Since Nikita expounded a bit on a related subject yesterday, I thought it was time we had a chat about privacy. Specifically, online privacy.

Now I know this is a subject many people still have issues coming to terms with. Me, I’ve been online for nearly 30 years now. I’ve been a fierce proponent of digital privacy for a very long time. I killed my Facebook account very early, and when I told people it was out of privacy concerns, they were all, what do you have to hide? Which misses the point completely.

I no longer use Twitter. Or LinkedIn. My email client is encrypted. I use VPNs extensively. Because over the years, big tech has assiduously monetised every aspect of your (online) persona by selling your data to the highest and lowest bidders. Ever discussed lunch with someone only to see an ad for Zomato on Instagram? Search for a house only to be deja vu’d by cozy house with an amazing view on every website you visit? Here’s something you can try: Open your Instagram app (I know you have it installed) and talk about, I don’t know, maybe chocolate. Then write to me with what you see on Instagram the next day.

As bad as it is, this data selling is not the biggest issue I have with the invasion of privacy. That honor goes to the misinformation bubble that the two largest ad networks of the world create by tracking you. Which ad networks, you ask? Facebook (including all Facebook services) and Google (including all Google services and the Chrome browser).

What? You thought Facebook ran a social network? No. It runs an ad network. You are the product it sells on that network. Nothing comes for free.

And that is what Google does too. What did you search for today? I dunno. But Google knew what you were going to search for before you did. Your browsing patterns inform Google’s auto completes in the search box. Google also knows where you went yesterday. And what colour clothes you like. And who your favourite musician is. And a whole lot more. And not because you explicitly tell Google all of this but because Google is the big daddy stalker of the online world.

And when you use Google to search, Google builds a profile of you, including your device and browser and network information which Google then uses to personalise your search results. Over time, what you see is only what Google wants you to see, not necessarily search results that are true or objective. And this is how people get radicalised online. They see one link they click on which says Godse is God, and then Google only shows them similar links, and after 3 weeks of searching, they believe Godse is God because hey, Google says so. This is doubly true if you use Google Chrome to browse. And triply true if you’re signed into Google while searching/browsing/watching.

Wow, this has been one long post rant and I haven’t even gotten to Just One Thing.

So, without much ado, let me introduce you to DuckDuckGo. This, good people of the world, is what a search engine looks like. Completely private. It doesn’t track you or build a profile for you. So you always see authentic search results, no matter what you search for. And if your job involves online research, you can always rely on DuckDuckGo to give you the most relevant results for your search, not your personality.

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for nearly 8 years now, and I vouch for the quality of search results. Plus, it’s easy enough to search on Google or Bing (if you’re Satya Nadella) or any other search engine for the odd occasion when you need to find something.

Admittedly, DuckDuckGo is still a work in progress and doesn’t yet have the bells and whistles Google does. And yes, it does have ads. But the ads are not personalised. And the bells and whistles… they’ve been slowly building them in too. Although, I will gladly trade not being able to add 2+2 in search for not having some random stranger in Jamtara calling me for my credit card details.

The only feature I still use on Google anymore is Google News. Because it makes catching up on news easy. Except for life sciences news. For that, I have The Kable. But whenever DuckDuckGo builds out its news service, for me, it will be the final nail in the Google coffin.

Thanks for reading all of this. And yes, please get off Google. Please delete Facebook. Make the world a better place.



PS: It’s unlikely you know someone who cares about online privacy. Because if you do, then they are not private. But send this to everyone you know anyway so they can begin their privacy journey. And discover Just One Thing.