When privacy was a natural state of affairs, protecting it required a set of window shades, and maybe a hedge between you and the neighbor.
Modern privacy is a commodity, and the price is staggering. I’s not just money. Privacy protection is really inconvenient now, and intellectually challenging – not always in a good way. It requires a combination of education, time, prosperity, and technical aptitude that’s rare in a single human being. If you’re deficient in two or more of those categories, welcome to the privacy apartheid. You’re the have-not.
Here’s a brief and partial survey of the cost of privacy.
On the practically free end, you can make sure your internet browsers run in in SSL mode by default. The cost is a bit of time. It requires a Google search and ability to download a plugin. You also need to understand when and why this will preclude internet access in certain circumstances, so you won’t freak out when it happens.
If you’re very serious and skilled, you can run your own email server. Hardcore privacy advocates recommend this as if it were a walk in the park. It requires equipment, dozens of hours to implement, and a great deal of technical aptitude to maintain, with numerous headaches guaranteed.
Recently, consumer-grade privacy-enhancing products have become available. Check out the Consumer Electronics Show, where for many years, gee-whiz products with the greatest privacy-invading potential have been the highlight. This year, a tiny space on the show floor features vendors of privacy, starting with signal-blocking cases for mobile devices ($69-$199, no technical proficiency required). Last Private Place featured a competing product for phones a few months back, the $80 Privacy Case.
Vysk is there, with a phone sleeve that has an encryption feature in the microphone to keep conversations private ($229). Using Vysk’s QS1 case requires a technical comfort level sufficient to activate the product’s privacy modes and download the subscription-based apps. Add a monthly charge of $9.99, plus at least an hour to experiment and understand settings and capabilities.
Virtual Private Network service provider PIA offers encrypted internet access on demand, with tech support. (Annual packge price $39.95). But it’s not simple. You need basic knowledge of how networks function and probably about three hours to understand and activate the service.
Privacy advocates also suggest staying off most social media. There’s always been a privacy bonus for avoiding gossipy neighbors, and there still is. But there’s also a professional penalty, because those gossips now call themselves LinkedIn and Facebook, and your competitors are present in droves. Opportunity cost: incalculable.
If you’re looking for cheap solutions, a hat and sunglasses may provide a defense against surveillance cameras. For a few bucks and a few minutes you can sew a couple of infrared LED lights into the hat, with a 9 volt battery to power them. Hacker lore says in certain lighting conditions, this will obscure your face from the cameras.
So you pay with money or you pay with time and know-how, or you pay with isolation. And no matter how you pay, no product exists to completely eradicate the ubiquitous privacy challenges that show up daily disguised as fun and convenience.