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  • Writer's pictureBurton Kelso, Tech Expert

How to Prevent Social Media & Search Engine Companies from Spying On You and Keeping You Addicted

If you haven't seen Netflix 'The Social Dilemma ', you need to take 90 minutes of your time to check out this eye-opening documentary. It breaks down what I have been sharing with you for the past couple of years of how companies like Facebook and Google are attempting to turn you into products. They do this by gathering your personal information to sell to advertisers in an attempt to help them direct the right services and products to you. The documentary also talks about the addictive nature of Internet-based software that it designed to keep you plugged in. This may not bother some of you, but if you're concerned about how social media and search engine companies are using your information, here are some useful tips to help you hide your online identity.

1. Become a Cyber Liar.  When it comes to online forms, social media, and email accounts, you don't always have to tell the truth. Your social media accounts give out important details that allow social media companies to build a profile about you which allows them to target you with appropriate advertisement and social media content. Create an alias ... or several for yourself when you're online to keep your identity safe and secure.

2.  Delay the introduction of technology to your kids as long as you can or avoid it altogether.  Modern technology and apps are designed to be addictive and young minds can't handle this.  If you've ever struggled to get your kids off games like Fortnite, Roblox .etc, or have kids that are endlessly posting on social media ... it's designed to keep them engaged.  Too much exposure to addictive Internet apps can disrupt your kids brain patterns and can cause things like irritability, mood swings, sleeplessness, and depression. Most tech industry experts don't even allow their kids to use technology at all. If you have to, the right age is 16 - 17. If you use technology for education, only allow your kids to use educational apps and avoid games ... period.

3. Turn off app notifications on your smart devices and avoid 'suggested' content. Notifications are a great way to keep you informed with what's going on in your world, but they are also used to keep you plugged into social media and keep on your devices. Do you really need to know every time someone sends you an email or when you're tagged in a social media post? Turn off notifications for everything except those most important things such as your smart home devices. Also, avoid clicking on suggested content on social media and YouTube. It seems pretty handy when a suggested ad or video appears on your screen, but as the popular Star Wars meme states 'It a Trap'. Those suggested items that appear are designed to keep you plugged into your devices as the algorithm built into social media and search engines are forever trying to figure out what content will keep you engaged on your devices.

4. Surf the Internet anonymously. Know those ads that pop up on social media just after you've searched for the same thing on your browser?  That information comes from your browser's cookies. Cookies are small files that web sites leave on your computer to enhance your experience when you look at a web site. They can't spread viruses, but they can be used by web sites to see what other web sites you've visited. Using 'incognito mode' or 'inprivate mode' in Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Apple Safari will prevent web sites from grabbing your cookies from your devices to see where you’ve been. Also, use a VPN when you can to keep your location secret.  A VPN which stands for virtual private network will mask your location on the web by creating a tunnel that doesn't allow search engine companies to see what sites you're visiting on the web.  If you didn't know, there's a free VPN into Firefox and Opera. 

5. Don't Use Google, Bing, or Yahoo for web searches. When it comes to looking for information on the web, you probably start with Google and if you don't have any luck there, you turn to Yahoo or Bing. The problem with using these three is they are all guilty of collecting your search information to help deliver targeted ads to you. This means when you do a search, the results you get are tailored to what it thinks you want, not just general information. It becomes worse when you're logged into your Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo email accounts because you probably have entered personal information like home address, birth date, and phone numbers. Wha's worse, these search engines can track you based on your IP address and GPS location supplied by the device you are searching from. To avoid being tracked, use the search engine DuckDuckGo which gives you gives you organic search results and doesn't collect your personal data.

6. Fact Check the information you read online. One of the other problems occurring on social media is that it is being used to share false information. Companies are taking advantage of the advertising model online to pay for advertising content and setting up fake accounts that are designed to misinform you and your friends and family. When you see a new article or even a shared post from an account, check at least three news sources to verify the information you read online is in fact true. You can also use Snopes ( or FactCheck (

7. Take a break and unplug on a regular basis. One of my favorite quotes is 'Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes ... including you". Don't become so engaged in technology that you and your family can't put it down immediately. Create a day (or days) where you and your family collectively disconnect from technology. By making changes to your internet habits, your smart devices, and online accounts, you can minimize access to your personal data as well as protect your privacy from search engines and social media companies that want to share your information.

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