Privacy is one of my core values. I feel that governments and corporations should have a limited view on my life. That being said, I am a hypocrite. I use Facebook as part of my daily life for communicating with family and friends (like 19 million other Canadians). I’ve recently signed up (again) for Instagram, another Facebook product. I’m constantly conflicted about those services, yet I still use them. I waver constantly on using Facebook/Facebook Messenger/Instagram, and deleting these terrible invasions of privacy altogether.
These services aren’t free, of course. There is a tradeoff that I make everytime I login, post a photo, click on a link, or like a post. I realize that Facebook sells ads based on my location, interest, likes, habits, posts, photos, and anything else they can infer from the data that I provide to them. I provide a lot of data to Facebook, which uses tracking mechanisms to follow me across the internet to watch what we are doing. That data collection is always increasing. If you “interact” with an ad on Facebook, that advertiser can then watch where you go afterward. If you use a Facebook “share” button on another website, or use your Facebook account to comment on a news article or to sign up for a service, Facebook knows. It aggregates that data to learn more about you, and to sell that valuable data to advertisers.
Given the popularity of Facebook, it’s clear that Canadians (and users worldwide) fall into a few different groups: we don’t know, we don’t care, or we’re okay with it. Maybe you’re not okay with it, and are looking for some options to reduce what Facebook knows about you. I’d place myself in that last group, and I’d like to share what I’m doing to change how much Facebook learns about me and my behaviour.
First, delete the Facebook app on your phone. Facebook’s native iOS and Android app is a battery hog, and it drains your limited resources (data, battery, etc). The tracking mechanisms are also most powerful with the native app. That doesn’t mean you can’t use Facebook on your phone. Use the website instead, as it is nearly as full-featured but reduces the intrusion into your privacy.
Third, if you’re really interested in anonymizing yourself, purchase a yearly subscription to a quality Virtual Private Network. That’s an encrypted connection from your computer (or smart phone) to a server, similar to tunnel underground. Any tracking will be linked back to the VPN server, not your computer. This is particularly valuable when using public wifi, unsecured networks, or when you don’t want others seeing what you’re doing.
I’ve been picking on Facebook here, but they’re not alone. Google has also built their business on selling access to your eyeballs by finding as much as it can about your habits. They’ve been incredibly successful at it by building incredible tools that have changed the internet. Gmail, Search, YouTube, Google+, Maps, and Android all add to the comprehensive picture that they have of you. Avoid staying signed into their services, avoid using Google to sign into other services, start trying other search engines, map services, and mail services to avoid one corporation from building a complete picture of you.
In the end, Facebook and Google control a huge amount of the internet advertising that we see. They do that by collecting data on what we do online, and they have deep influence on what we see online. I find that incredibly concerning, which is why I am trying to limit what these services can learn about my habits.
I may find myself deleting these accounts entirely.