SXSW Panel: You Are Not Anonymous: The Myth of Online Privacy

The moving hand clicks, and its activity is tracked and sold everywhere

Several friends have been telling me it’s a good idea to get hooked up with a VPN, a virtual private network, so as to keep my personal data secret and unsold online, unlike what typically happens in the wide-open web. And, you know, those friends certainly meant well. But they were wrong.

Liz Kintzele (Photo by John Anderson)

At least, they were wrong in most cases, suggests Liz Kintzele of Golden Frog, a business that makes its money selling (you guessed it) internet security and privacy. And the reason most VPNs are not to be trusted is that, even if they’re not evil or let’s say merely criminal themselves, they’ll outsource the accommodation (the streaming, the storage) of your data to the servers of third-party cloud companies – which may not be held to the same standards (or guarantees) as the company selling you membership in the VPN. And “not held to the same standards” may very well equal “selling your informational ass up the river” – to big data aggregators, at the very least.

Kintzele provided a gloss on the history of internet privacy (and the lack thereof), citing the acknowledged data gathering-and-monetizing that’s engaged in by Google and Facebook and other major players as the reason why so many people have become interested in VPNs – not to mention how interest spiked after a certain orange shitgibbon was elected president of the United States. And she noted the increasing number of people interested in VPNs as the reason why some companies, more interested in making a fast buck than in promoting actual data security, have marketed themselves as privacy providers.

(We won’t even get into the whole thing about the National Security Agency, although Kintzele did lead off with a quotation from Edward Snowden – who, as time goes by, seems more and more a hero of the people tbh – to the effect that, if you’re not being targeted by the NSA, then there are steps [reputable VPNs, email encryption services] you can take toward retaining some privacy, but if you are being specifically targeted, citizen, there ain’t no way you can hide online.)

So there’s the takeaway: If you’re wanted, you’ll be got – at least by agents of the intelligence community. But if you’re not wanted by them, and you’d rather keep knowledge of your web-browsing habits (and your emails and texts and images, et cetera) out of the general marketing scoop-net of data gatherers, be aware of precisely what bargains you’re entering into with free service providers, with any VPNs you might consider, and so on.

Oh, and here’s a pro tip from that Kintzele vis-à-vis email encryption: Tutanota. You’re welcome.

You Are Not Anonymous: The Myth of Online Privacy

Sunday, March 12, Hilton Austin

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