Behavioral Trends: Privacy Please


Privacy Please


We are living in an unprecedented condition of ubiquitous surveillance in a data-driven society. The boundary between being private and public is shifting. We voluntarily keep providing and sharing our information on the web. Freedom, security and privacy must not be taken for granted. We must learn how to use technology in our favor and not against us.




The COVID-19 pandemic struck South Korea in February 2020, and despite the government not subjecting the country to a total lockdown like many other afflicted countries such as China and Italy, the impact of the disease was largely mitigated which in turn flattened the curve of infections. The answer to how this was achieved resides in the deep surveillance and data collection carried out by the government. Everything from the location of individuals to credit card transactions was collected, either directly by cell phone providers and financial institutions or indirectly through surveillance footage and word of mouth, and processed by the government in order to create a foolproof contact tracing system. Since around 94% of South Koreans have a cellphone, the government used text messaging to alert the local population once a person became infected – providing valuable information about the places that person visited during the last few days, helping citizens take better-informed decisions about testing and self-quarantine. The population’s reaction to this system? Overwhelmingly positive – Koreans saw privacy as a small thing to sacrifice in exchange for public safety.

Privacy Please - Government Surveillance During COVID-19 (South Korea) (article)


The European Union passed its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2016 after years of deliberation and proposals, and it became effective in 2018. The regulation covers the processing of personal data, as well as its distribution outside the European Union. Created as a response to privacy concerns in the face of growing internet surveillance, the GDPR centers itself around the fundamental rights of citizens to the protection of their information. However, the response has been sharply controversial, with thousands of amendments being proposed after its passing, as well as the occurrence of absurd applications – such as the case of a grandmother in the Netherlands being forced to delete photos of her own grandchildren from her social media. Nonetheless, while it certainly isn’t perfect, the GDPR provides a valuable frame of reference for how data can be protected in the Internet age – something previously thought impossible.

Privacy Please - General Data Protection Regulation (EU)


Tokyo has been undergoing an urban renewal in the lead-up to the (now-postponed) Olympics it will be hosting. One of the participating projects is the Tokyo Toilet Project, which aims to raise the standard for public toilets by commissioning leading Japanese architects to design them. One of the most headline-grabbing toilets, designed by Shigeru Ban, are made of striking, colorful “smart glass”, which fogs up once the toilet is occupied. The reasoning behind this is twofold: the glass allows people to check whether the toilet is occupied and whether it’s clean – the two major concerns people have when visiting these facilities. This way, the “last-resort” perception of toilets is flipped on its head – turning them into desirable, safe and hygienic facilities that put an emphasis on privacy.

Privacy Please - Transparent Toilets in Tokyo


Facial recognition is, undeniably, a mounting concern. The unsuspecting world population is uploading pictures of their faces without a second thought, and tools are being developed to harness the excessive sharing characteristic of today. One such example is, which has downloaded and analyzed over 3 billion pictures of people across the Internet without consent or knowledge of those people in order to construct facial recognition software for companies. The applications of such software can easily turn sour, which is why it’s up to users to protect themselves and their identities. The University of Chicago’s SAND Lab has developed one potential protection. Dubbed Fawkes, it’s an algorithm and software tool that makes minimal and nearly imperceptible pixel-level changes (“cloaks”) to photos in order to render them unidentifiable by systems like While it’s still in its early stages, it’s a promising technology that will allow users to defend their privacy using a “fight fire with fire” approach in the near future.

Privacy Please - Fawkes, The SAND Lab at University of Chicago


The Internet most of us know and involve ourselves in is known as the surface web, or public access Internet. We access this surface web using conventional browsers, which also track our information through cookies and other privacy violators. VPNs are a solution, but even they can come up short. What can we do completely obscure our traces, and what’s more, what if we could access a further layer of the Internet altogether? The Tor Project is how we can. A browser and network that uses triple encryption, constant IP changes and individual website isolation, among other techniques, Tor also allows access to usually-inaccessible .onion domains, which contain all (yes, all) kinds of websites that make up the “deep web”. Besides the much-publicised illegal content, the deep web also allows humanitarian uses, such as encrypted communication between persecuted human rights activists and journalists. The very nature of Tor makes it extremely difficult for anyone to track or persecute users – anyone monitoring your browsing habits can see is that you’re using Tor, making it the very textbook example of complete anonymity.

Privacy Please - The Tor Project


One of the most essential tools for Internet privacy is a virtual private network, more commonly known by its initials (VPN). A VPN essentially allows people to cloak their IP address, which contains traceable information including location and Internet provider, in turn also making content from other countries available – effectively avoiding both surveillance and censorship. One of the more popular VPNs in recent years is NordVPN, created in 2012, which incorporates OpenVPN and Internet Key Exchange v2/IPsec technologies, thereby reinforcing its security features and making it an accessible and desirable options for privacy-oriented users.

Privacy Please - NordVPN


You find yourself at a crowded coffee shop and get a particularly important call that you can’t turn down – but the contents of that conversation are particularly sensitive, and you can’t risk eavesdroppers. You could just walk out of the shop and take it outside while moderating your volume, but the risk remains there – what do you do? A potential solution finds itself in Hushme, a device that muffles your voice in order to make what you’re saying unintelligible for the people around you. Think of it as a sort of reverse headphones: containing your voice in order to ensure maximum privacy.

Privacy Please - Hushme


Instant messaging, although ubiquitous on the Internet, has never been particularly safe. Private messages can be hacked into, leaked and exposed, more often than not exposing sensitive information that we’d rather keep between us and the other person. We know this, and yet continue to use a myriad of platforms that don’t take our privacy seriously. Signal is an alternative favored by privacy experts like Edward Snowden, and for good reason. It uses the open source Signal Protocol to encrypt messages and calls end-to-end, not even allowing the developers access to your data. With added features like expiring messages, Signal is pushing for a shift towards privacy being the norm, not the exception.

Privacy Please - Signal


Founded in 1990, years before the World Wide Web became mainstream, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is a non-profit organization focusing on privacy, freedom of expression and civil liberties in the realm of technology, “ensuring that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows”. The EFF created the Surveillance Self-Defense (SSD) guide as a way to protect users around the world from the pervasive monitoring that has regrettably become the norm. The guide was born from the fact that everyone, whether they admit it or not, has information they’d like to protect, whether it’s from the government, an abusive partner, or prying employers – and each threat is unique to everyone. Thus, the SSD is far-reaching in scope, containing knowledge for even the least technically inclined people as well as the most skilled privacy experts.

Privacy Please - Surveillance Self-Defense


James Ball is a British journalist and author who has worked for WikiLeaks, The Guardian, The Washington Post, among others, having covered stories regarding information leaks and the Internet. His most recent book, “The Tangled Web We Weave”, tells the story of how real people have a decisive influence on the way the Internet operates – debunking the myth that the Internet is abstract, when in reality it is constructed in a very specific manner. What was supposed to be the ultimate anarchist playground is now an information farm that pervades our everyday lives. Ball sustains that neutrality is nonexistent in the nature of the Internet, and rather it’s “a massive infrastructure that reflects the society that created it” – it’s up to those very people to make it work for us, instead of against us.

Privacy Please - The Tangled Web We Weave by James Ball


Having easy access to the entirety of the Internet’s information at our fingertips for free – that’s what Google and other search engines promised us at the start of their existences. But as the years went by, it became clear that the price we had to pay was giving up our privacy. Our data is now harvested and sold using millions of trackers embedded in nearly every website we visit, and it seems we can’t do much to resist. That is, until DuckDuckGo showed up in 2008 – a search engine that prioritises privacy and transparency above everything else. It’s not nearly as sophisticated as Google (thanks to the whole “no tracking” thing), but it’s better than having eerily accurate advertisements about a conversation you had ten minutes ago.

Privacy Please - DuckDuckGo


Cybersecurity is a very immediate concern in today’s world. We are always at risk of being watched through our webcams and recorded through our mics. Even Mark Zuckerberg has a sticker covering his laptop webcam. With hackers providing access to women’s webcams for as little as 1 USD, maybe putting a sticker over your webcam isn’t such a bad idea.

Privacy Please - Cover Your Webcam (article)


While convenience and ecology are good reasons to go paperless, one of the most relevant arguments in many countries is the secrecy of your information. Receiving your monthly statement in paper in your house or condo exposes you to the risk of being stalked by strangers (thieves may steal it to see how much you spend, ergo, how much you earn), or discovered by your family (some spends you don’t want your wife or husband to know about).

privacy please - american express paperless


Even if you think you can navigate privately and in incognito mode, your browser has a unique fingerprint that allows servers to track ALL your digital behavior, without using cookies nor even asking for your permission. Panopticlick is one of those spying tools using this technique called Canvas Fingerprinting, using your browser specific configuration, the fonts you have installed in your device, your time zone, language configuration, and some other variables; they can isolate your digital profile and start tracking all your online activities.

privacy please - panopticlick


If you still think you have privacy, 21-year-old Russian photographer Egor Tsvetkov will convince you to think otherwise. In a thought-provoking social experiment for his art project titled Your Face Is Big Data conducted last year, Tsvetkov spent six weeks taking photos of 100 strangers on the Saint Petersburg’s subway before using FindFace (a facial-recognition app) to track down their profiles among the 55 million users on VKontakte (Russia’s biggest social networking site).

privacy please - findface


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