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"Nothing to Hide"?

I've been bothered for quite a while with people telling me they "have nothing to hide anyhow" when the topic of Internet privacy comes up.

I guess that mostly comes from the impression that the whole story is our government watching (over) us and the worst thing that can happen is incrimination. While that might threaten some things, most people do nothing that is really interesting enough for a government to go into attack mode over it (or so they believe, and very firmly so). And I even agree that most governments (including the US and EU countries) actually actively seek out what they call "terrorist activities" (even though they often stretch that term in crazy ways) and/or child abuse and similar topics that the vast majority of citizens agree are a bad thing and are not part of - and the vast majority of politicians and government workers believe they act in the best interest of their citizens when "obviously fighting that" via their different programs of privacy-undermining surveillance. That said, most people seem to be OK with their government collecting data about them as long as it's not used to incriminate them (and when that happens, it's too late to protest the practice anyhow).

A lot has been said about that since the "Snowden leaks", but I think the more obvious short-term and direct threat is in corporate surveillance, which has been swept under the rug in most discussions recently - to the joy of Facebook, Google and other major players in that area. I have also seen that when depicting some obvious scenarios resulting of that, people start to think about it much more promptly and realize the effect on their daily lives (even if those are minor issues compared to government starting a manhunt against you with terror allegations or similar).

So what I start asking is:There are probably more examples, those are the ones that came to my mind so far. Even if those are smaller things, people can relate to them as they affect things in their own life and not scenarios that feel very theoretical to them.

And, of course, they are true to a degree even now. Banks are already buying data from Facebook, probably including "private" messages, for determining credit scores, insurances base rates on anything they can find out about you, flight rates as well as prices for some Amazon and other web shop products vary based on what you searched before - and ads both on your screen and even on postal mail get tailored to a profile built on all kinds of your online behavior. My questions above just take all of those another step forward - but a pretty realistic one in my opinion.

I hope thinking about questions like that makes people realize they might actually want to evade some of that and in the end they actually have something to hide.

And then, of course, that a non-profit like Mozilla, which doesn't seek to maximize money, can believably be on their side and help them regain some privacy where they - now - want to.

Entry written by KaiRo and posted on April 27th, 2015 00:38 | Tags: Internet, Mozilla, privacy | 8 comments | TrackBack




Employees seeking better jobs on work computers
Just to nitpick a couple repeated words first: "people start to think *much* about it much more promptly" and "want to evade some of that and *they* in the end they actually have something to hide".

I often see people using their work computers to look for better jobs. I can imagine the employer going "You understand we have to let you go as we prefer someone committed to working here long term, right?"
2015-04-27 01:23



Thanks for the pointer to repeated words, that comes from editing around on those sentences a few times and having nobody proofread before I post it. ;-)
I corrected them now, thanks again.

And good point that employers might use data about employees for such purposes as well (and what you mentioned is just the tip of the iceberg). I guess given that I for one am technically a contractor and working mostly from my own machines and for the other working for an organization that holds up privacy, I tend to not think about the work relationships too much there. :)
2015-04-27 02:50

Andrew Somerset

Banks are already buying data from Facebook, probably including "private" messages, for determining credit scores

Do you have a citation for that? If banks are doing this then I'd sure to like to know which ones.
2015-04-27 04:10

Vaibhav Agrawal

from India

Great Post. I think it is important for people to realize how important internet privacy is and affects everyone.

Last edited by KaiRo at 2015-04-27 14:11

2015-04-27 05:49



Quote of Andrew Somerset:
Banks are already buying data from Facebook, probably including "private" messages, for determining credit scores

Do you have a citation for that? If banks are doing this then I'd sure to like to know which ones.

I can't find the article that I did read quite some time ago that said Facebook was selling data to banks (it's part of FB's business model to sell data, after all) - I'm not 100% sure it included private messages (though IIRC there's nothing in FB's policies to exclude those from such deals), that's why I put a "probably" in front of that.

That said, information of what friends you have is used by some banks at least, as mentioned by articles I found with a quick search:

2015-04-27 14:12



I have settled on a short list of three counterexamples to succinctly demonstrate when this comes up that, "You don't actually believe that". The idea is that for almost anybody who would actually say, "I don't have anything to hide," the chances are vanishingly small that they'd fail to find a problem with at least one of them. (One being enough to establish a contradiction, but with a substantial margin likely actually having a problem with all three.):

2015-04-27 16:52


I don't think you need to switch to "corporate surveillance" to make people see that they do have something to hide.
See e.g. John Olivers "dick-pic"-bit:
And Glenn Greenwald have a good argument, that you simply can't have democracy if you don't have privacy (if you don't have privacy, you have the panopticon, designed to hinder opposition), in Chapter 4 of his book and in his ted talk:
I think you could also draw parallels to "herd immunity" known from vaccines, that is, even if you do not have anything to hide, you need to encrypt, so use of encryption won't be an indicator of opposition.
2015-04-27 18:52


There's always the future
I also think that we can't predict what we may want to have hidden, 10, 20, or 50 years down the line. For example, being a landlord is not seen as something to hide in the U.S. right now, but it seems easy to imagine a future where that could get a person into deep trouble, or it could mean today's landlord's grandchildren are persecuted. Extrapolate to things like, say, owning a car or having a front lawn. We don't really have to look that far ahead to see bad effects, but it's interesting to imagine!
2015-04-28 23:35

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