In a span of 30 years, the average person in the United States has gone from explicitly asking the phone company to not publish their phone number in the phone book to sharing every intimate detail of their life on social media. It seems people have lost the understanding of the value of privacy. It is possible that the recent geopolitical tumult, seemingly increasing exponentially as of late, has made the average person question the wisdom of this trend. Many easy options exist to protect your privacy online, and you should be using them. If you, as an individual, wish to be in control of the information you provide to the outside world, deeper knowledge of the technology you use every day is required, along with the discipline to use it properly.
Privacy and Technology
Growing up, my parents and the parents of my friends were skeptical of all the technology making things seemingly so much better in our lives. The multichannel cable converter box, first widely available in the 1980s, allowed companies to multiplex (and control through primitive encryption technologies) dozens of pay channels to households with primitive televisions on a single VHF channel, typically channel 3. Control was through a wired or wireless remote. My parents would repeat rumors they heard of the cable company spying on us through this device. Cordless (not wireless) phones were thought to be dangerous when introduced because it was rumored that there were people in vans with special boxes listening to our conversations. Ordering products from a mail-order company by providing your credit card information to an operator over the phone was a desperate last-resort way of shopping because of concerns over being scammed from afar.
Tor is free software that relies on a network of relays to hide users’ location and usage data.
Self-Reliance for Privacy
Compelling arguments exist for maintaining an online presence while also protecting your privacy. Advanced technology has made access to information easier than ever, by more people than ever, without requiring any understanding of how it actually works. This creates an environment for people to lose control of their information without even knowing it is happening. Well-intentioned companies can use this information for profit, but the collection and dissemination of the data can be used to harm individuals and groups. And it can be used to subvert laws. Technology exists to take control of your privacy online. Gone are the days when we could simply count on laws to protect our privacy online, but you still have options to protect yourself.