Internet Privacy- Is there such a thing?

There are people who care about Internet privacy and there are those that don’t. This post is primarily for the former, but aimed at trying to convince the latter that they should start taking the idea of online privacy more seriously.
The Internet is a fascinating place. Or medium. Or system. You can call it what you want depending on what you use it for. In the relatively short time that it has been around, it has been one of those things that has truly changed the world. Everybody recognizes the impact that the Internet has had in arguably every walk of life. From politics to arts, shopping to traveling, education to entertainment, from governance to sports, the role of the internet can not be understated.
In truth, the internet has become a basic need for billions of people around the world. It has reached the point where the debate now, is not about whether it is a basic need or not, but about if it should be treated as a basic right or not.
One of the biggest plus points about the internet is that it helps people find their voices. Anything you want to say, you can. On Facebook, on Twitter, on a blog or any other avatar of “social media”, you are free to express yourself without fear.
There has always been the debate about if the freedom of speech guaranteed to every citizen applies to the Internet as well. An extension of that debate is that old issue of Internet censorship.
Internet freedom v/s Internet censorship.
Essentially, both of these is the same thing..inverted. If you censor someone online, you’re violating his freedom of speech and expression. If you don’t censor at all, you’re giving spammers and worse, stalkers, a free hand in violating someone else’s right to freely use the internet without fear for his or her safety. This is where lines get blurred on the Internet. How much is too much? Where do you draw those boundaries? Who decides what is spam? Do existing laws apply to the Internet?
Internet Privacy
The answer to the first 4 questions is up for debate. The answer to the last question, about existing laws, is obvious. Quite clearly, those laws do not apply to the internet. Why? For the simplest reason: When those laws were made, the internet did not exist. In fact, when some of those laws were made, half our country was not even alive. You simply can not treat the internet as “just another medium of communication”. It is not. The Internet guarantees something that no other conventional platform can. Anonymity.
You can be a cyber-nobody and go through the profile of anyone you please and they won’t even know about it. Kids have been told not to accept candies from strangers since time immemorial. Today, those candies are friend requests on Facebook. True, you can change your privacy settings and not let anyone see your stuff. But, really, how safe is your data?
Your name, your profile information, your photos, status updates, messages, are all saved on the servers of these websites. When you sign up, you give them the permission to do that. After that, what they do with that data is entirely up to them. You let them decide, in good faith.
At this point some people like to quote the stand of these big websites, who say that they somewhat heroically protect your data from data sharks like the governments and hackers. Of course they do. That’s their responsibility. But also, more importantly, giving data to the government is of absolutely no use to them. They get nothing out of that deal. These websites make billions of dollars through ads. It would’ve all been alright had they just been placing ads. But, what they are also doing is passing on to the advertisers, information that they infer from how you use their site and this is explicitly mentioned in their privacy terms and conditions (yes, that thing that you didn’t bother reading and just hit ‘I agree’ because you were in too much of a hurry to read that guy’s status update or like that pretty girl’s profile photo. Yes. That long boring document). Some even monitor what you browse, what you buy online and what you chat about. They don’t reveal your identities (or so they claim, but really, they don’t have to. The guys who post ads don’t care who you are, just that it is, in fact, you). But just the fact that this information is available on some server somewhere should make us at least a little uncomfortable. Remember what happened when TrueCaller’s database were hacked? Smart companies, smarter hackers. Slightly smarter companies, exponentially smarter hackers. It’s a vicious cycle. But again, these websites/apps/companies don’t get anything other than bad publicity from being hacked so you can trust that they’re doing their best to protect you from hackers. But from ads, there’s incentive. Big incentive. Billions of dollars worth of it.
This is not to scare anyone from using the Internet. Like I said earlier, it’s an offshoot of the control v/s freedom debate- one that has existed for a really long time- regarding outdated laws governing the internet. The use of cookies does make the browsing experience better but how anyone other than you is allowed to use the information it gathers should be regulated purely with your interests in mind.
The idea of this post, was to convey a message. Be careful what you do online. You have the ability to do anything you want but you’ve been handed the kind of power that generations before us weren’t lucky enough to have. And like uncle Ben said, With great power, comes great responsibility. In this case, that responsibility is to your own safety. Take your privacy seriously.
There is a dark side to the moon, but that’s only because that big warm guy called the sun isn’t there on that side. That doesn’t mean bad things happen on that side, just that you need to be careful when you’re walking there lest you trip on a banana peel and hurt yourself. The same with the Internet. There is a dark side to this beautiful thing. Just be careful when you’re there lest you get cheated online by a fake email that promised you “21 billion dollars that a relative, you didn’t know existed, has left to you in his will” ( I mean seriously, how do people fall for that stuff? Stupidity? Greed? Ignorance? Or a fatal cocktail of the three?).
Don’t download anything from unverified websites. Don’t give anyone or any website access to your information without knowing what they are doing with it. Change your privacy settings NOW.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the kind man who made this world wide web, has put forth a proposal for an “internet bill of rights”. If that materializes, hopefully, it will be the sunlight that brings light even to the darkest corners of the Internet.
Stay Safe! Stay informed!
Editor-at-Large, Dudurudh
Anirudh Dinesh

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