Searching for online privacy

Dit artikel verscheen origineel in het Nederlands op de website - OP ZOEK NAAR ONLINE PRIVACY
This post was originally published in Dutch on the website - OP ZOEK NAAR ONLINE PRIVACY

I have to admit, yes, I’m social addicted. Although I’m not the person who starts talking to everyone in real life. But on-line I’m networking fulltime with all means. I probably have an account on every service you can think off.

Twitter, Facebook, Google … and also Klout, Foursquare, LinkedIn and every new thing which seemed interesting for one or more reasons, but of which you don’t hear a thing anymore once you created a test account. When you’re searching for test users and I see your tweet, you’ll have my data within five minutes.

Or better, you had them.

Free is not Free

Of course, I realized a long time ago those services are free because they can exist thanks to your data. Your data is the oil which keeps their engine running. Google offers you all those user-friendly tools because they get to know you thanks to your GMails, documents in your Google Drive, your browsing history… And because of that, they can show you advertisements based on your interests so there is a bigger chance you click on them and buy … and make the Google cash flow. That’s also how Facebook knows your relation will end long before you change your status in “it’s complicated” yourself. And LinkedIn knows you’re searching for a new job, long before you request a chat with your boss.

But what applies on-line, also happens off-line. Supermarkets know you’re pregnant thanks to your card, based on your changed shopping habits, before you even tell your parents.

So we are constantly monitored and categorized, without noticing, and directed in the most affordable direction for advertisers. And yes, it can be rewarding sometimes, like a guy once told me. He starts the week with a search for a lingerie gift for his wife. And the rest of the week he gets to see advertisements for lingerie and half nude women while surfing.

You are being sold

But it’s not that bad, isn’t it? That’s also what I thought. Until I saw the talks of Aral Balkan. Years ago I saw him a first time at Multi-Mania in Kortrijk where he did a talk about user experience design and especially how bad design was used to trick users in choosing the most expensive option (Ryanair for example). Shortly after, he changed in an even more inspiring speaker, fighting for a new internet where the user becomes the owner again of this own digital identity. And he repeated that story a few months ago at WebTomorrow in Ghent.

It’s no longer only advertising we have to worry about. That whole system to get to know as much as possible about you, is to sell your identity. If you don’t pay for a service, you are the one being sold. You became the product being sold.


So I decided to rehab! I want to take back control of my online existence. was the first to fall. A service which tracks your online influence and promises gifts in return. The more followers you have, the more chance you will influence others to buy it if you talk about it. A number of times a free party was organized in Belgium for people with a high Klout score, but that was all the rewards I have seen. Oh yes, and free visiting cards… if you paid for the shipping from the USA. So dump it and at the same time the stress was gone to loose Klout points when there was nothing to blog or tweet for a few days.

Foursquare and Swarm? Perfect to know how long our studying nephew spend in the pub, but who is really interested where I drink my coffee and go shopping? Had to search for it, but found it: “Delete my account”!

My Google e-mail account? From now on all my mails are forwarded to my own domain and everyone gets my new address in the future. Also stopped using Google Calendar and switch completely to my work calendar. Makes it even easier to only have one place for work and private. Google search is replaced by, because it doesn’t track your history and even works better because it doesn’t send you to the same sites over and over again because you click already I few times on them.

Many others to go! There are a lot of services I need and good alternatives are not available (yet). Twitter for instance is my main source for information and news!

Grumpy old man

Did I become an old, grumpy, suspicious man? Maybe a bit. But two years after Snowden made public how the NSA and all those big internet companies work together to share our data, I found this beautiful quote of him: “Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

You want to hear the full story of Aral? Take a coffee, watch his talk and feel very uncomfortable…