What do I mean when talking about “Online Privacy?” The best definition I’ve encountered is the three-part description by Eben Moglen, founder of the Software Freedom Law Center, in his lecture series titled “Snowden and the Future” in 2013 at Columbia Law School:
Privacy - as we use the word in our conversations now all around the world, and particularly when we talk about the net - really means three things:
The first is Secrecy, which is our ability to keep messages "private" so that their content is known only to those who we intend to receive them.
The second is Anonymity, which is our ability to keep our messages - even when their content is open - obscure as to who has published them and who is receiving them. It is very important that anonymity is an interest we can have in both our publishing and our reading.
The third is Autonomy, which is our ability to make our life decisions free of any force which has violated our secrecy or our anonymity.
These three are the principle components of the mixture that we call "privacy". With respect to each, further consideration shows that it is a precondition to the order that we call "democracy", "ordered liberty", "self-government", to the particular scheme that we call in the United States "constitutional freedom".
A complete transcript of Mr. Moglen’s four-part lecture on the topic can be found HERE.
Another great resource is the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), an independent non-profit working to protect peoples’ online privacy for nearly thirty years. EFF states on its web site Privacy page:
“New technologies are radically advancing our freedoms, but they are also enabling unparalleled invasions of privacy. National and international laws have yet to catch up with the evolving need for privacy that comes with new digital technologies. Respect for individuals' autonomy, anonymous speech, and the right to free association must be balanced against legitimate concerns like law enforcement.”
Where did it go?
The moment you connect your computer or mobile device to the Internet, even before you open your browser, you become at risk to surveillance and tracking by the government and other third parties. When you launch a web browser or other web-based app, you become vulnerable to everyone else in the world, especially if you use social media. It is more important than ever to protect your privacy rights. Governments and corporations like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, DoubleClick, AddThis, sophisticated hacking groups, and many others have been totally disregarding people’s privacy rights throughout the world. This especially true for the social networking, advertising, and web site analytics entities (like Cambridge Analytics). These entities are tracking your every move and location, both online and actual physical location through the combined use of online activity trackers and data analytics, coupled with real-time GPS data.
Cookies, super cookies, flash cookies, bugs, beacons and a variety of third party elements (TPE) can be used to determine your IP address and then be cross-referenced and linked to your email address(es), social media profiles and other accounts.
All of this collected data is stored indefinitely in massive database repositories that are mined to create ever-more detailed unique personalized user profiles. These unique profiles are used to identify and track what you buy, where you go, what you like/don’t like, who you communicate with, what devices you use, what browser you use, the apps you use, and much more. This data is used to define who these companies think you are. They follow your wanderings around the Internet, they insert user-specific ads on the web pages you visit, and monitor your online activity a minute-to-minute basis. Often, software provided by these companies include undisclosed capabilities specifically designed to extend a their ability to remotely observe, influence, and to some extent control your online behavior.
I don’t know about you, but I find this all very intrusive and quite unsettling.