Disclaimer: I am neither a researcher nor otherwise affiliated with institutions actually fighting for or providing internet-anonymity or privacy.I WILL throw around technical terms that may stray from actual definitions. Nonetheless I want to share my knowledge, assumptions and advice as a computer scientist.

“I don’t have anything to hide but I don’t have anything I want to show you either”

So I am writing a post on online-privacy - on a publicly-available website under my own name - how is this compatible? I can explain. And this explanation will reveal the first of my main ideas regarding privacy. I feel my privacy preserved not when i am completely anonymous, everywhere and always. For me, my privacy is preserved when I have full control over which data I want to share and which not. This relates nicely to the quote in the beginning (which I found on reddit): I have some things that I’d like to share, like this website for instance. That does not mean however that I like other information of myself out there. This establishes the first core-idea:

1: There is data I do want to share and there is data I do not.

But what does sharing mean? Who has my data? Am I trying to hide from you, the curious reader on my website? Is my concern, that someone in a hut in Siberia will find data ON ME online and will know what I had for dinner yesterday? Most certainly not. Granted, I don’t need some stranger following my eating-habits, but in the big picture it is others, I worry about: states and companies. Let’s talk about the state first: I live in a democratic, liberal country in Europe. EU-regulations concerning surveillance, data-protection and similar have my back and I am probably safe to assume that my country respects my privacy. So am I fine? Even with assuming a privacy-utopia where I live, this is not where this story ends. Just throwing out the words Russia or China will most likely bring up some associations for you. There are countries on earth that do not have your best interest in mind, potentially their best interest is your worst. And the internet has no physical borders; whatever you do, your data might get in their hands, without you even realizing.

So I am scared of the russian hackers, this is it? Most definitely not: it’s the big player companies posing the main threat. They lure us with their nice services and platforms or maybe they have pushed society so far into reliance that we can’t just avoid them anymore. Big tech companies with technology and resources unimaginably huge, with close to zero monitoring on their practices and doings. They have grown and advanced so far, that currently no regulatory institution can fully grasp what they are doing with our data. They are in a unprecedented position of all-ecompassing knowledge about their billions of users, paired with fast-developing sophisticated technology to analyze and therefore conclude and predict behaviour patterns on large groups of people.

But they have our best interest in mind? Evidently not: more and more scandals emerge of larger and larger scale, showcasing perhaps only the tip of the iceberg that is companies influencing our daily life, our decisions or even health or career. I will not dive deeper into any reasoning (if/why/how much) this is happening; I am strongly conviced that it is and increasingly desperate not to fall victim to that. Also, needless to say, the threat posed to economy, democracy and society as whole is probably multitudes greater. Summing up:

2: Privacy gives me the freedom to take independent decisions, have control over who I am as a person and shape my path in life undisturbed

So far I have been talking about this data all the time. But what is this data even? What is so bad about it? Let’s talk about that for a second. So I’m writing this blog-post; this is unmistakingly data. Maybe I will attach a nice image to it or even a video. Classical, data. But this is not about me… this is about you, the reader. You are reading this blog post during this time of day, on this date. Voilá, data. But there is more: you are reading it on a certain device, maybe the browser on your smartphone. More data. This phone has an IP-address, similiar to your notebook and your smart-tv. Data. You’re spending 20 minutes reading this post, then 1 minute reading another post, 40 seconds looking at picture number 1 and then you click a link to a wikipedia page. All data. Of course i could go on… and obviously I am not able to track any of that and even if I would, this is still pretty innocent and you maybe wouldn’t even care. However, similarly this data emerges also when browsing on Amazon, scrolling through your Instagram feed or checking your Google-mail-inbox. and as you might imagine this not only creates more data than I just described, the data will be far more intimate, interesting, desriptive and interconnected with what person you are online.

My point being: there is all kinds and variations of data and we leave it, always and everywhere. And as long as we are on the internet, those traces will accumulate and as long as technology progresses they will paint a clearer and clearer picture of us as a person. This brings up an interesting distinction:

3: It’s hard to passively avoid leaving traces of data; I have to actively take measures to keep my data private

But do I have to? Really? I could just quit overall. Shutdown the computer, turn off the phone, go for a long forest walk and never enter into this internet thing again, couldn’t I? Yes, I could. But I won’t, and so won’t you or probably anybody else. Our lives are unseperable interconnected with the usage of the internet, due to our education, our jobs, our family, friends, hobbies… getting completely off the internet might keep you nicely private but will probably render almost every aspect in your life unmanagable. For every important service we drop out off, we might also lose an important necessity in our daily lifes. Do we can’t just quit everything. And this illustrates the last main point:

4: All measures to stay private need to be practical and can’t interfere too much in the way I need to use the internet

So far these are all abstract thoughts and theories. Maybe interesting, maybe more or less accurate but their helpfulness is quite minimal. This is however only the preamble to what is to come, namely a load of active measures how to maintain online privacy. As you might have noticed, the bold paragraphs sum up the main ideas and form a nice motivation for you mainting online-privacy:

I do not want to have all of my data known by big entities (1)

as that strips me from the freedom of living my life independently (2).

therefore I have to actively take measures that protect my privacy (3)

but still allow me to normally participate in daily life (4).

So we got all the motivating and reasoning out of the way and we are ready to explore different levels of internet-privacy and privacy-measures in the next blog posts. Thank you for reading!