The Internet giants all want your data. They use it to tailor their services to you — and to extract more money from advertisers. After all, if users are shown personalized ads, they are more likely to get interested and buy what’s on offer. And the
more is known about your interests, the more power it gives to entice you.
Big Tech companies scoop up your data through the myriad services they provide. Navigation apps and maps reveal where you are. Your browser search history, and the search engine itself, are a treasure trove of facts about your likes and hobbies. And
voice assistants like Siri and Alice may even know your shopping lists!
Resisting this mass espionage is close to futile: some data you cannot conceal at all, and other types only by giving up certain services (and hence conveniences). However, you should try to strike the right balance between comfort and privacy, and
not reveal too much in any case.
Let’s start with Google and Yandex accounts. Their settings have a lot in common, so first we will talk about general principles, and then touch on specific options for each.
The companies ask you to fill out a profile in as much detail as possible. But keep in mind that sharing your place of work is not mandatory, and neither is a profile picture. As long as you don’t plan to use these accounts to search for old friends,
most of the fields can be safely left blank.
Maps, navigator, traffic jams, transport
These services request access to your location and prompt to save addresses that you enter, for example, when working out a route. If you agree, Google and Yandex (as well as advertisers) will find out your favorite routes, restaurants, movie theaters,
and even holiday destinations.
If you do not want to disclose where you live and where you travel, you can prohibit the services from storing this information and using it to show personalized ads. On some devices, you can also make the location data unaccessible for the app when
it’s not in use. Just remember that in this case you will have to enter addresses in full or rely on the search history — it will not be possible to select a route from the list. It is not worth permanently blocking access for the navigator or
maps, since the app will be all but useless. What to prioritize is up to you.
If you do not want the company to track your searches, you can revoke this permission in the account settings (if not “tracking”, it might be called, say, “history”), and clear the search history. This will make repeat searches more time-consuming,
but also make it harder for advertisers to pinpoint your interests.
Voice queries typically contain more information than regular text searches: there is background noise and chatter, and in the company of a good interlocutor like Alice, some users wag their tongue too much. Given the complexities of decoding natural
language queries, human involvement in fine-tuning the process is inevitable, and this could be a source of data leakage.
Sure, all information is depersonalized before being handed over to human employees. But you yourself might casually mention names, addresses, and other identifying information. So before striking up a conversation with your beloved voice assistant,
think carefully about what you are going to say, and what’s rather be left unspoken.
Being able to store files on a virtual disk on the server of a large company and open them from any device is very handy. However, there have been cases when the contents of files on Google Drive ended up in other people’s search results. So it is
better not to store documents on cloud-based drives if they contain anything private.
Note that although a single account for all services is a convenient solution, if an attacker gets hold of the password to it, they will get the key to all your data, including that stored in the cloud. Therefore, to keep your account safe, be sure
to use a complex password and two-factor authentication.
All Google privacy settings are best configured using the Privacy Checkup feature. This tool describes in detail what exactly you can disable and what the side effects will be.
If you log into a service (for example, Gmail) in the browser, Google itself will sometimes suggest that you do this checkup. You can run it yourself from the account management page that opens by clicking your avatar and the Manage your Google Account
button in any application.
Things here are slightly less user-friendly. Most privacy settings are stored in the so-called user passport; however, some options are configurable only in specific services. For example, the visibility of your interests list in Yandex.Zen cannot
be configured in general settings section; for this, you need to edit the privacy options of the service itself.
Yandex also has some unique services that at first glance are not connected with your main profile. For example, Yandex.Food does not require an email address for registration, rather a phone number. But if you specified a number in your main profile,
linking the accounts will be a piece of cake. If you do not want Yandex and its advertiser clients to find out about your gastronomic preferences, you can use a different phone number for registration.
In setting up your account, pay attention not only to privacy, but also security. Check the list of bank cards attached to the Yandex.Taxi and Yandex.Market services and delete anything unnecessary. For such services, as well as for online purchases
in general, it is advisable to use a separate card that never has excess funds on it.
How can you use a voice assistant without spilling confidential data?