At its inception, the Internet was seen as a haven for privacy seekers. The first news of someone getting fired for a picture he posted online was the shot across the bow for this idea. It became apparent that without the proper precautions, there was actually no privacy to be had.
Instead, even a quick post or tweet could end up being national news. While it was easy to dismiss such instances because they involved people intentionally publishing their own information to venues known to be public, it has not been so easy to remain calm after news of massive hacking attacks.
Who’s the Target?
Credit card numbers are usually the target of this type of illegal activity, but credit protection is not the only type of information that can be compromised. Social networking sites have seen profile information stolen and leaked, online retailers have seen purchasing history from their customers targeted and there have been many other such events.
Hacking, however, isn’t the biggest threat to privacy. Companies that need customers to provide sensitive information already use high-grade SSL encryption,and secure databases to keep the data from getting into the wrong hands. While such companies can fall victim to hackers, such incidents are quite rare.
Instead, the biggest threat is companies like Facebook and Google, which seem to be deliberately trying to erode the privacy most users have come to expect. Legislative threats are also abundant, and new anti-privacy bills seem to be proposed weekly. The two problems go hand-in-hand: Facebook’s founder and his company are known for supporting draconian anti-privacy legislation.
Boycotting such companies is the logical first step for any grass-roots privacy campaign. On the legislative front, threats to privacy are also quickly responded to by groups like DemandProgress, which promptly mobilizes email and phone campaigns to defeat or weaken bills like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which make it far too easy for the government or corporations to spy on users and penalize them for minor infractions.
I Want Big Brother Out of My Modem!
Internet users who want to make sure “Big Brother” stays out of their modems should be sure to complain to their representatives about any proposed legislation that would erode their rights. Even though, such battles are being fought both in the chambers of Congress and in the marketplace, Internet privacy isn’t completely dead — it’s just very hard to find.
The first step to retaining your rights is to avoid plastering anything to any public venue that you would mind ending up on national news. The second is to avoid visiting the sites of any companies known for working against privacy or your right to retain it. Finally, join pro-privacy groups to defeat bills and legislation like CISPA, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, “six-strikes” campaigns at ISPs and other such attacks on Internet users.
For those who want truly bulletproof privacy, there are even stronger steps that can be taken. Eschew home Internet service in favor of anonymous Wi-Fi hotspots, route everything through proxy servers and don’t give yourself away by logging into personally-identifiable accounts. These are all high-tier methods that can work for this objective.
Alas, most people are not willing to go to all of this just to keep their bosses and some ad agencies from finding out what they’ve posted. Therefore, while CNN’s claim that privacy is sure to become obsolete seems premature, it’s likely that the concept will eventually apply only to those who are extremely dedicated to remaining anonymous unless the legislative climate improves.
Photo by Flickr user DonkeyHotey