argue that they could replace Android on their phone with CyanogenMod as it doesn’t necessarily require you to use a Google account, but you’re still going to have a relatively bad experience since you won’t be able to use the Play Store without installing it and logging in with a Google account. The other alternative for smartphones, of course, is iOS, so you would have to deal with Apple’s policies instead. Whether Apple is a lesser evil than Google is your decision to make.
Use A Client Instead of Webmail
If you use webmail (whether Gmail or another provider), you could be in Google’s sights if the webmail provider you use has Google ads. Gmail goes a step further and reads your emails (via a bot, not a human) so that the ads you see can be tailored on both your emails and your browsing history. To circumvent all of this, you can use a desktop email client instead. This way, you’re directly accessing the email server rather than using a web interface that can tap into your browser for ad purposes. Any trustworthy email client should do, really. Good choices include Windows Mail, Outlook, and Thunderbird, just to name a few. If you choose to use Thunderbird, you can install 5 add-ons for Thunderbird and make better than Gmail, and worth your time.
Switch Search Engines
Last but not least, if you ever perform Internet searches — I’m sure you all do — then there’s a very high chance that you’ve been using Google. Instead, try considering switching to a different search engine. Yes, the quality of the search results will most likely suffer as a result, but that’s the tradeoff you get by essentially boycotting Google for privacy reasons. Although switching to most other search engines should be a good move, it would be ideal to use a search engine like DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo values your privacy and promises never to show ads. You can find an excellent explanation of the difference between using Google and DuckDuckGo on the Dont Track Us webpage.
If you just have to use Google Search, use the search engine’s own privacy tools and the Google’s Opt-out plugin to opt out of Google’s DoubleClick ad cookies.
Staying away from Google is a great start, but it certainly isn’t the only company which can hold information about you. Discussion about the best Google alternatives is an ever-continuing topic. If you’re absolutely, positively paranoid about privacy online, you’ll need to disconnect from the Internet completely. If you don’t want to go back to the Stone Age, there are still plenty of tips on how to stay as anonymous as possible online so that you’ll maintain as much of your privacy as possible such as these two hidden privacy tools or using dedicated anonymous services like Tor.
What have you been doing to maintain your privacy online? Do you think it’s worth losing useful features and functionality to regain privacy? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credit: Angelo Laub