Privacy Yathra is a campaign by Free Software Community of India to raise awareness about digital privacy. The campaigners of FSCI aim to travel across India, which is what the word ‘yathra’ means in many Indian languages. This website provides a privacy guide to an average computer or mobile user.
Why care about privacy
First of all, privacy is a fundamental right of every human.
Secondly, privacy has eternal value. Privacy is about having control over our personal life, to control whoever we share our personal lives with.
A common misconception is that the data collection by the surveillance companies is harmless. Thinking that people behind Google or Facebook are good and it is harmless to share our private lives with them for some convenience. In reality, corporate data collection has grave consequences.
Quoting the Guardian, “A few dozen “likes” can give a strong prediction of which party a user will vote for, reveal their gender and whether their partner is likely to be a man or woman, provide powerful clues about whether their parents stayed together throughout their childhood and predict their vulnerability to substance abuse. And it can do all this without an need for delving into personal messages, posts, status updates, photos or all the other information Facebook holds.”
Cambridge Analytica used data collected by Facebook on its users to manipulate US elections.
India Today’s undercover investigation into an election management company showed that India has its own Cambridge Analytica type structures used to influence elections. The voter’s data from all the sources– be it voter’s conversations, credit card information, names, addresses, PAN, Aadhaar, mobile, SIM and even economic details, is collected and then used for targeted campaigning on social media.
This shows how harmful the data collection is and when abused, can be very disasterous, and even a threat to democracy.
Another misconception is that governments need massive surveillance to catch terrorist and criminals. It is well known that data mining is not really capable of stopping terrorists or catching criminals. USA’s NAtional Security Agency stopped no terror attacks with the massive trove of data they were having on each US citizen, and even other countries' citizens.
And, more importantly, it is not meant to be used that way. Are governments not corrupt? Will the government always use the data on its citizens for ctizens' welfare? USA’s NSA employees read their ex-girlfriend’s emails. In reality, governments use sophisticated surveillance software to target activists, dissidents and human rights organizations, and use terrorism as an excuse to collect data.
FBI ran a series of projects aimed at surveilling US citizens and activists which they deemed subversive, like communist groups, and other civil rights groups, without them being involved in any criminal activities. Google handed over protestor Disha Ravi’s data to police, which shows that the data available with big tech companies is available with government as well.
Privacy is important and it is being actively taken away by powerful corporations and governments, mainly through the digital devices we use. We will cover some privacy guides and tips to help you in protecting from massive surveillance.
socialcooling.com is a very good resource to learn about consequences of massive surveillance.
What is Free/Swatantra Software
Free Software gives users freedom to run, study, modify, share and share the modified versions of the software. Here ‘free’ never refers to free-of-cost, it refers to freedom. Therefore, we also call it Swatantra Software or Mukt Software to emphasize this point. Any software which is not free software is called nonfree/proprietary software.
A few examples of Free Software are: GNU/Linux distros like Ubuntu, Debian, Arch, Fedora etc, Firefox browser, VLC Media Player, Thunderbird, Quicksy, Newpipe.
Some examples of nonfree/proprietary software are: Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS, iOS, Adobe Photoshop, Google Chrome etc.
Proprietary Software cannot be trusted for privacy
Proprietary Software does not give users the source code behind the software. This secrecy enables the owner/corporation behind the software to exploit users. Users cannot verify what the software actually does. Therefore, any trust on proprietary software is a blind trust. For example, Apple promises privacy to their users in the form of the slogan “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.”, but in reality your iPhone is busy sending data while you are sleeping. Users have no way of knowing what Apple’s iOS really does, because they don’t have the source code. Especially in the era of massive surveillance, where data also earns money, most likely, the proprietary software owners will use this secrecy to collect as much data as possible. Therefore, proprietary software is not to be trusted for privacy.
Please visit the GNU website for a list of known proprietary software that contain spywares.
Free Software is necessary for privacy
Free Software provides users the source code which enables users to verify the code. If the code has spyware, users can remove it themselves or pay someone else to do it. Once the spyware is removed, the modifications can be shared will others, so everyone can get the benefits. In this sense, Free Software is necessary for privacy. It might not be sufficient though.
So the advice and the starting point of our guide is:
Switch to Free Software as much as possible.
Avoid software that puts you under surveillance and replace it with software which protects your privacy.