I remember the day I discovered activity controls on Google dashboard. To my horror I realized, it knew all about me. What I searched, watched, posted, where I have been, even audio recording from voice searches. The audio recordings freaked me out.
It is not just Google. All governments, big techs (Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, to name a few) tracks your digital footprint, by default. Yes, they (probably) know you are reading this article.
You are being tracked is a cliché. The world has changed since 2013 — mass surveillance, propaganda and fake news is on the rise; more than ever. Not a specific organization, political party or government — but all of them (including small businesses and startups) tries to get something out of it. In reality, tools that finds the people who will love your business are capable of influencing elections.
So, You have Nothing to Hide
If you believe “privacy no longer a social norm” — you should defend the right to think so. One might argue — if he/she wants to do away with privacy, that too is their fundamental right. Agree!
However, we are social creatures. We live close to each other and interact with each other, most of the time (of course, there are hermits and they love privacy). The moment you do away with you privacy — there is a chance of exposing others.
The selfie with your friend you have posted on Instagram can expose him/her, without their consent. We can not ignore the role we play here.
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Throughout the world, without exception — thousands of protesters, activists, social workers are harassed, censored, tracked and even jailed — everyday. Nothing new in this nature of governance. The change that social surveillance has introduced is in the numbers and frequency of these incidents.
“Noting with deep concern that, in many countries, persons and organizations engaged in promoting and defending human rights and fundamental freedoms frequently face threats and harassment and suffer insecurity as well as unlawful or arbitrary interference with their right to privacy as a result of their activities” — Extracts from UN resolution (2016)
Privacy should be a norm when everyone is tracked, monitored, censored and prosecuted.
Before We form Opinion about Big Techs
We should start reflecting on how we are giving away our information to these companies and governments. We can not ignore our responsibility to protect and defend our privacy. Relying alone on the laws is not enough! Your data often lives in a different part of world, beyond the jurisdiction of laws of your nation. Many countries do not have strong laws to defend your digital privacy. Worse, if you want to depend on the privacy settings of Facebook.
Yes, they (probably) know you are reading this article.
State sponsored surveillance and abuse of private data is well known. UN has a passed resolution years ago, affirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. Though, there is no visible effect of it.
Defend your Privacy
The data collection starts the moment you go online. You can not alter that reality! What you can control is —
- What you are sharing?
- Where you are sharing?
- Why you are sharing?
Ask yourself these three questions every time you update your profile, more impotently — when you are creating a profile.
Amazon does not need to know your DOB. Facebook does not need to know your current location. A random website, does not need to know your current address.
You need to think before you create any account. The key here is to go minimalist, the more accounts you create the more likely your data will be breached.
A quick way to validate this argument is Firefox monitor — check it out.
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There are few more aspects to it. What about your internet traffic, browsing data, chats, emails etc. ?
- Your ISP tracks all the communications. This includes websites you visit, videos (be it porn or cartoon) you watch.
- Even if you hide from ISP, your browser can still track your searches.
- You phone can track you location (and link to to Apple, Google) — with a promise of showing you best restaurants in your locality.
- Encrypted chat application are breached often.
- Could drives are also breached often. Another concern with free could storage is data analysis by the provider.
- Free email providers read and analyze your emails and meta data.
Relying alone on the legislation is not enough!
But, there are ways to protect yourself —
- Use a trusted VPN or TOR browser (I recommend Proton VPN) to hide your communications from ISP.
- Restrain from using Google, use duckduckgo with Firefox strict tracking protection.
- Turn off GPS and review application permissions of your mobile device.
- Use opensource chat applications like Signal.
- Do not sync data (photos, backup, WhatsApp backup etc.) to cloud drives. If you really need to do it encrypt the data beforehand and do it manually. The recommended way is to keep your data local, in a encrypted detachable storage.
- Use secure email providers like Proton, Tutanota.
Here, I highly recommend Techlore and his tutorial Go Incognito: A Guide to Security, Privacy, and Anonymity (below).
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Do not get overwhelmed. Take simple, tiny steps towards more private and secure web.
“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.“ — Albert Camus
As you will realize soon, its a struggle to adopt to the privacy practices. I can attest to that from my personal experience. Just stick to it, learn and you shall see the light.
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