While the “big boys” battle over policy, law and self regulation, there are some practical things that each and every Internet user can do to limit how much information they share with companies like Google.
The first place to start is with your IP address. This is an address assigned to your computer while it is connected to the Internet. It is similar to a phone number or postal code, but for computers. Each and every time you access the Internet this IP address is recorded. Worse than that, your IP address reveals where you are in the world and who is your ISP. It is time to become anonymous, to slip into the shadows. The easiest way to do this is to use the Hide My IP software. With it you can hide your online identity, surf anonymously and encrypt your Internet connection. If you need anonymity for more than just web browsing you should use a fully fledged Virtual Private Network (VPN) like FoxyVPN. Once using a VPN not even your ISP can tell what you are doing on the net.
Once you have the right software on your computer, it is worth visiting Google’s Privacy Tools page. Here you find out what Google knows about you and you can change your privacy settings for services such as Blogger, Calendar, Docs, Gmail, and Picasa. The Google Dashboard (part of the privacy tools) also has a “Me on the Web” section that can help you understand and manage what people see when they search for you on Google.
It is also worth using the “private browsing” feature of your web browser. Known as InPrivate Browsing in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Incognito in Google’s Chrome, and Private Browsing in Firefox and Apple’s Safari, using it will increase security and help protect your privacy online. Using it for sites like Gmail, Facebook etc will make it harder for other sites to track you.
Of course the best way to limit what third parties know about you is to avoid sharing the information in the first place. At a time when incidents of identity theft is rising, avoid giving too much away. On social networking sites it is best to not to provide unnecessary detail, and use the privacy controls to limit others access to your data. Never post pictures which you might regret others seeing (even in five years from now) and never divulge your holiday plans or other private information online. The hard reality is that avoiding social networking sites all together will increase your privacy.