I often hear the argument “I have nothing to hide, so I have nothing to fear” in reference to government surveillance and data mining from corporations. This argument weakens effots to increase privacy and, frankly, it’s wrong. Everyone has something to hide.
We ought to have the freedom to choose what we want to remain private. Among other things, that may include our personal conversations, the images we share or the content we browse online. While not criminal or malicious, we still seek to hide these things and we’d be embarrassed if they were ever made public. This risk increases as data collection increases rapidly.
The “nothing to hide” argument is also dangerously misaligned with American justice. The argument assumes “guilty until proven innocent” which allows bulk data collection of all citizens’ data instead of only those suspected of a crime. If citizens were subjected to these searches physically, perhaps we’d finda greater uproar regarding our policy.
As of Feb. 2016, WhatsApp has over a billion users on its messaging service. With new terms and conditions, private conversations between WhatsApp users will be shared with social media giant Facebook to improve targeted advertising. This data collection policy removes any sort of privacy protections from the application. However, users who disagree with these terms may opt-out during a thirty day window until the changes are permanent.
Facebook is not alone in its data collection policies. Google collects data on all the services it operates including email, search history, and your location. This information can easily be used to discover more about a user than their closest friends. Imagine the implications of that information in the hands of a malicious hacker.
In 2013, Edward Snowden leaked information about many surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Agency. The leaks included information claiming a lack of oversight in these programs that resulted in NSA workers sharing sexually explicit photos they intercepted.
But even if you trust these government agencies and enjoy the features offered by Google and Facebook, the information collected may later fall in to the wrong hands. Each week it seems a huge company faces a hack resulting in a leak of personal information. Looking to the possibly state-sponsored attacks to the Democratic National Convention, Yahoo, and even the National Security Agency, it is challenging to trust your data in even the most security-minded organizations. When this data is stolen, it is often sold or later stored with possibly malicious intent.
Ultimately, the quest for privacy is one for certain freedoms, the freedom to control the audience of expression. These data collection policies remove that freedom. In order for users to take control of their data, they must know how their data is collected, where it is used, and how it used.
Want to know more about protecting your privacy? Leave a comment or email me and I’ll write a follow-up guide on privacy protections.