Privacy on the Internet Still Doesn’t Exist

Two years ago, I posted Privacy on the internet doesn’t exist. Well, it still doesn’t. I’m not saying you should go out of your way to disseminate your personal information to the general public, nor am I saying that paying attention to privacy settings in various online services is an exercise in futility. What I am saying, though, is that the idea that you can use the internet and be totally off the radar from governments and corporations is delusional.

Google and Facebook have certainly had their screw-ups when it comes to user privacy. But you have to realize we live in an increasingly networked and digitally stored world. You do not have control over everything about you. If you use the library, the government can find out what books you read and how long you read them for. If you even just look at an item on Amazon, Amazon keeps track of what you’ve looked at. If you encrypt your emails you send out, even if you run your own mail server locked in a bullet-proof vault, the people who receive those emails may forward them on unencrypted or may have weak passwords that get guessed by cracking programs or people who then read your private emails. If you don’t have a Facebook account, your friends who do will still post pictures of you and comment about what you all did last night. If you own a credit card or have a bank account, your information is stored somewhere or even multiple places in a networked computer system. All it takes is one unscrupulous or stupid employee to allow someone else access to your information, and it’s out there.

Are you using a proxy? How do you know you can trust the proxy with your information any more than you can your ISP? If you don’t trust Google’s privacy policy, why should you believe Scroogle’s?

I really am sick and tired of tinfoil hats (especially on Linux forums) pretending they have some magic bullet of privacy just because they use ixquick instead of Google to do searches. Unless you live in a cave, have no bank account, do no business, never see people, don’t have a phone, don’t pay taxes, and never use a networked computer, your imagined total privacy simply does not exist.

Do I care that Google knows who my friends are and how often I call them? Not really. Before I had an Android phone, I used a Virgin Mobile phone. Guess what! Virgin Mobile and Sprint (whose network Virgin borrows) knew who my friends were and how often I called them. Do I care that Google knows what I’m searching for? Not really. I’m not searching for anything that anyone else isn’t searching for. You can tell because they now try to guess what you’re searching for, and it’s usually what you are searching for, even if you’ve never searched for that before. Do you think if Britney Spears does something crazy that you’re the only one searching for “Britney Spears [something crazy]”?

And also, do you think if the government suspects you’re a terrorist that they really won’t just tap your phones and stalk you (I believe it’s called surveillance) anyway? Don’t you think the hospital, when served with a subpoena, will hand over your medical records? Don’t you think the store you shop at will hand over its security camera footage of you shopping there and what you bought? Please, just put the tinfoil hats away. Use common sense, and that goes both ways. You can hide most things from the general public, but if the corporations and governments want your information, they will get it. That doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for people to find information about you, but it does mean you can’t pretend your information is impossible to find.


  1. It amuses me that people want total anonymity and privacy on the internet – until they get hacked. Then suddenly they want to know who did it and what can be done to stop them.

  2. Who on earth do you know who’s been hacked, Irihapeti? I don’t really see any savvy people getting hacked.

    I don’t pretend my information is impossible to find, but I’m still very fond of services like ixquick, the https service wikipedia offers, etc. Every little bit helps.

    You can get pretty hardcore about it and own your house, bank account and other property in separate legal entities (trusts and LLCs), and this gives you a measure of privacy that is above and beyond what most tinfoil hats would even consider. Still not at a point where you can act smug about it, but you can be reasonably well-protected.

    I think it’s more of an anti-authoritarian thing than anything actually, since even the more practical paranoids I know tend to scoff at the idea of using the legal system to improve their privacy.

    (For the record: the typical formula is houses or rental property in trusts, cars in LLCs with nominee directors. It’s the most practical way, but it’s still expensive, and still a bitch.)

  3. “If you don’t have a Facebook account, your friends who do will still post pictures of you and comment about what you all did last night.”

    -No kidding. I had to make a very quick/emergency trip through my old hometown. I called one friend, and they got in touch with a few more and we met for lunch. One of them just had to tweet about it. (Seriously, adults). Within 30 minutes of being back on the road, I had an unhappy call from others about why I didn’t let them know. The connected world can be a bit much.

  4. Re: facebook

    Oh let me add some fuel to the fire. There’s a nice little security hole, last I heard, where you don’t even have to be friends with someone to see their feeds. Simply ‘add as friend’ and that does the trick. They don’t even have to respond and you’ll start getting their feed.

    Yeah….have become rather disappointed with FB. I’m slowly winding down anything I have stored on there, regardless if it’s cached or not.

    It’s a sad world when people only want to keep in touch with you on FB only.

  5. The interesting thing for me is Facebook.

    I once owned a Facebook account. I “deleted” it to the extent I could force Facebook to, and they fought me all the way. Ultimately, it wasn’t actually much. They still have all the data from the account, they just don’t use it for anything other than selling me to companies, I suppose.

    However, as a non-Facebook user now, I can tell you that there is a significant and palpable gulf between Facebook users and non-Facebook users. I show up in several pictures taken by friends and posted on Facebook. I am not tagged – it would have to be a raw tag anyway, so I cannot be searched through any function. I’m hardly even discussed on Facebook, judging from my friends’ account usage. It’s two different worlds, and I’m glad I’m not on the Facebook side of it.

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