Google isn't free. Somebody has to pay for your Gmail account. And YouTube. And Google Maps ...
And that somebody is an advertiser. Advertisers will pay top dollar for a targeted audience; someone whose likes and dislikes they already know. Google can collect piles of information about your "preferences" and market that information to eager advertisers. So when it comes to Google, you are not the customer. You are the product.
Most people seem comfortable with that simple capitalistic exchange. But others just find it creepy. So what can you do if you don't want to contribute data to the Google collective? Here are some options:
Don't Use Google
Seriously. If your're really worried about Big Brother Google, you do have options. You should check the privacy policies of any online service you select, but here are two examples of privacy friendly search engines and services you may want to investigate:
Ixquick queries several search engines simultaneously. When you leave the results page to follow a link, you can go directly to the new page or let Ixquick proxy in for you. Choosing this option will slow down your browsing slightly, but the page will be loaded through Ixquick's servers, and you will remain invisible.
But what to do if you are really hooked on Google's search results? Startpage, Ixquick's sister website, allows you to search Google anonymously.
Much like Ixquick's proxy feature, Startpage will query Google with your search terms and load the results through their own servers. You get the results without giving up your identity to the sites you visit.
Of course, Startpage results will not be tailored to your preferences. But that's the point. For instance, during the 2012 election season I searched "GOP primary" through both Startpage and Google. The Startpage results returned articles from relevant news sources. The direct Google results also included results from blogs I frequent.
Read the New Policy
Don't Sign In
Creating a Google account and signing in when you search, browse YouTube, etc. will personalize your search results. But you don't have to sign in unless you're using Gmail, Docs or any other service that is personalized by definition. If you don't sign in, Google can still collect data from the computer you use, but won't be able to tie that data to an individual user.
Clear Your Browsing History
Hit Ctrl + H while logged into your Google account. The History window will open and give you the option to "Clear all browsing data ..."
If Google Chrome is your browser of choice, you don't have to record browsing history at all. According to Google, when you browse in incognito mode:
- Webpages that you open and files downloaded while you are incognito aren't recorded in your browsing and download histories.
- All new cookies are deleted after you close all incognito windows that you've opened.
- Changes made to your Google Chrome bookmarks and general settings while in incognito mode are always saved.
To open an incognito window hit Ctrl + Shift + N while browsing with Chrome.
Adjust Your Privacy Settings
While signed into Google, click on your screen name and select "Privacy." This will take you to a screen from which you can adjust your settings for all Google products.
You're Living in Your Own Private Google
So there you have it. Whether you choose an alternate search engine or just ratchet down your privacy settings, you can still surf the web in private.