Bashing Google and social media platforms seem to be the hot thing to do right now, even more so after Netflix released The Social Dilemma and frightened Facebookers started deleting their accounts.
Some say the documentary was a massive overreaction, and social media is only as evil as we make it.
I agree with that thinking to a point.
The film made one thing crystal clear in our minds. If we are scared by what we know the social media platform’s algorithms are doing, tracking, and feeding us, how much more is going on that we don’t know?
Zuckerburg can sit glassy-eyed in front of Congress and tell them not to worry. But when there are billions of dollars at stake, there is no way we should turn our back on Facebook, Google, and social media.
These companies can keep telling us our phones aren’t listening to our conversations, but you know that is a lie. Ever since Facebook started feeding you ads for shoes after you yelled at your partner because the dog chewed your new Air Jordans, you knew.
Google and Facebook may not have a guy sitting in a room in Silicon Valley, recording your private conversations, but the algorithms sure are listening so they can serve the most relevant ads to your feed.
If you don’t believe it, you will. I believed last year after Facebook started sending me ads for newborn clothing an hour after my wife and I found out she was pregnant. We hadn’t talked about it with anyone; only our doctor and each other.
I’ve since turned off the microphone on my phone.
So, yes, maybe it is an overreaction to delete all social media and go off the grid permanently. But Google and the social media platforms are operating to ensure their own profits, and not with your privacy in mind. You are unprotected and at risk, as you are now.
But, there are a few things you can do to help yourself.
How to Stop Google From Tracking Your Location
Disclaimer: it is possible to set yourself up not be tracked, but remember that apps like Uber and Google Maps use location information to provide their service. There may be unforeseen circumstances, and certain apps may stop working if you turn off your location. Try these solutions at your own risk!
First, the easiest thing you can do is tap on “Location” in your quick settings and turn off the GPS. But what about Google and all the data they have already gathered from you
In a browser, go to https://myactivity.google.com/
Photo credit: Screenshot by author
This is the nerve center where you can turn tracking on and off and delete all your old data. From this one page, you can:
- Turn off location tracking and application tracking
- Turn ad personalization off
- Delete all the data Google has saved about you
- Delete Chrome and location history
You can do the same thing on your android phone by going to Settings → Accounts → Manage your data & personalization. You will have options similar to the ones you get with your browser. Just make sure you have the correct Google account selected if you have more than one.
I could not believe the amount of data they had gathered and saved about me over the years.
Don’t worry; it’s all gone now.
From here, you can make sure Google cannot track you anymore, and you can dump years’ worth of data about your activities.
Just remember: Google tracks some of your activities to personalize your experience, so expect that certain tasks will be much different when you use Google now.
Now, you are off the radar.
Bonus: How to Turn off the Microphone on Your Device
I’ve long since turned off my microphone, except for the camera app so I can record video, and it is as simple as doing this:
- iPhone: On iPhones with iOS11 or higher, go to Settings → Privacy → Microphone and then swipe to turn off any app’s access to your microphone.
- Android: For Android phones operating on Oreo 8.0 or higher, open your smartphone Settings → Apps & Notifications → App Info → App Permission. From there, you can revoke any app’s access to your phone’s microphone.
Now, if the social media platforms are playing by the rules and following privacy laws, they should not be able to access sound data from your phone.
I’d rather be safe than sorry.
You Have the Power
Once you find you have Google zipped up and get used to using it without personalization, it stops becoming a big deal. The next step is dealing with Facebook and other social media platforms.
If you want to go even further and get complete anonymity by dumping Google altogether, you can use the Tor browser for web browsing. You can use safe search engines that respect your privacy like Duck Duck Go or StartPage and use an encrypted email provider like ProtonMail or Runbox.
There are options out there that protect your privacy. You don’t have to give away your location and data. These companies, like Google, are only using this information to make themselves wealthier.
It’s time we started standing up to Google, Facebook, and the social media giants and letting them know our data and our attention are not for sale anymore.