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How to save your privacy from the Internet's clutches

How to save your privacy from the Internet's clutches
From TechCrunch - April 14, 2018

Another week, another massive privacy scandal. When its not Facebook admittingit allowed data on as many as 87 million usersto be sucked out by a developer on its platform who sold it to a political consultancy working for the Trump campaign, or dating app Grindr fessing up to sharing its users HIV status with third party A/B testers, some other ugly facet of the tech industrys love affair with tracking everything its users do slides into view.

Suddenly, Android users discoverto their horror that Googlesmobile platform tells the company where they are all the timethanks to baked-in location tracking bundled with Google services like Maps and Photos. Or Amazon Echo users realize Jeff Bezos ecommerce empire hasamassed audio recordingsof every single interaction theyve had with their cute little smart speaker.

The problem, as ever with the tech industrys teeny-weeny greyscaled legalise, is that the people it refers to as users arent genuinely consenting to having their information sucked into the cloud for goodness knows what. Because they havent been given a clear picture of what agreeing to share their data will really mean.

Instead one or two select features, with a mote of user benefit, tend to be presented at the point of sign upto socially engineer consent. Then the company can walk away with a defacto license to perpetually harvest that persons data by claiming that a consent box was once ticked.

A great example of that is FacebooksNearby Friends. The feature lets you share your position with your friends soand heres that shiny promiseyou can more easily hang out with them. But do you know anyone who is actively using this feature? Yet millions of people started sharing their exact location with Facebook for a feature thats now buried and mostly unused. Meanwhile Facebook is actively using your location to track your offline habits so it can make money targeting you with adverts.

Terms & Conditions are the biggest lie in the tech industry, as weve written before. (And more recently: It was not consent, it was concealment.)

Senator Kennedy of Louisiana also made the point succinctly to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg this week, telling him to his face:Your user agreement sucks. We couldnt agree more.

Happily disingenuous T&Cs are on borrowed timeat least for European tech users, thanks to a new European Union data protectionframework that will come into force next month. The GDPR tightens consent requirementsmandating clear and accurate information be provided to users at the point of sign up. Data collection is also more tightly tied to specific function.

From next month, holding onto personal data without a very good reason to do so will be far more riskybecause GDPR is also backed up with a regime of supersized fines that are intended to make privacyrules much harder to ignore.

Of course U.S. tech users cant bank on benefiting from European privacy regulations. And while there are now growing calls in the country for legislation to protect peoples datain a bid to steer off the next democracy-denting Cambridge Analytica scandal, at very leastany such process will take a lot of political will.

It certainly will not happen overnight. And you can expect tech giants to fight tooth and nail against laws being drafted and passedas indeed Facebook, Google and others lobbied fiercely to try to get GDPR watered down.

Facebook has already revealed it will not be universally applyingthe European regulationwhich means people in North America are likely to get a degree of lower privacy than Facebook users everywhere else in the world. Which doesnt exactly sound fair.

When it comes to privacy, some of you may think you have nothing to hide. But thats a straw man. Its especially hard to defend this line of thinking now that big tech companies have attracted so much soft power they can influence elections, inflame conflicts and divide people in general. Its time to think about the bigger impact of technology on the fabric of society, and not just your personal case.

Shifting the balance

So what can Internet users do right now to stop tech giants, advertisers and unknown entities tracking everything you do onlineand trying to join the dots of your digital activity to paint a picture of who they think you are? At least, everything short of moving to Europe, where privacy is a fundamental right.

There are some practical steps you can take to limit day-to-day online privacy risks by reducing third party access to your information and shielding more of your digital activity from prying eyes.

Not all these measures are appropriate for every person. Its up to you to determine how much effort you want (or need) to put in to shield your privacy.

You may be happy to share a certain amount of personal data in exchange for access to a certain service, for example. But even then its unlikely that the full trade-off has been made clear to you. So its worth asking yourself if youre really getting a good deal.

Once peoples eyes are opened to the fine-grained detail and depth of personal information being harvested, even some very seasoned tech users have reacted with shocksaying they had no idea, for example, that Facebook Messenger was continuously uploading their phone book and logging their calls and SMS metadata.

This is one of the reasons why the U.K.s information commissioner has been calling for increased transparency about how and why data flows. Because for far too long tech savvy entities have been able to apply privacy hostile actions in the dark. And it hasnt really been possible for the average person to know whats being done with their information. Or even what data they are giving up when they click I agree.

Why does an A/B testing firm need to know a persons HIV status? Why does a social network app need continuous access to your call history? Why should an ad giant be able to continuously pin your movements on a map?

Are you really getting so much value from an app that youre happy for the company behind it and anyone else they partner with to know everywhere you go, everyone you talk to, the stuff you like and look ateven to have a pretty good idea what youre thinking?

Every data misuse scandal shines a bit more light on some very murky practiceswhich will hopefully generate momentum for rule changes to disinfect data handling processes and strengthen individuals privacy by spotlighting trade-offs that have zero justification.

With some effortand good online security practices (which were taking as a given for the purposes of this article, but one quick tip: Enable 2FA everywhere you can)you can also make it harder for the webs lurking watchers to dine out on your data.

Just dont expect the lengths you have to go to protect your privacy to feel fair or justthe horrible truth is this fight sucks.

But whatever you do, dont give up.

How to hide on the internet

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