The attacks on 9/11 changed America forever, especially when it comes to your privacy. As promised, below is a long draft created in explaining how we got here, and how you can protect yourself. Enjoy.

Privacy on the Web

Privacy is a very complicated subject to talk about in today’s world. On the one hand, people give up their information in exchange to use “free” applications on smartphones and tablets, while on the other hand, people invest in services that aid in surfing the internet anonymously. No matter what side people choose, there is one thing that is clear. Your privacy is at risk.

Post 9-11

Ever since the attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States has drastically shifted its focus on battling terrorism by investing heavily into civilian intelligence gathering. Just a month after the attacks, the United States passed the controversial Patriot Act, which gave government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA), access to private information of its citizens. It is, in fact, section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows bulk collection of metadata. Metadata acts like a time stamp that identifies times and dates, along with subject of each message. “Critics argue metadata can reveal the most intimate details of an individual’s life, and that because the 215-collection program indiscriminately sweeps up the data of U.S. citizens, it violates Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless search and seizure” (CSIS, 2014). Regardless of what critics say, the fact remains that the United States government has a license to surveillance your private lives in the name of national security. If that is not worse enough, companies are collecting similar data for profit.

Companies Profit

Large companies are known for providing free software while making huge profits from ad companies. However, from a cyber security perspective, the free software must engage in risky behavior to accommodate advertisements programing. A report by Appthority (2014) found that 95% of the top 200 free iOS and Android apps exhibit at least one risky behavior. The top three percentages involved the following: 70% allowed location/GPS tracking, 69% gave access to social networks, and 56% identify users. The reason behind these kinds of “risky behaviors” is for sheer profit. One company that acts as a data-broker is named Acxiom. Morris, Jason, and Lavandera (2012) reported that this company recorded $1.1 billion in sales last year offering “analytical services” on 144 million households. Companies like Acxiom will tell the public that they collect peoples contact information, shopping preferences, demographics, etc. is to better serve customers with relevant advertisements. However, important choices about you are being made based on your digital profile behind the scenes. These choices may affect your credit score, health insurance rates, or one’s job. Take China for example. According to Botsman (2017), it will become mandatory for all 1.5 Billion China citizens to use its Social Credit System (SCS) by 2020. Should a similar system be forged in America, there will be real consequences for everything that happens on the internet. Take a moment to consider ones identity being stolen. Now, Imagine the mayhem that would cause if you were on the SCS, let alone the time spent to repair the damage to your good name. That is why it is imperative to protect ones’ data.

Protect Your Privacy

Whether people know it or not, their privacy is being taken advantage of every day by government agencies and private businesses around the world. No one is safe. However, there are ways to limit one’s digital footprint without completely going off the grid. Let’s start with cell phones.

Unfortunately, most consumers prefer convenience over security. In turn, so do companies that make apps for cellphones. Texting using apps like WhatsApp is very convenient to chat with people around the world, but at the same time, offers zero protection when it comes to third parties reading or listening to those messages. The solution is an app called Signal that offers end-to-end encryption for both iPhone and Andriod (Greenberg, 2014). Other options include ChatSecure and Cryptocat for securing text messages.

Having a secure connection is important when browsing the internet, especially if it is dealing with online banking. Having a reliable VPN is a must if you are at home or a public wifi location. Another option is Tor, which jumps your location around the world making tracking difficult. Installing add-ons on your internet browser like CanvasBlocker and NoScript are great ways to fight not only advertisements but malicious scripts on websites trying to find more about you.

Conclusion

It is important to know that the world is always changing, and the methods of protecting ones’ privacy will change with it. It is also important to realize governments, companies, and even terrorists will stop at nothing to access peoples’ data. It is up to the individual to stay ever diligent in standing up to these threats that want nothing more but to sell your privacy legally or illegally. Without taking necessary steps to protect oneself, the consequences later down the road will be a harsh reality.

References

“Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.” Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act | Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 27 Feb. 2014, http://www.csis.org/analysis/fact-sheet-section-215-usa-patriot-act.

“APPTHORITY EXPOSES SECURITY AND PRIVACY RISKS BEHIND TOP 400 MOBILE APPS.” Appthority, 2014, http://www.appthority.com/company/press/press-releases/appthority-exposes-security-and-privacy-risks-behind-top-400-mobile-apps/.

Morris, Jason, and Ed Lavandera. “Why Big Companies Buy, Sell Your Data.” CNN, Cable News Network, 23 Aug. 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/23/tech/web/big-data-acxiom/index.html.

Botsman, Rachel. “Big Data Meets Big Brother as China Moves to Rate Its Citizens.” WIRED, WIRED UK, 28 Nov. 2017, http://www.wired.co.uk/article/chinese-government-social-credit-score-privacy-invasion.

Greenberg, Andy. “WhatsApp Comes Under New Scrutiny For Privacy Policy, Encryption Gaffs.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 21 Feb. 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2014/02/21/whatsapp-comes-under-new-scrutiny-for-privacy-policy-encryption-gaffs/.