Privacy is a fundamental human right. Everyone is entitled to their own domain – property, thoughts, identity, secrets, etc. – everything that defines one’s self. The concept of privacy is one of the cornerstones of modern civilization. Then why do people brush off as unimportant most efforts to safeguard privacy in the online world?
The general argument against online privacy advocates is that “If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear.” But this misses the point. It is not that you have to be a criminal of devious conspiracy to demand some privacy. It is just that there are things that are your business, and nobody else’s. Do you lock your door? Do you wear clothes? You certainly get the idea of privacy in the offline world. Here’s why it extends online.
What information do you give away online?
Let’s start by going over the types of information people give away all the time.
- Personal details such as name, age, and birthplace. If you have any social media profiles, you’ve already made some, if not all, of these things public domain.
- Your location. You don’t even have to be one of those people who tag themselves on every street corner. Locating a cell phone – and by extension, its user – is easy for any carrier or tech company whose services you use.
- Your contacts’ information. All the communications you make online go through some third-party infrastructure. And even if they cannot see the content, the metadata (like who you’re talking to, at what time, etc.) is easy to access.
- Your purchasing history. When you buy something from a brick and mortar store, they don’t ask you for ID and write down your details after every purchase, do they? Well, online retailers do both, and also know your address.
- Your professional secrets. If you are storing files on the cloud, you’re letting a third party store them. Of course, this doesn’t mean Google reads through the content. They just search it for “non-personally identifiable information” to resell to advertisers.
- Every conversation you ever have. Are you are using a digital assistant like Siri, Cortana, or Alexa? Those programs are designed to be constantly on and record everything around, while they wait for instructions. You don’t really have to plot a murder next to your Amazon Echo to get why this is too much of an intrusion, do you?
The above are just examples – the list goes on and could include everything from your biometric data to your banking credentials. Who gets to access that data? It depends on what services you use and how you use them. The list includes your internet service, the manufacturer of the device and the software, the tech companies whose services you use, plus a bunch of services you use without even knowing about it, and – of course – cybercriminals. All of those parties are happy to mine, package, and resell your data.
How do you regain your sense of privacy then?
Privacy boils down to perception. You know there are thieves that want to rob your house in the offline world, so you lock your doors. As you can see, there are both “thieves” and valuable possessions in your online life as well. How do you lock the online door then? You can start by doing away with services you don’t really need. People have been able to tie their shoes without a digital assistant for generations; you’ll figure it out too. Here’s what else you can do:
- Limit Internet browsing. It is where most malware comes from. And it is turned off by default on services like Secure Group’s Secure Phone for a reason. The least you can do is to avoid shady sites.
- Use HTTPS everywhere. This encrypts the connection between the website and your browser, obscuring the exchanged data from prying eyes (which could be your ISP, for example).
- Block trackers. There are dozens of hidden services that collect your data for third-party services on every website. Thankfully there are also apps and add-ons that block them. Make sure you use one.
- Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). These services work as an encrypted tunnel between your device and destinations you visit on the Internet. This way, you can use public networks securely.
- Encrypt your communications. When you are having a private chat with someone, you want it to stay private, don't you? Make sure you use a client which provides end-to-end encryption – this way even if a third party intercepts a message in transit, it would be incomprehensible to them.
These are all basic steps you need to take to regain at least some privacy. Still, against more sophisticated adversaries, this would not be enough. For real mobile security, you need specialized solutions, such as Secure Group's – secure communication services offering military-grade end-to-end encryption, via devices that have been heavily modified, so they don’t have any vulnerabilities.