Is Online Privacy Even a Thing Anymore?

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Quick answer: not really. In today’s Internet embedded world, it’s literally amazing (in the original definition and sense of the word) what can be known about you. If you’re a small business owner, you’re probably in a bit of a “middle of the fence” zone on the issue… on one hand, you’re a person. Likely a person who doesn’t like other people knowing everything about your personal life. On the other hand, you run a business, one that needs to make money, and one good way of making money is to learn as much as possible about your potential customers.

At this point, most people take it for granted that your browser history (search results, site cookies, etc.) are commercially used data about you. (It’s even been in recent news.) We’ve taken the deal that lets us use Facebook, Google, and other ubiquitous products for free, in exchange for allowing them to monetize our data. However, even if you’re the type of person who doesn’t care about this because you “don’t have anything to hide”, there are some downsides you may not have realized. For example, if you try to book a hotel room or rent a car online, you may have noticed that by visiting the same handful of sites over a few days while comparing prices that those prices start increasing pretty visibly. This is because they are tracking your visits and ramping up the pressure to get you to pull the trigger. (While not directly related the main point of this article, the rabbit hole goes a lot further down… if you want some reason to lose a bit of sleep, check out an episode of the Note to Self podcast: Is My Phone Eavesdropping On Me?)

We may be well past the point where we can actually have full control over our personal information, but you can do some things to push back. The easiest example would be learning how to clear your browser’s cache and history, and changing it’s settings. Some browsers (such as Google’s Chrome) even have “privacy” modes (in Chrome’s case called “incognito”) that can help you with this. When booking a room, car, or flight online, you may even want to use multiple browsers, jumping back and forth between them, to help ensure you snag the lowest price.

If you’ve never used any browser other than what “came with your computer”… don’t worry, it’s not hard to install a new one. They are free, and can be installed pretty easily. Here’s some of the best options:

Read more about locking down Chrome here: howtogeek.com/100361/how-to-optimize-google-chrome-for-maximum-privacy

Read more about enabling browser privacy in multiple browsers here: howtogeek.com/269265/how-to-enable-private-browsing-on-any-web-browser

If you’re a little more hands-on, you may want to download and use the Tor browser, which was built for privacy. You can get it here: torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html.en

To quickly think about this from the other side of the fence… if you’re in a position of being able to collect and use information on your customers, try to keep a sympathetic perspective about it. It’s my opinion that you can impress them by being transparent and respectful in how you use any of their information, which can translate into business profit and growth in the long run. If you did want to use their information to more accurately target ads, for example, you can find ways of communicating to them honestly using humor and framing it in a way that highlights a benefit to them.

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