Over the years, we at DuckDuckGo have often heard a flawed counter-argument to online privacy: “Why should I care? I have nothing to hide.”
As Internet privacy has become more mainstream, this argument is rightfully fading away. However, it’s still floating around and so we wanted to take a moment to explain three key reasons why it's flawed.
1) Privacy isn’t about hiding information; privacy is about protecting information, and surely you have information that you’d like to protect.
Do you close the door when you go to the bathroom? Would you give your bank account information to anyone? Do you want all your search and browsing history made public? Of course not.
Simply put, everyone wants to keep certain things private and you can easily illustrate that by asking people to let you make all their emails, texts, searches, financial information, medical information, etc. public. Very few people will say yes.
2) Privacy is a fundamental right and you don't need to prove the necessity of fundamental rights to anyone.
You should have the right to free speech even if you feel you have nothing important to say right now. You should have the right to assemble even if you feel you have nothing to protest right now. These should be fundamental rights just like the right to privacy.
And for good reason. Think of commonplace scenarios in which privacy is crucial and desirable like intimate conversations, medical procedures, and voting. We change our behavior when we're being watched, which is made obvious when voting; hence, an argument can be made that privacy in voting underpins democracy.
3) Lack of privacy creates significant harms that everyone wants to avoid.
You need privacy to avoid unfortunately common threats like identity theft, manipulation through ads, discrimination based on your personal information, harassment, the filter bubble, and many other real harms that arise from invasions of privacy.
In addition, what many people don’t realize is that several small pieces of your personal data can be put together to reveal much more about you than you would think is possible. For example, an analysis conducted by MIT researchers found that “just four fairly vague pieces of information — the dates and locations of four purchases — are enough to identify 90 percent of the people in a data set recording three months of credit-card transactions by 1.1 million users.”
It’s critical to remember that privacy isn't just about protecting a single and seemingly insignificant piece of personal data, which is often what people think about when they say, “I have nothing to hide.” For example, some may say they don't mind if a company knows their email address while others might say they don't care if a company knows where they shop online.
However, these small pieces of personal data are increasingly aggregated by advertising platforms like Google and Facebook to form a more complete picture of who you are, what you do, where you go, and with whom you spend time. And those large data profiles can then lead much more easily to significant privacy harms. If that feels creepy, it’s because it is.
We can't stress enough that your privacy shouldn’t be taken for granted. The ‘I have nothing to hide’ response does just that, implying that government and corporate surveillance should be acceptable as the default.
Privacy should be the default. We are setting a new standard of trust online and believe getting the privacy you want online should be as easy as closing the blinds.