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Safe Practices for Personal Data

This short module covers the basics of personal data on the internet, including how and why corporations seek to collect it.

When it comes to data privacy, I want to start with a disclaimer: You're never going to avoid corporations gating data about you completely unless you either go completely off-grid or take up a whole new lifestyle revolving around data security. If you want to go either of those routes, more power to you, but it will drastically limit what you're able to do in society. Everything has trade-offs and the main point of this module has been to make you aware of what's going on so you can make informed choices about how you share your data. 

So with that out of the way, here are a few relatively easy things you can do to protect your data:

  1. Use a privacy focused browser: Brave, Firefox, or for the most hardcore Tor are all browsers that prioritize privacy of personal data. These usually include ad blockers, cookie blockers, and for Tor a whole encryption network. But this usually comes at a cost of speed (in Tor's case) or things not working. A lot of sites will lose functionality or not work entirely if your browser is too secure, so be prepared for that.
  2. Use a different search engine: Duck Duck Go is a privacy focused search engine that avoids much of the data collection practices that Google engages in. Chances are good you'll see different results for your searches, but sometimes that can be a good thing. The most popular site isn't always the best.
  3. Limit social media use: Not only is it better for your mental health, limiting your use of social media is a great way to cut down on the amount of personal information that's out there. That being said, I know it can be hard for folks who do a lot of connecting via social media, whether with family, friends, or even work. I know this would be a big behavior change for many people, but it's worth bearing in mind what you put out there. If you do the above, it can make things a lot better even with social media.
  4. Be aware of what you're agreeing to: Thanks to California state law, all websites are forced to inform you in some direct manner about what information they collect (you've doubtless seen the banners all over the place in the last year or so). If you can, turn off those cookies manually. Take a look at the permissions the apps on your phone have and turn some of them off that seem unnecessary or downright creepy (does your calculator really need access to your microphone?). You can even find some Terms of Service Agreements translated into plain English which can keep you better informed.

Ultimately, this is all about trade offs. Google and Facebook are free because they're gathering and selling our data. But they're also really useful tools in a lot of ways, sometimes even because of the data they've gathered on us. You get to decide what you're comfortable with, and that's a big spectrum from Here Have My Social Security Number on one side to Return to Monke on the other. Hopefully after this you feel like you can make better decisions about what you feel comfortable with.

And hey, if you feel really strongly, feel free to call your representatives and bug them about personal data collection. It's having a moment right now and your voice can make a big difference in how your data is collected, bought, sold, and used.