A comprehensive guide to online privacy
Why you should reconsider your browsing habits to protect your interests
We all know the internet as our swiss army knife used for nearly all of our activities like communication, entertainment, work, shopping and so on. Have you ever thought how popular websites like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Instagram manage to remain free even after achieving billions of users and how do they make money if they do not charge us? Most of us can easily say that they run ads. But that’s not the whole picture. What if we say that the price to access all this is just you? While this isn’t a world breaking issue, it is still a bit frightening to know that these groups know more about you than anyone ever does.
Now, you would be asking yourself questions like: Is this legal? Is it something to be afraid of? Can we prevent our data from being collected? Are there alternatives to these services? Read further to uncover the answers.
Privacy vs Security:
For those who are confused between the two terms or use them interchangeably, let’s clear the air. Privacy can be said as your right to protect confidential information and prevent its sharing. Security, on the other hand, ensures that the said information is protected from unauthorized attacks like hacking and data leaks.
As a simple example, just take a look at the below picture which shows a practical, real-time example of privacy and security.
Having a secure account is a requirement in its own right, but it is in vain if the service is allowed to do anything with the information it gets from you.
Is this legal?
This is completely legal ( though not to the extent WhatsApp mentioned in this policy ), for example, YouTube can use the videos you watched to suggest you more videos and show you ads relating to those videos. This is bothersome as you are bombarded with ads even after you lose interest in the topic or you are not comfortable with a Big Brother constantly keeping an eye on what you do.
Is it something to be afraid of?
While a lack of privacy isn’t necessarily bad for most of the time, it becomes an issue if the data lands on the hands of people with malicious intent (i.e: Hackers), especially if the data contains important information like medical records, passwords etc. You don’t need us to explain how big of a problem it is. If someone has access to a specific requirement of yours and your e-mail, they could easily use that data to contact you with a fake solution or some way to convince you into sharing more about you.
Exempting this, considering you don’t save crucial data online and use the internet solely for entertainment or education, people or companies still know what you do every single second. If that makes you feel nervous, yes, it is an issue. It is right to demand private spaces on the internet without being kept in surveillance 24x7.
Can we prevent our data from being collected?
While the best option is to not share everything on social media, it is practically impossible to do so. Our best options are to prevent as much data from being collected( a minimum amount of data is required to run a service). These can be done by:
1.Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service:
A textbook method to maintain privacy on the internet. Masking your original IP address has benefits like disabled location tracking, evading blocked content and IP tracking. While all of this sounds great, free VPN services are slow and this is useless if tracking is based on your account activity. In that case,
2. Opt-out of data collection:
Some websites like Google and Reddit have options to opt-out of their personalized ad services and tracking. You can also opt-out of mail services from these websites so they don’t clutter up your inbox. But not all essential services offer this option. In that case, deny permission to access data that is not needed, like location, fitness data, payment methods etc. Also, you can turn off sync and history tracking if you don’t use it. Methods to disable these differ from website to website, app to app and from device to device.
While agreeing to Terms and Conditions, ticking the box that allows to send crash diagnostics and volunteering for user improvement programs means you share everything you do with the service, voluntarily. So if you are concerned, make sure you don’t tick that box when signing up.
3. Use browser extensions:
This is applicable for PC users and Firefox mobile users. Browser add-ons like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger can block trackers, unnecessary cookies and click tracers that follow you throughout the internet to issue ads, but still have the websites run normally, unlike cookie blockers which can disable some functions of websites and may break them.
4. Ensure HTTPS encryption:
While most of the sites we visit have HTTPS enabled by default, amateur sites and illegal sites won’t. HTTPS ensures encrypted data transfer to prevent hackers from understanding what you searched for, even if they manage to retrieve it. Just make sure a padlock symbol exists near the address bar when you enter a website. HTTPS Everywhere can block sites without HTTPS certification and can warn when you try to enter said sites.
5.Do not share sensitive data via social media:
We couldn’t stress this enough. Even though these sites are secure, there are minute chances of them being hacked and your data being stolen. So, if sharing these is essential, make sure the data is deleted on both ends as soon as an offline copy is made.
Are there alternatives to these services?
There are privacy-focused, often open-sourced alternatives to popular services, like DuckDuckGo for Google which blocks trackers and serves minimal ads; Proton Mail for Gmail in which mails are end to end encrypted; and more. But these are not famous and are funded by donations, so they may not last for long without support.
In the end, privacy is important for each and every individual. Protecting ourselves from unjust use of our data is right and something that everyone needs to follow. We hope this article provided you with the means to preserve your privacy effectively.