Last year, for the first time in my life – as well as the last – I looked up Christina Perri in Google search from my mobile phone. I was intrigued by Perri because someone mentioned her to me in a conversation, and I wanted to know more. I knew my Rolling Stones but not Perri. I searched, looked at a few of her songs, read about her on her Wikipedia page and then closed the Chrome tab.
That was all.
Since then, Google has kept on sending me alerts related to Christina Perri on my mobile phone.
News about her appears in my Google Now news feed.
Just a few days ago, when Perri released Carmella: Lullabies & Sing-a-Longs, Google sent me an alert about it. All because once, for some 10-odd minutes or even less, I typed ‘Christina Perri’ into Google search.
I do have the option to go into my Google search History and delete this particular query – but that is not the point.
Is Google tracking your every move on the web and beyond? (Photo: Reuters)
The point is, nowadays every click you make is monitored by the big Silicon Valley corporations. Every article you read, every tweet you like, every profile search you make on Facebook, every smiley you add to a post, every website you visit, whatever you search on Google, every place you visit with a smartphone is in your pocket – a restaurant you go to, a house you spend your night at, every office space you go for work, every route that your Uber ride takes, every item you order on a food app, every profile you swipe right or left on Tinder, every book you buy on Kindle, every book you leave midway on Kindle, every question you ask Google Home, all of that and more is recorded, analysed and used by tech companies for this purpose or that.
Each and every move you make on the web then affects what you do on it after. Even if you make a mistake or because curiosity got the better of you – like watching a YouTube video on “Are UFOs real” results in you getting a tag, you getting branded as someone who likes this particular thing, or that. Next time you visit YouTube again, you will see more such UFO videos. You don’t want to, you know they are crap, but once you’re tagged, YouTube will read that tag every time you log onto the site.
Of course, none of this is new.
People who cover personal technology like I do know very well the deep and pervasive tracking that tech companies employ. This is the reason why around four years ago, I started changing the way I use technology. I decided to use Firefox as my main browser, and that too with the use of ad-blockers and NoScript – despite the fact that it has its own issues.
Except on my laptop – which I don’t use all that often – I do most of my web browsing in Private or Incognito mode. On my desktops or laptops, I never sign into Chrome. On mobile phones, I do, but then, I avoid browsing on mobile phones. I don’t have the Facebook app on my phone. On desktops, I open Facebook on need-basis, and in Incognito mode, so that once I close the session, it remains closed.
Each and every move you make on the web then affects what you do on it after. (Photo: Facebook)
On the computers I browse, and in the browser I am using, I avoid leaving Gmail and Facebook accounts open because when they are open, they can associate almost anything that you do on the web, even if it is in different tabs, with you.
But I slip. It’s unavoidable. It’s not possible to not share your browsing habits, what you read, where you go, where you eat, how much time you spend on what site, with technology companies, particularly Google and Facebook. If you use a smartphone, even if that happens to be the iPhone, you leave a digital trail everywhere. If you use a laptop or desktop, you invariably let tech companies see what you are doing, what your interests are.
Once, we all believed in the goodness of tech and in the promise that tech companies made to us about our privacy. But, in 2019, even the tech companies with the best intentions can do little about how their systems and algorithms track users.
This is a point that George Dyson recently made in his piece titled Childhood’s End. Dyson wrote, “There is now more code than ever, but it is increasingly difficult to find anyone who has their hands on the wheel. Individual agency is on the wane. Most of us, most of the time, are following instructions delivered to us by computers rather than the other way around… The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it is human knowledge. What began as a mapping of human meaning now defines human meaning, and has begun to control, rather than simply catalog or index, human thought.”
The internet forever remembers our every move – and uses the data to define us. (Photo: Facebook)
Now, whenever I am using the web, its search engines, its social media sites, whenever I buy something on Amazon, I have this nagging feeling that I am adding to the hive, I am recording on the web what I am doing, and the web is not only going to forever remember it but it is also going to use the information to define me, to profile me.
So, again I have started altering my use of technology.
Now, most of my Google searches are in Incognito or Private Mode. Now, I don’t post check-ins on Facebook. Now, I don’t always type on Twitter about my location. Now, I don’t like posts on Facebook, and definitely not that often on Instagram.
Now, I don’t watch any alien conspiracy videos, even by mistake, when I am logged into YouTube, and I don’t buy anything on Amazon that I don’t want Amazon to remember. Some people may call this paranoia – but it’s not. I have seen enough of technology in the last 10 years to understand that when I click something, somewhere, on the world wide web, it is recorded and it is added to the billions of clicks that we collectively make, the clicks that internet forever remembers – and now uses to define you and me.
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