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privacy matters

With the explosion of the internet in my lifetime (my kids don’t know any other world), so many new products and capabilities have come into our everyday routines that we tend to take for granted.

It is impossible to see a group of teenagers without at least half of them having phones out and their faces buried in them. People, young and old, are now beholden to the vibration or ringtone in their pocket, pausing everything else to quickly check the latest update on this or that.

All of this comes with a price. Ok, prices. Nothing in life is free, and someone has to pay the cost. Whether it is the cost to the developer who just wants to make something useful, or the costs to our habits, our time, our money, and in too many ways, our privacy.

Remember, if the software you’re using is free, and you cannot see the source code and audit it, modify it, or freely distribute it – you might be the product that is being sold.

What do I mean?

Forbes recently published an article on the Apple, Facebook, and What’s App privacy dust up (and many others have as well) – what they want to collect vs what they want to disclose. It is scary just how much information is disclosed to these services by using them to communicate with one another.

For example, users of Facebook Messenger are potentially sharing any or all of the following (and this is just a subset of the list):

  • Purchase History
  • Financial info
  • Location
  • Contacts
  • Browsing History
  • Health and Fitness
  • Search History
  • Usage Data

All of that just so that we can send each other a “Happy Birthday”,some emojis, or video chat.

And more and more devices are coming preinstalled with these apps, many having disabled the ability to remove them.

So what is a user in this connected world to do in order to retain some form of privacy?

First, ditch the trackers. Get rid of the social media platforms and applications that feed off of your private information. Getting more ‘likes‘ is not worth the cost to privacy.

Use a web browser like Mozilla Firefox that respects your privacy, and add extensions such as Facebook Container (yes, they even have website trackers that track activity – app or no app) and Privacy Badger.

Switch messaging applications from Facebook Messenger and others to Signal (my preference – they are open source and use standard encryption libraries) or Telegram (another strong contender). Both use strong encryption and do not collect the multitude of data that others do in order to use and sell.

Switch your search engine to one like DuckDuckGo (respects privacy) or Startpage (respects privacy but slightly better search results).

“But I have nothing to hide, and nothing of interest that anyone would care about.”.

Saying “I have nothing to hide, so I don’t need privacy” is like saying “I have nothing to say, so I don’t need freedom of speech”.

“I don’t believe in anything, so I don’t need freedom of religion.”

“I don’t have kids so I don’t need public schools.”

Having said all of that, many rely on these companies and their products for their day to day work and lives. These services can provide a wealth of benefits that some may feel is worth the price of admission.

And that is where personal choice comes into play.

Freedom to choose is a fundamental right that we each have.

As long as that is being done with eyes wide open, then to each their own. That is what is at the core of the articles mentioned – that Apple’s new policies help users get a better degree of visibility into their data and how it is consumed by 3rd parties. Given that most of us don’t have a legal team to review every T&C agreement that we click through when installing apps for the fine details, anything to make that decision more informed is a net positive.

Just be informed of all the options and what they mean for you.

As for me, I have been moving all of my personal use applications away from those that mine data and towards those that respect my privacy. I have nothing to hide, but that really doesn’t matter.

It is my data.

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