Introduction to Data Detox

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logo for The Glass Room Digital Privacy project. A stylized box sits next to the text THE GLASS ROOM against a white background.

In May, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will host The Glass Room, an interactive exhibit examining the ramifications of always-on, always-connected technology on personal privacy. As a lead up to this process, the Library is offering an abridged version of Data Detox, an 8-week series devoted to regaining control over your digital footprint. This is the first post in that series.

The Glass Room and Data Detox were developed by Mozilla and Tactical Technology.

Welcome to Data Detox!

How do you manage your personal privacy when everything is connected? Every app, every web page, every social media post is designed to harvest some kind of information about those who use them. If this information is following you everywhere, how can you safely do anything online? The lack of clear information about data privacy can be daunting.

We’re here to say not to be intimidated. It’s possible to have a healthy online life and maintain a level of privacy. In order to better understand your digital footprint, the team behind The Glass Room proposes “Data Detox” – a methodical paring down of one’s trackable online activities. As you peel these layers back, you can slowly add back in any activities you feel comfortable introducing.

Similar to the Marie Kondo approach to clutter, Data Detox doesn’t view all online tracking as inherently good or bad. Rather, these exercises are designed to help you make informed decisions about what you do and where you go online. We hope you’ll follow along as we work through their 8 weeks worth of suggestions.

Data Detox Week 1: Discoveryscreenshot of a Google search window. "Online privacy" is in the search box, with "online privacy and security," "online privacy definition" and "online privacy laws" set as suggested search terms.

 

How do you look to the online world? 

Simply put: Google is everywhere. Part of what makes them successful is their ability to use what they know about a person to offer a custom experience to everyone who logs into Chrome or conducts a web search.

What does it look when you pull all that customization away? There’s a simple experiment to see what your online footprint looks like to others. You can do this by “cleaning” your browser.

  1. Open your browser.
  2. Log out of your email and all social media accounts.
  3. Clear out your browser history and cookies.
    1. On Chrome: Settings > History > Clear browsing data
    2. Firefox: Preferences > Privacy > History > Clear recent history > Time range: everything
    3. Safari: Click Safari in the top menu bar > Clear History > All History
  4. If you’d prefer to do a “light” cleaning, you can do so by opening up an Incognito or Private window on your browser.

Once you’ve cleaned your browser, you can check out how your search results appear to other users.

  1. Go to a search engine. You might start with Google, but you can compare the experience to other sites like DuckDuckGo or Bing.
  2. Search for your name. If you have a very common name, you might try additional unique identifiers to create better results. This might include your work, your hometown, or where you went to school.
  3. What did you find? Are there any differences you see between the clean search and what you normally encounter?