Hey guys, our reaction to the existence of PRISM and Xkeyscore will determine the course of world history. Kind of a big deal, right? Yeah, well human rights are kind of a big deal. The advent of the Information Age has created a few extremely powerful monopolies, and now we know that they are working together to deprive millions of people of basic human rights. The reaction we have to this will determine the level of freedom that citizens all around the world are able to enjoy – maybe even for most of this century.
You have two options:
1. Stick head in sand.
2. Do something about it.
In case you don’t think this is really that big of a problem, let me boil it down for you. There is a good reason that we use the line “I know where you live” when we want to jokingly threaten one of our friends. It means they can’t hide from us, and that we could come and ambush them at any time.
Okay. Google knows where you live. It not only knows where you live, but it knows what you know. In fact, odds are pretty good that it knows every website you visit and every digital conversation you have with every contact in your email. Maybe it even knows every phone conversation you ever have.
“But I don’t care. I have nothing to hide”… says the most ridiculously short-sighted person in the room. Of course you don’t have anything to hide. I mean, it’s not like you ever use a credit card number to buy stuff online. It’s not like you have money in your bank account that you might want to use for purchasing food / clothing / shelter sometime. It’s not like you have any shade of disagreement with the ruling power structure in your home country, or drive above the speed limit, or might ever want to anonymously gather information about a medical condition / stock portfolio / insurance policy / anything-else-in-the-world.
The truth is that you have plenty to hide, and so does everyone else. When we pretend otherwise – even in the name of convenience – we end up laying down a huge pile of fundamental freedoms all in one big heap on the floor. Rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Rights to free speech, freedom of assembly, and most fundamentally of all: our rights to privacy.
The problem is not that there are any big evil conspiracies out there. The problem is that there doesn’t need to be any big evil conspiracies. Game of Thrones says it best… “People are not against you; they are for themselves.” It’s not paranoia – it’s a simple recognition of reality.
Microsoft’s / Apple’s / Google’s / Facebook’s interest in making money and growing a monopoly is not always in line with your interest in keeping your data safe. And even if that were true by some miracle, it still says nothing about the employees and their connections. You can look up the latest numbers anywhere: identity theft is *huge* and it will only get worse. And on a much bigger and more terrifying scale: freedoms of speech and assembly are both fundamentally defeated when it is rendered practically impossible for that speech or assembly to be private. The existence of PRISM and Xkeyscore should scare the **** out of anyone who even remotely cares about liberty, freedom, or justice.
So what do we do? Where can we start?
Well, philosophically, it’s just decentralization. Power to the people, baby.
Ronald Reagan said “centralized power has always been the enemy of liberty”… and of course it has. Power = liberty. Centralized power is the exact opposite of liberty by definition. It will be as simple online as it ever was offline: we just need to stop centralizing power.
Practically, here are five easy things you can start doing right now:
1. Use Firefox instead of IE or Chrome. You could even go with TOR if you’re really serious about privacy.
3. Use email instead of Facebook. Better yet: join Diaspora. The world desperately needs that right now. It’s time for Web 2.0 and personal choice to replace Facebook and its control over our identities.
4. Only enable Flash when you need it. It’s slow and buggy, and it is spying on everything you do. HTML5 is getting more common now anyway.
5. Use different things for different purposes. This applies to email accounts as much as it does to devices and computers. Don’t let any big evil company control your life – and PLEASE DO NOT let big evil companies work together. Put eggs in different baskets.
And if you’re a bit more technically savvy, you then you might want to look at VPN’s for your networking, custom ROM’s for your Android phone, and Open Source software replacements wherever possible. The important thing to remember is that it’s never too late to escape slavery. Even if right now you think you need FB to be cool, Apple to hear music, and Google to even use your phone – you can still get your freedom back one step at a time.
The Internet is like one big all-you-can-eat restaurant. Be the patron; not the meal.