Is online security important even if you have nothing to hide?

Is Online Security Important Even if You Have Nothing to Hide?

Nearly twenty years after Facebook's initial release, the issue of online privacy is at the center of attention. Many clandestine algorithms threaten people's online privacy, collecting user data often without their consent.

The problem of privacy predates the Internet and is exemplified by the political tensions of the 20th century. The liberal West which prioritized individual freedom is juxtaposed with the authoritarian East, which continues to control the intimate lives of citizens, which is equivalent to Orwell's dystopian novel 1984.

Unfortunately, leaks from Edward Snowden's National Security Agency reveal that similar, albeit softer, practices are used by U.S. government agencies. The question is just as relevant today as it was during the Cold War, demarcating the boundaries between security or control, freedom or oppression – it remains within the bounds of philosophy.

And as with many philosophical disputes, there are many opinions. One of the most popular responses to online data collection is another question: What if I have nothing to hide? In reality, there's a lot going on behind the curtain that affects most of us, whether you value your privacy or not.

Online bubbles

The dangers of online surveillance are misunderstood as a threat to reveal something private, something shameful, something you wouldn't want your parents to see. While the dangers are real, especially if you make a habit of storing intimate photos on iCloud, you can secure online accounts with a password manager, reducing the risk to almost zero. The same cannot be said for the exploitation of publicly available user data, including your social media posts, your likes on YouTube, your comments on news sites, etc.

Vast amounts of user data are used to build detailed psychological profiles. It's an open secret that government security agencies collect them to identify bad actors, which in theory sounds noble. In practice, they often overstep their limits and come a few steps closer to authoritarianism. What's more, online targeting based on psychological profiles has been used at least twice: during the 2016 US presidential elections and by Cambridge Analytica several years ago.

While Russia essentially admits to tampering with the 2016 presidential elections, many are wondering how exactly it happened. The Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency exploited the Facebook platform to create thousands of fake accounts pretending to be real Americans. Based on the psychological profiles of users that they were able to obtain through data scraping, they constructed hundreds of political ads to increase societal tensions.

You are less likely to listen to a different opinion if partial information continually reinforces your worldview. The cornerstone of Western democracy is open and respectful dispute. After hearing all the opinions, people finally vote. However, the spread of false information on social media undermines people's ability to communicate and separates them into two opposing camps. The United States has never been more politically divided, with the chasm between Republicans and Democrats growing ever wider.

Cambridge Analytica exploited the same principle. She illegally scraped millions of Facebook user profiles and used the information to promote the campaigns of Donald Trump and Senator Cruiz. Even if you have nothing to hide — and there's nothing wrong with publicly sharing your political affiliation — bad actors can use this information against you.

Remaining critical online is essential, but the influence of social networks on public opinion is too great. For now, it's best to stay vigilant online and resist the urge to overshare, especially on more sensitive topics.

Tips for Protecting Privacy Online

You can act now and follow these simple tips to improve your online privacy.

  • Use a virtual private network. VPNs are the most used software to protect online privacy. They create a secure, encrypted tunnel between your device and the Internet so that no third party can spy on your browsing activities. A reliable VPN for mobile devices or computers has a zero-logs policy, which means it does not collect or share your information with third parties.
  • Avoid Google services. Google is the largest data scraping company that uses its search engine to collect your information. You can use an alternative like duckduckgo.com, which is more privacy-friendly. At the same time, there are alternatives to the Google Chrome browser, such as the TOR network or the Brave browser.
  • Store your information in a secure Cloud. Instead of trusting your photos to Facebook and your videos to TikTok, you can use secure cloud storage to keep information safe and available. Facial recognition companies often use these social networks to fill their databases with photos without your consent, which can then be misused by governments who often use their services to spy on citizens.

Last word

Online privacy is about much more than personal well-being. The examples discussed reveal how uncontrolled data collection leads to compromised elections and how many governments use it to persecute political opponents. Staying private online will reduce political propaganda in your feed and simultaneously protect you from third-party influences.