Concerned About Privacy? How To Keep Google At Arm’s Length

Danny Stieben 10-10-2013

With all of the scares surrounding the NSA’s PRISM program What Is PRISM? Everything You Need to Know The National Security Agency in the US has access to whatever data you're storing with US service providers like Google Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook. They're also likely monitoring most of the traffic flowing across the... Read More 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.

Avoid Google+

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 Tips On Planning & Holding Effective Meetings With Google Hangouts With today's Internet technology, holding online meetings can be both efficient and cost-effective especially if you pre-plan them and make use of time-saving tools. For the last couple of months I've participated in online meetings... Read More ), 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 5 Thunderbird Add-Ons That Will Make it Better Than Gmail For many years, I switched between a whole range of email clients. First I went with Outlook Express. Then I bought a new computer and decided to test the waters with Thunderbird. Once Gmail became... Read More 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 Get A Better Search Experience With Duck Duck Go It seems that there are a couple of services and Linux distributions (such as Linux Mint) that are switching over to Duck Duck Go as their default search engine. So why the heck are they... Read More 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 2 Hidden Privacy Tools You Should Be Using Every day, people visit countless websites and make use of their favorite social networks with very little thought to just how much information is inadvertently escaping into the general public. In fact, there are privacy... Read More  or using dedicated anonymous services like Tor How the Tor Project Can Help You Protect Your Own Online Privacy Privacy has been a constant issue with virtually all major sites that you visit today, especially those that handle personal information on a regular basis. However, while most security efforts are currently directed towards the... Read More .

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

Related topics: Google, Online Privacy, Surveillance.

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  1. Pushkar Y
    October 14, 2013 at 11:00 am

    It is really that important? I mean to ask what information do Google really collect, just some basic info to help select appropriate advertisers for us or really some serious info that can be used to blackmail/torture us :?

    • usadoug
      October 28, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      As a gmail user to have your mail recognized by family and friends being from yourself you need to use your real name, from there I suppose you can use bogus personal information. Not only is there the government to be concerned about, one should be concerned about the corporate big brother who is more likely to use your habits against you in a way that could impact your life negatively. Most if not all privacy policies reserve the right to be changed without notice

    • usadoug
      October 28, 2013 at 10:32 pm

      Let's not forget our not online activity at public libraries isn't secure from the government either.

    • Pushkar Y
      October 30, 2013 at 9:23 am

      @usadoug : yeah Google (and almost every website) track the activity but why does it really matter, it's not that I looked up for porn and Google will blackmail me, "pay us or we will tell the truth to everyone" :P
      on a serious note, I really wanna know, by way of practical examples

  2. Billy
    October 14, 2013 at 12:58 am

    I AM new here and I am also not very cpu or internet savvy, but, I DO find it very amusing that as I read this article that on the right side of the page is a counter showing exactly who Tweeted, Liked and... +1 'd to earn points! On the same page that tells you how to protect privacy by not doing just these things!

    Well... at least I'm amused.

    Ahh, P.s. Found a plug in called "mask me" that is super easy to use and I like. It masks your Email by creating an obscure one and creates a secure password and even stores them ( yeah ironic ) for you. It will even collect those confirmation Emails so you can respond back and use whatever site you signed up for so they don't get your real Email just because you wanted "check out " their site!

  3. g
    October 13, 2013 at 2:08 am

    If you would like to use Google's search results without the tracking that goes with it try Startpage. It is the work product of someone who actually knows about and works to protect online privacy.

  4. Sergio B
    October 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    It is a bit confusing when MakeUseof try to "protect us against Google control but they also push us to use Google plus to get an extra point to the gives away... ;)

  5. Aguchi
    October 12, 2013 at 2:35 am

    If your're not using an anonymous tool like the Tor network then you can bet all your online activity is not private. I use Google knowing about the privacy issues so I pretty much don't have anything to hide (they also have nice features.) I'm pretty happy just using their ad block on every page.

    • Danny S
      October 31, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      The only issue I have is that Tor is very slow -- it might be good for highly sensitive stuff, but if I'm just talking to my friends online about Pokemon (as an example), I'd rather have a speedier connection.

      Probably too late for me now anyways. Heh.

  6. HuitZiloP
    October 11, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Also, don't use Google's public DNS. I'm sure they also your searches and http requests along your data.

    • HuitZiloP
      October 11, 2013 at 11:40 am

      Also, don't use Google's public DNS. I'm sure they also store your searches and http requests along your data.

      I accidentally a word.

    • Jon
      October 11, 2013 at 7:26 pm

      You accidentally missed a word?

    • Danny S
      October 31, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      True! Thankfully it takes effort to make your computer use Google's public DNS, so as long as they don't put effort into that they'll be fine. :P

  7. Alexey
    October 11, 2013 at 8:58 am

    first 3 steps are genious

  8. Gianna Marie L
    October 11, 2013 at 5:51 am

    I think, as long as you have online accounts anyone can get your info's.

    • Alberry J
      October 11, 2013 at 8:19 am

      lol i didn't know your here.. xD