On privacy

After the Snowden revelations, our trust in technology is at an all-time low. At the same time, the debate on privacy and encryption is getting even more heated.

It’s a weird world of technology that we live in nowadays.

15 years ago, we had never thought that a cellphone could do things like browse the internet, send and receive emails, play games with graphics that can rival computer graphics, and even answer every single question that we throw at them. And yet, here we are.

Nowadays, we have phones that are powerful enough to do almost everything that used to be run only by a computer. Your phones can now be used in a number of ways, be it to browse the internet, post on Twitter, send messages all over the world, hell, even run a Linux terminal.

You can literally just ask your phone, “where should we eat tonight?” and on your screen, there will be a list of restaurants, which are tailored based on visitor reviews, relative location, and even your dietary requirements. Also, we’ve always long depended on our phones in storing all of our photos, music, message histories, cloud backups, you name it. The phone, in a sense, has become an extension of yourself.

Thanks to these wonders of he modern technology, we’ve always thought that technology is a tool of endless possibilities. However, they have since been overshadowed by a bigger problem.

Ever since the revelations of Edward Snowden provided us with a scoop on what shadowy government agencies like the NSA or the GCHQ could do, our trust in technology has hit an all-time low. We’ve started to realize that our phone records, personal information, and every single one of our online activities, is prone to tracking and surveillance. Our devices have since turned from a tool of endless possibilities to a fragile, malevolent electronic contraption that has the possibility to enable an Orwellian society.

The whole privacy/ecryption debate has always been a middle ground for me. On one side, I believe that online services should strive for the best practice when it comes to securing their online traffic, user information and the like from the prying eyes of hackers and shadowy government agencies. On the other hand, there are some parts of the whole debate that have turned into a lot of inflammatory remarks, especially when the other side don’t have the similar opinions on the subject as we do. Which is why in this post, I’m going to point out what has kind of been grinding my gears for a while in this encryption debate, and in the end, I will put up my viewpoint regarding privacy and encryption.

The nasty side of the debate

However, there’s quite a lot of nasty sides of the privacy and encryption battle. On the internet, discussions about this issue has alway been a heated one, with a lot of ego coming into play as time goes. Some of these people are usually always feel so smug about their “privacy tool” of choice, so they downplay them like they’re part of the establishment, then force those tools to everyone else.

There’s a term that I love to use to describe these people, “PrivacyBros”, a term coined by @SwiftOnSecurity.

This can be seen often in their reception towards operating systems like Windows 10. Seeing the privacy concerns that people have given regarding its telemetry services, people have ever since been blindly following, or giving out their own “privacy tips”, without any considerations that it may do more harm than good to your computer. These people are nothing more than jumping on the bandwagon instead of adding something constructive about how we should protect our data.

The “‘I have nothing to hide’ fallacy” fallacy

There’s also one other argument that has pretty much become the epicenter of the whole privacy debate, which is “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. Over time, I started to find out how flawed this argument is.

To put my viewpoint in perspective, let’s say that you told me that you have nothing to hide. Are you sure? Like, absolutely sure? How about that one time when you were browsing porn on a public wifi? How about those porn sites lying around in your history? How about that sticky note lying on your phone which contains everything that you hate about that other guy?

In a modern age, having “nothing to hide” is relative. Sure, you can say that you have nothing to hide, whilst forgetting that you have that dark moment in your past lives which you just wanted to erase. And what I’ve learned over the past few months regarding this whole debate is that you have to have something to hide, to an extent.

However, another quirk of the privacy debate is how people would start to take people’s arguments about this out of context, purporting that the opposing party stated that they have nothing to hide, which means it’s the perfect time to pull the “I have nothing to hide” fallacy. This has happened a lot of times that I start to find this fallacious in of itself.

Final thoughts

As I’ve said earlier in this post, the whole privacy/encryption debate has become a place for lots of inflammatory remarks, non-constructive criticisms and the like, but at the same time, I still believe that online services should strive for the best practice when it comes to securing their online traffic, user information and the like from the prying eyes of hackers and government surveillance.

My whole take on privacy is inspired from a really long YouTube comment I’ve read in some random video. It’s too long for me to even paste it here, but here’s a tl;dr version:

In short, everyone has dirty laundry; we’ve all pirated a song or two; we’ve all looked at porn; we’ve all got a weird political or religious belief or two. Just because some people are silent about it doesn’t mean that they haven’t shared in these common human experiences.

So that’s pretty much why instead of grouching about how we’re losing our privacy, I choose to be discreet about what personal information I disclose online.

As I’m not someone who can easily trust someone to the core level, this has actually pretty much helped me. Not even my closest friends, both IRL and online know some of my weirdest, darkest secrets.

Think of it as layers of onion. These stuffs are what you peel from inside of your mind, and those at the very inner layer are less likely to be peeled out. If I trust someone enough, then I’ll slowly open up those layers and share it with them.

However, this does not mean that I give a kumbaya approach to privacy as well. Ever since the government put tighter and tigher controls on our internet, I’ve started to find ways to make my online activities much more secure and private. I’ve started using Tor instead of the standard incognito mode to gain access to websites that are blocked within any public network, even changing my home DNS to OpenNIC to prevent logging and censoring. I’ve recently switched from the Nexus 4 to the Nexus 5X, which had its storage encrypted by default.

Hell, I’ve remained as paranoid as I was in letting people use my laptop, even to the point where everyone who wants to plug in a USB stick has to pass it through me first so I can run the necessary scans.

The debate on privacy has always been a middle ground for me, and I feel like it will stay that way in the long run. Whilst I dismiss some of the more overly hyped claims, and choose to remain careful in disclosing my personal information, I am also open to more ways to keep my online activities private and secure.