Online privacy describes a state of keeping your information safe and private from others. This could mean protecting your information from nefarious individuals like snoopers or hacks, from Internet service providers (ISPs) collecting data about you and your online activities, or from a service like Facebook tracking what you do and selling data to advertisers. It can also mean protecting your personal information and behavior from an overly-invasive government conducting mass surveillance on citizens by scanning content of communications, monitoring users online and on social media and other practices.
As we outline in our 10 Myths piece, the concept of privacy is inherently personal and can have a different definition for each person. Privacy generally means the ability to exclude information about yourself and to protect your details from being collected, shared or even profited from – especially without your explicit knowledge or consent.
Privacy can also refer to your right to express yourself. As stated by one of our panelists at SXSW 2016, : “privacy is your right and ability to be yourself and express yourself without the fear that someone is looking over your shoulder and that you might be punished for being yourself, whatever that may be.” The concept of privacy also expands into the online world, and describes your right to protect your information in this context.
The Right to Privacy
Online privacy is a fundamental right. We’ve always asserted that encryption, which enables this privacy, is like the Second Amendment for the Internet. Encryption is your right to defend yourself and your privacy from the variety of risks that exist online. An argument that’s often made against privacy is “I have nothing to hide.” Regardless of whether or not you feel you have something to hide, you still have a right to privacy and to protect that privacy. Privacy has even been formally recognized as a right by groups including the United Nations, who recently ruled privacy to be a fundamental human right for all individuals. We are afforded certain privacy protections in real life, and those should not change when we participate in activities online.
There are many ways to improve your privacy online. The most simple, yet most important, thing you can do is be aware of the risks. It’s essential to understand that many privacy threats exist, and be aware that you should be cautious when using the Internet. Always think twice – and carefully – when you decide what to post and share online, as well as what sites you visit and what service providers you use. Many of these services and companies are collecting information about you, so it’s essential to take steps to adjust what they can see and collect. In many cases you are automatically opted-in to invasive practices, so adjusting your settings is key to minimizing the amount of information collected on you. Another key step to take is to make sure you browse with HTTPS, which indicates your connection is secured. Also, be selective about what networks you connect to – always choose to connect to those that are safe and trusted. For example, use caution when connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks in places like coffee shops or airports as these networks do not have proper security. You can also use encryption for everything – from encrypted email to storage on your local machine, to using a VPN to encrypt information in transit across your connection.