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Monday, 8 June 2020

The Internet Is Terrifying


We all know that Big Tech GAFA (aka Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple) are watching us. I've been pretty paranoid about the internet and compromising of personal data for some time now. Google probably knows me better than I know myself.

Those of us born after the year 1995 have grown up raised on the internet. Years of our life history is stored onto web browsers. There's doubtlessly all sorts of embarrassing old photos, tweets and Facebook posts from my teen self swirling around the cloud. Even if you press 'delete', digital ink never really disappears. Once it's posted online, it's there forever, and that is terrifying.

But we know all this, right? What's the use of some paranoid almost-twenty-three-year-old girl warbling neuroses on the internet?

Honestly, I think that we all need to spread the word as much as possible, and educate each other about staying safe online. Watching a lot of Black Mirror lately has made me think about the wonders of AI -- what it can do for humans, how we can use it to benefit ourselves -- and the countless horrors.

I think we need to remind ourselves that the internet is NOT safe, and that virtual assistants like Bixby, Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana DO listen and CAN track our personal information. Who's to say that one day, in the future, millions of people's personal data won't some day be used against them? Is it really so far-fetched to think that some day, a person may lose their job or certain legal rights just because they posted some 'mildly offensive' tweet ten years ago?

But on a more basic level, do we really want all of our online digital activity; purchases, personal pictures (yes, even the sexy ones you sent to all those lads on Tinder), and search history, being held and stored by multinational corporations? Do we really want these tech giants to be able to spy on us, watch us, track our digital footprint and location so that they can some day spy on our personal lives? In other words, The Circle coming to life? No one with internet access is safe from the possibility of prying eyes, and personal data being held by the hands of super powerful people is straight out of Orwell.

So, what are a few basic, simple things that everyone can do in order to try and protect themselves online?

For the love of god, don't use virtual assistants. Can your lazy butt really not type out what you want or search for a song without the aid of Alexa or Google Assistant? Is it really worth compromising your human privacy, to add a few more seconds of your time just to search something with your fingers? One of my relatives had an Alexa in their house; don't get me wrong, it was cool, but there's no way I'd get my own.

Turn off your location history and pause all web browsing activity. There was once a time where you could sign in to Gmail without being signed in to Chrome. Now it's the norm to be signed into your 'Chrome' account with your gmail, meaning that all of your online browsing activity is being stored in Chrome. I recommend pausing all activity and NOT leaving location history on. (The only thing I used to leave on was YouTube watch history as that was kind of useful.)

Better yet, fuck Google Chrome. I've done away with Chrome and am now using Firefox on my computer -- faster, pays their tax, and values privacy. I also use DuckDuckGo as my search engine on my computer and phone, because they don't save or store personal browsing habits.

Get. A. VPN. NordVPN, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, SurfShark, PrivateVPN -- doesn't matter what you use, long as it isn't free (a 'free' VPN will store all of your data on its server -- that's how we pay for Facebook and Google) and is reputable. There are many out there. At this point, surfing the internet without a VPN is just plain naive, considering how many hackers roam the web.

Cover your laptop camera. I'm considering buying some covers for my phone too, although that's a pain as I take too many selfies. Maybe I have to accept that there may be fascinating videos of me sitting on the toilet staring at my KDP Book Reports.

Regularly erase browsing history, cache, and cookies. Cookies can be useful regarding saving passwords for sites you regularly log in to. It's impossible to be entirely pragmatic about this, but at least erasing browsing history once a week will keep your computer running faster.

It won't be long before internet privacy becomes so far compromized that none of our digital activity will be untraceable. Oh, wait -- we've already reached that point. Protect yourself as much as you can.

Also, check out 'Jumbo', an app that scans your digital apps and helps delete old posts from your social media accounts:

For Apple:

For Android:

My other posts on this topic:

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
I've also published three YA fiction books and two poetry volumes. To check em out, copy and paste this link into your browser: