Internet users know that the websites they visit can track and monitor their activity online. However, very few people understand the real depth of this persistent digital intrusion into our lives.
Google, for instance, happens to know almost everything about each of us. They know our names, locations, search patterns, medical conditions, images we see, videos we watch, ads we click, devices we use, websites we visit, the time we spent on different webpages, and the list keeps growing. And, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg!
Thanks to advancements in big data and data science, Google can identify even anonymous users based on their past internet behavior. They can use everything from the words you use to the spelling errors you make to identify you.
That’s insanely scary!
So, how do you shield yourself from its pervasive and intrusive eyes?
Here are some tips to reclaim your privacy, which you have willingly or unwillingly surrendered to the search giant:
Switch to DuckDuckGo
If you don’t want the search giant to know every search you name, just don’t use it. That doesn’t mean you hop onto Bing either. Bing, a Microsoft product, is equally intrusive.
Ideally, you can use DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused browser that does not log or store any of your personal data. So, your internet searches remain hidden from the prying eyes
Use a Different Browser for your searches
Google owns Chrome. So, you will have to ditch it if you want to stay away from Google. Using different browsers offer powerful privacy features to prevent websites from tracking you altogether. Mozilla Firefox, for instance, allows you to set the browser to automatically delete all the cookies, cache, and other site data after every session.
Likewise, most browsers allow you to prevent websites from knowing your location. Plenty of other browsers offer privacy as their primary differentiation. Pick one that you like. Firefox and Opera are the most popular options at the moment.
Delete Current Data and Prevent Future Collection
Google lets you access all your past activity that it has collected. What’s more, it even allows you to delete all that data and pause its ability to collect more data about you. You can even let it know which type of personal data you want it to collect and store.
Visit the My Activity page in your Google Account. Click on the vertical ellipsis (⋮) and then click on the “Delete Activity By” option.
Now, you can select the data that you wish to delete. Ideally, delete everything.
Then visit the “Activity Controls Page”, where you will see the “Web & App Activity” section. You can pause Google’s ability to collect various types of data, including your location history, search activity, YouTube activity, and so on.
The TOR browser goes a long way in hiding your internet activity from everyone. That includes search engines like Google. More importantly, it gives you a certain degree of anonymity that is hard to match.
However, TOR’s traffic bandwidth is largely limited and it can be extremely slow. Besides, almost every website with CAPTCHA prevents you from accessing the site by repeatedly giving you CAPTCHA prompts, including Google Search. A much better option for privacy would be a VPN.
Use a VPN
A VPN offers you the same level of protection as the TOR network, but without the bandwidth limitations. Depending on your VPN provider, your connection speed may only be limited by your own local ISP. Indeed, some of the biggest VPN service providers claim to offer unlimited speed.
When you are using a VPN, make sure that it does not keep logs of your internet usage. NordVPN has an excellent reputation when it comes to powerful privacy features among the VPN services. A VPN service anonymizes your Google searches by changing your IP address. It works best with Browser Incognito Mode.
Use Private Mode on Browsers
When you absolutely cannot avoid using an intrusive browser like Chrome browser, or when you must use Google Search, you can switch to privacy mode. Chrome calls it Incognito Mode. So, once you end your session, all the search history and cookies are deleted from your browser.
But remember. Privacy mode only deletes all the cookies and search history from your current browsing session. It does nothing to prevent Google from collecting your data when using the search engine in this model. And yes, Google can still identify you from your IP address and other digital markers. If you want to prevent Google and your ISP providers from seeing your activity, then you must use a VPN, in addition to the privacy mode.
Log Out From Your Google Accounts
Every time you use Google Search while logged in to your email, your search behavior gets mapped to your email account. When you are signed in your browser’s cookies can help trace your online behavior.
Also, avoid Chrome sign-ins. Chrome prompts you to sign in to the browser using your Google account credentials. If you do that, it can pair all your browser activities to your Google account. Even with web activity tracking disabled, this is a huge risk.
Avoid Google Apps
Google collects vast amounts of data from its ecosystem of apps. These include Maps, Calendar, Duo, Google Photos, Google Chrome, Google Keep, and many more. It may not entirely be possible to stop using Google apps altogether. For instance, the alternatives to Google Maps are not as comprehensive as you’d like them to be.
Yet, it is possible to avoid most of its apps. For instance, mobile users can replace Google Chrome with the DuckDuckGo browser. There are also several open-source alternatives to Calendar, Keep, Photos, and other Google apps.
Disable Google Ad Tracking on Mobile
Android users can follow these steps: Settings > Accounts & Sync > Google > Ads. Here, you can opt-out of personalized ads. However, on some phones, the Google section may appear directly in the Settings window.
On iOS devices, you can follow these steps: Settings > Privacy > Advertising. Here you can limit ad tracking.
Use AdBlocker for Browsers
A quick search on most popular browsers’ app stores will present you with several options in terms of ad blockers. You can check them out and find one that works best for your purpose. Of course, we recommend using open-source ad blockers like uBlock Origin, which is developed by Raymond Hill and enjoys a good reputation as a trusted browser extension.
Even a better option is to use a VPN that has an ad-blocker feature. They can block ads, malicious websites, and trackers.
Don’t Use Google Devices
No, this does not mean Apple devices are any better. They, too, collect every piece of your personal data aggressively. That’s why a growing number of people are switching over to feature phones from intrusive smartphones. Some of the more tech-savvy are even leaving Windows and Mac ecosystems to Linux.
However, these options may be too drastic for most internet users for different reasons. Linux, for instance, is not at all user-friendly for an average user. And, many of us need smartphones for work or personal use.
That said, most of us can stay away from devices like Google Home Mini, Google Nest Hub, Chromecast, and others.
Use Third-party Password Managers
Many of us allow our browsers to save our account passwords for us. Although it’s a nifty feature that makes online browsing highly convenient, it poses a high-security risk. In the case of Chrome, the passwords are stored in your Google account if you are signed in. Anyone that hacks into Google’s servers can find their way to your passwords.
You can eliminate this risk by using a third-party password manager. Of course, in that case, you’ll have to trust the security features of the password manager you use. It’s recommended that you use a zero-knowledge encryption password manager like LastPass or Bitwarden. The developers behind both apps claim that your passwords will not be leaked even if they are hacked. Incidentally, this was proven when LastPass was hacked a few years ago, and their technology worked precisely as advertised.
Google has claimed its position as the all-seeing, all-intrusive eye of the internet. Tearing yourself away from it is no mean task. However, if you want to reclaim your privacy, then it is necessary to keep Google out of your devices, apps, and life. To hide Google Search History it is best to use a VPN and Incognito window combination. This way your IP will be hidden from the search engine and a private browser window will protect you from storing tracking cookies.