How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Less Private Internet

What's to come?
Feb. 6 2014 10:07 AM

Take My Data, Please

How I learned to stop worrying and love a less private Internet.

140205_FUT_IncognitoChrome

Illustration by Slate

I used to play a little game called “Let’s See How Completely I Can Ruin My Internet Experience.” I used a Firefox browser with about 50 privacy-related plugins. Any website I visited had large chunks missing due to blocked JavaScript (thanks, NoScript). Once I’d allowed the barest number of scripts necessary, I had to talk my zealous cookie managers into allowing me to log in. That is, of course, after I closed the alerts of analytics packages tracking me, since they typically covered up login forms. Browsing the Internet was, frankly, a chore.

It started in the spring of 2010, when Facebook announced its Open Graph protocol and Graph API, while I was working at an Internet advocacy group, the Center for Democracy and Technology. At the time, this announcement seemed like the end of the Internet as we knew it. Anonymity was already a rapidly disappearing concept, both in terms of browsing habit privacy and in terms of what we called ourselves online. Visiting a website suddenly became like visiting several websites, exposing us to whatever diseases they might carry. We could either go along with it, or we could go underground. I went underground.

I treated myself like a criminal, obsessed with keeping a very low online profile. I deactivated my Facebook and ran a Diaspora node instead (no one ever friended me), I left Twitter for Identi.ca (you wouldn’t know her; she’s from Canada), and I ran an unstable build of CyanogenMod on my Android phone that let me remove permissions from applications. I was a ghost in the shell, communicating only in dark alleyways of the Internet like a nerdy drug dealer.

Advertisement

Regular Internet users rolled their eyes at me when I said, “I don’t use Facebook,” or “I won’t see your tweets; just find me on identi.ca.” In my righteous stand against being tracked online, I became an Internet hipster. And like a hipster, I was pretty smug about it.

I was fighting the good fight, ready at the drop of a hat to offer my cool, insidery 2 cents. “Oh, you’re using Google Chrome? You know, Google knows everything about you now.” “You allow scripts? You’re letting Facebook know every site you’ve visited.” “Do you know how many ad networks you’re plugged into when you visit the Wall Street Journal online?” I felt that if everyone did what I was doing, the big companies would learn their lesson. They’d change, and the Internet of the mid-2000s would come back. We’d have our privacy.

But in reality, I was “letting the terrorists win,” changing my established habits due to the actions of a few companies. Because I didn’t want to share my browsing history, or my name, or my location, I’d let them pressure me into crippling my own online experience.

A year later I got married. Expecting this to happen only once, I didn’t want to miss a single picture or status update. Online privacy became less important than being tagged in wedding pictures on social networks—I figured I’d just go back into my hole once the marriage-celebration activity settled down. But I’d been away from the unfettered Internet for a year, and that small taste of social media allowed me to see the Web for what it was. It was a tool for communicating with other people, much as it always had been. I got back in contact with people I’d not spoken to in ages. I let my friends know what I’d been doing with my life, and I in turn got to see what they were doing. I was invited to parties I never would’ve known existed. It felt like discovering the Internet all over again. I loved it.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.