It really should come as no surprise. For years the Internet has been consolidating so that billions of people now concentrate their online life onto a few “free” networks controlled by major US corporations, and now we find that Governments have been actively exploiting this in a mass domestic
surveillance spying programme. The unfortunate truth is that this was just waiting to happen since it became apparent that too many people are putting too much of their private lives in the hands of too few companies. Companies whose interests, like any business, are towards serving their shareholders, their Governmental masters and their customers, who are not their non-paying users. So what can we do about this?
“When you are not paying for something, you are not the customer, you are the product.” – Internet Proverb
The Internet is big, there are many alternatives out there, they might be less convenient but by simply spreading out your online activity you are gaining a lot of your privacy back. Put your events, calendars, documents, photos, emails, instant messaging and status updates in several different places so that gathering them all together would require a much larger programme than we understand PRISM to be. Reinforce this by using smaller, independent web services that are less likely to get tapped, make the economies of scale work in your favour.
Decentralising does lose some of the benefits of integrated online applications, however that doesn’t need to be the case. Federation is the concept of using common standards to allow services to exchange data across the internet. It breaks down silos and enables a more diverse Internet that is more resilient against Government oppression and failure of individual online service providers. Email is the prime example, you can send an email to anyone using many different applications, operated by anyone and it works! Instant messaging is federated too using XMPP, Google federated Gtalk and Wave using it but now they are pushing their users onto their Hangouts service that is a walled garden as just more damning evidence of their falling interests in an free and open Internet.
Don’t blindly accept services which don’t support your freedom and privacy. Demand the ability to export your own data; demand the ability to communicate outside of their networks; demand open source so their software has no hidden surprises. If they don’t meet these demands, don’t use them and keep looking, there will be another one out there.
I’m not claiming to be perfect, but join me in retaking our privacy, I know what I’ll be doing and I’ll update this blog to explain how I’m doing it.