(Disclaimer: If you’re under the age of 12 and are reading this, no matter what anyone says, Santa Claus is real)
All naughty kids get a lump of coal for Christmas but all good kids get gifts from their wishlists.
Everyone knows that.
On the Internet, the tables are turned, like the dystopian inverted entropy of Tenet.
Here, if you’re good (in the way the tech czars want you to be), you’re the one getting lumps of coal – not just for Christmas, but, every day.
You see, on the Internet, you’re not a person. You’re a data point. A small player in a grand A/B testing experiment of an intricate user journey.
Are you browsing for flight tickets to Hawaii? You’re shown ads of the hotels that paid the most money for those ads – not necessarily in your best interests.
Are you looking to buy that new 4K TV? Your YouTube ads are now ads of 4K televisions to help sway your decision, instead of helping you make an informed decision
Are you looking to buy insurance? Companies pay $60 per click, just be at the top when you search for ‘buy insurance’. Does the search engine serve you better or the advertiser?
It does because it happens on a massive scale and pervades all aspects of our digital lives. So much so that a growing number of people (technologists, mind you) believe that our gadgets are listening to our conversations and using that data to serve us more personalized ads.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg uses scotch tape to cover his webcam to protect his privacy.
Meanwhile, his company served as the vehicle for reducing us users suckers into a whopping total of 700 data points to
serve us _content_, not ads that shaped our opinions by locking us in our own personal echo chambers.
Thus, if you engaged with ‘immigrants-are-our-enemies’ kinda posts, Facebook (and to a significant extent, Twitter) served you more such content with a broken fact-checking mechanism.
How can You Stop Being a Data Point and Reclaim your Humanity?
At a holistic level, we need to take responsibility for our interaction with the Internet as an entity.
Just as banning alcohol could not prevent alcoholism, logging out of ‘The Grid’ is not the answer. The Internet is still largely a useful tool with fringe ill-effects.
You can start by using privacy-friendly tools for your interactions with the Internet. Some such tools are:
Brave Browser – Replace Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge (R.I.P Internet Explorer) with the Brave Browser. It is open-sourced and blocks all website trackers and ads served on websites. The look and feel is similar to that of Chrome so that the learning curve is negligible. Download it here.
Proton Mail – Developed by CERN scientists in 2014, it has amassed over 10 million users since then. Using client-side encryption, it anonymizes your data before it hits their servers (which are located outside the US and the EU jurisdictions). This is in stark contrast to email services like Gmail that have robots reading your email for advertising purposes. Sign Up here.
DuckDuckGo – By not storing IP addresses, not logging user information, and suppressing low-quality content from search results, it is miles ahead of Google when it comes to privacy-friendliness. Try it out here.