Invasion of the Privacy Snatchers

Holly Deyo, Contributing Writer

In light of repeated privacy invasions from Google, many of you have asked for direction. What do I replace Google and other major search engines with? A good number of people have already opted out of their services. Additionally, we have long advised people not to become ensnared by social media like Facebook, Twitter and the like. It’s not as though any of us have things to hide, but Google’s tracking and information sharing, along with Bing, Lycos, Yahoo, AOL, and others is untenable.

Busted

For a decade now, Stan and I noticed that we could make a Net search for say, pressure cookers. In mere hours after the Google search, we’d get emails advertising pressure cookers. Some of the searches were so obscure it couldn’t be fobbed off to coincidence.

This became really obvious a month ago when I had visited the Sofft shoe site – just for a minute – to see what was new for Spring. Imagine my surprise when the very shoes I’d clicked on appeared on the right side of various news pages. Then I checked out some books and viola! Ads for those exact books replaced the shoes.

This happened when using Safari’s browser, but not Firefox.

Just this morning, it was revealed that Google, Facebook and others were bypassing Safari’s web settings to spy on users for advertising purposes. Google has reportedly deleted this intrusive code. One thing that is apparent, as soon as one privacy hole is plugged another one pops up. For Firefox users wanting more information, visit Do Not Track dnt.mozilla.org/

Leaky Email

Sidecar: It is shocking that people still send credit card information through email. This begs for identity theft. For any email, regardless of your provider, always assume that it’s open for all to read. Once the send button is hit, before it reaches destination it makes many “hops” through forwarding computers. As many as 25 to 30 hops is common. At each hop, your entire message can be read. This is not just done by employers checking on staff, or gov’t agencies searching emails using trigger words. Anyone stationed at these computers can have access. So before you hit Send, read your email again. Read it like through the eyes of a stranger. Did you really want “that” publicized?

All email services check your email to filter spam and detect viruses, etc. This is the good side of email scanning. However, lack of privacy is the price we pay. Gmail admits it keeps multiple copies of your email – even if you’ve deleted them – “so that we can recover messages and restore accounts in case of errors or system failure”.1 Some might view this statement as a convenience excuse.

For those using Google’s Gmail you should be doubly concerned and get a new mail server today.

Start with Starting Page

We are aware of only two search engines that grant total privacy: Starting Page startingpage.com/ and Gibiru gibiru.com. Gibiru was just brought to my attention last night and I haven’t had time to explore it thoroughly. It offers many more options than Starting Page such as News, Category searches and Alerts, but search results are much more limited. Gibiru appears to have come online just last year so maybe it will improve with time. Not sure what’s up with their New Age looking logo, but as time permits, I’ll give it a more intensive run through.

Like everything, Starting Page has pros and cons. First, the good.

Starting Page (SP) never mines or collects your personal data, or your IP address or tracks your searches or attaches cookies. SP is “Google Enhanced”, which means when you do a search, they strip off all identifying info before submitting your request. It lets you do a “clean” search and Google’s none the wiser.

Now the negatives. Google is without debate the big gorilla of Internet searches. It offers a lot of enticing options like Google Earth, Alerts, Translate, Maps, Documents, YouTube and a bunch more. 

SP has just 3 features: Web, Images and Videos. The three I miss most are Google News, Alerts and Translate.

As an author, researcher and webmaster with more work than hours every day, I don’t have time to wade through pages and pages of search results sorting blogs, BS, web pages and shopping sites from important news.

Last weekend I wrote Katherine Albrecht who is a privacy expert, author, radio host, and a force that helped develop Starting Page. If the name sounds familiar, Katherine is a regular guest of Coast To Coast AM talk radio and author of bestseller Spychips, among other books. 

I asked Katherine if she could have her IT guys add a news only search filter. She was most gracious in her response, but it was hugely unsatisfying. Her suggestion was to click the “Past 24 hours” link. It still doesn’t produce only news. You still get wads of extraneous results. For those of you with time to spare this might be acceptable.

When setting Starting Page preferences under MY SETTINGS, be sure to check Enable for Secure Socket Layer (SSL) / HTTPS. This gives you a secure connection and prevents ISPs from snooping. The URL will then look like this: https://startingpage.com/eng/ – assuming you’ve set your preferences for English. Just like when shopping online the “s” after the http means it’s a secure site.

As a compromise, for news, I’ll likely continue to use Google. For ANYthing personal, it will be Starting Page for now.

“Must Do’s”

As soon as news search work is finished for the day, I’ll clear the Google search history. Google does not make finding this page easy so here’s the direct link with instructions how to do it: support.google.com/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=465.

Once there, you’ll want to clear 3 things:

  • Search History
  • Toolbar Search History and
  • Web History
You can also utilize Google’s Search Personalization Opt-out:
google.com/support/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=54048
Pretty soon we’ll all have to weigh privacy concerns vs. the inconveniences just mentioned. However, Starting Page and possibly Gibiru are not only the best means to combat invasive, snoopy search engines – and government – they are your only options. 

Holly Deyo is a writer and researcher who has produced books including Garden Gold and Dare to Prepare!  Her website Milliennium-Ark is a must-read to keep up to date on news from around the web on a wide variety of topics.


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