When it comes to search engines, the majority of us pick Google as our trusted way of browsing the web. After all, it’s reliable, and it has many features that can make our online experience as easy as possible. But Google has a few dark secrets, and one of them being that it collects information about the people who use it.
This makes sense. After all, most free services cost nothing because the users are the product. Facebook is the epitome of this. These multi-billion corporations aren’t running on charity, so they data collect information about you.
So much buzz lately has focused on so called spy software. It seems like everyone has an opinion and is worried about the rise in these apps that can track your mobile devices and see private data.
The thing is that with this kind of monitoring the software has to be installed directly on the target phone or computer – so someone has to actively target you! Reflex Software has a couple of good articles about the top spy phone software programs – have a look to see what I’m talking about.
Google doesn’t target people individually in this way but it is arguably just as intrusive and much more of a broad net.
Of course, for Google to know information about you, you have to use Google and type in the information. What do they know about you? Is there any reason for you to be paranoid, or is everything in good hands?
A business has to figure out everything about their target customers if they want to succeed, and Google does exactly that. Your age, sex, location, all of that is important. A business that appeals to senior citizens isn’t going to care what the youth is up to, and newspapers will offer stories that only their readers will care about, important or not.
For the UK, for instance, there’s a newspaper known as The Sun that has an audience of about six million. Over a third of them are the key demographic, known as ABC1. These are people who have high paying jobs, and it’s great for potential advertisements. This is why Google does what it does. It needs to make ads to suit you, so you can be interested in what you have to offer.
If you have a Google account and have your web history turned on, this is how you’re a target. All your searches, no matter the device, will be monitored. While Google accounts are important, they don’t need it to know everything about you. Your computer does store information known as cookies, which chronicle what sites you go to so that it can grab data when you return to that site. Cookies can help websites who only allow a certain number of services per day to see how many you’ve used up.
Google will harness this data in order to figure you out. It looks at your sites and how long you waste your time on them, which links you click the most, how long you stay on the page, and much more. Your most visited websites will be shown every time you open Chrome as well.
They do this so they can advertise to you. While it’s nifty seeing personalized ads, they do this so they can make more money from you.
We all have used Google Earth and saw our home, but this doesn’t mean Google Earth knows you live in there. Instead, they know your location with your IP address. You should be familiar with your IP, but if you’re not, it’s basically a number that is sent from your ISP to see whatever device you use to go online. Google can track down the exact location where you’re surfing as a result, and give you results that are closer to where you live.
Google Maps can look at your location as well, if you tell it to. If you select My Location, it will detect where you are in order to give you directions from your location to wherever it is you need to go. It’s convenient, but it may be a privacy concern for some.
Gmail can scan every single one of your emails to give you better search results as well as ads. You may question the legality of this, but you’re using their services, and thus you’ve agreed to their rules. While you may have not read the terms and conditions, is says so right in them that:
Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.
It’s not kept safe inside their servers, however, the NSA can grab your information, and the UK government can as well. They do this to find terrorists, but it’s a fruitless cause, since a terrorist would use more secure service to communicate.
Did you know that some spy apps can hack your Gmail accounts without you knowing?
Google can see when the best time to advertise to be. It knows what time you’re on and what day you’re on the most, and even though this one should be obvious, many overlook it. They’ll target you based on events, such as offering you weight loss products after the holidays, and they can use trends to market to you.
Google does have an option in their settings to limit what they can sell to third parties. If you go to your account, you can use the dashboard and see what they can limit. It doesn’t stop data collection, but it will be sold less.
In addition, you can clean your cookies and change up settings on social media, and make sure you delete all personalized results. The best way to stop Google, however, is not to use it. Search engines such as Duckduckgo do not track you, and if you feel like Google has too much information about you, you can use this instead.
Of course, some people don’t mine their personal info out there, and would rather trade some of their privacy for personalized search results. This is why Google succeeds, is because they deliver what you’re looking for. Ironically enough, their entire purpose brings in the most controversy. So if you feel like you have nothing to hide, keep using Google. If you want privacy, then use another search engine.
An overwhelming majority of tech users mistakenly attribute the term “virus” to virtually any category of malicious software. In reality, a virus is only one of the various existing subsets of malicious digital menaces that exist today.
Three of the most common types of malicious software – viruses, trojans, and worms – are noticeably different in the methods that they use to attack your digital resources. All three of them fall under the umbrella-like term: malware; which is a portmanteau of “malicious software”. However, virtually all antivirus software worth mentioning will be able to rid your device of these three types of malware (if it doesn’t, it’s time to get a new antivirus program).
So what does a virus do? Well similarly to its namesake, the biological virus (which infects cells), a computer virus seeks to infect uncontaminated files. If you have an infected file on your device, once you open/run that file the virus activates and tries to infect uncontaminated files on your device.
One of the most common file types that a virus will try to attach itself to is an .exe file. These are the files that execute whenever you open a program on your computer, so the virus will activate concurrently with the program. Viruses may also seek out documents, such as Word of Excel files. These files are commonly shared with other users via USB devices, emails, etc.; this serves to prolong the lifespan of a virus and ensure that it propagates or “reproduces” onto another device.
Viruses can get a lot worse. At times they may even succeed at going further than simply attaching themselves to a file – they may completely replace it (deleting it and masquerading as it). Last but not least, they can corrupt your system by obfuscating and using up your system memory, leading to crashes and malfunctions.
So what does a worm do? Worms differ from viruses in a few ways. Firstly, they never actually need to be activated by users so that they can spread – they are standalone software. Secondly, they don’t actually try to infect files on your device, their main goal is to replicate themselves and distribute these copies.
For some worms (e.g. Mydoom) this may mean that they copy themselves and make an attempt to email themselves to your contacts. Some worms (e.g. Blaster) are more tenacious, they may abuse the weaknesses in unprotected networks by infecting connected systems that have weak firewalls that they can bypass. These worms can essentially slow a network to a standstill by creating an immense traffic load.
However, just like a virus, a worm can carry out the same malevolent activities once it breaches your system’s protections.
So what does a trojan do? Now most people are familiar with the story of the Trojan horse – the giant wooden horse that the Greeks gave to the Trojans under the guise of gift. However, it wasn’t a gift, inside the horse were Greek soldiers who facilitated the destruction of Troy once they were safely inside the gates. Trojan malware are exactly like their namesake. Trojans act like legitimate useful software; however, once they have been added to your system they open a “backdoor” and let the invaders into your system. One of the most common things that they do is add your system to a botnet so that it can be utilized to perform nefarious deeds. They can even use this connection to add other malware to your device or system. Trojans will virtually never try to spread themselves, they will instead act innocent and hide in the shadows – waiting to strike.
Sadly, this isn’t all that here is in terms of types of malware. Some other common malware types are:
This is commonly found on popular web pages, it takes the form of a notification that claims that your system is infected or at risk and that you should download a linked antivirus program to clean your system or remain safe. This is a lie. Most of them will request payment and ask that you give your credit card number – this is a big red flag! It will also latch onto your system and try to stay there until you pay up or purge it.
This does exactly what it says on the tin: It spies on your actions. This can be something as simple as a key logger; software that records your keystrokes so that it can steal valuable information such as passwords and credit card information. Spyware can also be advertising software that observes your internet based activity and reports back to its creators. Spyware can sometimes fly under the radar of some antivirus programs, so do a bit of research to find out just what exactly your antivirus looks for and finds – Windows Defender has been known to be able to root out numerous cases of spyware.
Is there anything essential that we left off? Want to find out more about malware and the dangers they pose to your system? Ask away in the comments below!