And how to reduce your profile

Nearly everything we do online leaves a trail of data

Like many people who have taken a sudden interest in their digital privacy, you may be quite startled by what they know about you.

Google

Let's start by listing all the Alphabet-owned services you might use: Google Docs, YouTube, Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Photos, Contacts, Translate, Chrome, Maps, Wallet, and, of course, the Google  search-engine.

Depending on your settings a visit to myactivity.google.com can bring the company’s background tracking into the foreground: every search query you've ever run, most of the websites you've visited, and almost every literal step you've taken.

Also do the Google Privacy Checkup to view (and change) your default settings for logging and sharing. For example: “Let people with your phone number find and connect with you on Google services, such as video chats.” Having my phone number means you get to interrupt me with your face whenever you want: disable.

YouTube is default set to automatically show videos you have liked and channels I subscribed to: disable. Google is default set to share your photos and likes and restaurant reviews: disable.

There is also a section for advertising settings, the list of topics Google thinks you're interested in— there’s no way for me to know why Google thinks what it thinks. Then, what about information-sharing with the “2 million websites and apps that partner with Google to show ads.”

To its credit, Google offers a centralised and relatively user-friendly page to view and control your account. The breadth of the data collection is unnerving, whatever the control you may have over it.

That was a practice-run: time to get heavy ...

Facebook

Thanks to a Google Chrome browser extension called What Facebook Thinks You Like you can decide whether to Obscure the Real Me with misleading signals. Like Google, Facebook has a settings page from where you can view and adjust your security and privacy settings. Also look at the “Apps and Websites” and “Ads” settings, which are not listed in a way that suggests they are related to security and privacy, even though they obviously are.

You may want to go through all the apps you have authorised for Facebook to give your events, uploaded or tagged in photos, religious and political views, hometown, current city, videos, website URL, and the content and member list of the Facebook groups you manage, and your relationship status -- and  removed the hundreds of them that have accrued there.

You may want to download your data from an easy-to-miss link on the settings page [ here];

  • delete your search history;
  • turn the sharing defaults from “public” to “friends” or “just me” on just about everything;
  • and all the contact details for the people you have unwittingly uploaded [ here ].

Knowing all this, it’s hard to take seriously the man who in March 2018 testified before the U.S. Congress and then posted this on, yes, Facebook: “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.”