I’m 46 years old male and worked as an IT Professional all my life (since 20+ years so far). I’m using the internet since 1992. Out of interest and sometimes out of curiosity, I have tried to explore the internet. I find myself lucky to see the enormous & rapid growth of Information Technology. It all started with creating my first email account with Hotmail. Then we all have seen the invention of mobile phones, smartphones and then touch phones. Today (almost) everything is connected to the Internet. It has covered every part of our lives.
Today we can’t think of surviving even a day without using the internet. Then Google came with Google Search and then Facebook. From this point onward, everything changed, especially about online privacy.
These IT giants have started capturing everything about us without our knowledge. I know that we accept Terms & Conditions for using their products and services. But we all know that we do it without reading them. Over the period, they penetrated into every aspect of our lives. So deep (like cancer) that it seems almost impossible to get it out of our systems. We need to fight it the same way we fight cancer, smoking, drinking or any habit which you think is bad.
I’m overreacting or acting like a paranoid. Well, we all need to. But, we don’t need to be scared. We need to keep our cool, be patient and work on it, one day at a time.
People are talking about privacy and about its protection for way too long now. Even my 16 years old son is also aware of it, but he doesn’t care. Because, like him, most of us do not understand the impact, effect, and consequences. That’s where we need to start.
I’m not that concerned about whether we can protect our online privacy or not. What bothers me more is that we don’t care. Well, everyone is different and has different needs or objectives in life. We all have more important things to take care of.
The purpose of this publication is not to convince why we should be concerned about protecting our online privacy. Even if we are not doing anything wrong or we have nothing to hide (I don’t believe in this statement though).
The focus of this publication is more on educating normal people like you and me. Making them more aware than before and finally how to act upon it, if you care.
These giant companies are into the business of making money. They can’t provide us anything completely free of cost, right? There is a famous saying on the internet:
If you are not paying, then you are the product.
This saying is quite old and is in existence even before the Internet, Google and Facebook. It has become more meaningful in today’s online world.
None of us are against innovation or invention. We are against the unethical ways of collecting information without our knowledge. But as they say, every coin has two sides. The same goes for the Internet world as well.
Is it unethical?
Well, the answer is NO because there is no law defined yet, which can protect our privacy to the fullest. In recent years, the government has created laws to control it to some extent. I have listed down a few key points on what this law does as of today:
The new law forces every company to disclose what they collect and why?
- But it’s complicated, difficult for a normal human being to understand the meaning.
You have been given rights to request for all the data stored against you at any time.
- The problem is that unless you see the problem, you will never ask for such information.
You have been given rights to request for permanent deletion of your data.
- Almost all the products/services will not function without this data. So, if you ask for the deletion of the data, then you can’t use the product/service. In essence, you need to stop using the product/service.
- Unfortunately, there is no mechanism (yet) to pay for the product/service and stop sharing your data.
- For some of the products, you can’t use them without paying e.g. Spotify. But that doesn’t mean that they are not collecting & using your data in the name of improving their services.
- Companies say that they use this information to provide a better user experience. They also use this information to improve their product and services in the future. They also claim that they anonymize the data so that it can’t be linked with any individual.
- Based on many breaches in the past, claims like these have been proved wrong time & time again. Even these big giant IT companies also can’t protect our data or don’t bother protecting it.
- We can’t trust even the big names in the industry which include Google and Facebook.
- What’s the solution to all these problems?
- Should we pull the plug and disconnect ourselves from the Internet?
- Should we not try new products and services, which can make our lives better & convenient?
Well, it’s not a workable solution, right? Also, the harsh reality is that there is no way to completely anonymize yourself on the internet. It is IMPOSSIBLE.
Risks apply to almost everything in life. Because there is a chance of road-accident, that doesn’t mean that we stop walking on the road or stop driving, right? But, we try to be as careful as possible while driving, isn’t it? We buy cars with Airbags. We go with the ABS feature (anti-lock braking system). So that even if met with an accidental situation, we can be as safe as possible. The same goes for online privacy also.
We need to be aware of the consequences of everything we do online. We need to become wiser day by day and protect our online privacy as much as possible.
Be aware, Become Wiser.
Even with some basic knowledge of computers, I have learned this hard way:
- I wanted to download pirated content, specifically movies, and songs.
- I found out that my computer’s IP address can easily be identified unless I’m using a VPN.
- Even if I use the VPN, at least the VPN companies know my IP address because my computer is connecting to their servers.
- So, if the VPN company is maintaining the logs, then eventually it can be traced back to me.
- I could use ZERO Logging and ZERO Knowledge VPN services. They claim that they don’t maintain any log. But, government authorities can legally force VPN companies to create the log. Though government authorities to get the legal permission first.
- Legal permissions issued in one country doesn’t force other countries to disclose the information. A hypothetical example, if you are using a VPN service of a company based in Germany, the US Government may not be able to seek permission to disclose the information without users’ consent.
Well, I have gone too far. It’s not the legal issue.
We are normal people. We are not whistleblowers or social/political activists. We don’t want to hide our data from government bodies. But we need to hide it from the companies like Google and Facebook who are misusing it to the core.
While exploring the possible options for downloading pirated content, I came to know about a lot of things about online privacy. Every time I read something new, my curiosity kept on increasing more & more. My whole attention got diverted to protecting myself from all these companies.
In the last more than 3 years now, I have learned a lot about Privacy. But at the same time, I have also found out major problems with it.
- A normal person can’t protect their online privacy, because it requires a lot of understanding.
- There is no one-stop solution available. For example, install the Anti-Virus software and forget about it. It will do its job. This is not the case for online privacy, yet.
- All the content about protecting your online privacy available on the Internet is disjointed and scattered all over.
- It requires a lot of research for you to become savvy enough to protect your online privacy.
- Sometimes you may need to try hundreds of things to protect your online privacy.
- It requires us to change the online (bad) habits we have developed over the years and it’s not easy to go back. Exactly like quitting smoking or drinking. It requires a lot of effort for you to stick to the new norm.
- It requires us to be OK with the inconvenience. We were ok without all the Google products/services before they were introduced to us. But, today we can’t leave without Google Maps.
Well, if you want to be safer in the online world and want to protect your online privacy, then you can. If I can do it, so can you.
I’m making this effort to take you through a step-by-step guide of protecting your online privacy. I want to share my learnings from the last 3 years. I want to create this guide as easy as possible for everyone to understand and follow.
We all understand the issue with privacy and consequences as well. Most of us start with it and leave it mid-way, because
- It’s too difficult to follow.
- It’s anyways not possible to protect it 100% so why bother.
If you want to make it happen, you need to be more determined, focused and have a little bit of will power.
My effort is to make this publication as a one-stop-shop for all your privacy needs. Also, how to protect it step-by-step. Please feel free to comment, share and react (positive as well as negative). I may not be able to cover every aspect of your online life, because it may not apply to me or I haven’t experienced it. Please let me know about any of your pressing concerns in the comment section. I will be more than happy to research for you.
I will speak to you in the next article. Till then, goodbye.