The How and What of Privacy

Metadata. Metadata. Metadata.

In previous posts I’ve spoken about why we need privacy and the trade-offs we have to make in order to preserve it. In this one I’d like to reflect on what privacy really means and how it’s being threatened.
Credit: Romain Vignes — Unsplash

The What

Before we define what privacy is, let’s first understand what it isn’t.

Privacy isn’t about being an outlaw who’s living off the grid, out of the ‘matrix’, wearing black 90’s style sunglasses, and drinking some energy beverage while listening to punk music.

Privacy, on top of being a human need, is more about respect than anything else.

Let me ask you this, ​can you live without a lung ? Sure you can, since it’s humanly possible, so then when we abide by this logic you indeed can live without privacy but you’ll be forever restricted and restrained.

The How

In this section we’ll try to understand how [your] privacy is being processed and how to protect it.

“Metadata”, I’ve written this word 3 times so you can probably guess that it’s pretty important but what does it mean ?

Well, “metadata” is actually a compound word composed of “meta” and “data”. Having defined the latter in a previous post, it’s the former that is of more interest to us.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll define meta as the thing of thing (much like recursivity) e.g, meta-learning is learning about learning, so in our case, metadata is data about [that] data [itself].

Now, how does this work in practice? Suppose you use a messaging service such as WhatsApp, the metadata then will be: the timestamp (the time you sent/received a message), the logs (who you’ve spoken to or texted and when) and the overall usage (basically everything you’ve done while on the app). This data is constantly pushed to the servers of these services.

At this stage, a convergence will happen: if the service you’re using is privacy-centered (i.e, respects your privacy) then you can rest assured that your (meta)data is safe, however if it isn’t then you can be sure that your data is being sold (or being available for sale).

But how do you know that a service is privacy-centred and whatsmore, how the hell can you be certain that your data is safe ? It’s pretty simple, just head over to the privacy policy page of that service ( e.g, here’s WhatsApp’s) to learn about the service’s stance on privacy and as far as safety goes there are know that there are organizations worldwide (e.g, EFF) who are defending your rights (either directly or indirectly).

With this in mind, you may start to feel anxious (or even threatened) enough that you feel compelled to take action, well, in that case my friend you’ve come to the right place:

I would advise you to restrict your purchases to Apple products since it ha proven time and time again that it’s one of fiercest advocates of privacy and yes I know, Apple products are quite expensive but once again, one has to choose between privacy (expensive) and convenience (cheap). The general idea is to use products, apps and services that puts privacy upfront.

In addition to this, if you must be on social networks make sure you check your privacy settings and that you limit access to data (e.g, ads preferences).

Also, here are a few (more) guides to follow if you feel like you need to be doing more:

Privacy is such a broad and important topic that I, even if I wanted to, can’t cover it entirely. On top of that it is a moving target, meaning that every day things change (sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better) which means I’m constantly learning.

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