On March 1, Google starts harvesting users’ data…

This isn’t a secret, even Google have advertised the fact – but a surprising number of people seem unaware of it. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/feb/24/pass-notes-browsing

Based on what I’ve read, it’s next to impossible to prevent Google collecting data in this way.

First of all, if you have a Google account, as I do, and also use Google+ and G-mail, then it’s pretty damn hard to escape their clutches.

If you just have a Google account – and many people do without using G-mail or G+ having found, like me, that neither were what they wanted – simply log out and stay logged out. It won’t stop them collecting yours data, but it won’t be associated with you. I’ve logged out and I intend to remain that way. I’ve also activated Firefox’s do not track option, though how effective that will be I don’t know.

Also worth installing the Adblock Plus add-on if you’re a Firefox user. Zero effect on data collection, but it will shut out most advertising – and there’s an insane amount.

For those who have to stay logged in, Google say they are providing a Do Not Track button – how effective that is remains to be seen.

It won’t do you any good deleting and disabling your browser history either. Data will still be collected and, only after 18 months have elapsed will it be anonymised. Which really isn’t good enough, Google.

I’ve seen it suggested that you should reject cookies – well, good luck with that if you want to spend a lot of time looking at a blank screen – these days many websites simply won’t work without at least a session cookie, and if you shop online, as I do almost exclusively, and/or bank online, then rejecting cookies would be downright foolish as nothing would work. Many online retailers’ sites won’t even work if you block third-party cookies – bordering on unacceptable, but a fact of life if you need what they’re selling.

Go elsewhere, I hear someone mutter in the background. Yes, well. good luck with that, too, as it’s extremely common and, anyway, I’ve long since stopped being paranoid about cookies and guess what? Hey, the world hasn’t come crashing down around my ears!

Cookie paranoia, along with Java paranoia, is rife (disable Java and watch Twitter vanish, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg), but it’s pretty much outdated – malware, viruses, worms, and the like have evolved to a far higher level of sophistication than relying on cookies or Java. Some still do, of course, but as long as you have good security, you’ll be fine. And if you don’t have good security, you really have no place being online – not only are you putting yourself at risk, you’re putting at risk everyone you email or IM. The same if you use an antiquated browser like IE6, which is about as secure as a damp paper bag – always use the latest version of your browser, fully patched and updated, as your OS should be, too.

For those of you addicted to Google – even with its faults it’s the best around – there’s a search engine called startpage, which uses Google but keeps your details out of the transaction. (Hat tip to the above Guardian article’s comments.)

Certainly worth a try, given the amount of time many of us spend on Google, in my case mainly for medical research these days – you just have to avoid the fruitcakes!

Bottom line, though, if absolute secrecy and anonymity is what you desire, what are you doing online in the first place?

Personally, what Google are doing bothers me not at all – it’s the principle of it being done without my consent that pisses me off, big time! I’ve been online for 16 years or more (can’t remember exactly when), and there’s an awful lot of me already on the Web for those who care to look, so worrying about Google would be pretty pointless. In fact, in 2004, Googling Ron Graves would return over 20 pages about me. These days there are vastly more people online, and many more with the same name, so now I’m down to a page or two, depending on Google’s mood.

However, those data just accreted, like a pearl in an oyster – not deliberately harvested without my consent, which is a whole different ball game.