I think everyone will agree with me when I say:
2017 has been a ROUGH time for the Internet. Online privacy is under attack from politicians, corporations, and criminals. Cyber security threats are on the rise. Governments and large corporations are launching a full-scale assault on individual rights and privacy. The Internet we know and love feels like it’s dead.
Or is it?
Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your online privacy. This guide is here to help teach you how to fight for the Internet and protect your personal privacy…
…the tools and measures outlined in this set of guides are here to empower you, the user.
In today’s guide, we are going to start with the basics. I am going to start with a general overview of where we are at now and what will be covered in the upcoming guides.
Remember. Nothing is perfect.
The landscape is volatile. Expect change. No one tool is going to make you “safe” or completely anonymous. Those are goals that you have to strive for continually. But, those are goals that you have to strive for continually.
Utilize these tools and techniques in conjunction with each other and allow them to compliment each other. By remaining vigilant, putting together a privacy toolbox, and using some common sense, you can significantly improve the control that you have over your personal information and your online footprint.
Online privacy is a complex issue, and there are loads of potential threats and decisions that you have to be able to make from an informed position. Think about every way that you interact with the Internet. How many communication channels do you use on a regular basis? Every single one of those presents a unique challenge to your privacy and security online.
This guide is broken down into manageable sections that focus on each technology and service. The aim is to provide secure solutions for each aspect of your digital world. Many of the “services” and programs that people rely on daily are either insecure or downright malicious in some way and should be avoided in favor of more secure and possibly less well-known options. There is no “one size fits all” answer, so we will provide multiple alternatives wherever possible.
I Have Nothing to Hide
It is the most common argument against investing in online privacy. It is simply not the issue.
Some might say “I don’t care if they violate my privacy; I’ve got nothing to hide.” Help them understand that they are misunderstanding the fundamental nature of human rights. Nobody needs to justify why they “need” a right: the burden of justification falls on the one seeking to infringe upon the right. But even if they did, you can’t give away the rights of others because they’re not useful to you. More simply, the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority. But even if they could, help them think for a moment about what they’re saying. Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden, the very individual that exposed the frightening extent of the NSA’s surveillance, blew apart that argument in a Reddit AMA that he participated in on May 21, 2015, and what he said still holds just as true today.
If you think about it in more physical terms, it’s just as easy to see. Imagine the world where the police or government agents routinely enter your home without your consent or even your knowledge and sift through your belongings and documents for evidence of wrongdoing. If you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to hide, right? Still, that prospect is guaranteed to set off alarms in anyone’s mind. It’s the very reason the United States instituted the Fourth Amendment so early in its history.
They know if you have been bad or good so you better be good or else
Digital surveillance is a global issue. Through strategic spying agreements, fourteen major nations, known as the Fourteen Eyes, cooperate to monitor a large percentage of the world’s population, their citizens.
The Fourteen Eyes has an even tighter-knit core, the Five Eyes These are the nations responsible for the bulk of the surveillance and the architects of the global spying program, and yes, the United States is a member. Five Eyes nations share their considerable resources and computing power and intelligence. This intelligence exchange enables each country to circumvent its own laws which were put in place to protect the rights of its citizens.
Who Are The Fourteen Eyes?
Five Eyes Nations
- United States
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
Nine Eyes Nations
Fourteen Eyes Nations
If you are living in any one of these nations, there is an excellent chance that some of your personal information and communications has been collected. Actually, anyone using the Internet is risking their data and privacy. Citizens of the Fourteen Eyes just face higher odds.
Advertisers, the data industry, and your privacy
Information is valuable. To you, your information is valuable for personal reasons. For advertisers, it’s a lead that could translate into sales. Personal data is one of the fastest growing and most profitable industries in the modern world. Advertisers and large tech companies alike are making a killing off of your personal information, your web browsing habits, and even how you interact with your friends on social media.
Have you ever wondered how sites like Google and Facebook are free? Well, they’re not. Only, instead of paying for them with money, you pay with your data. Tech giants like Facebook and Google have grown into multi-billion dollar companies by tracking their users, recording everything that they do, and selling that data.
Everything that you do on Facebook, everything you like, and everyone you talk to is tracked. The same applies to all of your Google searches. Of course, these two aren’t the only players in the data game. Think about all of the sites that take your information and seem to provide a service without asking anything in return. Chances are, they are taking something.
Thanks to Donald Trump and the Republican Party, there’s someone new getting rich off of your personal information, your ISP. Newly passed legislation in the United States allows internet service providers to track and sell their customers’ Internet browsing histories without their consent.
The Common Sense Argument
Sometimes, it’s important to look past the Orwellian horror of the world stage and think in simpler terms. Your files, documents, and photos are necessary. They contain memories, family, and private information. Do you want to trust all of that to a big cloud service company, or would you rather protect it yourself?
Cyber security threats are another more common reason to shore up your defenses. It isn’t just big corporations that are looking to make money off of your personal information. Criminal hackers are always inventing new and creative ways to profit from security failures. It’s important to understand how privacy and security work in the online world in order to stay a step or two ahead of the crooks. Besides, no one wants the embarrassment of having been an easy mark.
What This Guide Includes
Okay, so it’s not everything, but it is a whole lot. One of the major objectives of this manual is to provide privacy solutions or improvements for each aspect of the digital world. Here are some of the major topics we will cover.
VPNs and Anonymity
Your first line of defense in the struggle for your online rights is hiding exactly who you are. VPNs(Virtual Private Networks) and networks like Tor are an excellent way to conceal your IP address and your true identity.
Web Browsers & Addons
Web browsers and any addons you install are your gateway to the Internet. Choosing the browser and installing the proper addons means everything. It’s hard to defend your privacy when your browser or an extension is selling you out to its developer.
Email and Social Media
The Internet is all about communication. There are better ways to share information and talk with friends that don’t compromise your privacy. Encryption and services that value customer privacy can go a long way.
Most casual technology users buy a computer or a phone and never think too much about the software at its core. Operating systems play a huge role in security, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with them that free and open source operating systems are much better in terms of protecting users and their data.
While desktop and mobile apps don’t have as much power on your devices as operating systems do, they still have access to and even transmit data. Like with operating systems, open source is usually the way to go.
Who Controls Your Software?
In any of these categories, it’s important to consider whom the software or service serves. Sure, you might get something out of using Facebook, but does it serve you? No. It helps advertisers, and ultimately the company itself.
Another way of looking at this is to consider who is in control. For a piece of software or a service to truly serve you, you must have control over it. Users and paying customers should be able to examine, modify, and share software. They should know exactly what is happening with their data when the entrust it to a service.
Using free/libre software, as I’ve advocated for 30 years, is the first step in taking control of our digital lives, and that includes preventing surveillance. We can’t trust nonfree software; the NSA uses and even creates security weaknesses in nonfree software to invade our own computers and routers. Free software gives us control of our own computers, but that won’t protect our privacy once we set foot on the Internet.Richard Stallman, Founder of the Free Software Foundation
Richard Stallman has been advocating for free and open source software for decades because it is one of the only ways to guarantee that the software running on your computer is truly yours.
Who Is This Privacy Guide For?
If you’ve made it this far, it really shouldn’t be a question. Everyone can benefit from protecting their data and improving the security of Internet services that he or she rely on.
How many of the tools highlighted in the guide that you ultimately used on a regular basis is entirely up to you, and how comfortable you are with certain data being collected.
As the adage goes, “Knowledge is power.” Through education, you can empower yourself to make informed choices and survey the digital terrain around you. Ultimately, the choices you make and the tools that you use come together to form a comprehensive digital policy for you to lead your online life by.