Companies want your valuable browsing data

Surveillance capitalism is everywhere.   

Earlier in April, I was researching a story on food retailers who offer credit to consumers. 

Within a few hours of my initial searches, I was contacted by Woolworths offering me a credit card. 

Credit cards have been available from the retailer since 2014, but this was the first time I had ever been contacted and offered one.  

As I don’t shop at Woolworths, that’s probably understandable. But within a few days I had also been contacted by Absa, which also offered me a credit card. 

Again, I don’t bank with Absa and I’d never been offered a credit card before now.  

My keyword searches in Google had clearly identified me as a consumer in search of new lines of credit.  

It’s a simple example, but one that clearly illustrates what happens when we as consumers get lax about protecting our privacy in a world where surveillance capitalism is ever present.

How to protect your privacy online

Use a private search engine. By now we as consumers should understand that every keyword search we punch into Google gives it that little bit more information about us. 

So a private search engine is an important tool. DuckDuckGo, Search Encrypt, Start Page and Gibiru are just some of the services available to us.

Install Tor on your computer for browsing. Tor works by encrypting and routing your internet browsing through a series of relay servers. 

This makes it harder to link your computer to the websites you visit. If you don’t want your internet browsing to be monitored, it’s the best chance of protecting your online anonymity.

Use end-to-end encrypted services. If you don’t want your inbox mined for data, then an encrypted email service is a must. 

Switzerland-based service Protonmail is one option that I found very easy to switch to.

When it comes to messaging services, Facebook says that subsidiary WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption, but after what we now know about the company, can we take that claim at face value? 

Telegram and Signal are two of the apps that offer a more secure messaging option.

Disable location services. Technology companies can use location services to track our day-to-day whereabouts, as this is incredibly useful information for targeted advertising.

Tape over all webcams. It has already been reported widely that cameras on phones, laptops and digital televisions can be used to spy on consumers. You can cover them with commercially available web-cam covers, but a piece of masking tape will also do the trick.

Delete your social media accounts. Yes, it’s a drastic step, but you need to ask yourself if the benefit you are getting from these apps justifies the invasion of your privacy. 

As someone who went cold turkey on social media a few years ago, I can say I really don’t miss Facebook and Twitter as much as I originally thought I would.

This article originally appeared in the 10 May edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter here.

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