This section is going to cover the massive money printing machine that is telemetry and data collection. Long ago, this stuff was used in limited forms to improve on products and to a small extent, it still is. If you developed a piece of software and had a way to track how many people had crashes and what the problem was, it was useful in being able to improve the product. These days, it has become downright invasive and what many companies were doing became illegal in places like Europe due to laws like the GDPR. Even today, companies are still being fined because they can’t be bothered to respect the privacy of their customers.

There are a few different ways that companies are collecting info on people. Telemetry is one way. For example, someone that uses Windows Home edition will have a ton of data collected about what their hardware is, what they search, what they click on, and so on. Then there is data collection, where companies are mass harvesting things like names, phone numbers, addresses, etc, by using things like fillable forms and downloading and using mobile apps. Then there is something called fingerprinting, which is absolutely insidious. This page will cover each one of them.

Telemetry is going to be found in just about every Big Tech product and service, and even many small companies are using it. Many games are an example of this. There have been a few different developers in recent years that have either implemented or wanted to implement this kind of data collection in their games. Some of them decided to back off due to community backlash. Some others didn’t give a damn and went ahead with it anyway. One of the worst examples are the developers that make single player games that are required to be online. This is just to allow for more spying on their customers. I see a lot of people, usually the hardcore fans of those companies, play mental gymnastics and defend the dev behavior.

If you want to really crack down on this garbage, you need to start at the bottom and work your way up. This starts with your choice of operating systems. Microsoft and Apple collect a lot of data on their desktop OS products. To some extent, you’ll be able to block it but you can’t shut it down 100%. I have no issue using either Windows or MacOS and I also really like them both, but I also know how to configure them to my liking. If no telemetry is critical for you, you’ll need to look at a Linux distro.

Before I go any further, I’ll tell you I like all the desktop operating systems. They all have their purpose. I’m not a die hard fan of anything. Having an open mind is crucial, especially in the tech world. I also believe that people should be able to use whatever they damn well please.

When you pick your OS, you’ll need to work your way up to the software you use. For example, if you use Linux or a highly tuned version of Windows, your OS will be very private. Then you need to think about the different browser choices, apps that are going to be installed, what will be allowed to run at startup, and so on. There are billions of different combinations of what this could look like due to the choices available, so I can’t possibly cover every one of them. Make sure to look into each one, decide whether you want closed or open source programs, read privacy policies, etc.

Next, we’ll go over data collection. A lot of common sense needs to be applied here. You shouldn’t just be giving out your name, phone number, or any other personal info to anyone asking for it. Determine what you are willing to risk. For example, if you are signing up for a regulated product or service, you may be asked to give really sensitive information like your social security number. Think ahead on this, like what would happen if that company got hacked and all of the info you gave were to be leaked online. This goes for everything, even what you believe is secure and private. There’s not really more to add to this.

The last item to cover is fingerprinting. This is a nasty and invasive way to collect info and it is more or less impossible to protect yourself against. Fingerprinting is used to create a unique digital fingerprint of every device that uses the internet. Some of the info that’s collected is things like GPU used, OS and the version used, the browser used and any extensions, time zone, and many other data points.

The more you try to protect yourself against this, the more unique you become. For example, if you just used vanilla Chrome with no extensions, you’ll blend in with a lot of other people, although you’d have to deal with annoying garbage like ads. If you use LibreWolf or Firefox and load up a few extensions, you’ll all of a sudden stand out.

I’ll give you an analogy for this. Imagine everyone is walking around wearing the same clothes and has their faces exposed, which could be Chrome users in this instance. No one is really going to stand out. Now imagine you, a LibreWolf user, is wearing a face mask and completely different clothing from everyone else. You're going to stand out like a turd in the middle of the carpet. You might have your identity “concealed,” but you have drawn a lot of attention. For the record, I really like LibreWolf, it's just that they have such a small userbase that there isn't much of a pool of people to blend in with.

I would not recommend using the internet with invasive browsers or not using adblock, since you will have to deal with a lot of annoying garbage. The downside is your fingerprint is going to be somewhat unique. There are some limited ways around this. You could use the Tor browser for example, but that has niche use cases. Overall, I just don’t recommend worrying about fingerprinting. Browsers like Firefox are being made more resistant to it, but it still has a ways to go. For more info on good browsers, check out the network security section.