Data Privacy Matters
Data privacy is important because it allows us to control how our personal information is used. It also protects us against potential risks that could arise from sharing this information.
To be perfectly blunt, your personal information and information about how you use social media, navigate the internet, and interact with ads are the new currency. This data reliably produces actual currency when used properly by behavioral economists.
Instagram, Chrome browser, and Google are not actually free. The price you pay is your data and the privacy of your browsing habits.
Privacy Is Our Right… Or Was
The 4th Amendment was designed to protect our privacy, but the world has changed a lot since the constitution was ratified in 1790. Digital information, for example, did not exist in the 18th century. However, for much of our history, privacy remained a right. But there was a single event that changed that for all Americans virtually overnight.
I was in Highschool when 9/11 happened. Regardless of your opinion on this event, it shaped the future of data privacy because it lead to a very troubling piece of legislation: the Patriot Act.
Like most legislation, its name is incredibly deceiving (I’m looking at you, Inflation Reduction Act). It sounds completely harmless. In fact, PATRIOT is even an acronym: Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.
Sounds credible enough right? So does the purpose. America was under attack and we should all be Patriots. In reality, it became a vehicle to violate the privacy of everyday citizens. Here’s what the legislation actually did:
- Expanded surveillance abilities of law enforcement, including by tapping domestic and international phones
- Title V specifically was designed to “remove obstacles to investigating terrorism”
That sounds harmless, but in reality and in recent history parents speaking out against school boards have been labeled as “Domestic Terrorists”. The term terrorist itself is arbitrary. At any point, the government can decide that one of your actions is potentially terrorism and violate your privacy. In a nutshell, the Patriot Act gave the US Government the legal right to spy on anyone without a warrant as long as they were suspected of terrorism.
We Gave It Away
Our founding fathers knew the importance of maintaining and protecting liberty, even in the face of fear, physical danger, and imminent threats. I can’t possibly say this any better than Benjamin Franklin did:
Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.Benjamin Franklin
Yet we gave up the liberty of privacy primarily out of fear. In December of 2020, the Patriot Act was finally sunsetted, after being extended several times. Donald Trump threatened to veto a bill proposed by Jerry Nadler to extend the Patriot Act late in 2020, and the sunset provision ran its course.
HOWEVER, in 2015 the USA Freedom Act was passed and is very similar to the Patriot Act in the sense that it allows the Government to perform surveillance on its citizens without any real legal reason to do so. Apparently, the 4th Amendment does not apply to data privacy.
In 2020, the Senate passed an extension of the Act by an 80-16 vote that expanded some privacy protections, but the Senate version did not include protection of Americans’ internet browsing and search histories from warrantless surveillance. This legislation is alive and kicking, with no sunset in sight, and was given a long-term extension in March of 2020.
All this is to say, your data is not private according to the powers that be. And it’s not just the Government that wants to see your data.
The Rise of Big Data
In recent years, there has been a dramatic shift towards collecting more data than ever before. This includes both private and public data. As technology continues to advance, so does the ability to collect and analyze large amounts of data. This trend has led to the development of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). These technologies allow computers to learn and make decisions based on data.
The problem with ML and AI is that you have to train it with data for it to be useful. And the problem with training ML and AI is that it takes a TON of data to train it well. Giving Corporations yet another incentive to gather as much data on you as possible.
Take Your Data Privacy Back
In 1775 Another one of our Founding Fathers made a chilling statement:
Liberty once lost is lost forever.John Adams
No one is coming to give you your liberty back, John Adams hit the nail on the head. However, because of the demand for technology that enables data privacy, there is a market for said technologies. The free market once again saves our collective asses. Huzzah!
So let’s talk about how to take back some of your privacy in the digital world, specifically, while navigating the internet and our digital world.
I’m going to keep this simple. To take your digital privacy back, you’re going to need a few things: a VPN to make your traffic hard to track, a browser that is NOT owned by Microsoft or Google, and a search engine that does not log your activity.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Essentially, it sends your traffic to some other place before it actually gets to where you wanted it to go.
For example, let’s say I’m on the west coast and want to access Facebook for some god-awful reason. I can tell my local VPN application to send my traffic to Atlanta before it gets to Facebook, making it hard for any would-be advertising corporations to market to me based on the location data of my IP address.
VPNs do cost money, and the best VPN I’ve found for a reasonable cost is Surfshark. Whichever one you pick, just make sure it allows you to install it on multiple devices for each license you pay for. You’ll want it on your desktop, laptop, and most definitely on your mobile device.
Everyone loves Chrome, even Microsoft. In fact, Edge is based on the Chromium project, which provides the source code for both browsers. Chrome is a browser, true, but it was purpose-built for one thing: gathering data. Chrome and Edge are both free for a reason. They’re getting their money’s worth, trust me.
Personally, I think Chrome is a great browser, I just hate that it gathers my data whenever possible. So I use Brave browser. It’s almost an exact replica of Chrome, but it’s built to block any attempts at tracking your activity. As a bonus, they’ll actually pay you in cryptocurrency if you let them advertise to you.
Alternatively, and to get away from the Chromium project altogether, use Mozilla Firefox. They are a lesser evil in the data-gathering sense and the browser was designed with security in mind.
DuckDuckGo is your friend. It is not governed by content farms and uses the API of many search engines (including Bing, which is owned by Microsoft) to return results. They’re also entering the browser market, but they only started to do so in April of 2022. They have a long way to go before it’s a viable option.
Make this the homepage of your favorite browser and the default search engine associated with the browser for maximum effectiveness.
Data Privacy Comes In Layers
The stack I just suggested looks something like this:
- Surfshark VPN
- Brave Browser
- DuckDuckGo Search Engine
It will take some getting used to, but it will definitely improve your privacy and anonymity online. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start on a near-endless journey.
Take Privacy to the Next Level
In addition, you can make efforts to hide your activities from prying eyes by checking out some of these interesting articles:
These are extreme measures and should not be taken lightly. I have personally not gone through either but find both very interesting and have been following them closely.
Did you find any of this helpful in protecting yourself and your privacy? Check me out on Instagram and let me know what you think.