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I had my doubts when I read about Digital Detoxification. It sounded like a monastic-vegan retreat applied to the world of data and mobile telephony.
For someone like me, who depends on the internet to work and needs to be connected full time, take a course with that title could constitute a work suicide.
But I discovered, to my surprise, that such was not the spirit of this program. It was, rather, to review and put your digital life in order.
The program, which lasts eight days and is called Data Detox, was designed by the Mozilla collaborative consortium (responsible for the Firefox browser) and the Tactical Technology collective .
And part of a premise: although you can not erase at a stroke what we have done during years of online life, it is possible to use Data Detoxification to make better decisions in the future.
Intrigued, I decided to give the program a chance, which was summarized in a sort of “toolkit” and aims for users to start thinking differently about their movements in the digital world.
This was what I discovered in the process.
Day 1 – Fear
The first day of the program aims essentially to highlight, to your horror, everything the internet knows about you through the search engines.
As a technology journalist – and a millennial that I am – much of my life is available on the Internet and, I have to accept it, it does not bother me much.
Simply because I am very careful with the things that I publish. Nothing very alarming arose with my first tests in Google: content that I could have predicted would appear when writing my name.
That tranquility began to fade once I put my name on alternative search engines like DuckDuckGo .
These alternative engines do not have commercial interests or collect information from your search history to offer you personalized results -which limits the information you receive-, but they obtain random data from other sources such as Yahoo, Bing or Yandez.
Thus, while Google completed the search for my name with ” Sophia Smith Galer BBC “, DuckDuckGo suggested “Sophia Smith Galer liberal”.
The Google thing is normal: I write and I introduce myself as a BBC journalist in networks and in my writings, which are available on the internet.
But how could DuckDuckGo know my political inclinations? That opened my eyes a bit on how the searches that others do about me can influence my “digital self”.
And that idea is quite discouraging.
Day 2 – One place
“Is Google your best friend?” The Data Detox kit asks innocently.
At first I reject the idea. “I have a life outside the internet, you know,” I reply.
But then I must accept it: Google is really my best friend . I use your browser (Chrome), your document portal (Docs), your email (Gmail), maps, YouTube and your translator (Translate).
So, and here I breathe deeply, I myself tell Google where I am, what mobile device I am using, what makes me curious, what I am working on, what bank or doctor or cellular operator I use, with whom I write, what words I do not know in other languages and even what are my guilty pleasures in cinema, music or television.
My best friend knows a lot about me … but clearly not as many as Google.
That’s why, in the kit they show you how to erase all this stored information .
Day 3 – Facebook
This day was very interesting because I realized how little I’ve been posting on Facebook for some time.
It is a phenomenon that some experts have called “the collapse of the context” -and that worries the brand created by Mark Zuckerberg-, which means that users have gone on to categorize what they publish.
While up until a couple of years ago people posted on Facebook everything they did, now, almost unconsciously, has begun to classify content for each of their networks: photos of what they had breakfast this morning on Instagram , an article of interesting newspaper on Twitter ..
As a result, they use Facebook less and less. This social network has become a cemetery of embarrassing photos and unrepeatable publications.
Is it time to remove the labels or ask your friends to download content that you appear in?
Day 4 – Browsing on the internet
The day begins with a specific fact: every time you “Like” a publication on Facebook and Twitter, you are allowing third parties to know what pages you access, what you like to visit and what your IP address is.
Everything can be monitored through “trackers”, who follow your behavior on the internet.
In general, the privacy settings that come by default in browsers are not as private as they should be. Then you have to change them to make them work better.
In the kit they also recommend using the private or incognito option that Safari, Chrome and Firefox have, which will at least prevent your history from being stored. Or install extensions that prevent “trackers” from spying on you.
But the same kit makes a warning: “The incognito mode only prevents you from sharing certain things with the ‘trackers’ … But it does not make you anonymous on the internet.”
Day 5 – The networks
All day long our phone is trying to connect to any signal it finds, from a Wi-Fi network to Bluetooth, as if to say: “Here I am, pay attention to me”.
If you add that you have called your phone “Juan’s phone” , then you can give an idea of how many people are already revealing, to start, what’s your name.
That’s why the recommendation of the kit is to keep the location off and turn on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth only when necessary.
Do not take lightly the consequences of showing all the time where you are.
Every time you connect to a wireless network , you can see all the networks you have connected to in the past and they have been stored on your phone – most of them with names that are very easy to recognize -, which is not difficult guess where you work or what sites you visit in your free time.
Theoretically, your boss might know you’re looking for a job if you went to an interview with the competition. Or your appointment could see the networks of all your previous appointments. Just for giving you a couple of examples.
Day 6 – To clean
Time to review the collateral damage of those applications that we use more and more.
First advice: delete applications that you do not use, since they are one of the most common ways in which information is collected from our “digital self”.
Second tip: adjust the privacy conditions of those that you can not do without.
One option is to look for alternative applications , that do not use your data to make money.
Take for example, as the kit says, the case of Skype: other applications such as Signal or Jitsi Met do the same but are open source and non-profit.
Day 7 – Who do they think you are?
The way in which Facebook and Google build a profile of who they think you are, and then sell it to their advertisers, works in a somewhat random but correct in some ways.
For example, every time we publish a change in our lives – the birth of a child, a change of job, a new relationship – we are somehow helping to perfect the way he shows us his advertising.
Because we are warning you that our consumption habits are about to change.
But there is an even darker area: these data collected, in what is known as “psychometric profiles”, can also be used to estimate how you intend to vote or what you think of other members of society.
An example: Facebook has allowed you to use this information to your advertisers to reach an anti-Semitic audience or exclude users by their race.
Day 8 – A new me
The kit offers a series of alternatives to stay on a “digital diet”: reminders to change your passwords every month or clean up your history and evaluate your use of social networks.
It also recommends a series of alternative applications to “be born again” to a more austere and conscious digital lifestyle.