28 June 2021 (Wall Street International)*Privacy has become a precious commodity. If you are rich enough, you can move to an off-grid island. If you are famous enough, you can get permission to build a higher wall around your property. The rest of us have to learn to live with an ever-decreasing level of privacy.

Some of us cope by sharing as much as possible about ourselves. That way, we can control the impression that others get of us online. Others try to be as hidden as possible. They refuse to use social media. They use a phone with an unlisted number.

There is some data that we cannot hide. Government agencies and corporations gather data about us in every interaction we have with them.

Despite their best efforts to protect the data with legislation, policies, and technical measures, even the best of them leak data. Your info will be sold without your consent and you do not even need to go into the darkest places of the DeepWeb to prove it.

In a time when a handful of companies control the majority of the data gathered across the world; tracing our every move, interactions, consumption, relationships, etc. and, it now seems too late as these companies have become too powerful. The necessary regulations to restore our privacy and distribute the power these few entities possess will be very difficult.

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Government agencies and corporations gather data about us in every interaction we have with them | Image from Wall Street International

Secret invasion

I’m back from a usual weekend at my girlfriend’s home, and now I’m getting a bunch of ads everywhere for her shower gel brand, the brand I’ve been putting in my body for just two days.

We never talked about this brand or googled it or anything like that because it’s just a shower gel. I do not care at all about these products honestly, if I have something (whatever) to shower myself with, I am completely fine. How the heck did this happen?

All the apps collect tons of data from your phone. Your unique device ID. Your geolocation. Your demographics. This is the start. Data aggregators pay to pull in data from everything. When do I use my discount card at the supermarket? That is data for sale.

They can match my purchases to my Twitter account because I gave those companies my email address and phone number and I agreed to all that data-sharing processes when I accepted those terms of service and the privacy policy because many times, if you do not sell your soul, basically you cannot proceed with the goodies, but as we can see this is clearly the path to hell.

If my phone is regularly in the same GPS location as another phone, they automatically create a kind of ad-hoc network and remember it. They start reconstructing the web of people I’m in regular contact with.

The advertisers can cross-reference my interests and browsing/purchase history to those around me. It starts showing me different ads based on the people around me.

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A handful of companies control the majority of the data gathered across the world | Image from Wall Street International

Family. Friends. Coworkers. My girlfriend. It will serve me ads for things I don’t want, but it knows someone I’m in regular contact with. It is also a coercive action to subliminally get me to start a conversation about; I don’t know, a damn shower gel by comparing aggregated metadata.

Many people report on this already. It’s just, now nobody cares. We have decided our privacy just isn’t worth it. Somebody knows my girlfriend’s shower gel. They knew I was at her place.

They know my mail address, her mail address, her real address, her phone number. Mine. Your data isn’t just about you. It’s about how it can be used against every person you know, and people you don’t.

Alternatives arising

By original design, the Internet was not meant to be a particularly private place. This is where projects like Blockstack have attempted to redesign the Internet with consumer privacy and control over one’s own data in mind. This alternative architecture structures the entire Internet like a blockchain network and grants each user a unique, cryptographically sealed identity.

This Internet 2.0 intends to give users complete control over their own information, no longer requiring them to hand it over in return for using a “free” service like Facebook or Google. Furthermore, because the whole network relies on the consensus-building mechanism of blockchains, it is almost impossible to hack. At least not until commercial quantum computers are available.

But as I implied in the title, it might be already a lost battle. We’ve already given away too much of ourselves.

Kids don’t think of privacy the same way because they grew up without it. Kids today don’t know what it means to ‘go on the Internet’ because they’re always on the Internet.

Many people started to think that the way forward is to stop fighting a lost battle and surrender to the fact that privacy is gone. Only then can we begin to redefine what it means to be a person in the Internet age.

For them, “Privacy advocates are fighting a rear-guard action against reality, and reality always wins.”

“We just have to accept that it’s real.”