Internet Info Heist | Part One

You may think that your internet history is protected. But from whom? Big biz is eroding personal privacy rights for monetary gain in the US, and China snoops without apology for subversion.

It’s almost the expected norm today that we share so much of our lives and intimate details using the internet as an entertaining viewing platform for all. All well and good but it’s always bugged me that the grand concept of the internet being free and accessible to all now also means that someone else makes money off what I do online by selling information about my browsing preferences and sometimes my personal data to third parties. Because I’m British there are specific laws that are designed to insulate me from how my personal information is used by organisations, businesses and even the government.

The Digital Privacy Act

The Digital Privacy Act clearly states that any information obtained about me online is:

  • To be used fairly and lawfully
  • Only available for a limited period and strictly for the specifically stated purpose it was obtained for
  • Used in a way that is adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate
  • Kept for no longer than is absolutely necessary
  • Handled according to my data protection rights
  • Kept safe and secure
  • Not transferred outside the EU without adequate protection

Rights in China and Hong Kong

While this is all fine when I’m in the UK and any European country, a lot changes when I’m in China or Hong Kong on business. Although legislation exists in China that is designed to prevent commercial interests from infringing on the safety and security of my personal information, it is the State itself that is the threat. Censorship and restrictions aside, a great big government machine is also watching that I do nothing subversive such as comment on anything that is anti-government, hence their need to collect information all the time!

The United $tate$

Then there is the United States, which this week repealed the legal framework left by the Obama administration on internet privacy in what is generally seen as the Republican-led US Senate bowing to pressure from internet service providers who are trying to play catch up with Google and Facebook. The revenue that these two generate from their position as ‘websites’ is enormous and it’s a slice of that economic pie that US telecom businesses are after. Now that the privacy laws are overturned, there is nothing to stop internet providers from selling personal data to advertising buyers or others hoping to profit from the targeting of individual browsing habits. Financial information, personal health issues, shopping preferences, browsing habits, news and media selection; all this private information in the US can continue to be monetised without the express wish of the public.

The implications of this are quite staggering as although there is a legal mechanism that provides a consumer an option to ‘opt out’ of the process of personal data acquisition, companies may impose a surcharge on keeping an individual’s information private. This leads us back to that pioneering concept of the internet being created as a free resource.

Information=power

In an age where the internet has become integral to our daily lives, any unwarranted surveillance from a business or a government not only feels like an intrusion on my basic rights to privacy, but almost threatens the notions of democratic society. If information equates to power, then whoever owns the most data can start tweaking what people say, or see. I, for one, find this rather disturbing. Perhaps there will be an awakening to the general malaise that internet users have to demand better legal protection and due process safeguards for the privacy of their online communications, including their right to be informed when someone requests or stores their data instead of just thinking about how many ‘likes’ they’ve generated.

Until then, we are all effectively under surveillance.

Want to fight back? Click here for Part 2