Internet anonymity and privacy

Photo source: http://politicswithoutborders.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/onlineprivacy/

I am not doing anything wrong so why do I need to hide anything over the Internet. I do not have any malicious intention therefore, I do not bother if Facebook or Google log my activities or if government is interested to check my Internet activity. I am not a terrorist that I would need encryption and hide my IP on the Internet. These are some of the arguments I receive whenever I advocate about internet anonymity and privacy.

Indeed if you are not doing anything wrong then you shouldn’t be afraid of anyone monitoring your activity. But then in our real life we do prefer to do alot of things within our closed doors and do not want others to get involved. For example if I am talking to my girl friend I would not want anyone to listen to our conversation, not because we are doing anything wrong but because that is our private moment. In the same way when we sit for dinner with our family we do not keep our doors and windows open for the whole world to see. We are not doing anything wrong there as well but still we want to have our private time. There are many such occasions in our life when we prefer to have privacy not just from the people we do not know but also from the people in our lives. Parents want privacy from their children and so the children. No matter how close your best friend is to you but still you always want to have some me time. But we do not employ the same principles when it comes to the Internet. We let the social networking companies log our messages and use them for their purposes. We let our identity revealed to the third party vendors and organisations. And we also do not bother to question if our data can be used to harm ourselves in one or the other way.

When I use Internet I try to emulate what I do in my real life. I am in a long distance relationship right now and me and my girl friend communicate most of the time over the Internet either through Skype or through a chatting software. So as in my real life I do not want anyone to peek into our conversations, the same way I do not want anyone to get access to our chats on the Internet. We are not doing anything wrong while chatting over the Internet, we are not planning any malicious activity so why we should give in and accept someone unrelated to us to know what we are talking about. In the real life situation if government or the law enforcement organizations are suspicious about you then the court releases a search warrant on the basis of which your house or office can be searched by the police to find evidence. They do not break into your house from the back-door and get access to your house without your permission. So if the government is interested to know what you are doing on the Internet then a similar procedure should be used.

The reason why the social networking companies log our information is because they provide us with the free services but the free service is only free in terms of charging money. The price we pay for using these free services is our personal information. Our chat logs, the websites we visit, the products we searched for, the movies we liked all this information is collected and shredded to collect keywords which define our profile. Then this profile is used to target advertisements to us from where these companies earn the profit. Our identity information can also be sold directly to companies like insurance and direct marketing agencies. It is still ok if the information is only used for directing more precise adds to us but what if they are used for some other purposes which are not beneficial to us.

I have recently started using duckgo XMPP with “of the record” (OTR) protocol to chat with my friends. XMPP is an open source protocol for chatting. Some of the proprietary websites also use XMPP protocol for example Facebook (as of now). The advantage of using duckgo XMPP server is that they do not keep the log of your chat as opposed to everything else you would normally use e.g Facebook, Gtalk, Yahoo or MSN messenger. Once your chatting session is closed everything is erased from the server. You can choose to keep the log locally on your chat client. OTR provides encryption with the identity verification, while using OTR not only your messages are encrypted but it also verifies the identity of the person to whom the message was sent. Therefore, through this you are sure that you know the person you are chatting with as well as that your messages are being encrypted. OTR is supported by many chat clients both for the computers as well as for the mobile devices. Even if you are using a proprietary chat service like Facebook or Gtalk you can use a standalone chat client like Pidgin to setup OTR. The chats on Facebook or Gtalk will still be logged but in encrypted form which can’t be read. Along with the not to get logged duckgo XMPP server and OTR encryption the whole setup can be clubbed with the TOR network to provide anonymity. Now with this setup not only your chat is encrypted and not stored anywhere but also your real IP address is masked by the TOR network. I have set up OTR with duckgo XMPP server both on my computer as well as on my Android mobile and it works pretty well.

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