Written By: Adam Peach
The internet is a truly amazing thing. It empowers people, allowing access to a vast ocean of information from all over the world. With the Internet we meet new friends, stay in touch with old friends, create ideas, earn money, participate in public debates, learn about current issues, and so much more. The internet was built for indiscriminate access to information. It was not particularly built for security, however.
As described in my last article, Big Data is a rapidly growing billion-dollar industry in which it’s fundamentals include massive collection of user/consumer data for the purposes of analytics, forecasting and marketing – and more! While this can be very extremely useful in various fields – particularly the medical field – it also raises a question in regards to user/consumer privacy. Should companies be allowed to collect our data and use it to analyze our trends, interests, and frequent locations without us knowing? Does this breach our privacy in any way? Should we allow anyone to continuously make records of basically everything we do, everywhere we go and every particular activity we are engaging in without our consent to this kind of mass social experimentation.
Don’t get me wrong, data is great! As someone who maintains various blogs and social media accounts, I like the idea of knowing how many people are viewing my content and having the ability to draw geographical demographics from that data. However, this is the exact sort of data that is being used to create what Eli Pariser calls “The Filter Bubble”, in which the data is used to generate future readily-visible content for a specific user, based on their specific past viewed content. That means the content you see in front of you was pre-determined by an artificial intelligence-based system which is showing you this content based on all of your other interactions on that particular platform (links you’ve clicked on, web sites you have visited, people you communicated with). These things, and more, will all contribute to what is shown to you on the internet. This is called Augmented Reality and by definition creates a computer-generated image of our view of the real world, giving us a “manufactured” view of the world around us.
Regardless of our opinions about the legal legitimacy of this kind of data collection and social manipulation, there are ways you can stop companies from collecting and storing your data. There are ways to make yourself less visible when browsing the internet.
The Tor Network (www.torproject.org)
Tor is great for become less visible on the internet. It disguises you by sending you traffic over multiple TOR servers and encrypts it, preventing the data being tracked back to the user. Browsers such as Tor Browser and Orfox (Android) can be used for anonymously surfing the internet and can be downloaded for free at http://www.torproject.org. This worldwide network was developed with the US Navy as a means to browse the internet anonymously. Now, it is a non-profit, internet privacy advocate.
Virtual Private Networks (VPN) add security and privacy when using public networks like public wifi hotspots, and the rest of the internet really. It works by using computers on discrete networks joined together through the world wide web. Activating a VPN service encrypts your information preventing any eavesdropping. The most trusted VPN services are in which a paid subscription is required. Unfortunately, most free VPN services share your registration information to 3rd parties making your attemp at privacy useless, really. It is a cheap service, but a very useful service for anyone who cares about their privacy online and is willing to shell out only a couple of bucks to enforce their concern. Netflix users will most likely be familiar with VPN services as they can also be used to access content otherwise restricted in their particular geographical location, or particular network (schools, workplace, countries with strict internet browsing restrictions). However, companies such as Netflix are currently being pro-active in trying to stop the use of VPN services by users of it’s platform.
Leaked emails and email service providers having security breaches are both topics almost constantly coming up in the news today. By using encrypted email services such as ProtonMail (www.protonmail.com), you increase your email privacy greatly. ProtonMail also offers 2-step authentication for user access (account password, as well as an inbox password to make it more difficult for someone to access your account). Other services such as Gmail offer these 2-step authentication options as well. However, it is not encrypted and does not share the same privacy values as a service such as ProtonMail. ProtonMail is a free service.
Block Data and Ad-Trackers From Collecting Your Data
Anyone can do this, however, here are some demonstrations to make things easier – explaining how you can prevent snooping and tracking on a few popular platforms such as Windows 10, Mac IOS, and your mobile phone. Another video I’ve included, explains how to stop Google from tracking your data through your Google account. At the bottom of this article, I’ve shared some written articles explaining more about ways to increase your privacy on the internet.