Posted in 21st Century life, data collecting, digital life, kids and privacy, online data collecting, online tracking

How Much Privacy Do I Have? DuckDuckGo Gives More

book-dg3-150wAlthough I believed that I had taken significant steps to maintain a modicum of privacy in my 21st Century digital life, I was wrong.

I am less than halfway through Bruce Schneier’s book, Data and Goliath, all about the hidden methods of collecting our personal data, and already I am discovering that my personal privacy plan has many holes. I’m not that different from most adults. Privacy, however, is going away, and we collaborate in the process by not making any specific decisions and by going along with the ways the Internet tracks us. We do have choices, and we educators and parents need to learn a lot more about maintaining privacy and then share what we’ve learned with young people.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 10.19.26 PM
Vanity Fair has 11 trackers and widgets.

In the book’s first chapters Schneier addresses data collection, how trackers get added to my computers and digital devices as little files called cookies. With a quick search, I found over 1,000 cookies and cache files on my laptop, despite the fact that I only allow cookies from places that I visit (about 650 were cookies). Some of these are useful and don’t bother me — like the cookies for the several catalogs where I  regularly make purchases, the newspapers which I read, and the educational and musical organizations which I like. Read more about cache.

I realized that I need a better handle on controlling trackers, so I figured out how to delete the cache on my browser (better than deleting your history because you don’t lose the sites). I then deleted any cookies I did not recognize, and then continued working on my laptop. Within an hour all the cookies were back.

Then I discovered and installed Ghostery, a browser extension that tells users exactly how many trackers are on each page of the sites that they visit — see the image above and to the left. I was pretty shocked at the huge numbers of trackers, even on sites that I want to be connected with. After playing around with Ghostery, I also discovered that some of the unfamiliar cookies were actually widgets that make various bells and whistles — video, for instance — work on a site. I’ll write a separate post about Ghostery.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 1.49.22 PMI want more privacy, so even though I am only a third of the way through Schneier’s book and have lots more to learn, I decided to take a big step and move a lot of my browsing and searching activities over to DuckDuckGo. the search site that does not track.

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From the DuckDuckGo About Page.

The first time I searched with DuckDuckGo, I stared for a few moments, almost in puzzlement, at the results. The page was all text and links — and somehow it did not seem complete. Then I realized that it looked different because the advertising is missing. I’ve used it for over a week now, and while it is different, I’m more than pleased with the change. On my laptop, I have now set DuckDuckGo as the default search site, and I’ve downloaded the DuckDuckGo app on my mobile phone. Interestingly, I started using Safari on my iPhone, set to use DuckDuckGo, and I like it much more than the app. (Set Safari to use the search engine in settings.)

What I like about DuckDuckGo is that no one and no place, and most importantly, no tracker, is keeping track of my searches — the reason that this search engine was created. One of the things I hate most when I search with Google is the way ads begin to appear after I’ve searched for something or when they suddenly appear after I make a purchase — often for the exact item I’ve purchased. Google takes what I’ve searched for and feeds advertising back to me. It’s important to note, however, that while DuckDuckGo does not track users, many of the sites it takes a person to do use trackers —- the search engine has no control over.

A Few Links to Help People Learn More about DuckDuckGo.

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