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Privacy, Anonymity and Security, can we have them all?

The recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica saga has brought to public attention the issue of privacy and by extension Anonymity and Security. The first thing we have to grasp is the we not only have physical but digital assets. Our digital assets are things that are valuable to us that have a digital nature or can be stored electronically, this includes such things as bank account details, personal information, photos, email contents etc. Most people would prefer to keep such assets away from prying eyes and would love for them to be safe (privacy and security).

To be more specific privacy is nobody seeing what you do but potentially knowing who you are. An example is you sending an encrypted email to a friend, only both of you can have access to the email’s contents. The right to privacy has a long tradition and has been recognized by various societies at different times as a basic human right. Also what most people fail to consider as it concerns privacy is that it affects freedom. When people know that they are being watched or their info cannot be guaranteed to remain confidential, this will definitely affect how they behave and impact on the choices they make, can they be said to be truly free in such a situation?

Another digital asset that is desirable to some people is that of keeping their identity anonymous. Anonymity is keeping your actions and activity separate from your true identity. Anonymity is highly prized in places they have oppressive regimes or human right violations. An example of this might be a person using an anonymizing service like the TOR network to access the internet, and posting content about a corrupt government on a forum or blog using an anonymous profile. Under anonymity, there is a variant called pseudonymity. This is when someone wishes to retain a reputation against an identity. Here your activities are known and can be traced be a certain profile but the person behind the profile is unknown. This is akin to using an alias or a false identity. An interesting example of this is the founder of bitcoin Statoshi Nakamoto.

Security is basically the steps or procedures we take to safeguard or secure our digital assets. What many people do not realize is that sometimes privacy, anonymity and security can be in conflict with each another. An example of this is that most antivirus software and firewalls that provide web protection have the ability of tracking what you do online. This is because most route your internet traffic through their DNS servers which have a list of infected or potentially dangerous websites. Hence they monitor what you do online to keep you safe but are always in constant contact with your browser and know all the sites you visit. This is clearly a situation in which your security and privacy or anonymity are in conflict. In such situations you must make a decision as to which is more valuable. But generally, the amount of privacy you want or require is directly proportional to the amount of security you need.

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