Libertarians talk about our inherent rights such as self defense, property, free speech, and so on all the time. What about our right to our own data and online privacy?
In Europe, they have the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which is a regulation that allows European Union citizens to find out and remove any and all data a company has on them.
I’ve been a staunch privacy advocate for many years as it’s a core principle of the free, Libre, and open source software movements.
I am that guy who goes through every application, analyzing what, and how, data is collected from the accounts and applications I use, and I almost always take extra steps to secure my privacy and security.
In fact, I have been well on the way to “de-Googling” myself for years, having deprecated my Gmail and Google services, to the point I only use Google Voice because the several numbers I have there have been well established in my circles, and I can’t port those phone numbers. But my Gmail is solely for Google Adsense, YouTube, and Voice.
I have long stopped using the actual Gmail and Drive components, in favor of building my own private email and cloud storage server.
My Facebook has been locked down severely, and, to be completely honest, if it wasn’t for my team at Being Libertarian being heavily reliant on Facebook, I would have killed my Facebook account long ago; all because Google and Facebook are two of the biggest violators of personal privacy and of my capability to own my personal data.
I have spent a good deal of time making sure my search results on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Duck Duck Go have been really clean of most sensitive personal information, which has been really easy at times and at times hard, due to my name being extremely unique.
It’s well known that Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and many companies earn money by analyzing, gathering, and compiling information on you. Every email, search, upload, message, voice call, video call, video upload, etc. to Facebook, Google, and Microsoft is scrutinized to see how it can gain money from you.
While monetarily many of their services are free, your price is your privacy.
Even diving into Microsoft Windows you can see in Windows 10 that there are options to analyze what you are doing on your own computer, so they can target ads to you, and it’s because of the ways Microsoft invades privacy among many other reasons outlined in “Free(dom) Software: Why Your PC Should Have Liberty”. I use Linux as well as other free, Libre, and open source software in my everyday life.
Many internet service providers also do this by analyzing your internet traffic, and some have been caught injecting ads of their own while you are browsing.
So, with that all said, it’s not surprising there are people like me who spend a lot of time, effort, and some money to retain our data privacy.
I personally spend about $50 per month for my private email, contacts, and calendar (powered by mail-in-a-box), cloud storage (powered by Next Cloud), WordPress blog, and three VPN services to retain my privacy and security.
But I have at times been paying for third party services such as Abines DeleteMe to scour public databases to prune my private information, although they do offer a free DIY tutorial to remove your data.
In case you are wondering why I use three VPN services — each serves a different purpose:
1) VPN Unlimited which I have had for years, is a lifetime subscription to allow my devices to use Netflix and other streaming platforms whilst traveling or using public wifi to secure my devices and grant some extra privacy.
2) Private Internet Access which I pay yearly, is paid for in Bitcoin and focuses on security and privacy in general browsing. I use them especially when I am torrenting files or browsing the internet via Tor as an additional privacy and security step.
3) Private OpenVPN is a server I made so I have a static IP address no matter where I work from to know I have a guaranteed IP address to access all my and my clients’ servers successfully in case I lock myself out.
But there is a problem with a lot of VPNs too in terms of data privacy rights. A lot of them log and track your usage, also in an effort to make more money off of you. So you have to be careful of the VPN service you use, because the free VPN services, especially Onavo which is offered for free by Facebook, will give a false sense of privacy. I chose Private Internet Access because they open source as much as possible, and donate to many organizations whose jobs are to promote data privacy and the free, Libre, and open source software community.
Libertarians like to regularly talk about an inherent right to privacy, especially when on our own property. But we seem to fall rather silent when it’s a business, not the government, invading our privacy.
We willingly sign away our privacy and security to a business in exchange for “free stuff,” the very same way we make fun of liberals for wanting to do the same when Bernie Sanders talks about us getting free stuff.
But, because it’s a business, it’s totally okay, apparently, even though it’s well known and documented that U.S. and other governments will easily approach Google or other companies for data on specific people because that is a path of less resistance as I touched on in my prior article, “It’s Time to De-Google Yourself: Email”.
The fact is, for an Orwellian style of government, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are an authoritarian wet dream for data collection.
Think about it. In the USA, not only are businesses free to collect any and all data on us on and offline, but there is no way for us to remove our data should we choose to in the future.
So, despite being observant of my data for a little over a decade all those companies still have, and in many cases, continue to collect my data without me being able to do anything about it; whereas, if I were in the EU, I could invoke the GDPR laws to get Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and more to remove my data from their systems.
One of the counter arguments I have heard is that you agree to use the company’s services and therefore shouldn’t have a right to complain as they can do as they please, and you can choose not to use the service. This is a fair argument, however, I should still retain the rights to my data, so should I opt to stop using a service, that my data is guaranteed to stop being used, or I can specify what data is allowed to be tracked.
For example, I have stopped using Gmail for receiving any emails. My account is purely for sending log emails from some servers, Google 2 Factor Authentication, Google Voice, and YouTube. Maybe I am okay with them getting my data and usage statistics for YouTube but want to keep my email, 2FA, and Voice services unable to be tracked and logged for security and possibly legal reasons.
This is an issue, as one thing I have regularly come across in my job of being IT systems consultant for small and medium businesses, is an inordinate number of doctors’ offices are using free Gmail accounts which is actually a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Due to the data collection tactics of Google, you have to sign up for G-Suite and sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) to make it HIPAA compliant.
But that also means private correspondence with your lawyer, accountant, family, and more is also available to advertisers or anyone willing to pay Google.
The same HIPAA issues come to light with really any free email provider, because those free providers more often than not are making their money back by scouring your emails for any valuable bits of your personal data to make money.
I believe, as a libertarian, we should have a right to our data, whether it is from the government or a business. I should have the ability to choose whether to disclose any or all information to any business, and should I end my use of a service, or choose for them not to have access to some data, be able to request for my data to be permanently deleted.
It also shouldn’t be a complicated process. A simple form or email submission is all we should require; not to go the routes I have gone where I have to constantly stay on top of what platforms have my data. But that still doesn’t help me in the case of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and others. This is why we should fight for GDPR in every country and embrace the right to be forgotten.