I have nothing to hide, why should I care?
I try not to impose my own personal standards for internet privacy on family and friends, however given how connected everyone is these days it frequently comes up in conversation. The questions and comments come up for instance when friends have to enter a complex password to use the wifi at my home, or when someone finds out that I deleted my Facebook account and stopped using Google, etc. The statement or question I hear most often is “I have nothing to hide, why should I worry?”. The basis for this statement from most people seems to revolve around the fact that they aren’t breaking any laws and they don’t care if the government reads their emails or text messages. They also don’t seem too worried about large internet companies tailoring advertisements and special offers based on their “profile” built from personal emails and terms entered on search pages.
This post by Fábio Esteves answers the “Why care?” question quite well. In short it boils down to:
- Your privacy is a right you haven’t always had. Others before us have fought for this right. Not caring minimizes their contributions.
- Privacy is a human right.
- Having nothing to hide is not true nor realistic. Don’t confuse privacy with secrecy. There’s a reason why you wouldn’t want all your passwords, bank accounts, emails, chat messages, photos, etc. posted on a public forum for everyone to read. Privacy is something that makes you human.
- Information in the wrong hands becomes dangerous (hackers, con artists, etc.)
- You can’t predict the future. Right now you may not have a lot to risk. But what about 30 or 40 years from now? What’s fine now may not be fine in the future under different societal norms or different laws.
- Your private life out of context can be used against you.
- Your information has value. There’s a reason why Amazon, Google, Apple, etc. gather data on you. They are making big money off of it.
Poor track record by big companies
Most devices connect constantly to servers owned by large internet companies, and many of these companies don’t exactly have the best track record for being trustworthy with user data…
- Facebook - FTC imposes $5 billion penalty
- Amazon - Class action lawsuit
- Google - A whole wikipedia page on privacy concerns
- Alibaba & Tencent - Supporting China’s surveillance state.
It’s not easy unfortunately
Caring about privacy and acting on it is not easy. The big internet companies build impressive devices with lots of capabilites and “give away” a lot of services “for free”. Choosing to forego these things feels almost impossible. How does one go without gmail or the Google Play store, etc.? Staying connected with friends and family on Facebook brings a lot of benefits that are (currently) difficult to replicate with alternatives. Even when you do forego these things, big companies still have extensive analytics that attempt to track all the websites you visit. How is a person supposed to cope? It’s not something you can change overnight. The solution is to work to increase awareness and accumulate small privacy “wins” over time. It will likely take some of your personal time to find better privacy respecting solutions. In some cases you may also need to spend money to pay for services you have been getting “for free”. However if awareness increases and enough people start to make small changes over time large companies and society will have to react accordingly.
Where to start
Below are a few things to try or consider. Note that these are just examples, and that there are many good alternatives out there. In general if you select a service or product with at least a minimal track record and avoid the big companies, you will be moving in a better direction. Be wary of free services. Remember, they have to pay for servers and employee compensation somehow. There are exceptions, but do your homework. If you are up to it, self hosted solutions can be a good option as well. Note that nothing stays constant and that these will change over time (hopefully with easier / better solutions).
I wouldn’t recommend that someone tackle all of these things all at once. Maybe start small with an item that seems easier and slowly make progress on other items over time.
|Web Browser||Firefox, Tor Browser|
|Web Browser (extensions)||uBlock Origin, HTTPS Everywhere, Privacy Badger|
|Email host||Tutanota, ProtonMail|
|Calendar and contacts host||nextcloud.com/providers|
|Social Network||Use email, Mastodon, Diaspora|
|Cell Phone||Pixel 3 with GrapheneOS|
|Android App Store||F-Droid, Aurora App|
|Android Apps||Firefox, Bromite, Fair Email, K-9 Mail, Jitsi|
|File sync / sharing||Syncthing|
|Operating system||Linux (Debian), BSD (OpenBSD)|
|Computer Hardware||Pinebook Pro, Blackbird (raptorcs.com)|