Why you should care about online privacy (even if you've got nothing to hide)

Online privacy is one of those things that seems like few people talk about. And the people who do often come off sounding like Chicken Little (THE SKY IS FALLING! SKYNET COMETH).

Since it's October and the spookiest holiday of the year is just around the corner, I wanted to do something special and scare the Bejesus out of you.

There’s no sugar-coating it. Online privacy is hugely important. Now, more than ever. Yet it’s eroding away at a faster pace than it ever has. And I can read the hypothetical comments “Why should I care about online privacy! I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve got nothing to hide!”

Well, there’s more to it than that. Hi, I’m Gardiner, The Linux Gamer, and let’s talk about this.

Social Media

How many friendships have you lost because of an argument on Facebook? Arguments that turned out to be utterly fruitless and just left people upset.

How many of you have had your livelihood threatened by something you said or did online? If it hasn’t happened to you personally, you probably know someone this has happened to.

How many regrettable comments have you left pseudonymously? Would you be embarrassed by some of the things you’ve said behind the mask of a username?

When Ken Bone was thrust into the public spotlight after a presidential debate last year, his reddit history was scrutinized and gossip blogs began assassinating his character.

The fact is, the privacy-invading world in which we live subjugates us all to the court of public opinion. Whether the things we say online are right or wrong, the potential is always there for your peers to gather like a mob and try, convict and execute you for something you said that they don’t like. There’s no presumption of innocence and you’re reduced from a human being to a faceless, indefensible (sometimes contextless) comment.

Don’t fool yourself into complacency, here. If it hasn’t happened to you, it could. And if you think a little Internet scorn is a good thing, what happens when they call up your boss and start attacking your job?

Also, keep in mind I’m not justifying, siding with, or validating any of the actions or comments in the references I’ve shown here. They’re for illustrative purposes only. But this happens more and more frequently. It’s only a matter of time until something like this happens to any one of us.

Online Marketing Companies

Did you hear about the woman who found out she was pregnant through Target’s marketing? Her purchasing habits indicated to Target’s algorithms that she was pregnant. And it was right.

Did you hear about this? Researches have been able to use publicly available like data from Facebook to predict your intelligence among other things. To quote this article:

“Simply by delving into volunteers' Likes, the researchers could determine in 95 percent of cases whether a person was Caucasian or African American and in 88 percent of cases whether the person was heterosexual or homosexual. They could determine whether the person is Christian or Islamic 82 percent of the time...

"Some Likes appeared to have zero connection to personal attributes... One of the Likes that helped identify heterosexual men was "Being Confused After Waking Up from Naps."”

Companies know more and more about us. They use this data to stalk and harass us online. And what does this harassment get us? Nothing.

But then there are companies like Equifax, which collects data about you without your consent, or even your knowledge.... And turns around and gets hacked; releasing the sensitive data of 144 million-odd American adults into the hands of criminals. Exposing so many of us the potential of identity theft without any recourse.

Okay. All that’s scary shit, right? At least it is to me. But what happens when the things you like on Facebook start to be admissible in court? What happens when something seemingly innocuous--for example, liking curly fries on Facebook--has a statistical connection with a ‘lack of empathy’ which in turn leads to an erroneous murder conviction?

Less has been admissible in court.

Minority Report. The rise of tyranny

Let's think about this. What happens when your playtime of a violent game on Steam is used against you in a court case? Or what about the shows you watch on Netflix? Or the videos you watch on YouTube?

What happens when the laws change? And something you've been doing online for years becomes illegal? And there's a public record of it?

It's no scandal to say that there are some vague laws on the books. Laws which are overly-broad and can lead to trouble if you're not careful. It's been said that the average American might commit up to three felonies a day without even knowing it.

So what happens when there's a crackdown and you're caught up in the dragnet because of something you said or did online?

Sure. You probably don't have anything to hide today, but if the laws change? Your words and actions online could be damning.

What if the data that these marketing companies and social media platforms have collected about you gets subpoenaed en masse?

Suddenly, liking a post on Instagram that contains copyrighted material could be enough to convict you of intellectual property theft.

I don't think any of this is outside the realm of possibility. In fact, it's worrisome to no end.

What can be done about it?

Unfortunately I don't have great answers. There are browser plugins like the EFF's Privacy Badger. You can also use VPNs in a browser that has JavaScript disabled and never log in to sites. Don't leave comments that you might regret later. Delete your Facebook account.

But sadly, keeping your privacy intact against the will of the stalkers, ad agencies, and corporate data vacuums alike requires constant vigilance.

But this shouldn't be an individual's burden. In my opinion, the only way to solve this problem is through good government.

I've been racking my brain for weeks, mulling this problem and trying to solve what I consider to be one of the worst problems out generation face. What I've come up with is legislation that taxes data collection services to the point where it's no longer financially viable. We need to make this type of marketing too expensive to exist and kill these evil companies.

And don't tell me that "regulating companies like this would be too hard." We went to the MOON damn it. We can put a stop to abusive, shitty companies.

Happy halloween.

I don't know. What do you think? Are there better solutions that I haven't mentioned? What can we you do to protect yourself and your privacy?

You can subscribe to the channel if you'd like. But do you really think that's a good idea?