Cross-site trackers. Cookies. Canvas fingerprinting. Modern-day life—one that often revolves around a myriad of computing devices—feels like a constant battle to block digital surveillance. When it comes to information privacy, the deck is stacked against individuals.
For the privacy-aware among us, there are some days when you might wonder if it’s worth even fighting the good fight. So what should you do—keep blocking scripts, connecting to VPNs, and taking a host of other privacy-focused actions? Or just accept the fact that there’s no such thing as information privacy anymore? We’re going to take a look at the problems surrounding information privacy to find out. The answer might just surprise you.
Some things were always public
One thing to remember is that information privacy doesn’t mean every single bit of your personal data is under lock and key. Talk a walk down to your local tax office, and you can find the name and address of every homeowner in your town. Work for the government? Your salary is probably part of the public record.
This is all to say that a big chunk of your information has always been available. What has changed since the dawn of the internet age is ease of access. Before, getting those property tax records meant going to a municipal office. Now, it’s usually searchable from your town’s website. Scooping up the names and addresses of every resident is relatively trivial, and for those with the technological know-how, a little code can scale the process up quickly.
Regardless, expecting total anonymity isn’t realistic, at least those of us working outside the high-stakes field of international espionage.
Okay, so is information privacy possible?
At the risk of breaking Betteridge’s Law, we’re going to go out on a limb and say yes. It’s not easy—there’s a whole lot of incentive for companies to build a profile on you—but information privacy is possible.
How though? As ridiculous as it may sound, you’ll need to shift your mindset. Traditionally, privacy was the default. Today, though, the ease with which personal data can be collected usually proves irresistible for large companies. So if you want to maintain some information privacy, you have to assume that if they can track you, they will.
You only need to look to the recent past to see how to put that into practice. The adage from the 1990s is even more valid today: If you don’t want someone seeing what you’re doing, don’t do it on the internet. Facebook’s job gets much harder if you aren’t constantly feeding them updates on where you are, who you’re friends with, and which Rick & Morty character you are.
Don’t forget the real world, too. Brick-and-mortar shops filled with security cameras, credit card terminals, and loyalty programs, aren’t watching the best self you present on social. They’re watching what you actually do, like buying mac & cheese and a tub of ice cream for Tuesday night dinner.
Finding the middle ground
At this point, asking someone to do things like staying off the internet is like telling them to go without electricity: it’s a non-starter. If you’re not willing to disappear into the mountains, fret not. You still have options.
For starters, remember that to lose privacy pre-internet, you had to consciously offer up information. Today, that’s still the case. However, most of us don’t pay attention to the everyday actions we take that offer up our private information.
Keep your eyes open. Any time you hand over information, think about whether there’s a way to circumvent it or avoid it altogether. If you’re doing it actively, like telling a store clerk your phone number, you could give them your Burner number instead. Or if it’s passive, like letting your IP address be recorded by a website you visit, you could use a VPN.
So even though times and technology have changed, the power to maintain your information privacy is still in your hands. To see what else you can do, check out our post on protecting your privacy online.