- Why does (online) privacy matter?
- Yeah, but why should I care? I live in a democracy that protects fee speech!
- I have nothing to hide! Why should I worry about my privacy?
- Why should I use the Darknet (I am not a criminal) !?
- What is the benefit for me to use Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)?
Why does (online) privacy matter?
Privacy is about power. This becomes very clear as soon as you belong to a minority that is being prosecuted for whatever reason. Perhaps you are a journalist who writes about the wrongdoings of that particular big corporation or about the shortcomings of your own government. Maybe you are an activist who goes to climate protests. You might identify as LGBTQ+ or you belong to an ethnic or religious minority. Depending on where you are in the world, if you belong to a minority it is very important to protect your privacy in order to protect yourself from physical harm.
But also if you don't belong to a minority, yet you happen to live under an authoritarian regime it is of great importance to protect your privacy, for example if you want to access online content that has been censored in your country, or you simply want to express an opinion that is not aligned with your government.
This was the short version. If you want to know in depth why privacy matters, please visit privacyinternational.org to read more...
Yeah, but why should I care? I live in a democracy that protects fee speech!
Even though that may be true, big tech-corporations like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and yes - despite a different business model also Apple to some extend, are collecting as much data about people as possible (this includes you). Online trackers record which websites you visit, what links you click when you visit a website and how much time you spent reading a specific post. Algorithms analyse your relationships on social media and how they are interconnected. They compare your contact list with the contact lists of everyone else and how much time you spend with someone on the phone. They have access to the pictures you store in the cloud. They also collect your credit card history, what you buy online, the geolocation of your smartphone and of your laptop when you are on the move and so much more...
All this data is merged into a single profile that paints an accurate and predictable picture of you, your habits and your relationships. This data is not only used to manipulate your desires, to send you targeted ads and to show you what you want to see (which is not necessarily what you searched for). It is also sold to data brokers who use it for their own purposes: detailed knowledge about you for example determines wether or not you are credit-worthy or a liability for an insurance company. Detailed knowledge about everybody can for example be used to influence the outcome of an election. With enough data it becomes possible to mobilise a certain type of voter with targeted messages on social media, nudge their opinion into the desired direction and to distract others. It is not hard to see, that such power has the potential to topple governments. Even worse, all collected information can always be accessed on demand by powerful nation-state actors and by big tech-corporations to spy on targets. How much do you know about the Five Eyes and their secret intelligence agreements? In May 2013, whistleblower and former NSA employee Edward Snowden did leak secret documents, that proved beyond doubt, that this power has been abused by the NSA (PRISM, XKeyscore) and by GCHQ (Tempora) on a global scale, to spy on everybody in real time.
This is a hypothetical thought experiment: What if there was a change of government in your home country and suddenly you realised that your democracy has become authoritarian? What could a regime do with all this data that has been collected about you until now and everything else that can still be collected in the future, if it gained access to all of it?
Nobody on earth ever gave their consent to the systematic collection of our data. It has been done to us quietly, without our knowledge. Global Surveillance Capitalism is our reality now. Yet we do believe, if there was a simple button to stop it, a button that enabled us to opt out of everything and to regain control over our digital lives, the vast majority of people would press that button.
Wouldn't you press that button too?
Unfortunately there is no easy fix. Protecting ones privacy online is difficult and a lot of work. But we think it is worth the effort.
I have nothing to hide! Why should I worry about my privacy?
Eric Schmidt, former head of Google, once argued that privacy is dead. We often hear: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Let us quote Edward Snowden on this: "Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."
We agree with him. After all, privacy is about power. The Panopticon is a system of control. It was designed by philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century: Imagine a prison that is built in the shape of a circle, with one watch tower in the middle. The guard on the tower can see every inmate in their respective prison cell, while the prisoners cannot see the guard. For the prisoners there is no place to hide, while the guard remains hidden at all times. It is simple and effective: Even though the guard cannot look at all cells simultaneously, every prisoner behaves and follows the rules because everybody thinks he or she is being watched.
With the death of privacy, the Panopticon has become omnipresent. The knowledge that you are in fact constantly being watched breeds conformity. It is inevitable: every individual consciously or unconsciously assesses wether anything they want to express in public is deemed acceptable by the majority, or if it violates the rules. Please ask yourself: Would you choose to diverge from public opinion, even if yours is different? At which point do you think does your own opinion become unacceptable for the majority? Maybe you would express yourself freely if you were in a private space with a couple of trusted friends. But would you still express your opinion the same way if you were on stage, in front of an unknown crowd and the knowledge that law enforcement was watching you?
If privacy is dead, then everything you do online is indeed public. If you still think this is not a problem, then please go ahead and email us the user names and passwords to all your social media and email accounts, as well as the login credentials to your online banking. We assure you, unlike evil hackers who want to empty your crypto-wallet (yet another reason to protect your privacy), we won't abuse the information you give us. We just want to have an innocent look. After all, didn't you say you have nothing to hide?
Why should I use the Darknet (I am not a criminal) !?
We don't like the word Darknet because when people talk about the so-called Darknet, they often also talk about online drug markets, stolen credit card data, financial fraud, sexual abuse, pornography, botnets, hackers and other digital mercenaries. For them the term Darknet is a synonym for cybercrime in an obscure digital space, beyond reach for law enforcement, that is hidden somewhere beneath the surface of the internet. This is the reason why, in order to tackle online crimes, opponents of the Tor Network and online privacy demand the pre-emptive general surveillance of the whole network, absolute control for law enforcement, sometimes even to shut down the Tor Network and to ban the Tor Browser altogether.
When people talk about the Darknet, they in fact mean hidden Tor Onion Services, which are websites that can only be accessed via Tor and the Tor Browser. Yet if you discuss the Tor Network in such a way, then all Tor users become suspicious. In our opinion this is very problematic. It assumes that mainly criminals use Tor, while it is in fact also a vital tool for journalists, whistleblowers, activists and people that want to circumvent online censorship, but also for anyone who tries to protect ones privacy online. This is why we think it is not only wrong to put everyone who uses Tor under general suspicion of being a criminal, but it also endangers our right to privacy in general.
Please don't get us wrong, we do think it is important to investigate cybercrime and yes - it is true that criminals use the Tor Network too. However, despite their digital camouflage, law enforcement did not only succeed to shut down several Dark Markets in the past - for example Silk Road, AlphaBay and DarkMarket, but also managed to reveal the real-life identities of the people behind these markets, because they made mistakes. This led to the arrest of numerous criminals, who did believe they were anonymous and untouchable. However, we don't think crimes need to be investigated before they actually happen...
So why should you use Tor if it makes you look suspicious?
Reason 1: Privacy
If you use the Tor Browser to access the internet, Tor encrypts all online traffic and routes it though several relays (like the layers of an onion) to camouflage every user in such a way that the online fingerprint of everybody looks the same. Each relay or node in the network re-encrypts the traffic. This way even the individual servers cannot know both at the same time, where your internet traffic comes from and its destination. This is why an individual who uses Tor cannot be easily tracked and identified. Furthermore it means: the more people use Tor the safer the network becomes.
Reason 2: Solidarity
People, whose internet connection is not censored and who prefer Firefox or Chrome to browse the internet can install Snowflake as a plugin, which will enable people in countries that block access to Tor to connect to the Tor Network nevertheless. Tor depends on a network of volunteers who run Tor Relays on their own servers. Every relay makes the network faster for everyone and more resilient.
Tor is for everyone: do you need even more reasons why you should use Tor?
What is the benefit for me to use Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)?
While there is proprietary software that is slick and easy to use, we still don't like business models that lock its users into their ecosystem. One example is Adobe. There often is no way to transfer work from one software platform to another, for example from Adobe Premiere Pro to Final Cut Pro, because both platforms are not made to be compatible. If you depend on the software of a specific vendor to do your work, that vendor can dictate the price you pay, which often is not only money but also your user data.
Furthermore, proprietary software makes use of closed source libraries and does not allow others to verify its code, which is why we have to trust the company that owns the code. This is not only a security issue, but bad for your privacy too. You have no choice but to believe that both their software and your user data are safe and secure. However, chances are high that a company that sells closed source proprietary software tracks how you use it, in the best case to improve their software. In the worst case scenario it sends you targeted ads and sells your data. Moreover it is common practice that the vendors of proprietary software set limits and block functions in their products in order to lock customers into their ecosystem.
Open-source software on the other hand makes its code available to the public, which means it can be verified by anyone who has the expertise to do so. It does not mean that anyone is allowed to use the code. Only free and open-source software (FOSS) allows other developers to fork its code and to make changes in order to develop something new, which makes FOSS very flexible. However, this still does not mean that FOSS is always free of cost.
FOSS strives to be interoperable, which means it is supposed to work on different operating systems and has the ability to interact with other software as well. Behind both open-source software and FOSS there often is a team of expert developers and volunteers, who check the code on a regular basis for bugs and security issues and correct them. This means, in turn you get software that you can trust. It is reliable, verifiable, flexible and resilient.