First published: 21st January 2018 as part of the Privacy 101 series.
Thank you for giving me your email address. Sometimes I shout into the chasm of social media about important topics and it gets lost on everyone. This time, you replied.
So, online privacy. Where to start?! There's a lot to cover.
Each email I send I'll try to cover the who, what, when, where, why, and how. It will help you to understand who is tracking what you do online, why they do it, and how to stop it.
What YOU need to do is decide how private you want to be. Hiding your information from the government is a different goal to hiding your information from a company.
If you have any specific questions, feel free to send them through at any time. I'll do my best to answer them. If you want to forward these emails to friends, family, etc. - feel free. And, if you want to stop receiving the emails, hit reply and say so.
In 1993, The New Yorker newspaper published a cartoon by Peter Steiner. It featured two dogs; one sat on a chair in front of a computer, speaking to a second dog sat on the floor. "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog", reads the caption.
At the time of printing, that was almost true. Today, not so much. There are a handful of companies that know it's a dog, and they can tell you what breed it is, and when they go for walks. They could even tell you the dog's preferred brand of dog food and when they last bought it.
As you read this email, it's likely that there is a company tracking what you do. Or two. Or five.
Let's say you are using Gmail on your iPhone. It's quite possible that Google scans the content of the email. Certain words are cherry-picked to build a profile about you, which gets sent to a company called DoubleClick.
DoubleClick are now owned by Google, but are one of the companies that track you around the internet. They serve a massive amount of adverts to newspaper websites - tracking your activity as you browse.
Imagine your insurance company emailed you yesterday about your soon-to-be expired insurance. It's not a coincidence that today you see adverts on The Guardian newspaper website about insurance.
So, that's why a lot of tracking happens. For money.
There are exceptions to the rule; but if you are not paying to use a product, it's likely you are the product. Your information is getting collected, your personality profiled and sold to the highest bidder.
You have to decide whether that's okay.
I currently work at Microsoft and clicking those adverts in Outlook pays my salary. Microsoft pay me to make the product that delivers you email for free. But you pay with your privacy.
Somewhere there is an advertiser profile about you. Many of them. Owned by different companies. And advertising trackers are not the only trackers... but let's make this the first lesson.
So, what can you do?
There are a few steps you can take to stop advertising companies tracking you so much, but let's start simple. Install an ad-blocker and start using a privacy-focused search engine.
I can hear the cries of "STOP USING GOOGLE?!" from here. But, yes. Give it a shot and see how it goes. Five years ago you would have been crazy to not use Google for search - but there are good alternatives nowadays.
On iPhone / Android, the easiest thing to do is to download a new web browser. Using one of these instead of Safari or Chrome will help to stop advertisers tracking you around the web. Each of these apps blocks advertisers and don't keep a record of sites you visit:
On your Windows / Mac computer, there are a number of options. It depends on which web browser you use. These "add-ons" will not only block advertising companies from tracking you, but - since there is less to load - might even speed up the web pages!
So that's your homework set; install a privacy-focused browser and search engine.
I'll be back soon with more updates. They'll hopefully be shorter, snappier, but still informative. In the meantime, feel free to ask me anything, or tell me your worries about online privacy.
For a full list of published emails, check out the Privacy 101 page.
If you wish to receive future mailings, drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.