October 30th, 2020 by admin
One minute you are posting, for the first time in your life, about how nice it would be to have a microwave you could reach from the bathtub. The next you know, you’re seeing ads for a waterproof microwave, thinking, “how did they know?” And “is this thing really safe?”
To answer the first question, your activity online is constantly being monitored and used to generate data about you. Websites use trackers to record your preferences and use that information to target you with ads, and search results that they think will catch your eye specifically.
To answer the second question, please… Do not buy the microwave. Shockingly, it was a complete waste of my money.
How Trackers Bias Your Search Results
Google, Bing, and many other popular search engines use trackers to tweak what is presented to you. The first results are what they think you will click on and browse through, not what is most relevant. Every website you go to, every item you add to your cart, every political article you read thoroughly or skim over, are all being used to build a picture of what you are most likely to click and appreciate.
Google uses a learning algorithm, or Artificial Intelligence, to interpret the data and make decisions on what ads and search results to show you. When you go to search the next time, all of your habits from the past are used to generate the items in the first page of results.
Critics of Google’s algorithm argue that the results are intrinsically biased to favor one political party. They suggest the custom fitted results contribute to ideological divides. It could be trapping us in an echoing chamber of our own ideas, or may be targeting us with more extreme opposing views than are rationally popular. Google denies these claims, and it’s difficult to gauge exactly how the algorithm is working. But it has been proven by multiple studies that our search results are being custom fit by Google, and if our results are being custom fit, they are almost certainly becoming biased to some extent.
If an algorithm is determining what results I see, instead of providing completely objective and uniform access to all sources of information, can I trust that I am seeing the whole picture as it really is?
Fortunately, the core issue here is a privacy issue, and that means there is a solution for us. People have valued privacy for a long time. Afterall, it is not a society, but the cave… that was the first and defining invention of the cave-man. Otherwise, we would call them a society-man.
If our habits are unseen by online trackers, then our search results will be revealed with a more objective, blank slate. Now, let’s build our internet cave.
How You Can Hide from Trackers
Some browsers allow the blocking of all, or nearly all trackers. Firefox is a great choice for maintaining your privacy, and preventing trackers from gathering data about you. It does a fair job by default, but if you want to get serious, take these quick steps to enable Enhanced Protection on Firefox. However, remember that you may lose some street cred if you tell your friends that you browse on Firefox.
With a strong private browser, nearly every data tracker you encounter will be blocked. Other great browser options for privacy are TOR, and Brave.
Private Search Engines
DuckDuckGo is a great search engine that doesn’t track you for your searches. This one is an easy grab, you can go to duckduckgo.com on any browser of your choice, and you won’t be tracked for your searches.
They can’t prevent websites from gathering data on you as you leave DuckDuckGo, unless you use the extension. Then it does exactly that, and blocks trackers on all your web browsing! You can add it as an extension to most browsers, and it will block trackers for all the sites you access with it enabled.
Just use one last non-private search to find the DuckDuckGo extension for your browser. Your last trail of web tracker breadcrumbs will lead them to water, and they’ll know they’ve lost you for good. Quack!