Privacy is visiting your doctor or psychiatrist behind closed doors. It is closing your bedroom curtains before going to bed. While we understand the idea of privacy in our everyday life, in the digital sphere, the meaning of it seems to elude us. Mainly because we don’t actually comprehend what privacy on the Internet entails.
People share their rage on social media channels when news of a dangerous user privacy problem at a major tech enterprise gets reported in the media, yet no one acknowledges the irony associated with sharing this outrage on a platform that has likely had privacy issues of its own in recent years. This irony – the case of people complaining about violations of their digital privacy, yet doing nothing to protect it – permeates our society so much, that it became a term of its own – “the privacy paradox”.
At the end of the day, most persons simply do not want to invest the time to search further than Facebook and Google to learn how they can better secure their personal data. Until trouble knocks on their doors.
In 2017, in Wichita, Kansas happened the world’s first fatal swatting incident. After a disagreement over a $1.50 bet on the 2017 video game Call of Duty: WWII, 25-year-old Tyler Barris called the police to falsely report a violent crime in progress. Andrew Finch, 28, who lived at the address given by Tyler, was shot in front of his house by Wichita State Police and died an hour later at the hospital. Finch wasn’t even the intended target of the swatting and wasn’t involved with the Call of Duty game at all.
Swatting is a new type of criminal harassment where people deceive an emergency service into sending the police and emergency service response team to another individual’s address. The term itself derives from the law enforcement unit “SWAT” – Special Weapons and Tactics – and this kind of events occur more and more in our society, particularly to those who wronged someone on the Internet.
You never know who’s behind the keyboard
The World Wide Web connects different individuals from every part of the world, and people have the potential to reach thousands, and even millions of persons with a single social media post. Although this interconnectivity has apparent advantages, there is also a negative side to the Internet in terms of unintentionally connecting with unstable individuals who may get offended by a thoughtless tweet.
Within that group of people who view your posts, there might be one or two imbalanced individuals or people who have mental problems. They don’t understand personal boundaries, and they’re often willing to employ drastic measures to harm you in some manner, or at least make you afraid.
The new kind of criminals
In the year’s past, criminals had to come to someone’s business or home in order to commit some wrongdoing. Unfortunately, the advent of our interconnected age gave rise to a new type of criminal – cybercriminal.
Hackers and cybercriminals make a living by stealing a person’s private and financial data. They employ a variety of practices and tools to acquire your private digital data until they have just enough of it to steal your identity.
Once this occurs, it is only a matter of time before they use the stolen identity to send money from your bank account to theirs, commit fraud, apply for a credit card under your initials, purchase lucrative items on the Internet and do other activities that can facilitate irrevocable damage.
The new kind of stalkers
The emergence of the Internet age also gave us a new type of stalkers. Cyber-stalkers are basically online stalkers, individuals who repeatedly use the Internet or other electronic means to intimidate, harass, or frighten a person or group. Cyberstalking typically includes:
- False accusations.
- Monitoring someone’s online activity or physical location.
- Posting derogatory statements and threats.
- Data manipulation or destruction by sending a virus to a victim’s devices.
- Using stolen credit cards to buy items and ship them to the victim’s house.
- Tampering with accounts to turn of the victim’s utilities.
- Buying drugs/illegal things on the darknet websites and shipping them to the victim’s premises.
Cyber-stalkers may utilize instant messages, phone calls, emails, and other communication channels to stalk you. Cyberstalking can even turn into a form of sexual harassment, inappropriate contact, or unwelcome focus at your life and to your family’s activities.
How to deter internet monitoring
Your ISP (Internet Service Provider), different government agencies, corporation, cyber-stalkers, and who knows who else may be monitoring your internet traffic. Many popular web services are filled with various tracking programs, most of which are simply trying to correlate your internet browser with your interests to better personalize ads for you. Google and Facebook are even tracking the porn you watch, all for marketing and developing user profile.
To secure yourself, you can, for starters, check out the following browser extensions:
- uBlock Origin.
- Privacy Badger.
- HTTPs Everywhere.
You can also protect the devices on your network including mobile apps and smart TV by configuring your router to use a local DNS server that operates on a Pi-hole. Pi-hole acts as a network-wide blocking app for any network requests made by known advertisers and trackers.
You can secure a decent part of your internet browsing from monitoring by third parties if you install browser extensions, but this isn’t a bulletproof practice – the aforementioned entities can still view which IP addresses/ domains you’re going to. Although, they won’t be able to peer into the data packets that are traveling back and forth.
VPNs are crucial for defending your internet privacy. When you’re at your premises they deter the websites and other Internet services from tracking your real IP address, and hence your physical location.
If you aren’t at home and connecting to the Internet through a Wi-Fi operated by untrustworthy third parties, it obstructs them from looking at your traffic. It is quite difficult to decide on the best VPN because there are so many factors at play. This expressvpn review can serve as your starting point.
How to protect your personal information
The majority of your personal information is typically displayed on your social media profiles, such as your date of birth, name, where you go to a job, and where you live. Using the privacy settings in every one of your online accounts will limit your online sharing with those beyond your trusted circle. You can utilize these settings to remove your profile from appearing when someone searches for your name. This can also block people from viewing your photos and posts, as well.
When you post pictures online via social media platforms or by other means, make sure you turn off the location services metadata in the picture. The metadata reveals a lot of information about the image – when it was taken and where what device was used to take the photo, and other private data. The biggest source of this metadata comes from mobile phones, so be sure to turn this off. It is usually a feature named “geo-tagging” in your smartphone settings.
Privacy is something that we need in order to gain insight, explore and make important decisions about our lives. You might be a teenager trying to comprehend your sexuality. You might be thinking about switching careers. You might’ve lost someone. You might be reading on religions different from what you were raised with — maybe Christianity if you live in the Middle East.
The point is, if we don’t have the privacy to do this kind of self-discovery, we aren’t truly free. Whether or not we feel like we’re “in private” transforms the way we behave. Without it, at best we lose the ability to discover and truly be our authentic selves. At worst we face persecution and retaliation.
That’s the point of why privacy is so important, and why we need to do whatever we can to protect it.