On the internet we are used to getting for free, but things come with hidden costs. If you do not pay for a service, you most likely end up being someone else’s merchandise.

Early visions of the commercial web depicted a consumer heaven with endless amount of choices. This vision has partly become a reality, but the cost has been constant monitoring and surveillance of users.

Large companies dig information about everything you do online. In this way, ads can be targeted based on your interests and buying behaviour. The collected data is valuable – a bit like gold or oil of the digital era.

Life-long database

Each click on the web gathers data about our lives into a database somewhere. These databases will follow you through your life and do forget anything. They immortalize our best moments, momentary fancies and horrible mistakes. When people browse websites online, they are continuously profiled based on data gathered earlier.

Ubiquitous tracking becomes a concrete concept for us when we face the follow-up effects of our online actions. What kind of insurance terms and conditions are offered to you? What about the price which is asked for airline ticket?

Virtual memories saved on databases can also sometimes spill over into your physical life – if there is any meaningful difference between the two anymore. Will you get your dream job? Does the person you just met want to go out with you after he or she googled your name?

Right to be forgotten

The limits and risks of online privacy are discussed in a recent book published by Talentum. The book, Älä kerro kaikkea (Do not tell everything), is the brainchild of two long-time journalists, Pernille Tranberg from Denmark and Steffan Heuer from Germany.

Anders Inno’s  Hanna Kivelä also commented the book’s themes on the Puoli Seitsemän show last night on YLE. The program can be viewed in the YLE Areena. More on the subject will be aired tonight at the same time.

In their book Tranberg and Heuer ask whether privacy is a human right or commodity. Is the fight for privacy already lost forever, as some argue, or do we still have a change. In Europe it has even been suggested that public authorities should guarantee people a universal “right to be forgotten” that would allow permanent destruction of all data collected on them.

Self-Defence for Netizens

The book does not dwell only the abstract realms of privacy, but the writers present concrete suggestions and tools which help ordinary people can protect themselves and to take care of their identities online.

Tranberg and Heuer are not against the zeitgeist and do not call for a luddite-style abandonment of the web and social media. They are, after all, too valuable things to lose. And often online presence is absolutely required for more social and professional reasons.

Hence the book focuses on teaching how to better protect ourselves while still engaging with others online. This means sensible control for managing one’s identity and confidential data.

Should we fake online?

The best possible scenario for large companies would be that people would have only one identity in the digital world. We want, however, to be authentic and multi-threaded. Should we, then, sometimes use bluff and create fake profiles?

Tranberg and Heuer do not see any reasons why not. Why should we give real information about us to people and applications we do not trust? Shouldn’t it be, after all, our right to throw some obstacles on the way of the behemoth trying to collect our personal data in one place.

For busy people the authors suggest a simple instruction: do not tell, or click on anything. Fake as much as you like to and create fictional online aliases. You can you use your real identity sparingly, and save it for co-workers and closed ones.

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