In a previous, more lengthy article of mine, I explored in depth why privacy cannot be understood merely as something with a singular essence. This is an idea which Daniel J. Solove develops extensively, but the difficulties in coherently defining privacy boils down to two main points:
- A definition which includes only information you consider 'intimate' can be either too narrow or broad and varies greatly depending on who you ask
- A definition which includes 'the right to be left alone' is too broad, and can be extended to an extreme degree where anything and everything is intrusive
In either case our conception is either too broad and vague, or too restrictive. As a result, it is more effective to define privacy as a set of issues with a "family resemblance," meaning that while there are a broad range of definitions for privacy, they are all interconnected with one another.
For example, you may be ok with the government collecting the individual phone numbers you call, but the way that data is processed and aggregated reveals information about your race, religion or political ideals, which further gets sold (disseminated) to third-parties to target you or others (see: Cambridge Analytica and Facebook) for their own gain.
You may not find yourself at issue with the collection or even its processing ("I have nothing to hide!"), but many people seem to draw the line at the dissemination of their aggregated data, especially when done without their consent.
Separate Your Online Lives
In comes Firefox Multi-Account Containers, my favourite browser extension for browsing online and enhancing my privacy. On top of other fundamental privacy enhancing browser extensions, these containers help you better lockdown your browser. While a bit more of a hassle to set up, especially due to the fact that it does not sync with your other devices, I find it actually enhances my browsing experience while also being able to remain decently private.
I can separate my online lives from one another, meaning I can still save the cookies from Amazon for easy login and shopping, but not risk them tracking me away from their site. The cookies for Amazon in this case only exist in the "shopping" category of my browser, and cannot touch my "banking" section or even skim any of my general searches done through DuckDuckGo.
Since everyone can feel so different about what they'd like to keep private, it is important to be flexible to a multitude of needs, and these containers do exactly that. Most people could agree that Amazon has no business in knowing what I search for outside of their website, even though they may claim it is for my benefit to give me better recommendations.
This is even more true of social media sites such as LinkedIn, that likely track your social media email contacts when you allow their cookies to sit within your browser. Of course, this is all in the name of better connecting you with people you know. Unfortunately, these social media sites likely share and connect data regardless of whether you allow cookies, quarantine them or not. Though, it doesn't hurt to at least make it harder for them.
Separate All The Things - Achieving Privacy and Lockdown Security
On a closing note, to take it to the next level, Qubes OS is likely the next stop for those looking to truly keep online lives separate from one another. It is a linux-based operating system that is free to use and open source.
Qubes allows you to completely separate and compartmentalize the applications and functions of your computer. That means you can quite literally have an application installed multiple times and have each of them used strictly for different purposes. 'Qubes' are like opening separate application windows, except each window is an isolated instance of the whole operating system for your programs to run in, like having a different computer for your work, social and banking (called virtual machines). An overly simplistic explanation, but you get the picture.
This way, if a virus compromises your system, it is really only taking hold of that single qube and not the entire system. You can do your banking and keep it completely separate from your social qube or your work qube and never fear that you are leaking information between them.
The icing on the cake is that it features disposable qubes that completely erase themselves after you close them, so if you're not so sure about an email attachment you have received, you can open it safely in an isolated digital environment.
Convenient? No, but...
The biggest downside of these two things is that they are a bit cumbersome, but they both represent well what privacy is all about, and that is that is the ability to better control your information.
Technology has quickly crept up on us and provided us with some incredibly convenient services, but it has also made us forget that we all do in fact value our privacy to some degree. The crux of the issue is just that, and while some would like total separation between different parts of their lives, many can agree that at the very least that they value consent and the ability to decide whether they would like to share their information.
This has increasingly not been the case with convenient technology, consent is not longer required, and many digital services have free reign over aggregating and analyzing our digital lives.