There is no such thing as privacy on the Internet

Published on 2021-09-08. Modified on 2021-09-10.

As soon as you step outside your house or apartment, you're located in the "public arena" where there is no privacy. I don't mean juridically speaking, but practically, as everyone can see you. Now, why would you think it is any different with the Internet!?

I am very much against companies tracking users without their consent and governments and institutions that spies on people without a very justified reason. A basic privacy is a fundamental human need. It's part of our nature.

We all know and understand the fact that once we move from a private domain into the public domain, there is very little privacy. That's a natural part of a social life. We need to live together and interact with other people. Why is it then that so many people tend to view "life on the Internet" as any different? I believe it's a lack of understanding of the technology.

I had an interesting conversation a while back when a person came to ask me some questions about "privacy" on the Internet. At some point during the conversation I explained what technically happens when you connect a device to the Internet, whether it's your computer, your phone, or something else, and the person was quite surprised. The very idea that connecting devices together somehow makes them traceable through each other was not something the person had ever though about, simply because he only uses technology, he doesn't understand it.

I think it's a really good idea to basically think of the Internet as an absolute public place. That way you will act on the Internet as you would in normal public life, and that is what you should be doing.

If you browse at a website on the Internet, it's like you're stopping on the street and looking at a shop. Everyone can see that you're looking at the shop.

When you walk outside there is a change that some creepy freak will follow you to see what you do, or perhaps to harm you. The same can happen on the Internet, and if you count advertisement firms as "creepy freaks", then that happens as soon as you start surfing. Perhaps your ISP is also logging all your activities and sharing that with your government or with some other private third party company.

In the public, if you want to hide your identity, you can take on a disguise and hope that nobody will recognize you, but as you know, you might be recognized anyway. The same can happen on the Internet. Maybe you felt the need to use a VPN service, only to discover that it could not be trusted. Maybe you have been using encryption for years only to discover that there where a weakness in the encryption algorithm or in the tools you have been using.

Just the other day it was discovered that Protonmail, despite the fact that they have been promoting themselves as very privacy respecting and "using no logging", in fact cannot be trusted. And they where very quick to remove their statement, "We don't log your IP", from their website.

But there is something even more important to understand and remember when it comes to privacy on the Internet. While a stranger on the street will most likely quickly forget you, the Internet forgets nothing. When you browse a website, that browsing gets logged and in most cases stored away and never destroyed.

This is when many people will say, "Well, so what? I have nothing to hide!" Such a statement illustrates a great amount of ignorance.

On 27 March 1943, the municipal register of Amsterdam was attacked by a cell of the Dutch resistance. The Germans had found the register very useful as it contained details of about 70.000 Jews in Amsterdam. It also served as a very useful tool for cross-checking identity cards. Most likely none of the people contained in the registry had anything to hide.

Municipal register of Amsterdam

If there is one thing history teaches us, it is that a lot of really bad shit can happen in a very short amount of time!

My point is this: Stop thinking about the Internet as a place for privacy. It's impossible to fully implement privacy on the Internet due to the way devices communicate with each other.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't use privacy protecting technology, it just means that you should adjust your thinking to the fact that the Internet is public by its very nature.

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