You may have heard that the Internet is a scary place. You may have even been advised to be cautious of your online activities.
But what really is so dangerous about unprotected Internet usage? Julia Angwin, an award-winning journalist at The Wall Street Journal and author of “Stealing Myspace,” attempts to answer this question as she explores the true every-day dangers of living in what she calls the “Digital Age.”
As an avid supporter of due process for everyone’s data, I find that the four points Julia makes during her speech “Privacy in the Digital Age” at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center effectively showcase the necessity for protected Internet and online freedom.
Below is a summary of the key negative impacts of the Internet in the hopes that you will avoid them.
1. The Hidden Audience
Your friend emails you and asks you to meet up somewhere private to talk about her new job. You however, insist that you are overwhelmed with projects at work, and suggest you just instant message from your computers.
You, of course, resort to Facebook where chatting with this old friend using the private messenger is so convenient and easy. She tells you all about this new boss she hates, your mutual friend that went crazy, and even manages to update you on all the family drama. While you two are having this personal conversation, however, others are eavesdropping.
Reality is, nothing on the Internet is private.
While you may think that you are just interacting with a friend, you are in fact telling all of Facebook how much of a stubborn prick your new boss is. Consider your every online action part of a cyber play in an audience-filled theater.
2. The Hall of Mirrors
You go to your favorite search engine, Google, and search for Obama as you are interested in the current events. After doing so, however, you notice that all of your searches are related to Obama.
“Obama’s thoughts on toothpaste.”
Okay, interesting. You later decide to do some research on redecorating your home.
“Obama’s views on redecorating your home.”
You are surrounded with information that has been tailored to you. Although you may feel as if you are in control of your decisions, purchases, or even political affiliation, everything has already been decided for you.
Your online data speaks for you.
It determines what kind of food you want to eat, what type of home you want to live in, even how much money you are willing to pay for something.
3. Financial Manipulation
You and your friend decide to go office supply shopping at Staples. The both of you pick out the exact same stapler. At the check out line, you notice, however, that your stapler costs ten dollars and your friend’s is only eight. Why is this so? Staples is showing you the price they think you are willing to pay based on your personal data.
Data about you is being used to provide tailored pricing.
You have no control over the price you pay. You can’t just go to a different Staples, much like how you could go to some other grocery store or gas station in a different neighborhood to get a more affordable price.
You’re walking around with a dollar sign on your forehead.
Your financial decisions are being made for you. Your credit score follows you everywhere. Your personal data is used to manipulate you.
4. Police Line-Up
Do you have a perfect police record? An empty police file? If the answer is yes, think again.
You are living in a world where you are always a suspect.
Constant surveillance puts you in a line-up you were never in before. You are in the cross hairs of the police even if you weren’t a suspect before.
We are all going to have these files.
With all of this accessible personal information, no one is safe.
So what can you do?
Use a virtual private network (VPN)! You access the Internet through your Internet Service Provider (ISP). All of your information – along with your computer’s distinct IP address – is available to others when you visit websites. Consequently, companies are able to collect personal information that pertains to your living, spending, and socializing.
By using a VPN to access the Internet, however, you are able to conceal all of that personal information, which protects you from the aforementioned harms. A VPN acts as a host to a private IP address each time you decide to connect to it. Your real IP address, along with all of your information linked to it, is hidden.
Avoid the harms of unprotected Internet usage and ensure your own security! Don’t let companies make your decisions for you.