"Alexa, can you tell me a joke?"
"Siri, play some music."
"OK Google, why are computers getting smarter everyday?"
These might be the phrases you have used in the past. But even if you haven't or you stay away from these voice assistants, you might still use WhatsApp or Gmail daily. These technologies have changed the way we live and have brought with them unparalleled convenience.
However, there are caveats that come with the use of these technologies, and they're largely to do with two issues: privacy and security.
What is Privacy?
Privacy is a perspective. It has many definitions. For example, privacy could refer to protecting one's private information or it could refer to being isolated from public life.
According to Wikipedia, "Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively." Fair enough. But why should we care about privacy when we have nothing to hide? It's a common question that most people ask when we talk about privacy.
The following questions might clear any doubts about the need for privacy:
- Would you share your social media passwords with the public?
- Will you let anyone access the contents of your phone?
- Will you allow anyone into your house at any time?
We're guessing that your answer would be a big 'no' to all those questions!
We believe Tor's tweet on 01 May 2021 made perfect sense.
The privacy debate also includes viewing privacy as a basic human right or fundamental right and its implications on modern day technologies. But here we limit ourselves to online privacy and its practice.
What is Security?
Digital Security or Security refers to protecting computer systems against intrusion and malicious software. Digital security is a broad term which includes things like:
- Browser security
- App security
- Cloud security
- Password protection
Sometimes, privacy and security go hand in hand, and we might use these terms interchangeably. But these are separate terms. The confusion lies in the general belief that the more secure a software is, the more private the data would be. This is not necessarily true.
Let's take the example of Gmail, the email service provided by Google. As we know, Google collects tons of personal information about its users. It also has a dedicated team of engineers to make its products more and more secure every day. This keeps our mails or our data safe from hackers.
But when it comes to privacy, there is no guarantee that Google cannot read our emails! From our perspective as Gmail users, our emails might be private to our friends and safe from hackers. But it might not be private in the eyes of Google.
Privacy or Security?
The debate between privacy and security is a feverish one. Should we choose privacy over security, or vice versa?
There is no such thing as absolute privacy or absolute security. The answer to the question of privacy or security is, "It depends".
It depends on many factors such as our convenience, threat model, use case, etc. To put it simply, when we use digital products or services, whether it's free software (which generally ships with no guarantee on the product) or proprietary services like Google, we are putting our trust in either of the entities with or without the entire knowledge of the product or service. Both come with their own advantages and risks.
The goal, experts believe, should be to opt for privacy-friendly secure software, rather than fight over extreme privacy (which is impossible or a tough nut to crack) or impenetrable secure software. It's important to find a suitable balance between privacy measures and better security practices (which we'll cover in future articles) in order to enjoy the enormous power of the Internet. Choose products or services wisely by considering necessary privacy aspects and security needs. With more knowledge comes more choices!
This is the first in a series of articles on digital literacy titled Digital Buddhi, aimed at helping you be safe online.
Amoghavarsha H is a digital investigator and a journalist.
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