“Today, apps, services, and organizations deliver convenient, predictable, tailored experiences that depend on control of identity-bound data.”
- Ankur Patel, of Microsoft’s Identity Division
In a hyperconnected world that we are in today, information can be accessed and acquired easily with a click of a mouse. The effects of over dependence on technology includes bridging the gap between work and social life. However, the downside of this convenience does pose a threat to the privacy of people. Privacy is considered a rare commodity in today’s world, and the recent COVID-19 global pandemic has seen government bodies implementing various technologies in contact tracing. This involves a pervasive form of privacy intrusion, and the mass surveillance is only going to get worse after the outbreak. While it remains to be seen if the assurances that these tech companies claimed to preserve individual privacy with such applications, a growing number of people are wary of them and are seeking ways to use the internet with caution, after repeated leaks of personal data over the last decade.
As more people grow their reliance on the internet, everyone will be susceptible to online fraud, attacks, cyber-bullying, data breaches and even tracking. Thus, learning how to protect our privacy is crucial to self-preservation of personal identity and activities. Fortunately, all hope is not lost as there are still several approaches for various online processes that many could perform in order to have control over one’s data.
Strengthen your privacy in cryptocurrency transactions
Cryptocurrency and blockchain have made huge strides on its route to disrupt the financial system, surmounting various problems in the existing financial system. Thus, it is understandable that there are many opinions revolving around their legitimacy and reliability in the face of today’s world. While it is commonly known for blockchain and cryptocurrencies to protect user data with its immutable and transparent protocols, complete anonymity and privacy with most cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin remain to be seen, as such focus has not been implemented at the start with most of these blockchains. This is the reason that privacy coins such as Monero and ZCash are created, to add layers of protection for their users.
Popular pseudonymous cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) still dominate the cryptocurrency market due to their high volatility and the high return of investment (ROI). Therefore, several methods tackling the lack of privacy in cryptocurrencies have been introduced to hide user identities and transactions . Most of these methods use some sort of encryption, like The Invisible Internet Project (I2P), or Tor and Crypto Mixers. Others utilise cryptography methods like zero-knowledge proofs or address scrambling methods to maintain anonymity.
Data Security using Blockchain
In October 2015, The Economist published an article, explaining that blockchain has useful applications beyond the financial system, and that grassroot organizations could use blockchain to undermine big tech companies like Google and Facebook.
Users today are aware that most internet services collect and store user information on centralised servers, risking the information as a target for hackers’ infiltration and theft. One viable approach that internet services could deploy is to decentralise the control of data via the blockchain, thus reducing the above mentioned risk. A decentralized system works in a trustless environment, which means that users can no longer need to trust individual entities with their private data. All personal information requested by the service providers will be hosted on a distributed ledger, making the data more private, secure and unhackable.
Therefore, adopting blockchain could completely change the way internet works, with users benefitting the most in the process, as their data will no longer be at the mercy of centralized servers.
Incognito web browsing
Today, users have the option to stay anonymous online using the available first line of defense against online attacks. According to Wikipedia, more than half of the world’s population are connected to the internet. And most, if not all users have utilised web browsers to access the information online. Web browsers companies have acknowledged the fact that since their applications act as a gateway to the wealth of information available for the users, they have introduced private browsing, or incognito mode as an option for users that favor personal privacy while browsing online. Private browsing enables users to block cookies, and so most of the online tracking is defeated. But it is worth clarifying that such options may have its limitations as it only adds an extra layer of protection and not complete online privacy. Thus, for those privacy-conscious users, it is recommended to use multiple privacy tools to strengthen privacy protection.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) and visit Certified Sites
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) creates a private network across a public network by connecting users to the internet through another server, which further encrypts the connection, disallowing third parties to access your data. In addition to that, a VPN hides user IP addresses and prevents visited sites from tracking your real IP, consequently your location as well as your browsing habits.
It is also worth noting that visiting sites that do not have proper certifications (SSL/HTTPS) may risk users in infecting their computers/devices with malwares. A malware installed by bad actors can use that to infiltrate users’ data. So, it is not advisable to visit non-HTTPS websites and risk your personal data being stolen by hackers. If that is not possible, consider using HTTPS extensions like HTTPS Everywhere or AdBlock to reduce the risk of a system infiltration. Setting up anti-malware softwares on your computer/devices will also protect you against intrusion from unwanted third parties.
Social Media Protection
By now, most users connected to the internet have social media accounts. These social media platforms are known to obtain information about the users prior to account creation. But remember, these platforms, like other internet services, are hosted on centralized servers. Therefore, there is still a risk of losing your privacy to bad actors online. There are, however, numerous approaches such as tweaking the privacy settings within the social media account, and optimizing your passwords with a complex password (more than 12 characters), preferably a combination of hard to replicate characters such as symbols, uppercase and lowercase alphabets and numbers. Follow these measures carefully to provide maximum possible privacy to your social media browsing experience.
Protect your privacy for a present online experience
Many businesses, colleges and institutions are flocking to remote-based activities, in an attempt to curb the spread of the globe-sweeping novel coronavirus. Although the dramatic change is required, some privacy experts are worried about the unintended consequences that appear in the face of the global crisis.
Staying safe online and protecting anonymity is akin to shutting down and locking your front door. In a highly connected world today, we are more likely to be robbed online in any case than we are in a physical robbery — so use these tips to remain safe.
Privacy is considered to be a fundamental human right that organizations should abide to. While the internet service providers will continuously improve their effort in countering bad actors and other illicit activities that make your privacy data susceptible to theft and infiltration, users will have to play their part in preserving their data online. With newer technologies emerging, bad actors will also learn and think of new ways of stealing your data, therefore it is important to keep track of self-implemented measures to protect yourself in the face of an unchanging world.
The whole premise of Bitcoin, as proposed in its whitepaper, when it was released back in 2009 was to avoid the government from destroying fiat currency by moving your wealth into Bitcoin. And Bitcoin is succeeding in that task. Emerging technologies and assets, particularly Blockchain and cryptocurrency, act as a hedge against a totalitarian outcome if governments or corporations have such detailed surveillance over the population including spending habits. However, privacy remains to be excluded out of the equation. Therefore, with sufficient efforts, you can still minimize your visibility and keep a low profile and thus your privacy. Practice extreme caution in that regard, to preserve and protect your identity and privacy.