On severs throughout the world, everything about you is slowly being collected. This isn’t necessarily a tin-foil hat kind of conspiracy and it isn’t just the NSA we have to worry about. In fact, with reasonable encryption, the NSA can’t collect too much about you and your communications. The real collectors of information are corporations.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you own a variety of computing devices, with at least one device having internet connection. Think about everything that stores bits, processes information electronically, and is connected to the vast network of servers throughout the world.
All of these devices have the opportunity to bring benefits to our daily lives. My laptop makes it easier to write stuff down and process complex math equations. My phone allows me to have a connection to my wife in an emergency, check my bank balance, and surf the internet. These are all devices we have come to rely on. As intelligent creatures who have evolved using tools, it would be crazy to think we would give these up. As humans, we create and innovate to make our tasks easier.
Each of these devices have dark potential, too. Everything is like a coin. Just as a quarter has heads, it also has tails. My phone has a built in GPS function that can be used to pinpoint my location if I am lost or help me get to a destination I have never been to before. That same GPS can also be used to record my movements, habits, and other information.
The unfortunate part is we all know this. I don’t want this article to come across as the thousands of others who treat the readers like they don’t know this stuff. Instead, I want to offer my perspective, discuss the importance of understanding this data collection, and give suggestions with how to mitigate such things.
So, what do we know? I am sure everyone knows that the primary privacy concern isn’t just the government; it isn’t mine. Mine, and hopefully yours, is the mass of private corporations that is collecting data on everything they can about you. They want to use this data to sell you stuff you probably don’t need and push their agendas. Often, they are successful. Avoiding this can be incredibly painful.
Online content can drive public opinion, as we have seen with the past presidential election. Amazon’s Echo is a perfect way for Amazon to get you to buy more stuff from them. What we search in a search engine can determine what junk mail we get in our inboxes.
Every time we try to avoid data collection, there is always a new way for it to take place. Every advance in privacy leads to new ways to breach it. What is the solution?
We need more free and open source software. FOSS has a tendency to respect your privacy. It also allows users to view the code. Not all FOSS is perfect, though. Even Firefox will collect telemetry data unless you explicitly tell it not to.
When Apple, Google, Amazon, or any major tech company abuse their position, we need to hold them accountable. We need to step away from their products until they have a course correction. Instead of sitting in our chairs and complaining, we need to become vocal, critical, and give them less of our money. Personally, I’m currently considering stepping away from Google services. I’m no longer using Google as my primary email provider and have been looking into flashing a custom ROM on my Pixel.
Many people, my wife for example, think that Google, Facebook, etc., collecting data on me shouldn’t be a big deal. After all, I’m not doing anything illegal. Even though I stay on the legal side of internet and computer use, her assumption is dead wrong.
I care this issue because these companies hold sensitive data about me. If I use a smart home system, they have data that can indicate when my family is out of the house. This data could also be potentially use to listen in or watch my household.
The more companies that hold your data, the bigger the pool is for hackers with nefarious intentions. No system is secure. Recent breaches, like the High Sierra exploit that allowed easy root access to Apple computers, showcase this. Vulnerabilities will always exist. It’s a question as to whether the vulnerability it known or discovered yet.
Should we trust corporations with our privacy and security? No. We can still use their products, though. I am not calling us to dump all our technology, but we all need to be critical of every move corporations make. Don’t brush off the little stuff off as little stuff. Be highly critical. You as a user are a form of quality assurance for these companies.