Privacy is usually important to every one of us - we don’t want strangers opening our drawers at home, we don’t want intruders while we’re showering, and most of us usually wouldn’t just give out our E-mail password either.
The reason this fits under the NoSurf umbrella is because we either usually stop using social media services, limit the use of the services, or use it very consciously.
This is already helping our privacy partially, but we can do more, and we should. A conscious or limited use of a social medium doesn’t always just have to mean to moderate the use - it can also mean to review settings on all your devices and the account itself, and to take precautions. Even for pupose driven use of the internet!
Some NoSurfers also use their smartphone sparingly, or even switch to a dumbphone - obviously very good to go against app and location tracking. Taking usual NoSurf approaches isn’t only helping whatever problems we deal with, it can also help us with our privacy.
Thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I’m sure many people have heard about it - big social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter etc. are free because your data can be sold for analytical and advertising purposes. Ads always keep websites alive, we all know that.
But it is outdated to just show random ads to all registered users of those services; a lot more money can be made when websites like Twitter can promise the advertising firms that the ads will be shown to a specific set of people, possibly even guarantee a number of eyes or an amount of clicks. After all, the companies advertising are looking to get clicks and get their products seen and bought, and that works best if targeted to people who could be interested, therefore more likely to click and buy.
Everybody wins - except the user.
When we usually talk about data the social media companies have, everyone usually thinks about the data they voluntarily enter - your age, your gender, your likes and hobbies. These are important too.
But these websites also collect data that isn’t voluntarily typed in by you. A lot of people don’t check the settings of the websites they use, and also do not check the settings for the apps they use. Officially, Facebook and the like ‘have your consent’ because you haven’t turned a setting collecting your data in a specific way off - but you also didn’t know it existed, or was turned on by default. That way, you can quickly, without knowing, give them permission to use your microphone, use your location, check other apps on your phone, and so on.
The worst offenses of data collecting are actually the ones the normal users do not know about - Tracking users across websites.
This happens with cookies, which are always enabled in a browser. Cookies store information for useful features like keeping you logged into a service, but can also be used maliciously so that even when you’re not on Facebook, it can gather data about what websites you visit and other information.
This is also done by the share buttons nowadays commonly found on almost every website - which means Facebook and other websites can also track non-users (If you’ve ever asked yourself why anyone would share a porn video to their Twitter account via a porn site… now you know what these share buttons are for). When you visit a web page, your browser voluntarily sends information about its configuration and the computer’s configuration, such as OS, IP, available fonts, browser type, and add-ons, which can also make you look very unique and can be used to track you as well. Sometimes, images can be used as well - or so called tracking pixels or web beacons.
Of course, a lot of people say they have nothing to hide. And partially that’s true - if you have nothing illegal or bad going on, you might not need top privacy like someone like Edward Snowden has.
But there is a lot that can be done for your privacy that is uncomplicated, happening in the background, easy to install, and benefitting you. Because of course targeted ads aren’t the end of the world - but when your data is used to identify you, with all the embarassing posts, pictures, private messages, location, browser history and porn likes, email adress, aliases, passwords as well as the people you have contact with and the usual paths you walk around your town, that is a problem. Imagine embarassing side accounts, years old accounts, old posts you already deleted all being connected and surfacing.
While we don’t have to go all dystopian about a government that’s using this information to withhold health insurance from you or will forbid you to leave the country, this can all be leaked in scandals like Cambridge Analytica or hacking as well as other security leaks, or simply misused by websites and third party companies.
We can already see China heavily relying on gathered information to control citizens in a citizen score.
It has already almost become a norm to expect your employer to check for you online.
The US is debating on implementing social media screening for everyone trying to enter the country.
We can never guarantee the services we use will be reasonable with our data in the future, and we can never know if the country we live in will always be a free and democratic place.
Of course online or digital privacy is a rabbit hole you can really delve deep into, but there is a lot we can all do as casual users and as people with ‘nothing to hide’ that combines being easy, userfriendly and acessibility, and doesn’t have to mean complicated software and abstaining from everything.