The Fight for Greater Online Privacy

Years after Edward Snowden exposed the U.S. government’s online surveillance efforts, people have been clamoring for increased privacy. And to answer that call, developers have taken on the challenge of improving internet security. But despite the appeal for it and developers providing users with better options, consumers just aren’t biting.

Not even the simplest of enhanced privacy tools are winning over the majority of internet users. An example of this is Sovereign, a free private cloud toolkit that offers open-source alternatives to standard cloud offerings such as e-mail, file hosting, contacts management, and calendar, among others. But creator Alex Payne knows that his project—which has a GitHub page that’s heavy on technical acronyms and command-line transcripts—isn’t appealing to the mainstream crowd. He knows that it’s more of the technical users who’d appreciate his work.

Even the makers of more commercial private cloud tools such as the Community Cube (a privacy-centric personal server and firewall project—are having the same difficulties in drumming up public interest for their products. While that may be the case, a recent study reveals that the creators and backers of Community cube aren’t alone in the crusade for privacy) there’s definitely support for this cause. What this research also suggests, though, is that most of internet users simply feel that there’s just little they can do about the matter. They believe that as long as they’re online, their privacy is pretty much up-for-grabs.

The calls for greater privacy and the desire of developers to provide privacy-based solutions are undeniable. But the real solution should start from the law, as suggested by Julia Horwitz, consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Here’s her take on the issue:

“I’m often asked the question about what consumers can do to protect their privacy. And I think really the answer is it shouldn’t be up to the consumer to try to protect his or her own privacy. There should be a robust-enough legal framework in place that would be incumbent on the company to comply with the law, rather than on the consumer to shop around for the most privacy-protecting service, when by the nature of the service, the consumer’s not going to have all of the relevant information.”

Simply put, the seemingly obvious solution to obtaining greater privacy should start from the government—yes, the very body that Edward Snowden accused of breaching it.

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