We all live in the digital age. Like it or not, our lives are becoming more dependent on the internet and our civil liberties are under attack. On average, more than three out of four people carry a smartphone with them throughout the day. These useful devices aren’t as innocent as they may seem.
Telephones have been used for tracking since they were first introduced. Devices were installed in telephone connection and routing interfaces that let people snoop on targeted individual’s phone calls. The difference today, isn’t that people’s calls are being recorded, it’s that everyone’s calls are being recorded. Metadata fuels Big Data analytics and courts have ruled that collecting metadata does not violate the privacy protects that were created to protect us. There isn’t a single US operating telecom company that doesn’t comply with governments requests to records calls.
However, it isn’t limited to just calls. All your texts and being recorded as well. If I had to describe everything in one sentence, I would have to say that everything you do on your phone is being recorded and monitored. That includes all calls, emails, texts, video chats, skype calls, snapchats, tweets, and more. Even where you go and the locations you visit are recorded. Until a recent public outcry, telecom companies were even selling this data to make a profit. Advertisers and stock market traders have been buying location history for individuals for extremely cheap. Did you know about this? Many people did not even though they agreed to it when they said that they read the “terms of service” when they signed up for their phone plan.
So, you may be thinking, how can I take back my privacy. Well, there isn’t a straight forward solution. Unless you are willing to completely give up your mobile phone and stop using the internet, you can’t avoid it all. For instance, every major telecom company sells your call, text, and location metadata to the highest bidder. They also sell direct access to an individual’s data as long as they agree that they received a verbal confirmation that the individual agreed to it. (which is a complete joke because they aren’t verifying that they had a confirmation nor are they restricting who they can look up).
So, if you can’t protect your telephone provider from selling your information, what can you do? Well, one thing we can all do is ask these telecom companies to give us an option to save our privacy. If enough people agree to pay more money every month in exchange for privacy protect, they may take the steps to provide an option for the privacy concerned folks.
On the internet however, it is easier to take back your freedom. Instead of using the products of big advertising companies like Google and Facebook, switch to privacy focused alternatives that offer the same thing for a small cost. Instead of using Gmail, a service that scans your emails and sells the content to advertisers, switch to Fastmail and enjoy complete privacy for as little as $15 a year. Frequently access Facebook? Well you can switch your privacy settings and still enjoy their services. With the recent news covering the Cambridge analytics data scandal and Russia’s interference with the US presidential election, Facebook has been rolling out new features to keep your data private. All it takes is a few minutes for reviewing and changing your privacy settings.
Or perhaps you use Google Docs as a free word processor since you don’t want to pay for Microsoft office. Well, there are free alternatives that don’t sell your information. LibreOffice is free to use and comes packed with features that rival Microsoft’s product. While not as refined and intuitive, almost all of the commonly used features are implemented and available for use. If you need cloud sync, consider encrypting for data before you upload it online. Even something as simple as a password protected zip file is enough to stop google from searching your documents.
Don’t want your internet provider to know what websites your visit? Then encrypt your connection by using a VPN or virtual private network. It lets you securely connect over insecure Wi-Fi and it protects people from snooping on your internet history.
If you need to get a message to a friend and aren’t in a rush, consider sending it via snail mail. Privacy protections on your physical mail are much better. No one can search your mail without a warrant. It’s nothing like that dragnet used to record internet traffic of everyone on earth.