Privacy on the internet, that’s an oxymoron

Privacy is a hot topic online since Edward Snowden revealed the American government’s mass surveillance program a few years ago. Unfortunately, I think most people do not understand what it means and what the issues are. Quite often if you bring up the topic in a conversation, you hear “I don’t really care. I do nothing special and they won’t find anything interesting. I’ve got nothing to hide”.

What if any government could access your emails, your private social media accounts? What if they could access your own computer, turn on your webcam to watch you and listen to you? What if they could listen to every phone conversation you have, or access your personal text messages, pictures? What if any big internet company (Facebook, Google, whoever) could sell all of the data they own about you to anyone?

“Privacy on the internet, that’s an oxymoron.” Catherine Butler

Think about everything you share online, everything you write in emails or text messages… think about everything you say. Are you totally sure you have nothing to hide? I’m not talking about terrorism or anything like that. I’m talking about little things in your life. Are you sure you want EVERYONE to know EVERYTHING about you? Take time to think about it for a minute… With all the laws in the world, you probably have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.

The “national security” card

Governments use national security as the main reason to spy on everyone. And because of this “propaganda”, when people say “I’ve got nothing to hide”, they mostly mean something like “I’m not a terrorist so they won’t find anything”. Well, they won’t find anything about terrorism I agree, but they can find plenty of other things: your political opinion, your religious opinion, where you’ve been on holiday, when, who with, anything!

Another often heard argument is: “they’re not going to waste their time spying on me rather than on bad guys”. Well sorry to disappoint you, but we are in the 21st century, and computers can process a shit ton of data without a man staring at a screen. With a good algorithm, they can easily sort out all the data, organize them and classify them. So sorry, but that’s not a valid argument.

So, is national security a good enough reason to spy on and listen to every single citizen? I don’t believe so. Don’t get me wrong, security is important, especially in the time we live in, where horrible things happen pretty much every week right now! But as too often, something created for a good reason will one day be used for something else and things will go wrong!

“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

Just imagine what a government, any public administration or any private company could do if they knew everything about you!

Like it, share it

Let’s talk about social media now. How many hours per day do we spend on them? Probably too many for most of us. I already scratched the surface of privacy in social media in my first blog post here.

Social media companies like Facebook and Twitter or other big internet giants such as Google or Amazon know a lot about us! Consider everything we share, like, write, upload or buy… if all this information is analyzed, it can tell a lot about us!

If we share so much with these platforms, it’s because we trust them. We want to believe our data is safe and not used for anything else other than advertising.

But what if tomorrow Facebook decides to sell your data, which is now their data, to anyone? All your contacts, pictures, shares and likes, even your location! How do you know it’s not already happening? Don’t worry, it’s not. Not yet at least! But as barely anyone read the boring long “Terms & Conditions”, how would we know!?

Welcome to 1984

Now let’s move to a fictional world where governments actually spy on everyone, they have full access to our lives. Plus internet giants can do whatever they want with our data, and sell it to whoever they want.

Here is what a pretty bad day in this world could look like:

  • You get ready and drive to work. With an access to your phone, it is easy to track you. Using all the data a smartphone can provide, it is easy to know when you leave, how long it takes you to go to work, how fast you’re driving, and what you do while driving. You speed? You automatically receive a fine. You call someone while driving? Get another fine! And as they can access all your data, why not take the money directly from your bank account so you won’t forget to pay them. As your data is sold to your insurance company, they know what you did so a minute later you receive a notification informing you of an increase in your bill based on your bad driving! Not the best way to start the day is it!
  • Thanks to a big promotion at work, you are going to be moving to another country soon, so you’re applying for a visa. Unfortunately for you, they reject your application. The government found something on your social media accounts that you have been sharing articles and thoughts against the current administration. Damn it!
  • After work, you go to the doctor, who gives you pretty bad news about your health. An hour later, you receive a phone call from your bank saying your mortgage renegotiation is canceled because of this health issue. Also, the insurance on your current mortgage will go up! Seems like you should have stayed in bed today!!
  • Back home, you complain about your shitty day to your wife. Upset, you talk about your job and inadvertently give up sensitive information about your job which you are not supposed to share. Oops, good for you no one heard you, isn’t it?
  • The day after, you are summoned to a meeting with your boss. Sensitive and unpleasant information leaked in the press, and apparently, it comes from you! Yeah, the press now buys data from tech giants and they heard an interesting conversation last night! Result: you’re fired, and you’re sued for releasing classified information.

I purposely over-exaggerated everything here. But I want you to realize what could happen in a not so distant future if governments decide to collect data from everyone and big companies decide to sell everything they know about you. And this is not that fictional, to be honest. Snowden released proof the American government massively collects data from EVERYONE. Tech giants use our navigation data to target advertisements when you browse online, what could stop them in a few years from using or sharing this data for more $$$?

Just with full access to all your emails, text messages, phone conversations, pictures and browsing history, damages could be extreme! Add real-time surveillance and mass data collection, we are pretty close to the Big Brother world of 1984 from George Orwell!

“The common argument we have — if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear — the origins of that are literally Nazi propaganda.” Edward Snowden

It’s important to fight this international issue right now at the beginning. If we wait too long, it could be too late and we could be stuck on a dangerous path. Or is it already too late?

To finish, here is a list of articles giving more explanations and examples on this subject:

*Photo by Thom on Unsplash


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