Why does online privacy online matter?

In my articles on Private Web Browsing, Secure Private Email and using an Anonamiseing VPN I have spoken about the need to stay private online. But why does this matter? I’ve often heard people say “I’ve got nothing to hide so all that privacy stuff doesn’t matter to me.” Well, in that case, why don’t you hand your phone to a stranger in the street and let them flick through your photos? Why not let your doctor examine you in public?

These real life privacy issues are fairly obvious, digital privacy is a little more abstract but no less important. Ever noticed how when you log on to Amazon you are presented with offers that are “relevant” to you? Ad services show products that you have looked at before or have some interest in? Holiday and flight prices seem to change on a daily basis? All these are linked to your digital footprint. Online service providers are collecting information about you, your spending habits, the people you talk to, the movies you watch, everything you do online. There are two key aspects to online privacy.

1. Money

Your data is collected, analyzed and sold every day to 3rd parties trying to get you to spend just a little bit more. Often the “offers” you are presented with are not the best or cheapest but rather the advert posted by the highest bidder. Often the best prices can be found when you go “incognito”, a function most browsers offer whereby they attempt to limit trackers and cookies on websites from knowing who you are. But why let them collect that data in the first place? By using browsers such as Brave you can protect your information from being collected in the first place. When you send emails to companies those emails include identifying information such as your IP address which is linked to your location. Even simple information like location can influence the response you get from businesses, ProtonMail prevents this by removing identifying information all together.

Your apps collect data too, this is harder to manage as it’s impossible to services like Amazon Prime without holding an account. Arguably this data can be useful in helping you find the products you are looking for, but it does not help you get the best price.

Your information is valuable to companies, which is why they are willing to pay money for your data collected by 3rd parties. So why give away the key to the kingdom for free. By controlling the data that is out there about you and if everyone does it, at some point businesses may have to pay you for your data.

2. Philosophical

Why should it be anyone’s business what you buy, which websites you visit or where you go? You undoubtedly share this information with trusted friends and family members but why should strangers ever need to know this? What ethical justification could there possibly be for a company selling insurance to know that you like to read a particular type of book, or like a particular movie, what you hobbies are? This is none of their business but without online privacy it’s all out there.

3. Security

Every time you enter your email address and password on a website there is the potential that someone other than the website owner can see those details. I’m sure we have all had passwords compromised, I know I have. The problem get worse when those nefarious individuals are able to like that email and password to sites that are unrelated to where they first collected it. This can be done using the same tracking information gathered to give you offers on products. If you, like the majority of people, use the same email and password for multiple sites then everything about you is put at risk. It doesn’t take much to guess a password, how many of you use your date of birth, anniversary, child’s name or their date of birth, your pets name. There’s actually a very short list of all the things people use as passwords and it’s frighting how easy it is to guess.

So how can you stay anonymous?

When it comes to online activity, always use something that anonymizes your data, whether that’s a secure browser like Brave, a secure email like ProtonMail or a VPN like ProtonVPN. Don’t give away your information for free.

As for passwords, never use the same password twice. Services like LastPass offer a safe and secure way to store passwords as well as the ability to randomly generate a password. If you are looking for something a little more fun then Dinopass is a great way to generate simple, memorable passwords. If you’re not keen on services like LastPass, the next best thing is to keep a little black book of passwords, never store passwords in plain text like in Word, Excel or notepad.

Happy browsing everyone, and stay safe!

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