September 15, 2020


Google really loves it when you use their Google Chrome browser as the default across your devices. When you tie your devices together in this fashion it is much easier for ad revenue dependent companies to glean and scrape every scrap of information they can about your life. When I mention this to people, particularly Android users, I’m reminded they have nothing to hide and besides the other options are too expensive, slow, and don’t provide the same convenience.

Back in the 80s and 90s a certain segment of the population would become surly when asked for their phone number when making a purchase at Radio Shack. Heck, back in the day department stores would do some rudimentary marketing by asking for your five-digit zip code at the checkout. I remember more than one occasion where a person in line ahead of me would refer to give it because apparently they didn’t want the department store to know they were from the village with a population of 2500.

Look, I know what I do online leaves traces for others to query. Consumer tracking is an unfortunate reality of using the Internet, especially in the United States. Using the same (non-Gmail) email address for over two decades has tied my information together in ways I can’t even imagine. But what happens when the ad companies start talking to one another and your email address is tied to your Google searches? What if, and this is not outside the realm of possibility at all, a cashier were to enter your email address at a Point of Sale terminal in your neighborhood market and then suddenly recommend an ointment for the skin rash you had last week? Would that make you comfortable?

We like to think Google gives the best search results to our queries because it skews the results to our tailored interests. If Google thinks you’re a conservative, if you might see results for “climate change” that point you to a right-leaning beliefs or even conspiracy sites. Lean the other way and your results could lead you to a protest in your community.

This is why I try to use DuckDuckGo for all of my searches and why I have also defaulted to the service as my preferred search engine on all my devices. A quick side bar: it’s interesting to me that Apple touts its privacy practices front and center on the majority of their marketing but they elect to set Google as the default search engine on both iOS and MacOS. How’s the cooperative revenue opportunity working for the two tech giants?

In iOS and iPadOS, if you want to change your search engine, go to the Settings Panel, find Safari, and then you’ll see an option for “Search” near the top of the parameter list. There you can select a different default search engine for your web browser. In Mac OS this is available under “Settings” in Safari. In Windows 10 it’s specific to the browser you’re using, likewise for alternate browsers on iOS and Mac. Linux users already know how to change it.

We can all co-exist on the Internet without giving companies, and perhaps other bad actors, the entirety of our lives. As human beings we have a right to privacy.

In the Digital Age we have to work a little harder for it.