How everyone loses
their privacy

Our current understanding of privacy will change for over 90% of humankind in a short space of time. People who want to keep their privacy, will have to pay a lot.

What is privacy?

Let’s have a look at the definition of Prof. Dr. Lutz Prechelt to get a better understanding of the topic:

“an area in which a person can control (or should be able to control) whom, why and when they wants to give personal information away.”

Also the right of privacy is guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, especially in article 12:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence (…). Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” — UDHR

These rights are expanded in some national constitutions, inter alia in Germany (e.g. confidentiality secrecy of telecommunications) and the USA.

According to the definition of the Federal Constitutional Court (an) “action is arbitrarily (if the) relation to the situation which has to be controlled, is actually and unambiguously unreasonable.”


In the following we will look at privacy in correspondence and privacy at home, inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Correspondence and communication

The way of communication, formerly written correspondence and telecommunications (engineering), has changed. The majority of communication is unwound with the Computer. Parts of it are still juridicall protected. However, thru different interpretations it is possible to skip the national constitution and enter the privacy. For instance, governments interpret that those rights are only valid for their state territory or its own people. Seen this way the observation other countries and their population seems legal.

Two different mountains of data

Attention hast to be paid to the two different types of data: one the one hand content Data e.g. the text of a message and on the other hand the so called metadata or traffic data, like broadcasting time, reception time, address of the sender, address of the receiver etc.

In article 12 of the UDHR it is not distinguished between these data.
United Nations High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, commented:

„From the perspective of the right to privacy, this distinction is not persuasive. The aggregation of information commonly referred to as “metadata” may give an insight into an individual’s behavior, social relationships, private preferences and identity that go beyond even that conveyed by accessing the content of a private communication.“ — UN-OHCHR, Navi Pillay, 6/2014

Which communication tools are distributed?

By active accounts (Source: Statista)

  1. Cellphone: 7.879 million
  2. Email: 4.350 million
  3. WhatsApp: 800 million

By messages (Source: Statista)

  1. Email: 205 billion daily
  2. WhatsApp: 64 billion daily
  3. SMS: 19,5 billion daily

For comparison only: Number of Mails: 339.8 billion every year
~0,931 billion daily

Who can access which communication data?

Mostly, organizations who transport the content data, have access to some metadata, so the content data can be delivered. With a letter it would be the German Post and with phone calls or text messages the mobile operator of the caller. Emails involve more organizations: email service provider, internet service provider and the operator of the internet nodes have access. Very often this data is saved by organizations and forwarded to third parties. Some for commercial purposes and some for the state surveillance.

Due to Edward Snowden many State surveillance programs were reviled. Now, in the Post-Snowden-Era with additional public information, the following quote results:

In reality an individual person cannot control who has access to personal information and the metadata while communicating over E-Mail or WhatsApp. The right of privacy is not guaranteed.

Is privacy of the digital communication completely at this point of time?

Yes and No.

Yes, because there is mass surveillance of the internet and the most internet based services, like email and WhatsApp.
Everybody who uses one of these services loose referring to their metadata a part of his privacy. The surveillance of content data is not considered here. Additional many parts of telecommunications are under surveillance. The US-American surveillance service NSA only has 140 GB memory capacity for each of the world’s citizens.

No, because there’s too much data generated to analyze all of it. That’s a small chance to fall through cracks.
There are still a few digital communication tools which try to disguise metadata. They’re mostly based on decentralized networks.

3 reasons why we use communication tools violating our privacy

Economic reasons: Normally emails or WhatsApp messages are for free. Customers are only charged for internet access.

Ignorance: A survey in 24 countries shows, that on average 60% know Edward Snowden and 39% took action to save their privacy in the internet.
Nevertheless 70% of the Germans are unconcerned about being personally affected by surveillance.
Beside there’s public awareness of surveillance, but people don’t realize scope and consequences on every human.

Indolence: Email and WhatsApp are very fast ready to use. The usage is very easy. Wide distribution by young people leads to peer pressure. It’s hard to oppose.


Remember the definition of privacy
“An area in which a person can control (or should be able to control)
whom, why and when they wants to give personal information away.”

Private home?

The smart devices (“things”) of the Internet of Things affect more and more frequently the protected area home.

Characteristics of Internet of Things are mainly networking and connectivity, sensors and naturalness. Sensors generate data, which are often send up via networking (e.g. by an interface to the internet).
This background processes remain often unnoticed because of the natural behavior.

Why IoT destroys privacy in one’s own home

Adding overvalue by magic and fascination is a part of IOTs DNA:
Seemingly being able to do things beyond mind. Thus cause danger for privacy:

  1. We don’t know when and why which data are collected.
  2. We don’t know, who can access these information.

These two attributes attack the principles of privacy.

One step to save privacy is the IoT Design Manifesto, which features “Datenvermeidung” (data reduction and data economy) and “Datenschutz” (data protection).

The designer are responsible to abide by the UDHR. The human right of privacy is not suable in most instances — and resposibility is shifted to the user.


What’s the value of private information?

Companies and governments deem data extremly valuable.
They believe in data (“Datengläubigkeit”).

Status quo in companies

Three out of four of the most valuable companies worldwide are IT based companies. Every single of these companies has another cash cow: Apple sells the iPhone, Microsoft sells software licenses and Google sells online advertisements. The main overvalue of Google’s ads in comparison with other competitors is the knowledge of the user: Literally the amount of data which is used to place relevant ads. Google’s market capitalization is by over 300 billion dollar.

All named companies collect incredible many data and are successfull with it. The “sensor packages” of the companies are widely spread and are constant companions of the user. The iPhone, Android and WindowsPhone are collecting permanently collecting data from the user. The value of the data is shown by for example by the price of Android OS: It’s for free. From this follows that Google generates more revenues by using the user generated data than the development over ten years cost (and still costs).

What is the value of private data for governments?

Five Eyes: One of the biggest known surveillance alliance worldwide is based on the Five Eyes Agreement which consists of the USA (NSA), the United Kingdom (GCHQ), Canada, Australia and Newsealand.
Durch die Zusammenarbeit ist die Überwachung so weitreichend, dass von einer weltweiten Totalüberwachung des Internets gesprochen werden kann.

Thereby surveillance services monitor targeted the population of allies and pass the information to the local services so these can monitor their own population without breaking the constitution.

Most of the money flows to CIA, NSA and NRO. The budget increased more than 50% since 2004.

2013 comes the “Black Budget” of the US surveillance agencies to
more than 52.6 billion Dollar. — The Washington Post

Which consequences accept the governments? Confidence is an extremely valuable commodity in politics. The release to the public of the total surveillance inflicted sustained damage on the trust between many countries, e.g. between the USA and Brasilia or Germany.
Internal documents show that the USA expected expulsion of diplomats and sustained damage on relations.

Another example is the reindroduction of the “Vorratsdatenspeicherung” (“data preservation/retention”) in Germany under Chancellor Merkel.
German government wants to enforce the unfounded surveillance of the people — despite the decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court which declared the law as incompatible with the constitution and the rejection of the European Court of an corresponding directive. Résumé:

“Governments are willing to enact laws violating the constitution and the
Charter of Fundamental Rights to keep its people under surveillance.”

Further Reading
Undigitize me.