There is a saying in Internet circles abbreviated GIYF (Google Is Your Friend!). When it comes to finding information, Google (And other search engines) is your friend. When it comes to some things, though, using a search engine is one of the most dangerous things you can do on the Internet. Here are some of the Top Ways Google is Not Your Friend:
- They know everything about you! Whenever you search for anything, the search engine, and possibly your ISP also, knows exactly what you searched for, and probably also all the sites you visited from those search results. They can keep this data as long as they want. So what, you say? Say that to the person who briefly became a suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombing because she happened to search for the words, “Pressure Cooker.” I’m not sure of the truth of this story, but, true or not, it is certainly possible. If you value your privacy, there are alternative search providers that claim they don’t record your searches. Here’s a list of seven. My favorites are Startpage (Which uses Google’s system, but anonymously), and DuckDuckgo, Which does not use Google. This means the search results might not be as comprehensive as Google’s, but still worth a try.
- Related to the above, they also serve you up targeted ads, based on your web habits, unless you deliberately turn them off. This applies whether you have a Google account or not. To change this behavior,visit https://www.google.com/settings/ads and turn off everything you see there. This does not mean you won’t get ads, it just means they won’t be as creepy.
- Remember, nothing is truly free. The search provider is always looking to make money off of you, so some of the results you’re going to get are sponsored. Also, aggressive marketers know how to get their site to float to the top of search results.
- Using a search engine to find software, especially security and antivirus software, is extremely dangerous, because the bad guys have a lot of fake sites out there, and they know how to get them to the top of search results, too. If you’re looking for security software, and you like “free,” go to Ninite.com for good free antivirus. Ninite also has many other good free programs. Check it out before you spend money on pricey software.
- For that matter, if you’re looking for any kind of free software, like games and screensavers, you’re looking for trouble. Be very, very careful with these kinds of searches. The Web of Trust browser add-on can help protect you, but nothing is foolproof.
- Ditto for phone support. Search for “Dell Support,” for example, and the top results may not have anything to do with the Dell Computer Company! Which means they will probably cost you a lot of unnecessary money.
- This should be obvious, but if you search for things like pipe bombs, nuclear weapons, poison gas, or “How to rob a bank,” you may attract unwanted attention from folks with lights on top of their cars. Now, there are legitimate reasons to search for such things; Just be aware that Big Brother might be looking over your shoulder! (You could possibly use a public computer for such searches if you’re sufficiently paranoid.)
- If you’re searching for “How-To” information, read several results and compare them. Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. (Maybe especially because it’s on the Internet!) See if the poster has any credentials. Also understand that what might be an easy task for the poster might get you in way over your head. If there doesn’t seem to be an authoritative answer, proceed with great caution.
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I’d love to hear your comments!