Internet Service Providers (ISP), search engines, and social media platforms are collecting a startling amount of information on you through your web searches and online activity.
According to Brian Fung at The Washington Post, “(New) legislation makes it easier for Internet providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, to collect and sell information such as your Web browsing history and app usage.”
The political fight over net neutrality looks like it’s headed for a major showdown soon, but the question ordinary Internet users are asking is simple: how much are you willing to pay for your privacy?
Internet provider moguls like Comcast and AT&T are already trying to offer two plans—a cheaper one to customers willing to let their data be sold and a more expensive one that includes privacy protection.
Currently, marketing companies don’t have access to much individualized information from web searches, but the largest search engines and social media platforms do. While it’s not likely that major companies like Facebook or Google are going to start selling extensive user data to the highest bidder, it is wise to consider how far you want these and other tech giants intruding into your life.
Is privacy possible in this digitally intrusive age?
Basically, yes. There are simple, low-cost steps you can take to help protect yourself from prying corporate eyes. These include using https instead of http and using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Https is simply a more secure version of a typical website.
If you browse with Chrome, you can use its HTTPS Everywhere extension to access the safer version of your chosen site. A VPN, which comes at a small price, can encrypt your Internet traffic and hide your location so users outside the VPN are not aware of your activities.
Still, these efforts are like miniature Davids slinging rocks against the Goliaths of the Internet.
A recent article by Michael Gonchar of the New York Times discusses the possibility of paying fees to Facebook, Google, and Instagram instead of allowing the companies to harvest and sell data on their users. Gonchar writes, “How much do you value your privacy? Would you be willing to pay for social media and email in exchange for your privacy?”
Considering that Facebook only pulls in 20 cents of profit per user per month, the necessary fees would seem quite manageable.
The problem is not that Internet users can’t afford to pay for privacy, however, or even that they don’t demand it in online forums. In fact, study after study indicates that users are willing to offer privacy-friendly vendors more cash for a product or service. Instead, the problem is that we keep updating our Facebook accounts.
As long as the Internet’s behemoths like Facebook have access to our personal information, online privacy will continue to erode—and to do so at an accelerating pace.
What about you? We’re interested in what you think. How much would you be willing to pay to protect your privacy?