Privacy matters even if “you have nothing to hide”

People do not seem to care about online privacy. If they have “nothing to hide” then why should they? Yet this idea of hiding is fundamentally flawed.

Privacy is a human right, just like any other. Why on earth would you give that up? The famous (and somewhat obligatory) quote from Edward Snowden, the NSA whistle-blower:

Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

The question about privacy is not about hiding, it is about sharing. It is not that I have nothing to hide, I just do not have anything I want to share, especially unknowingly. This whole narrative that privacy is only for nefarious people is pushed by those who quite clearly care alot about privacy. Mark Zuckerberg spent tens of millions of dollars buying the houses that surrounded his home, for example. The irony is painful.

We all care about our privacy, though we might not know it. It is why we lock the door when we go to the toilet; or why we close the curtains to stop people looking into our homes.

In her essay for Aeon Magazine, Carissa Véliz argued that privacy is power. It is the power “to show you ads... and to predict your behaviour”. But it is also the power to influence. Increasingly, Big Tech, the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, are sharing more and more information with governments. In turn, governments are starting to learn more and more about their citizens. Facebook allows governments to arrest people planning to participate in protests before they have even begun – and this is the tip of the iceberg.

Our privacy is eroding. As a society, we are beginning to accept this lack of privacy as normal – and this is extremely dangerous. Privacy provides a place for us to be ourselves, to express ourselves in new ways without fear of being watched by preying eyes. If we lose privacy then we lose this ability to experiment, and, more importantly, we lose our power.

The war is not lost, however. We paved the path for Big Tech, though we no longer have to follow it. If we change our actions then much can be achieved. In most instances, alternatives to mainstream products, such as Google, are available. Websites such as PrivacyTools.io, of which I am a team member, showcase tools and knowledge to protect your privacy. By changing our actions and switching to a few different services we can slowly reverse the damage that was done. Furthermore, both the General Data Protection Regulations and the California Consumer Privacy Act provide a means of obtaining and erasing data that companies have on you.

Privacy matters, regardless of who you are. We seriously need to start protecting it.