Simplest way to preserve a little privacy online: Lie
If you're not committing fraud, you're not required to give your correct name to Google or anyone else
You have no choice but to go along with it, if you want to find the information you're looking for. Intrusiveness is one thing, intrusiveness to which it's impossible to say 'No' is another. Especially when Twitter and the other services you use online are being just as intrusive.
If you use the Internet at all it's very hard to avoid Google, either searching it directly or using it indirectly as the embedded search engine on someone else's site. And that doesn’t even include Google Apps, which is the only reason some people ever log in to Google.
Even those so offended by Google's decision to consolidate all the tracking data it keeps in Picasa, Gmail, Search and all its other services into a single package and appalled by its decision to sell that information, much of which customers didn' t know Google was saving, have no choice but to use Google some of the time.
Of course, they don't have to log in, so Google would be limited in the degree to which it could invade their privacy.
It wouldn't have their names and addresses, phone numbers and long-term search history.
It would just have one cookie that could identify the user's browser and associate that individual with a list of Web pages, search queries and other activities in which he or she has engaged while being tracked by Google (which is always).
In its own outreach plan to the media today, the day its new privacy invasions are set to start, Google spokespeople tried to spin the truth by making it seem less intrusive to be tracked less completely by Google than might otherwise be the case.
As if simply following you around all day long, taking surreptitious pictures, drawing maps of your wanderings and selling all that information about you to people eager to use it to manipulate and persuade you isn't bad enough to qualify as a stalker.
It is, but it's the Lite version of Google's efforts to track you.
There are bits of software, special settings on your browser and at Google you can use to minimize the amount of data Google tracks on you. Some work well, some don't, some are too much of a pain to worry about.
They'll all conceal different portions of your personal data, or erase it, or anonymize it to avoid identifying you, personally, with all the searches on SuperHotMoms.com or TickleYouWithAFeather.org.
They all require some extra work, some additional software running with your browser, some time spent changing the configuration of your browser so it automatically deletes all your tracking cookies every time you shut it down.
What can you do if you don't want to waste time on freeware or changing the setup of your browser in ways you may not understand?
You can lie.
Lie to Google. Lie to Yahoo and Bing and Facebook and Twitter and any other sites that not only want to track you but won't even do their most basic mob – showing you content – without taking down information you would indignantly refuse if you were asked by the corn-dog vendor at the carnival, clerk at the car-wash or zombie behind the counter at a convenience store that accepts only cash.
If you have to enter a name, enter a name that is not your own.
Every time a site pops up a window asking for your birthday, pick one that's not even in the same decade as yours (make sure you're still claiming to be over 21 so the site doesn't turn you away).
When a site asks you to open an account, use a differerent login name and address than you'd need to buy something. Tell Google you live in Seattle; tell Bing you live in San Jose. Tell Twitter you live on a different planet.
It won't save you from having all the searches you run or sites you visit tracked. It won't assign a different IP address to your browsing data to make you harder to find,
It won't erase any of your past history; it won't add any history that's less embarrassing.
What it will do is create a fictional, named persona to whom some of your searches and browsing can be attributed.
It will break up the global picture of all your activities online into smaller chunks so no single vendor has the whole picture of everything you do.
They don't have the right to demand that, anyway. They ask because they know you'll usually go along with it, not because you're obligated to tell them.
The only time you're obligated to tell the truth is when you're buying something and the credit-card has to be yours, or signing up for a service that depends on using your correct identity – at the DMV or your bank, for example.
Don't make all the names random. Make up a couple of fake personas and use them consistently so you don't waste time and get frustrated while filling out online forms. Just paste the answers in and get on with your business.
It's not a crime; it's not an ethical violation. It's not even particularly rude, considering how intimate, complete and unwanted a profile Google is building of you.
Protect yourself a little without hurting anyone; be someone else for a while.
If it confuses anyone trying to keep track of you online, it serves them right. No one has the right to follow you all the time without your consent. No one has the right to know everything you do. No one has the right to insist you always tell the truth when they're asking intrusive, manipulative questions without answers to which they won't give you the free service they promised when you hit their site in the first place.
And, with enough fake information in their databases, maybe Google and the rest of the identity-data thieves will tone down their own demands for information you wouldn't normally give your best friend, let alone a disembodied representation of the advertising world.
It's impossible to hurt the feelings of a web site.