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Digital Downsizing (part two)

What if we treated time like currency? How would this impact our decisions and behavior? These were the questions posited on a radio talk show a few days ago. The commentator got me thinking about all of the time I waste deleting spam, closing pop-up windows, and scrolling past banner ads. Digital downsizing works. As recently as five days ago, I was receiving dozens of spam email messages each day, following my newly instituted digital diet plan, I now get one or two unwanted messages per day, one from Harry's Razors and one from Facebook - go figure, right?!?

Last week, I published a post about decluttering and securing my digital spaces. I've now shifted my focus to keeping my digital areas clean and safeguarded. Nearly all of my online activities have ties to Google. As I mentioned in my previous post, the DuckDuckGo private browser extension provides tracking information. In other words, which sites are tracking and coalescing my information. Since nearly fifty percent of all of my tracking activity occurs through Google, it's just another reason to focus my privacy and security efforts there. I'll share the adjustments I've made to my Google account that has saved time, increased protection, and reduced my worries about digital tracking. 

Step One - Personal Information

Open a web browser and go to Log in, select "Personal Info" and confirm your profile information is current and accurate. Scroll down to "Choose what others can see" and access your "About me" page. See which information is visible as opposed to hidden. Delete or adjust the visibility by selecting the pencil widget.

Step Two - Data and Personalization

Select "Data and personalization" within the left-side menu. "Take the privacy checkup." Your first option is "Manage Web and App Activity." I "paused" this setting. My searches are plenty fast. Best of all, my searches aren't filtered to my preference. I get to choose what is relevant to me. Next, I "paused" location history, voice and audio recordings, YouTube search history, and my YouTube watch history. After adjusting my "activity controls," I turned off "Ad personalization."

Within this account area, you can view your browsing activity, location history, and the amount of cloud storage you've used. The "Google Dashboard" provides a summary view of your Google services and activity data. This is where you would go if you wanted to download a copy of your Google Data.

Jumping back to "Data and personalization," there is a menu for "Download, delete, or make a plan for your data." No one likes to think about death or disability, but don't you want to know what happens to your stuff should the unexpected happen? This is material for a whole 'another post, but in the "make a plan for your account" section, you can designate an inactive period, designate a person(s) to receive a backup copy of your data, and select a deletion interval following the dormant period.

Step Three - Security 

Return to the "Home" page of your Google Account, and select "Security" from the left-side navigation panel. The "security checkup" allows you to view your signed-in devices, recent security events, and your accessibility protection measures. I found the "password checkup" tool to be especially helpful as it identified compromised, weak, and reused passwords. Google provides links to update or delete the questionable passwords, very convenient!

Step Four - People and Sharing 

Within the "People and sharing" menu, you can organize your contacts and adjust your location sharing. Within contacts, you can change how your contacts are saved and accessed. You can also block users and turn recommendation sharing off or on. By default, users can see your name, profile picture, and activity when shared endorsements are enabled.

Step Five - Payments and Subscriptions

Users in the "Payments and Subscriptions" area of their Google Account can enable and configure their Google Pay account. Users can send and request money through the Google Pay portal. Online purchases can be accessed and tracked within the "Purchases" page of the "Payments and subscriptions tab. Recurring payments and activations can be adjusted in the "Subscriptions" area. For me, that's YouTube, Google Play Music, and my Google One subscriptions. If you book travel or accommodations, you can access and manage your trips using the Google "reservations" tool.

In less than an hour, I was able to go through these steps, make adjustments, and back-track through my settings to verify my new settings. I set up my data catastrophe plan, and I updated my payment information. The references below provide detailed steps that can be taken to improve digital privacy and security.

What did I get in return for my one-hour investment? I reduced email spam from roughly sixty daily messages to two. I see very few pop-up ads, and my browser searches are more neutral. I have confidence that most of my web activity isn't being tracked, although that's difficult to fully quantify. If I treated time as currency, then I can safely say my digital downsizing is yielding a welcome return on my initial investment.

References and Related Resources

"What Google Knows About You...", Cnet. November 2019.

"Are Ads Following You?" DuckDuckGo Blog. February 2017.

"Colleges are Tracking Applicants' Browser History," Mic. October 2019.

"Beware Online Filter Bubbles," Ted, Eli Pariser. May 2011


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