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As we progress (or, “regress,” I would say) in the areas of computers, privacy and the Internet, once treasured ideals are quickly and firmly being swept aside in favor of convenience and pervasive connectivity. With easy social networking “freedom” promoted as the end-all and be-all, the entire Internet is becoming a dramatically more restrictive and invasive environment.

Few people realize how their lives are being exploited every time they do something related to the Internet. Chief among the culprits is the harvesting and selling of personal information using Internet tracking trickery. While the screen of your digital device may hide it, every time you access email, texting or a website, scores of tiny software robots leap into action, devouring information about you and building a profile of your every move.

Who you send messages to, how long they are, how often you send them, what websites you visit, how long you are there, what you click on, what pictures you view, what stories you read, what ads you see, do you scroll up or down, what other websites connect to the one you are looking at, where do you go next, what do you buy, what’s your credit history, what’s your education, have you ever filed an insurance claim, have you ever had a “domestic dispute,” do you pay bills online, who are your friends, who are their friends, where do you live, do you own firearms, do you “tweet,” what are your political and religious inclinations, do you use alcohol or tobacco, what’s your financial life like, what’s your medical history, do you have a criminal background, what are your hobbies, what car do you drive, has your car been detected by highway cameras or toll gates, do you have investment accounts, are you male, female, married, single, what are your sexual preferences, what food do you like, what movies and music do you enjoy, do you have children, what are their lives like, information about everything you could ever imagine and some things you couldn’t is collected.

With all that in mind, it’s no wonder folks like myself don’t get optimistically giddy every time Apple rolls out another unneeded and unwanted version of iTunes (linked to Apple Pay, of course), or Microsoft poops out yet another buggy version of Windows. As the Internet has moved away from being a free, fun and powerful way to exchange information, morphing instead into a raging, multi-billion dollar money-grabbing machine, every move made by bigtime Internet companies has followed suit.

Those added “features” in Windows 10 weren’t put there because thousands of Microsoft fans were clamoring for them. Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn don’t change the way their products work because they are on some noble quest to make them the best their customers could ever have. Apple doesn’t keep cranking out new iPhones, iPads and requiring new updates because they are trying to make sure you are super-secure and safe in everything you do. CNN’s website doesn’t throw up a message saying, “By using this site, you agree to the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service,” because they really give a hoot about your privacy.

Everything the major Internet companies do (and, most of the minors), all of their “good deed-doing” aside, is driven by one over-whelming desire: to collect as much information about you as possible in the shortest amount of time. Information is needed to build profiles, and profiles mean big, big money, many billions of dollars per year. In the beginning, everyone wondered how the Internet was going to make money: well, this is it. Internet companies and websites big and small are pimping out their customers in order to feed at the massive money trough that is personal and private data.

All is not lost, though. There are decisive steps you can take to protect your privacy online, but it takes a certain attitude to make it work, not unlike the attitude required of an alcoholic reaching Step One in their recovery: admitting there is a problem. Once an addict admits there is a problem, they can be helped, and boy, do we have a problem. We’re not going to change how the Internet works, but we can sure change how we work with the Internet. Next week, I’ll show the road to recovery hidden inside Microsoft’s Windows 10.