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As Apple and Facebook battle over data privacy, what can you do to protect yourself online?

Using Incognito Mode may not do much good, but there are steps you can take

PORTLAND, Maine — –Anyone who follows tech news even casually may have heard that Apple and Facebook are at loggerheads over data privacy. In the tech universe this is a clash of the titans—but how does it affect those of us who are anything but titans?

Rich Brooks of Flyte New Media in Portland, who joins us on 207 regularly to talk about personal technology, analyzed the dispute and offered some tips on how you can protect your data online. Here are the talking points he provided.

Can you break down the fight between Facebook and Apple for us?

On the surface, it's over the ability for users to control their own data. Apple says it's giving people tools to manage their privacy, and Facebook says they're hurting small businesses that rely on targeted ads to survive.

As part of their latest operating system, Apple prompts people to give permission to apps to track them across the web and across other apps. And who would want that, right? But selling targeted ads is how FB makes money. They're saying that this move is really about Apple just making more money, not about giving customers more privacy. Likely, it's a little bit of both.

So, Apple users may experience a little enhanced privacy going forward, but how can everyone else take control of their data and keep private things private?

One simple thing you can do is change your default search engine. I, and about 90% of the world use Google to search. When I present or write about search engine optimization, I only talk about Google. However, like Facebook, Google is dependent on ad sales, which means tracking you wherever you go and whatever you search for so they can sell ads based on your behavior.

However, there is a growing number of people who are using alternative search engines that are much more focused on privacy. DuckDuckGo is one of the most popular ones. The big difference between a privacy-first search engine like DuckDuckGo and Google is that DDG doesn't store your personal information, follow you around with ads, or track you. Your searches are completely anonymous, so if you want to look up information on that weird rash but not have it show up in your search history, have at it.

Since all of these companies still need to make money, you'll still see ads on DDG, but the ads are only relevant to your current search, not your search history.

Any downsides to these privacy-focused search engines?

Because they aren't storing data about you, it can't customize the experience as well as Google can. Google, and other search engines that track you, will often show customized results based on your past searches, pull together trending topics that might be of interest to you, and remind you that you visited a particular search result in the past.

Interestingly, local search does still work even if you're anonymous.

How else can we protect our privacy online?

Another area that we can all take advantage of is the browser you use to surf the web.

Of the popular browsers today, Firefox is often considered the best for privacy. Safari is considered pretty good, but only available for Apple machines. Chrome, surprisingly, is considered one of the worst when it comes to privacy, in part because of the way it gathers data for Google.

Can't we just use Incognito Mode, or Private Mode, to protect ourselves?

Unfortunately, all Incognito Mode does is hide your search history from your phone or laptop. That's great if you want to hide your search history from your significant other, but that information--your searches--are still visible to the search engines, the websites you visit, the advertisers on those sites, and whoever runs the network at your school or work could even see your online activity.

Beyond Firefox or Safari, you can also choose from a new generation of browsers that were built for privacy.

One of these browsers is called Brave. Brave blocks ads and trackers that can slow down your browsing experience. It also has an interesting offer called Brave Rewards. If you turn on Brave rewards you see occasional ads that don't track you. As you see more of them, you earn tokens, which are then sent to the content creators you visit most. The technology behind that might be a little more than a 207 tech segment can handle.

If you are really serious about privacy, you should check out a browser called Tor. Your online activity is masked by Tor, which often bounces your requests to a distributed network around the world and encrypts your traffic in at least 3 separate ways. Because of this, it slows down your surfing, but if don't mind a little wait, this is the most secure web browsing out there.

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