The bottom line is that your data isn’t safe with Facebook or Google, and in fact, it isn’t safe with any large corporation. There’s no reason to turn over all of your personal information to a web service in the first place.
When you use large-scale social media or search engines, they collect data about you, including your search history, what you click on, who you connect to, and even metrics like your browser type and system specs. This information forms a profile of you that’s as good as a fingerprint. They use this identification to track you from one page to another. The end game is to target you with ads tailored to what they hope are your preferences.
But data held by companies can be sold to third parties, or even breached by third parties. It can be snooped on demand by governments all over the world. The best way to protect your online activity is to not give it away in the first place.
The big web companies are being hit with government controls around the world, slowly reigning them in, but they have little reason to change. Meanwhile, alternative companies have sprung up, eager to fill in the demand for less exploitative alternatives.
The best alternative model that still supports a company is to charge a fee to keep their network ad-free and your data out of the equation. Vero runs on a subscription model, currently free for sign-ups, but has plans to switch to a modest subscription fee. In the meantime, you don’t have to give up so much of your personal data and the app doesn’t track you.
Mastodon is angled more at being a Twitter competitor, but it’s just as serviceable as a drop-in Facebook replacement. It’s open-source, so there’s no question of what they’re doing with your data. They’re the first wave of a growing trend in transparent web applications.
Once the dominant social news website, it lost market to Reddit, but Digg has now rebuilt itself for the as a social news site that’s 100% anonymous. You don’t have to use your real name here and in fact don’t have to even have an account, but it lets your network with friends and share content, just like Facebook.
DuckDuckGo.com brings you the quality of the web’s top search engines, aggregated from many sources. But it does so by proxy, performing your query anonymously while serving the results free of data mining and ad targeting. It’s the “incognito mode” of search engines. It can still serve ads along with results, of course, but they still find a profitable business model without playing dirty.
HotBot is an old reliable standard of the web which has stayed in the background through the rise of Google. HotBot boasts a safer we search experience with results pruned of both data mining and potentially harmful results such as spam and malware. They have a security blog on the side that’s worth checking out too.
To put it bluntly, many web users search the web for adult subject matter. If you want to do this without having your data mined at this crucial juncture for discretion, Hot.com serves up only adult-related results while also not mining your data. It’s anonymous web searching for the kind of data you especially don’t want saved.
Alternatives For Other Tools
If you’re still trusting Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Firefox is a far safer browser with not nearly as many vulnerability to exploits. It boasts an incognito mode and far less user data snooping.
If you’re serious about security and don’t mind a few extra steps, Tor is a free and open source anonymous communication network, which encrypts your traffic coming and going, to ensure maximum privacy.