This article is one of many that I want to write to offer some suggestions for keeping your information out of the hands of social media companies like Google and Facebook. These companies are notorious for collecting large amounts of data on users without the user's knowledge.

Voluntary Data

Most actions, like posts, comments, searches, group interests, messages, and event responses, performed on these websites, are collected. I would categorize this information as "voluntary data." Companies use this data to provide ads, content, and search results that are filtered based on the collected data. If you own a device offered by one of these companies, anything you say to that device is also collected and stored. It knows that you are a vegan, that you usually wake around 6:00 am, that you set your security alarm at 10:00 pm, what your race and political affiliations are, that you have two daughters and one son, and where you and many of your relatives live. They take this information and use it internally or sell it. They don't sell it directly to other companies. They instead sell it by offering companies a means to target you directly. If a company wanted to display an ad to millennial Asian-Americans living in north Seattle with liberal political alignments, these companies would provide them with that ability.

Involuntary Data

When we visit websites, those sites can collect information about your visit without your knowledge. I would categorize this as "involuntary data." Several years ago, I remembered seeing an article that focused on how some websites were able to see what sites you've visited, and they would adjust your content based on those websites. One means of accomplishing this was to use an extensive list of commonly visited websites and placing invisible links on your page. The link characteristics would be different for visited sites verses non-visited sites. Websites soon advanced to being able to read this and more detailed information from blocks of information called cookies. Cookies are stored in your browser and used to enhance the user experience on the websites. Not all websites use cookies, but quite a few do. The problem arises when other websites are allowed to access that information and collect it for their usage.

Have you ever searched for a new mattress on Google and clicked on several links that finally landed you on Later that day, while browsing Instagram, you see an advertisement for a Purple mattress or finance offers for a Sleep Number mattress or a link directly to that mattress that's in your shopping cart on That information would be available because your browser stored website cookies that can be read by other websites. Fortunately, laws such as the GDPR of the European Union, require websites to notify the users of their intent to collect data. In most cases, this provides the user with the ability to opt-out of what information is getting collected and whether other websites have access to it.

Protecting Information

There is quite a bit you can do to protect your cookie data. Much of this information is on All About Computer Cookies. Below are a couple of things I have found useful in protecting some of your information.

  1. First, go into your browser settings and delete all of the cookies from your device. Do this for each browser (Safari, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.) you use.
  2. Turn on, "prevent cross-site tracking." Many browsers offer the ability to block websites from tracking your data across sites. This should be active!
  3. As you browse websites, pay attention to notification banners on the page that indicate the website's intent to use cookies. Most often, we are in a hurry to get to the contents of a website we are visiting. This prompts us to ignore or quickly click the close button when this notification is presented. Do not ignore it! Take a second to see what options are given for storing cookies. In some cases, you can turn off nonessential cookies, which prevent the sharing of information. This, of course, assumes the website is honoring the preferences selected by the user. Usually, this step only has to be performed once per website visit, unless you have deleted your browser cookies.
  4. Install a content blocker. There are many third-party content blockers. Firefox and DuckDuckGo provides two excellent resources and options. These blockers can help protect your privacy in cases where you forget to update your settings or skip past those cookies notifications.


This article offers a small glimpse into protecting your data. There are a variety of resources that exist to help get started. As technology improves, with it comes the ability for our private data to be compromised. We owe it to ourselves to be more diligent in protecting our information. Once it's out there, it is difficult next to impossible to recover it.