From The New York Review of Books:
The use of Facebook by Cambridge Analytica to gather data on tens of millions of users is just one of the troubling things to have come to light about Facebook and its effect on social and political life. Yet that story is also, in some respects, a distraction from the bigger issues that stem from the Internet giants’ practices: Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other tech giants have constructed the most extensive and intrusive surveillance apparatus the world has ever seen. And we are the target.
Surveillance capitalism—so named in 2015 by the Harvard academic Shoshana Zuboff—is the business model of the Internet. Built on techniques of information capture and behavior modification, surveillance capitalism came into being when Google’s engineers realized that by tracking what users were typing into their search engine, they could learn to predict what those users wanted. Once they could anticipate what users wanted, they could target them with ads designed to influence those users’ behavior in ways that maximized Google’s revenue.
These days, virtually every aspect of day-to-day life is fed into corporate databases and used to predict and influence all kinds of behavior. Surveillance corporations don’t just respond to consumer wants; they also shape and drive those wants toward their own ends. Usually, that means a click on an advertisement, a visit to a website, or, ultimately, a purchase. To do this, they attempt to take advantage of known shortcuts and biases in human decision-making, called “heuristics.” Often, this means presenting links and other content in such a way as to generate interest, but sometimes, as in the case of so-called “dark patterns”—misselling techniques and tricks to game attention or gain private data—it involves a choice architecture that is patently deceptive.
Continual experimentation helps them refine their ads and prompts. As of 2014, Google, for example, undertook roughly 10,000 experiments per year in its search and ads business, with around 1,000 running at any one time.
. . . .
As a result, if you use a web browser or an app, you are almost certainly the unwitting subject of dozens of psychological experiments that seek to profile your habits and vulnerabilities for the benefit of corporations, every time you use the Internet.
. . . .
One 2013 study by Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre showed that, without having any factual information about you, analysis of what you’ve “liked” on Facebook can accurately predict your sexual orientation, your ethnicity, your happiness, your political and religious views, whether your parents are separated, and whether you use drugs. A follow-up study in 2015 found that by analyzing your likes, a computer can be a better judge of your personality traits—such as how artistic, shy, or cooperative you are—than your friends and family are.
Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books
PG has two views on this subject that may conflict with each other.
A. Personalization can help make the internet a much better source of information for a user than it would be without personalization. Google can surface sources that interest PG more effectively because it has adapted to PG’s interests based on his prior searches.
B. The same technology that permits personalization can be used to provide some protection for personal information about a user. If you use the Chrome browser, if you right-click on a link, choosing Incognito Mode will provide you with some (not perfect) protection against third-party tracking. Firefox has a similar setting called Private Browsing.
C. Chrome Privacy Tools
If you are using Chrome, go to chrome://settings/privacy, you can disable a variety of services that can provide means of tracking you as you use your Chrome browser. For an explanation of these settings, you can go here.
If you go to https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/2392709#types, you can see an overview of the data Google collects via Chrome that you can delete and information about how you go about deleting this data.
Google collects lots of information about users through their search activities. DuckDuckGo provides a more private search engine.
D. Third-Party Privacy Information:
Wikipedia has a short entry on Anonymous Browsing at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymous_web_browsing together with links to other resources.
PC Magazine has a recent (January, 2018) article about How to Stay Anonymous Online https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2363302,00.asp
Tech Radar has a recent (February, 2018) article about The best free privacy software 2018: top tools for anonymous browsing https://www.techradar.com/news/best-free-privacy-software
The Tech Radar article mentions the Tor browser which is a more secure alternative to Chrome, Firefox, Safari and/or Edge browsers. You can download Tor at no cost at https://www.torproject.org/
You may find that Tor lacks some convenience features available on Chrome, Firefox, etc. Nothing says you can only install a single browser on your computer or that you must use only a single browser. If you mentally create a low-danger list of websites, you can use your regular browser for those. For high-danger or super-secret online work, you can fire up Tor.
You can even take a Paranoid Personality Quiz – https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/paranoid-quiz/ – and use a browser that’s compatible with your score.