Why Do You Need Privacy?

One of the first steps to making people care about their privacy is explaining just how little privacy they actually have. While someone may be fine with letting a website view their IP address, if they knew the full extent of how websites tracked them, they may be more skeptical.

“I’m Not a Criminal, So Why Should I Care?”

By dismissing the importance of privacy, we are setting up a future where our privacy has no value, cannot be protected, preserved or enhanced.

Deciding that you don’t need privacy or that it simply isn’t important to you is putting future generations at risk for having no privacy at all. We should all be advocating for our own privacy or else the companies that use data against us will become far too powerful. It’s scary to think that the level of tracking, targeted advertising, and content streams that we have now could get even more advanced in the near future.

Privacy is not just about hiding illegal or embarrassing activities, it’s about limiting the influence that businesses have on your behavior. The most powerful influence that a website may have over you for now is marketing their products to encourage you to buy them. But as we’ve seen with the Facebook data scandals in the past year, political campaigns are using your internet data to influence your voting behavior.

Another reason privacy is important is for keeping social boundaries and managing your reputation. If you’re a public figure this is especially important. If something is published on the internet about you that’s harmful to your reputation, or false, you should have the right to have that information removed. The European Union already has laws for the “Right to Be Forgotten” and California has recently passed similar legislation.

Types of Privacy Policies

      1. You’re shown a link to a Privacy Policy and a button that says ‘Agree’ or a Check Box that says you’ve acknowledged the Privacy Policy.
      2. You’re Shown a Simplified version of the site’s Privacy Policy and can choose which items you consent to and which you do not consent to. This is common with mobile apps, where you give consent for a number of different things.
      3. The Privacy Policy is linked at the bottom of the site, but you aren’t required to acknowledge it in any way.

The first model which gives users a link to a privacy policy, and makes them agree before using a service isn’t user-friendly. Making someone read a long document full of legal jargon is clearly not the best way to inform them of how their data is collected and used. This model has contributed to the privacy complacency that too many people have adopted. In this model, people are almost encouraged to blindly consent to the privacy and data practices of the site or service they’re using. It’s not worth the extra five to 15 minutes of reading to understand what level of privacy you have.

The second model, which gives users a list of things that the service collects and then lets the user go through one item at a time and decide to give consent or not. This model is far more user-friendly than the first, but this model still doesn’t work. It gives users a better idea of what exactly they’re sharing with the service they use, but it doesn’t accurately portray the complexities and specifics of how it works.

The third type, the privacy policy hidden at the bottom of the web page, keeps privacy at the back of people’s mind and doesn’t do enough to inform users of how they’re being tracked. If a website is clearly intruding on people’s privacy, there should be a clear and obvious request for consent. Hiding a privacy policy, that no one wants to read anyway, at the bottom of a page makes it obvious that the website doesn’t care about informing users about how their data is collected, stored and processed.

Privacy As a Human Right

In the United States, privacy isn’t protected by the Constitution. However, the Supreme Court has found that the Constitution grants a right to privacy against governmental intrusion via the First, Third, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It becomes blurry though when trying to apply these same privacy laws to internet users.

Most states recognize a right to protection from “intrusion upon seclusion or solitude, or into private affairs.” But is there any expectation of privacy on the internet? That question that has been argued for some time. In the context of social media, it’s hard to argue that anyone uses Facebook with the expectation that the information they share is “private”. But if someone connects to the internet with a VPN on a secured network, they may be more likely to expect that their browsing is “private”.

What are Cypherpunks?

cypherpunk is any activist advocating widespread use of strong cryptography and privacy-enhancing technologies as a route to social and political change. The term was coined in the early 1990s by Judith Milhon, a hacker in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto Eric Hughes said, “Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age…We cannot expect government corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy…We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any…Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and…we’re going to write it.”

Cypherpunks are focused on private communications, anonymity, and minimizing censorship and monitoring. Another key part of the cypherpunk movement is “hiding the act of hiding”. If you’re successful at hiding your identity, but someone monitoring you could tell that you’re hiding, it could raise flags and bring on extra scrutiny.

Privacy Comes at a Cost

If you’ve decided to take your online privacy seriously, it can conflict with your business interests, for example. Deleting your Facebook is great, but if you need a Facebook account to promote your business, you’re losing out on sales by not using Facebook.

It can take time to implement a full range of privacy and security tools on all your devices and networks. Rather than just turning on your computer and browsing, you may have to connect your VPN, and open an alternative browser. Because you’re connected with a VPN your browsing will be slower, but you’ll have better privacy protection.

Is Privacy Even Possible?

Some security and privacy experts argue that actual and complete privacy is impossible. If a government surveillance organization like the NSA or CIA wants to access your internet communications, they can do so. And it’s true, there is no perfect privacy solution. Any privacy and security system is likely to have some weakness that someone could exploit.

If you’re a normal person trying keep your personal information private from the websites you visit, you can probably achieve this level of privacy. But if you’re an international drug dealer trying to keep your communications totally anonymous, you will likely have a much harder time doing so because the stakes are higher and the groups interested in your communication are more powerful.