Monday, September 16, 2013

Optimizing your digital footprints in the Age of Data

"The age of Men is over. The time of the Orc Data has come"

It wont be exaggeration at all to say this as human intuition is being replaced by (computer-aided) data driven decisions. In order to make more accurate decision we need more/detailed data. So all companies are collecting data from every possible interface. Microsoft said the reason for killing "Start" button in new Windows version is usage data gathered from system says its not being used. So Microsoft collected "our data to make "our" life easy, good thing right? Let's take another example. Microsoft sends every search term you type for local or network searches to that big Bing engine.[1] And who knows then it might go to NSA data warehouse. Even retail companies like Target knows your web browsing history.[2] 

Companies are working really hard to collect more and more data. Our every keystroke is being recorded by internet companies, browsers, operating systems. [3][4][5][6][7]. And on top of that US intelligence is spending more than $25B on data collection annually.[8]

[ click on image to see enlarged version ]


Long story short, big data is not bad but as an individual we must have options to preserve our privacy! I would like to talk about few simple ways to do the same in this post.

1] Shift to Firefox. Its stable, fast and secure. All other major browsers Chrome, Safari and IE (if you use this) tracks your activities for commercial use. Additionally Firefox provides really good addons for security and privacy. If you want more secure service then you can choose John Donym, Tor browser bundle which offers anonymous browsing/IP anonymization. Similar services can be used on mobile operating systems as well naming Orbot (Android) and Onion browser (iOS)

2] Unless you are not getting satisfactory results you can use DuckDuckGo as search engine. Its more than enough for regular activities. After PRISM controversy DuckDuckGo is getting really high traffic. [9]   

3] If you do not wish to switch from Google as search engine, login in google search. Go to the "Accounts > Dashboard > Manage your web history" and make sure you turn the web history off. Otherwise it logs your every search, mapping with your email id. (Provided your are logged in with some Google service like gmail, youtube, blogger etc). You can clear and pause your search history in Youtube as well if you dont want Google to use/collect your data .

4] If you are comfortable with linux/unix operating systems, prefer it over Windows, Chrome OS and OS X. Few really good options are linux Mint, Ubuntu, Fedora etc. If your don't wish to install these systems, you can use live CDs as well.

5] You can use following browser plugins to protect your data,
  • AdBlock Edge: This blocks advertisements and trackers across the web. (Firefox)
  • Disconnect lets you visualize and block the invisible websites that tracks you. (Safari, Chrome, Opera)
  • Https-everywhere: Its extension that encrypts your communications with many major websites, making your data transfer more secure. (Firefox, Chrome)
  • DoNotTrackMe: Perhaps my favorite addon which blocks more than 600 tracking services which includes identity thieves, advertisers, social networks, and spammers from tracking you. Same service provider gives one more service MaskMe which masks your contact details when you enter it in the web form. Following is the screenshot of where 14 analytical services are supposed to track your activities.
 [ click on image to see enlarged version ]

Note: I am big data fanboy and certainly not against it, but strongly believe we must have a choice to protect our privacy.

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