Data has been characterized to be the “new gold”. Just like gold itself, it carries immense value when mined and refined. Big data has been a huge development in the tech industry in the past couple of years and companies have been harnessing a wealth of data, using it to improve their growth organically and personalize user preferences. User data is bound to have enormous impacts on global industries in the next couple of years.
Tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Uber are obviously in the game of mining data using their respective applications. It is pertinent to note that data in its raw form isn’t valuable because it is everywhere.
However, the means taken to refine and process these data, just like what these stakeholders do, is what makes it valuable. Data, therefore, isn’t exactly the ‘new gold’, refined data is.
What do Search Engines know about us?
Taking the top three search engines into consideration – Bing, Google, and Yahoo, no other digital service can be said to have as much access to users’ data as they do. As advantageous as these search engines are, given that they help us find information that we seek rather quickly and in an organized fashion, we unknowingly give them as much data about us as we can while making use of them.
Apart from being search engines that return results to search queries, these corporations are no more than portals that collect user data. These engines log search queries, the number of times these queries are refined, the results clicked on, the device’s IP address, and a whole lot of other data from the user of the service.
The collection of these data – when analyzed and visualized, creates a ‘user map’ which summarizes the user’s personality based on the person’s browsing behavior. These maps are then sold to advertisers and ad agencies for huge sums of money who then load your browsing experience with targeted ads.
The Captain of the Industry- Google
There can be only one Captain when it comes to the search engine game and that is, without doubt, Google. Google stores data that is the capacity of about 30 million PCs all gathered from its 7 different products having at least one billion users. These services have their privacy policies and notify users on ways to reduce how much of their data is collected by them. However, the average internet user is only concerned about what he/she seeks and would only go through this in a glance and accept the terms stated in the policy without a full understanding of what they mean.
The issue with all these goes beyond the fact that users’ data are being collected without any regard for privacy and then sold off to advertisers who then bombard users with ads. The fact that no system is hack-proof and can guarantee the security of these data is another issue. Google has a better record than other companies when it comes to data security but the truth remains that they are still not 100% immune to hacks. After all, Google+ had to shut down after a major data leak.
Among other issues, the fact that all Google services which are potentially used by internet users are all linked to one account is a cause for concern. This means that users can be tracked from any direction and a breach into this account grants access to every Google service used by the consumer.
What can be done?
Although many internet users are aware of the fact that search engines mine our data and sell them off, they do not know the countermeasures they can take. An effective method is to install security software such as a VPN browser extension. The way a VPN works is by creating a private network for your device and preventing websites from knowing your true IP address and location.
Another useful measure would be to modify your browser’s privacy settings. For example, on Google Chrome, you can enable safe browsing, disable location tracking, and limit cookies. Make sure you tweak the settings for a more private experience.
How About Private Search Engines?
Apart from the measures mentioned above, many users choose to use browsers that prioritize privacy. Although they may not be household names, these search engines definitely do the job of keeping your data safe by employing a ‘no-log’ policy on user data and particularly search queries.
Some of these search engines, StartPage and DuckDuckGo actually started out as regular search engines. When they realized the emerging privacy concerns among internet users, they decided to employ a different approach and disrupt the search engine in a unique way. Here are some private search engines and the perks they offer:
- StartPage: StartPage obtains a large portion of its results from Google and is best for users who want to get information from Google without having to give off their data. StartPage includes HTTPS support, URL generator which removes the needs for cookies and uses a proxy service for IP masking.
- Search Encrypt: This search engine encrypts searches using SSL encryption and uses it to obtain results of queries from its search partners. After a while, these search queries expire therefore conserving your privacy.
Choose your browser wisely and make sure you get the security tools you need. Stay private and happy browsing!