Online privacy is finally cool, so.. where to start?

By Marc Goossens, June 2021
Reading about privacy feels like reading conspiracy theories. What you read seems improbable, dystopian and kind of crazy. However, the difference between some random conspiracy theory and the case of our online privacy, is that those dystopian stories about our privacy are not fiction - they are actually true! With everything we do on the internet, we share information about ourselves, and most of us have no clue how this information is being used.

Why even ‘Big Tech’ calls for action

Now I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw Netflix’s The Social Dilemma in the past year, a (very dramatic) documentary that shows us the dark side of social media and big tech. From the people that created the 👍 Like button at Facebook, to the behavioral scientists that made Instagram as addictive as possible, we hear how things go behind the scenes. How all our data is analyzed to predict our behavior, how elections are being manipulated and how our attention is being sold (get the conspiracy-feeling now?). Nothing new apparently, and if this left you feeling as uneasy as I felt, I guess that’s good… (trailer)

The takeaway is clear: time for some action. As an IT professional, I think I should take some responsibility and not be lazy about my online privacy. Hopefully, I’ll motivate you to join in the effort.

How broken is our privacy? https://unsplash.com/photos/hz6u3V1eTOo

The privacy rabbit hole

Following my new privacy goal (to actually start considering my privacy), I went down the privacy rabbit hole. As I got lost, I proved a point to myself: How difficult it is to find out where to start, and how hard it is to understand what services, platforms and apps I should avoid - however convenient they might be. To find out for what reasons these should be avoided, and what alternatives there are. Quickly, you’ll find out that if you are not paying with your personal data, you will generally be paying money for the services you want to use.

So where do I start? The goal of this blog is zooming back out, providing you, and myself, with the perspective we need to get started on improving our online privacy. An overview and a starting point, while I make an effort to explain the path I take.

Please accept all tracking cookies: Action list for this blog series

As the goal is to take some major steps for the remainder of this year, this is a list of topics that I will look into, with different blogs over the coming months:

  1. Privacy friendly web browsing: please accept our tracking cookies to continue.
  2. Implementing security best practices: Passwords, 2FA/MFA, Password manager.
  3. Encrypting your internet connection: VPN, Ad blocking (Pi-hole).
  4. Emailing: Own your domain and email with a secure service.
  5. Social Media: Why I left Facebook and Instagram, why I haven’t left LinkedIn yet, and next steps.
  6. Smartphone: Privacy measures, location services and secure messaging.

Of course, these are my first ideas, and the list is by no means exhaustive. Perhaps you can even add another topic to my list. I happily invite you to (mail: my first name @techspire.nl). But hey, I have to start somewhere, right? I’ll surely learn and adjust over the coming months and this will be the springboard.

Reflections and next steps

There is so much to say about privacy that it is really hard for me to keep this brief. I would like to make the point why we should care about privacy, but that would drag me down a lengthy philosophical discussion. I would like to dive into how far it makes sense to 'get into privacy'. Into social media, into the difference between privacy, anonymity and secrecy, into cryptocurrencies and anonymous payments, into …

Well, as you see, there are plenty of rabbit holes to go down here. Once you start making an effort to respect your own privacy, you can go as far as you want. For now, I will leave you with some of my favourite resources as I start working on the first topic in my privacy to-do list.

Read the next blog in this series in July 2021: Privacy friendly web browsing: please accept our tracking cookies to continue.

Resources

If this blog has made you curious, here are some nice resources to get started:

  • Read from hacker and a security researcher Jeffrey Paul, e.g. on emailing.
  • Check out these privacy guides from security and privacy researcher Sun Knudsen on youtube.
  • Why “I have nothing to hide” is such a bad argument to not care about privacy.

WHO AM I?

I’m Marc, a full stack engineer at Techspire and I ride my bike in Amsterdam 🇳🇱 I have an engineering bachelor’s, an entrepreneurship master’s and when I am not coding, I am probably doing water sports.

Do you think you have what it takes to work with us? At Techspire we’re looking for people who love technology as much as we do, looking to push themselves to expand their knowledge. Also, we love a good story, a good laugh, and a few beers.

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