An interview with Bruce Schneier on Radio Free Europe brought up some disturbing implications of the nexus of governments, private companies and individuals. According to Schneier, it’s pretty much impossible to protect privacy online, but there are ways that users can make it more difficult for those who are inclined to snoop. While it seems like, given recent revelations about the NSA spying on private citizens, that anyone with enough money and motivation can break a user’s privacy measures, there are procedures that can be followed to maximize one’s privacy and to deter intrusions.
Schneier brings up the fact that users, when they log into sites such as Facebook and other social networking sites, are giving their information to the site, so there’s little that can be done about privacy in that regard. Users who utilize email services such as Gmail are giving their email to Google or whatever company applies. It’s even recently come to light that Microsoft might let some nations spy on Skype conversations, but that hasn’t been verified, so users are left to wonder if their conversations are really private or if they are being listened in on.
The privacy issues that user face today come principally from two fronts. First, private companies oftentimes collect information and sell it to third parties for marketing purposes. Second, governments sometimes—and sometimes with questionable legal authority to do so—collect information on Internet users. This information is sometimes intercepted and vacuumed up in programs such as the NSA’s PRISM and is sometimes provided on demand by private companies. Though Google has at least gone as far as letting people know when an information request has been made, there’s really no way to know whether any specific user’s data has been requested.
As Schneier points out in the article, once a consumer even has a cell phone the cellular company knows their location. Use a social network and the social networking company has the user information. Users can take some measures, however.
First, be aware of what you’re storing in cloud services. That data could be theoretically requested by a government or used by marketers.
Users also may want to start using alternatives to Google. IXQuick and DuckDuckGo are both search engines that allow users to execute searches without collecting personal information. With services that offer Internet searching and other services—i.e. Google—and with free email providers in general, using multiple profiles and email accounts can help to protect privacy.
USENET services should always provide SSL encryption to users. If you’re a USENET user, make sure yours does. Our free providers all provide this vital privacy protection, which prevents data from being read in transit and keeps users safe from intrusion