Internet privacy

© January 2024 Paul Cooijmans

Introduction

When I began using the Internet and electronic mail early 2001, one of the first things I learnt was that people who contacted me anonymously or pseudonymously were people with bad intentions. This observation has held true for well over two decades without a single exception. Examples of bad intentions are wanting to commit fraud with tests, to insult, or to get money through confidence violation. I learnt that good, honest people always communicate openly under their proper identity, and I learnt to never respond to anonymous or apparently pseudonymous messages. I value it that the reader knows how deeply I despise the faceless cowards from which such messages originate.

I also observed that security measures, such as antivirus programs, firewalls, and the use of password protection, tended to have a crippling effect, slowing down one's electronic computer and oneself, and restricting one's freedom to act. I understood that security is not the solution; that the real solution is to track down and neutralize the individuals that necessitate security in the first place: the virus makers, the crackers, the scammers. Once those are removed and their multiplication stopped, no security measures are needed any more because there is safety then. The felt need for security is a symptom of a sick society, and the solution is to heal society, not to surround oneself with protection. But the issue of security and its undesirability is already addressed in other places, so I will focus the present article on Internet privacy, which is a related though different topic.

Internet privacy

It is often recommended to children never to use their real names online. And with all the scum around, I will not blame children for following that advice in general. However, when it comes to taking high-range I.Q. tests such as I deal with, false names can not be tolerated, and if one is so young that one still needs the protection of a false name, my view is that one is also too young to take high-range tests. For anyone who is not a child, I find the use of false identities unacceptable.

Still, ever more adults go under false identities now, and employ ways of secrecy such as virtual private networks, proxy servers, the Tor browser, anonymized smart telephones, encryption of data and messages, or crypto-coins. These people have something to hide, like intentions to do bad things. And since they encounter the problem that web locations and services ban them for using the named methods of obfuscation, they are actively promoting the use of those privacy devices among normal people, whom they call "normies" and ridicule for saying they have "nothing to hide". For if the use of virtual private networks, excessively "private" browsers and so forth becomes mainstream, it will no longer be considered suspect, one will no longer be blocked for it, and those who use false identities and other ways of hiding will have more freedom to operate. That is, those with bad intentions will have more freedom to operate.

Broadly speaking, two sets of reasons are put forward to incite the public to "take Internet privacy more serious", in other words hide one's identity when going online: (1) Large corporations track you across web sites, store all of your information, and use it to show you personalized advertisements, and (2) Government agencies collect all of everyone's data and keep it forever more, and the day may come that online-expressed opinions that violate official narratives will get you in trouble with the law, make you lose your job, have your bank account closed, and other serious matters.

Regarding (1), personalized advertisements may be annoying but are otherwise benign. The worst thing that can happen is that someone watches over your shoulder while you are online and wonders why you are getting all these advertisements for women's underwear or whatever. But then, what may also occur one day is that, based on your stored information, corporations decide to curtail or end their service to you, censor you, or turn you in to the authorities. And (2) the danger of government agencies coming after you for dissenting seemed like something from dystopian dictatorships until a few years ago, but unfortunately we have seen it too often in civilized countries since 2020, so that this possibility should now be taken seriously. It goes without saying that people involved in crime or terrorism may also be caught by tracking their online activities, and no one in his right mind could object to that (fanatic defenders of privacy do, though, which is a reason to distrust them).

The important question is how to deal with the genuine risk that a bona fide person runs from corporations and authorities, as stated in the previous paragraphs. Are all these voluntary self-restrictive privacy and security measures the way to go? Or should we instead focus on repairing the unsafe situation and restore safety, rendering said measures superfluous? Obviously, the latter is the only option for any self-respecting individual; the former amounts to surrendering to tyranny while at the same time helping criminals and terrorists operate in anonymity by mainstreaming their methods of obscurity. Instead of surrounding ourselves with debilitating protective measures to avoid getting caught for doing nothing wrong, we must stop the advance of techno-feudalism and reclaim the occupied institutions that have subverted our democracies. This can not be done in anonymity and secrecy, but only out in the open under one's real name. And yes, that does bring with it the risk of becoming a target of government and corporate tyranny; but whatever you have said anonymously or pseudonymously, you have not said at all, so it is necessary to be brave. Utterances are only meaningful if they have real people behind them who stand for their convictions regardless of the consequences. In fact, it has been my conviction for decades that anonymity on the Internet should be made impossible to facilitate detection and removal of criminals and terrorists.

By way of analogy, perhaps it helps to consider that by buying and using recreational drugs, you are helping (funding, sponsoring) the producers and sellers of those drugs, and that makes you as despicable as they are. Similarly, as a good person, by using online privacy techniques on which criminals and terrorists rely, you are helping those criminals and terrorists carry out their deeds anonymously, because you are making those techniques respectable and less suspect. That is why people who have something to hide are so actively promoting those techniques, and ridiculing you for saying "I have nothing to hide".

Conclusion

The only serious danger related to the privacy hype is the possible political persecution of dissenters based on stored personal data, collected by governments or corporations who may pass it on to governments. This problem should be tackled in the political and societal planes by rebuilding the institutions and societal segments that have become excessively biased. Locking oneself up in a self-chosen prison of privacy and security is not the solution, and has the additional disadvantage of benefiting those who utilize privacy and security to hide their malicious activities.

Data collection for commercial purposes is more an annoyance than a threat, and there may not even be an ethical basis to deny companies the right to do this, while on the other hand companies can not ethically deny customers the right to defend themselves against it. The best solution (to commercial data collection) is to avoid companies that invade one's privacy, and actively seek and support alternatives, which may be difficult in fields where there is effectively a monopoly or oligopoly. By way of compromise, one may implement some privacy or security measures where no good alternative is found, but one should realize that this is not the final solution.