It’s time to take back your privacy.

I’ve never taken kindly to people looking over my shoulder whilst I’m reading. On trains, if I notice a craned neck, I’ll turn roughly away, shielding my book from an unwanted viewer. If it’s someone I know, then I’ll mumble, growl and eventually bark until they get the message of my displeasure.

These are great ways to put people off an invasion of your privacy when you can see them directly but they’re effectively useless if you’re reading from a connected screen.

We once were free

Yes, you can snarl at the person on the tube when you feel their eyes rise over your shoulder but the gesture is frankly useless. As much as it might put the individual back in their box, it will have done nothing to stop a multitude of trackers from peering at the page you’re reading, logging all sorts of information about you and then using it for their own gain — whether that’s for their own marketing purposes or for sale to data dealers.

In its early days the Web was held high as a beacon of new-found interconnected freedom but that is not the Web we have come to know. Instead, we have one that follows us relentlessly, watching, taking notes and passing them onto others.

The Worldwide Web has become a Worldwide All-Seeing Eye. What once promised freedom, today saps our liberty to read or view, to learn or laugh for fear that someone, somewhere, a government or a corporation will use our information for their own gain at our expense.

“Your data is you”

Constant surveillance changes the way we are. Even without the rise of authoritarian politics, it puts us in a state of exploitation. Where many see free content, ethical software developer, Aral Balkan, sees data capitalism at work — a system of data farms in which we are milked for our personal information before it is used to create digital copies of every one of us. As Balkan has repeatedly said, “your data is you.”

This is a system that takes without your knowledge and therefore without your consent. Once, we may have been able to write off the cost in our minds because we enjoyed the free web in return but now, new costs have emerged in the form of echo-chambered news distribution, data analysis designed to sway elections and laws that hand our personal lives to the government.

In today’s world, your data is a bargain basement commodity that’s making money for anonymous corporations and handing power to goons. It is a world in which you are information and looking after yourself is a form of self-defence.

Privacy is not an optional extra

Sadly, snarling over your shoulder doesn’t work on the Internet and many of the most popular platforms prefer to put privacy down as an optional extra. This means it’s up to each of us to make sure we take care of our own data, a task that’s become easier thanks to groups which work to put our privacy first. Groups like EFF, Privacy International or Balkan’s own Ind.ie.

If we take back control, we’ll find some of the freedom that the early Internet promised. If we don’t then our futures may not be as connected as we thought.

From a news and marketing perspective, trackers ensure we’re shown the same things over and over again, that we’re never given the opportunity to breathe new air.

From a political perspective, fingerprinting and tracking can be used by governments to know us better than we know ourselves. The next step is to use that information to inspire docility and control.

Every journey starts…

This isn’t the future that I aspire to, so I’ve decided to start the journey to taking back control. The problem…I’m not a tech person, I don’t know how to make my computer jump and sing, so I’m reliant on the tools others are willing to give me. They’re not perfect, they don’t guarantee privacy but they are the vital first step and I urge you to take it with me.

See my guide on tools that will help you take the first step to winning back your privacy.