Searching for something? Try a duck

Tom Jackson
Jul 26, 2014

 

The other day, when I went to a meeting for a local book club, one of the ladies in the club complained about the ads shown to her every time she went on the Internet. She had searched for a part for an unusually-shaped toilet, and now every time she went online, she was subjected to toilet ads.

The lady's problem is users of many popular search engines -- not just Google, but also many of its competitors -- keep tabs on its users and track them. What you've shown an interest in something, that's recorded and then used to target ads at you. There's a good new book out, "Dragnet Nation" by Julia Angwin, that goes into detail about the tracking, and the author's efforts to evade it.

One way to evade some of the tracking is to use a search engine that doesn't track you, such as  Duck Duck Go.

Most browsers have a default setting choosing which search engine you'll automatically use. If you go into the settings, you can change which one you use. I have reset my Google Chrome browser to use DuckDuckGo. I have the DuckDuckGo app installed on my smart phone, and I usually use that instead of Google.

 

Comments

SamAdams

That's hilarious, Tom! You're right: Duck Duck Go doesn't track you (neither does startpage.com or ixquick.com which are also excellent search aggregators). Know what DOES track you, though? Google CHROME! In fact, it's almost impossible to keep Google from tracking you via one of its products (Google Adsense, for example, is used right here on your OWN web site, and it's also a tracker). Using gmail is also a SERIOUS privacy-buster.

Google is probably the single biggest online offender, but that's not just because it likes to collect data but also because it's popular and offers up a very broad range of products.

There's little point in avoiding using the admittedly excellent Google search engine if you don't take steps to avoid the other Google data collectors as well.

holysee

First thing that gets installed on every computer here is Adblock Plus.
Adblock Plus blocks annoying ads on the web. It can block other things, like tracking, as well. With more than 50 million users, it is the world's most popular browser extension. Adblock Plus is an open source project created by Wladimir Palant in 2006. Eyeo was founded in 2011 by Wladimir Palant and Till Faida to make its development sustainable.

How does Adblock Plus work?

Adblock Plus itself has no functionality, in the sense that it does not block anything until it is "told" what to do by its filter lists. These filter lists are essentially an extensive set of rules, which tell Adblock Plus which elements of websites to block. Besides blocking advertisements, filter lists can also be used to block tracking and malware.

SamAdams

Those of you using the Firefox browser (which, by the way, has some excellent built-in privacy protections in and of itself, along with a boatload of extensions to further enhance privacy) might also consider Ghostery. It blocks "invisible" trackers, and yes, it's customizable to permit any you might actually choose to allow to follow you.