Pooping with the door unlocked
I’ve just finished reading What Online Privacy & Your Bowel Movements Have In Common. What started as a comment soon grew beyond a reasonable character limit, so has instead become my first Medium post.
The basic gist of Victoria’s article is that if you want your [online] habits to remain private, you should be able to close the door (be anonymous), and not have somebody (search giant) watch you the whole time. She’s looking at you, Creepy Google.
Victoria has written an interesting piece that has obviously provoked thought, and I agree with a lot of what she has written; however, I believe, as with most things, there must be some give and take. Plus, perhaps more importantly, education.
Most of the article is based around the single fact that when people browse or search content, <search giant> collates that information, and returns it via ad-serving. I am not disputing this fact at all. We all know — technically — this ad-serving happens. It then gets potentially embarrassing when your room-mate borrows your laptop.
But what can we do about it? You are going to be tracked online, so closing the door is not very easy. Overhauling the system to prevent open doors, even harder. My first suggestion then is to install your own door, at least between you and your friends, and not expect the door to already be there ready to swing shut.
Whilst not everybody perhaps knows about the Private Browsing (aka Incognito) function in today’s modern browsers, they should! It’s in their interest to know, and they should learn what it can and can’t do. It certainly isn’t a silver bullet, but Private Browsing does prevent sites from tracking you against your usual ‘internet profie’. Want to research an STD? Go Private, read away, and when you close that Private session, your reading history goes with it. None of the usual trackers are any the wiser.
Google’s Chrome browser Incognito page greets you with:
Pages you view in incognito tabs won’t stick around in your browser’s history, cookie store, or search history after you’ve closed all of your incognito tabs.
This of course is not fool proof. You’re still loading unencrypted information through a public pipe, so your ISP still knows which sites you looked at, and if you log in to something during that session that could track you, well that’s your fault, but <search giant> isn’t going to serve that embarrassing information back to you (or someone else).
The same Incognito welcome page states right underneath that last sentence:
Going incognito doesn’t hide your browsing from your employer, your internet service provider, or the websites you visit.
Moreover, there are further measures you can take such as using a VPN to anonymise your session, or using the Dark Web, if you really don’t want anybody to know. In reality, the mere mention of these terms will either scare many away as being ‘too technical’, simply bore them to sleep, or make them think you really are trying to make a pipe bomb.
Whilst these latter measures may seem extreme, they will prevent your browsing and reading habits being tracked when you’d rather keep the cubicle door closed. Though it could be analogous to only shitting within the confines of a lead-box in the middle of some remote woodland, in the middle of the middle of nowhere.
This brings me to my second point about your own privacy, which is actually security. Ignoring the mass data collection point for a moment, my whole first point (and most of Victoria’s article) about others discovering your secrets is moot if people took security over their privacy a little more seriously. I suppose, to continue the bathroom analogy, otherwise it’s a bit like pooping in a public restroom with the door closed, but leaving the door unlocked. Wonderful! Anybody could walk in on you.
If you want to remain private, first you need a door; then it needs to be locked.
Your room-mate should never be able to see those incriminating ads served on your computer, because your laptop should have a password on it. Likewise your phone. Tablet. Desktop. Work computer. I don’t think people comprehend just how much information is known and stored about them by online companies, or even just within these devices themselves. I recently read an excellent piece (I will have to try and dig out the link) where the author described his bewilderment at the recent fashionable vilification of government groups’ online monitoring habits, whilst large online companies such as Google and Amazon probably know a thousand times more about you as an individual than the NSA ever will.
Google knows what I read, what I listen to, where I shop, the games I play, the apps I use, the devices on which they are installed. They have every photo I’ve ever taken on my smartphone. Heck, they know where I am 24-hours-a-day, with a full history! But I digress. My point is not about what they know, but how to prevent others from also knowing.
Protecting yourself can be simple. A four-digit pin isn’t a bad start, but a longer one is better. A random pattern combination, fingerprint, or other security measure are all great too. An-y-thing is better than nothing: assuming that is you don’t give out those credentials which is akin to locking the washroom door, then giving everyone a key.
Returning to work after the holiday break, a colleague informed me that, after I’d recommended to him the same thing months earlier, he had given his spouse probably the most boring and un-inspiring gift he’s ever bought: a year’s subscription to LastPass Premium. What a guy! I was stoked! He went on to regale how, after researching privacy and security herself over the last few weeks, she is probably more excited about that than any of the other gifts.
The pros (and cons) of password vaults can be discussed another time, but not only will (read: can) they make your online life a lot more secure, they can actually make it easier to keep your private habits just that. They remove the need to remember a hundred different complex passwords, or at the very least stop you using the same password a hundred times over. Skeleton key anyone?
So where do I poop? In a bank vault. Built inside a military grade bunker. Requiring three forms of ID for entry. Do I have something to hide? Nothing nefarious. I just like my privacy, and control over who gets access to what information.
Thanks, Victoria, for the article. I hope I was able to provide an alternative view on the subject.