Almost twenty years after the initial release of Facebook, the issue of online privacy is at the center of attention. Numerous clandestine algorithms threaten people’s online privacy, gathering user data often without consent.
The privacy problem predates the Internet and is illustrated by the political tensions of the XX century. The liberal West that prioritized personal freedom is juxtaposed with the authoritarian East, which continues to control citizens’ intimate lives, equivalent to Orwell’s 1984 dystopian novel.
Sadly, Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency leaks reveal that similar, although softer, practices make way to the US governmental agencies. The issue is just as relevant today as it was during the cold war, delimiting the boundaries between security or control, freedom or oppression – it remains within philosophical boundaries.
And as with many philosophical disputes, there are numerous opinions. One of the most popular answers to online data gathering is another question: what if I’ve got nothing to hide? In reality, a lot is happening behind the curtain, which affects most of us, whether you value your intimacy or otherwise.
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Online Information Bubbles
The dangers of online surveillance are mistakenly understood as a threat of revealing something private, shameful, something you wouldn’t want your parents to see. Even though the dangers are very real, especially if you develop a habit of storing intimate pictures on iCloud, you can secure online accounts with a password manager, reducing the risk to nearly zero. The same cannot be said about publicly available user data mining, including your social network posts, YouTube likes, news site comments, etc.
Vast amounts of user data are used to construct in-depth psychological profiles. It’s a public secret that government security agencies collect them to identify malicious actors, which, in theory, sounds noble. In practice, they often overstep their boundaries and come to a few steps closer to authoritarianism. What’s more, online targeting based on psychological profiles has been used at least twice: during the 2016 US presidential elections and by Cambridge Analytica several years back.
As Russia basically admits to tampering with the 2016 presidential elections, many ask how exactly that happened. The Russian troll farm called Internet Research Agency exploited the Facebook platform to create thousands of fake accounts pretending to be genuine Americans. Based on user psychological profiles they could get by data scraping, they constructed hundreds of political ads to increase societal tensions.
You are less likely to listen to a different opinion if partial news continuously reinforces your worldview. The cornerstone of Western democracy is based on an open and respectful dispute. After hearing all opinions, people finally cast their votes. However, spreading misinformation on social media undermines people’s ability to communicate and separates them into two opposing camps. The US has never been as politically divided, with the abyss between republicans and democrats becoming deeper.
Cambridge Analytica exploited the very same principle. It illegally scraped millions of Facebook user profiles and used this information to promote Donald Trump and senator Cruiz’s campaigns. Even if you have nothing to hide – and there’s nothing wrong with sharing political affiliation publicly – malicious players can use this information against you.
Remaining critical online is paramount, but social networks’ influence over public opinion is too much. Right now, it’s best to remain vigilant online and resist the urge to overshare, especially regarding the most sensitive topics.
Online Privacy Protection Tips
You can take action right now and follow these few easy tips to increase your online privacy.
- Use a Virtual Private Network. VPNs are the number one go-to software to protect online privacy. They create a secure and encrypted tunnel between your device and the Internet so that no third party can spy on your browsing activities. A reliable VPN for mobile devices or computers has a zero-log policy, which means it does not collect and share your information with third parties.
- Avoid Google services. Google is the biggest data-scraping company that uses its search engine to collect your information. You can use an alternative like duckduckgo.com, which is more privacy oriented. Simultaneously, there are alternatives to Google Chrome browser, such as TOR network or Brave browser.
- Store information in a secure Cloud. Instead of trusting your pictures with Facebook and your videos with TikTok, you can use secure Cloud storage to keep the information safe and available. Facial recognition companies often use these social networks to fill their databases with pictures without your consent, which can be later misused by governments that often use their services to spy on citizens.
Online privacy is about much more than just personal well-being. Discussed examples reveal how uncontrolled data collection results in undermined elections, and numerous governments use it to persecute political opponents. Remaining private online will reduce political propaganda in your newsfeed and protect you from third-party influences simultaneously.