Protecting Privacy on Cyber Platforms

Tazeen Hasan arguing Sami Honkonen, the CEO of the Startup Tomorrow Labs over the issue of protecting the privacy and responding to his article ‘My Strategy For Increased Privacy.

How can we make our strategies effective to protect privacy on cyber Platforms? While search engines and social media platforms make our life easy, this is becoming clear day by day that they are not free. We have to pay the through our data. Our privacy is at stake and it is directly connected to our freedom of expression. Until recently, I was not concerned about the privacy as I always used to say, I have nothing to hide.

I became concerned while my freedom of expression was attacked as Facebook blocked my blog contents without citing any specific reason for more than 45 days. They kept on blocking and unblocking until I left Facebook’s platform to disseminate my stuff. And I should admit, I lost a big chunk of the audience. I must admit Facebook is the most powerful reality of today’s media.

Facebook is not a media organization, but no doubt almost every media organization takes advantage of the large audience base Facebook offers. And its influence is extending exponentially day by day. Yet now Facebook has decided to curtail our freedom of expression. Facebook’s censorship is increasingly exposing itself in different forms and curiously, Facebook authorities appear blind and deaf when asked about these privacy violations.

“Not standing up for the right to privacy is equivalent to saying, We don’t need freedom of speech because I have nothing to say. Privacy is a basic human right,” says the tech expert Sami Honkonen, CEO of Tomorrow Labs.

It is true that Google, Picasa, FacebBook, Blogger, Twitter and WhatsApp have become an essential part of our intellectual and public life, without which we truly feel we have nothing to do. We feel we have no option but to succumb to their demands of data sharing. But when one gets a set back as deletion of account on changing the DP in favor of civilian unarmed Kashmiris or is blocked on the basis of his/her political views, he or she wishes to pay for the services with money instead of data.

The CEO of Tomorrow Lab suggested some basic rules for protection of privacy i.e increased use of data-funded services, avoid disclosure of your whole profile over any single platform, try to stay lower on the radar.

He further says as Facebook and Google are separate companies, and he uses this fact to his advantage. Here I will interrupt. What I experienced during the last two months, when you are caught under any radar because of your political views, you can be easily traced on any platform. Those who are not happy with your freedom of expression will not leave you alone on any platform. Facebook blocked my blog contents and when I moved to another blog, my blog was hacked. All my blogs I created from that point onward were hacked although FaceBook and Blogger belong to different companies. Blogger belongs to Google. When I left sharing my contents on FaceBook, they caught me on Twitter. Now when I share my articles on Twitter, surprisingly the featured picture vanishes somewhere and my followers are only able to see the ugly Pre-GUI times text only message. From my previous experience I know, if I will report it to Twitter, they will rectify it for sometimes but the hackers will not refrain from doing this again. They know everything about us. Once lived on social media, we live here forever with the same identity. We are exposed and they can curtail our freedom of expression in a number of ways.

In the previous three months since the brutal Indian army repression against unarmed civilian Kashmiris surfaced on the international media, many Facebook consumers lost their accounts. Last month, the Indian headquarter at Facebook blocked Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan’s various accounts having more 3 million followers. Many individuals around the world, who supported unarmed Kashmiri civilians faced the same fate. Pakistani television star and anchor Hamza Ali Abbassi was one of the victims. Accounts were restored but the Facebook authorities successfully conveyed their message that your freedom of expression on FaceBook is not guaranteed. Most proabaly this was not Facebook’s central policy but it was the existence of some Indian lobby inside Facebook and Google staff which was paid by Indian administration for these extra services to curtail the freedom of expression as a political weapon. I wonder if Charlei Hebdo would be interested in making a cartoon on this Facebook censorship controversy.

Same happened with various Palestinian Journalists, as mention by Emily Bell, the Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School in her article FaceBook is being taken somewhere it never wanted to go published in Columbia Journalism Review.

For your information, Mr. Honkonen, Bell further says in another article that Facebook and Google are frenemy. Beware. I can fully endorse her, because I have personally experienced the coordination between Google and Facebook when it comes to curbing the freedom of expression. I am a direct victim of this frenemy approach either through the coordination of their internal staff or through the hackers which I believe are on their payroll without being paid for this specific job. So no Mr. Honkonen, you can’t just escape by dispersing your data on different platforms. Any obviously one trying to escape from digital platform’s radar makes his or her life ridiculously hard.

Suggesting ‘Startpage’ search Engine instead of Google, Fastmail, and protonomail instead of Gmail may help but till when? As fast as these services will become popular, some major digital giant as Google or FaceBook will buy them paying billions of dollars. I am particularly concerned about the sell of Twitter. Because I am a direct stake holder but I know, no one is going to take me on the board. Moreover, you yourself mentioned their features are not extensive. That is a big catch.

Blocking FaceBook, WhatsApp, Google, and Youtube may be smart if you can get rid of their addiction but until when. They have hundreds of your contacts. And as a professional, you can’t leave behind your contacts.

I have never applied such tactics but configuring your browser to erase all history everytime it restarts may be helpful for hiding your activity but it definitely can’t protect your stored data on digital platforms. ‘Ghostery’ seems to be an interesting application but wouldn’t these services make your browser and device a bit slower? Let’s see how many of them can afford the slow processing of our devices.

How can one avoid WhatsApp when almost every single friend or relative uses it? but if disabling the GPS is possible it may be a good idea to say goodbye to all relatives and friends. Remember WhatsApp always promised to respect the privacy as the founder experienced surveillance all his life spent in the Soviet-Union but now as it is owned by FaceBook our data is not private there. Same may happen with any new platform.

I can imagine how hard your life has become but I still congratulate you Mr. Honkonen that at least you attempted to get rid of these addictions which are eating our privacy. I can’t agree more that the strategies are not perfect or even practical for an ordinary individual but worth considering to some extent.

But I fully agree with you when you say, “Standing up for privacy can be inconvenient and sometimes frustrating. Important things are often not the easiest.”

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