It seems that hardly a day can pass without a new online privacy-related scandal hitting the headlines; be it Facebook giving shady companies with even shadier political motives access to your intimate data, Yahoo being hacked for a billion user accounts, or companies such as Amazon tracking your every move across the web just so they can better sell you stuff.
Against such a background drumbeat of outrageous revelation followed even more outrageous revelation, it is easy to either become so desensitized to it all that we just switch off, or to despair at our ability to protect ourselves against it, and so stop bothering to try.
Neither of which, folks, is the right attitude! It is true that there is only so much we can do about big tech companies unscrupulously selling or carelessly losing our data, but that does not mean we are powerless when it comes to taking control of and protecting, our privacy online.
Instead of using a company such as Google as your email provider, whose very business model relies on invading our privacy in order to target us with ever-more personalized ads, you could use a privacy-friendly email service instead.
Instead of re-using the same easy-to-remember (and therefore guess) password across multiple websites, so that when one account gets hacked they all can, you could use a password manager. This ensures that each account has a strong and unique password that you can easily input on websites, no matter which of your many devices you are currently using.
Instead of allowing websites you visit to uniquely identify you and then track your movements across the web, you can use a VPN to hide your identity and browser add-ons to block trackers.
Instead of storing your data in the cloud using companies which have been proved to betray their customers to government mass surveillance agencies such as the NSA and GCHQ, and which have full access to your flies, you can switch to a cloud provider that uses end-to-end encryption. This ensures that only you have access to your files.
And so on. The reality is that there are a great many privacy tools available which can meaningfully improve your day-to-day privacy online. If you use them.
Given the enormity and multifaceted nature of the task, a useful concept deployed by security and cyber-privacy professions if that of assessing your threat model. Who or what are you most worried about, and how worried about them are you?
Keeping your personal threat model in mind when considering your privacy online will help focus your mind on what is most important to you, and provides a way to prioritize approaching what can otherwise be a very intimidating task.
Intimidating or not, however, the job of improving your online privacy is a vital one if we do not wish to enter a world where George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 nightmare seems frankly tame.
Fortunately, that world does not exist yet. And you can help prevent it by taking control of and responsibility for, your own privacy. It’s really not that hard, and even baby starter steps can bring meaningful improvements which can be built on as your confidence grows.
Douglas Crawford, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy.com