The internet is divided between privacy advocates and the tools they use, and the “mainstream” internet which diminishes the idea of privacy. Unfortunately it’s the privacy “violators” who are using people’s data to become more powerful and to make huge amounts of money. The advocacy groups are still spreading their messages and fighting back against these corporations, but it’s a steep, uphill battle.
Two Competing Forces: Privacy & Big Data
Big Data Leaders
The three largest internet companies in the United States are Amazon, Google and Facebook. Each of these companies is known for its own respective use of user-data.
Amazon collects data from each person that visits their website, processes data from its Echo and Alexa devices. The company can then use this data to make personalized product recommendations, optimize prices and target users with ads. And clearly this is an effective approach, as Amazon’s revenue in 2018 was $232.9 billion.
Google uses its search engine (by far the largest in the world) to collect data about how people look for information on the internet. However, Google’s tracking is far more complex than just gathering search data. The company gets information from Android users about how they use their devices, it collects internet browsing data via Analytics and uses Gmail to collect data about how people communicate. Google monetizes this data by aggregating it and using it to target internet users with ads. In 2018, Google’s revenue from advertising was $116.32 billion.
Facebook collects information about its users, including what types of content they share, how they interact with their friends and which topics they are interested in. Despite many privacy issues in the news in the past couple years, Facebook has continued to thrive. As of Q1 2019, Facebook had over 2.3 billion monthly active users. Even as Facebook has shifted its corporate messaging to try to appear more “privacy-friendly”, it’s still one of the most powerful “big data” companies in the world. In 2018, Facebook reported over $55 billion in advertising revenue, and that number stands to grow substantially as Facebook penetrates more developing markets.
Companies & Organizations Leading the Privacy Charge
There is a bit of conflict between privacy and companies trying to make money. However, there are plenty of successful companies and organizations out there that value user-privacy, while still making a profit.
Let’s Encrypt: Let’s Encrypt is a nonprofit founded in 2014 by the Internet Security Research Group. It provides an easy solution for websites wanting to enable HTTPS. Without HTTPS security, the information you enter into a website could be tracked or intercepted. Let’s Encrypt has made the process of switching to HTTPS simple.
Mozilla: The company that created Firefox has continued to improve its browser to make it more and more privacy friendly. Mozilla points out that many companies have adopted privacy as an “ad campaign”, which creates a false sense of security for some users. With Firefox, Mozilla is hoping advance privacy position as a fundamental feature of a healthy internet. Mozilla has added many new privacy protection features to its latest versions of Firefox. Firefox warns users when login forms aren’t secure and could be leaking private information. It also blocks insecure content from loading on secure web pages. Another unique feature is the built-in phishing and malware protection.
Signal: Signal uses end-to-end encryption and is engineered to keep your communication private. Signal is an Open Source project, and is supported by grants and donations, meaning it can put users first, by putting people over profits. It emphasizes delivering a “fast, simple, and secure messaging experience”.
Read More: The Best Internet Privacy Tools for 2019
Privacy Advocacy Groups
There are quite a few advocacy groups that are voicing their opinions on internet privacy. These organizations are leading the charge for privacy-concerned individuals who want more rights on the internet.
- The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC): EPIC began in 1994 in an effort to focus public attention on emerging privacy issues. It pursues a wide range of program activities including policy research, public education, conferences, litigation, publications, and advocacy. EPIC’s website (epic.org) is an awesome resource for anyone interested in privacy law, news and advocacy.
- Privacy International: Privacy International targets companies and governments that don’t respect people’s right to be free from surveillance and other invasive technology. PI exposes these groups that aren’t respecting this right and fights in the public interest to improve technologies globally. Privacy International’s main focus is protecting people’s privacy to prevent inequality and concentration of power.
- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): The ACLU is a well recognized advocacy group focusing on a number of issues, including privacy and technology. It works to expand the right to privacy on a national scale and give people more control over their personal information. The ACLU’s Privacy & Technology page says that “technological innovation has outpaced our privacy protections. As a result, our digital footprint can be tracked by the government and corporations in ways that were once unthinkable.”
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): The EFF is a nonprofit, focused on defending digital privacy, free speech and innovation. One of the EFF’s biggest initiatives is increasing accountability and transparency of social media platforms and other internet services. It began in 1990 as an organization that champions user privacy and free expression through litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism and technology development. The EFF has created a number of internet privacy tools that are making a difference: HTTPS Everywhere, Privacy Badger, and StartTLS Everywhere.
- The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT): CDT is a nonprofit organization that’s working to preserve the user-controlled nature of the internet and freedom of expression. It supports laws, policies and tools that help protect people’s privacy online and minimize government surveillance.