General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

How much can we genuinely keep private in the 21st century?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (37328points) August 7th, 2023

This question is inspired by an answer on my question in Social about advertisements.

It seems that our lives are tracked by giant internet companies, by the government, and by others in the 21st century.

Serious question: how much can we really keep private?

I’m not going to qualify the question further, because I really don’t know the answer.

Please note this is in the General Section. Please keep discussion on topic.

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14 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

Quick answer: not much can be kept private.

Longer answer: it’s a tradeoff. I want to do, buy, read, learn about certain things. In previous decades I would go to the store, the movie theater, or go to the library.

In 2023 I have the convenience of shopping from my house, reading the news online, streaming movies, etc. – all from home. Not getting wet in the rain and staying warm in the winter.

But the price: Privacy.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Not much. Google analytics and other tracking units know all.

smudges's avatar

I think we all pretty much know there’s stuff “out there” about us, but I believe we’d all be shocked by what is really known about us by the govt and big business. and China

JLeslie's avatar

Very little unless you really work at it.

We have to hope the US does not move to a cashless society if you want to try to keep your life private. I was just on a Disney thread on facebook where someone asked if Disney is cashless (that is what the person had heard) and I responded along with other people that Disney still takes cash, but, what I learned was Legoland no longer does. There are countries that are cashless. Living here in Florida the idea of no cash is unthinkable with the threat of hurricanes.

Buying with credit card everything can be tracked.

Also, if you have a smart phone you can be tracked. If you have your mic on there are apps listening to what you say.

Supposedly, robots and listening devices are going to be, or maybe they already are, in grocery stores listening to what you say in the aisles to gather information.

LadyMarissa's avatar

~ It’s gotten so bad that the word “privacy” is being removed from the dictionary!!!

Zaku's avatar

Depends on how you quantify “how much”, what you care about, and what you’re willing to do about it.

There are many insidious assaults on privacy in many countries in the 21st Century. So many, that many people often spout the resigned/cynical truisms that it’s impossible to have any privacy “these days”, but that’s not really true.

Examples are endless, but to mention a few:

Mobile devices are optional.

Mobile devices have options.

There are privacy-centered operating systems (and hardware) for computers and mobile devices.

There are countries, and places (even within surveillance states) with much less (or practically zero) spying on people, even by corporations.

One of the most effective means at messing up corporate tracking, is to generate noise. For example. you can share and trade your store loyalty cards, use ones you find in the parking lot, use ones that haven’t been given any ID info, and/or fill out applications with fake info. You can use invented identities for many commercial interactions and web sites, where there’s no real agreement to be giving them your main identity.

You can also provide information using your actual main identity (and other identities) that is inaccurate. Volunteer fake information. Create social media IDs and content that isn’t really about you. Tag the wrong people in photos. Invent wrong background info to fill out your bio details sections. Etc.

When telemarketers etc contact you who that think they know things about you, correct their accurate information with incorrect information. When they have wrong information that there’s no actual reason to correct, don’t correct it.

You could also go to the various web sites that have information about you scraped from the web and so on, and provide and “correct” their information by adding various disinformation.

If you were really into it, you could change your legal name to something very very common – the John Smiths and Bob Robertsons can be pretty hard for many databases to tell apart and not get confused with each other, much of the time. Especially if you feed them several tips that are wrong about which information goes with which person.


seawulf575's avatar

It really depends on how much you are willing to change to keep the privacy. The Amish don’t interact on TV, radio, or the internet. They don’t have a lot of interaction outside their community and therefore are not as open to having their privacy invaded.

LuckyGuy's avatar

If you are wearing an Apple watch connected to your Iphone – nothing is private. Nothing!
It knows where you are, where you shop, how much you move, All the stuff you figure. But there is so much more. It can extract how often and for how long you wash your hands and where you do it. 3 sinks in your house? Just look at the Health app.
But there is so much more.
If can deduce how often and where you have sex. Look at heart rate, breathing, duration, If both people are wearing one they can deduce the partner and preference.
Is there a change in frequency and duration? Are you having marital problems? Are you under stress? It can detect alcohol and drug use by the small changes in your heart rate and breathing.
Money problems? Health issues? Doctor visits…. All the texts you read from your watch and phone.
Sure, you can turn off the GPS so they supposedly can’t tell where you are. But they can get it other ways – cell towers and the latest little trick: comparing your accelerometer data with other people nearby, to determine vehicle occupants, and road movement. By looking at sound pressure levels it can match other people walking next to you.

If you want a hint of privacy, take off the watch and leave your phone home. Only a hint indeed. Remember, there are cameras out there, too.

Poseidon's avatar

How much privacy do we humans have in the 21st century? Virtually none.

In the modern countries such as USA< UK, Europe, Russia etc, Virtually every individual is being monitored 24/7.

Every time we tap a key on our Tablets, Desktops, Phones, Tablets and so on someone somewhere is watching. Eve if you have all the protection devices such as VPNs it is easy for the experts to infiltrate them.

Even when we go to the store and buy our groceries and we scan our bonus cards and pay with our cards all the information is being stored in a location.

George Orwell wrote the novel 1984 in which he prophesied exactly what is happening today. Virtually the only thing he got wrong was the date.

LadyMarissa's avatar

There was a trial earlier this year up in SC where a prominent DA had murdered his wife & one of his sons. He tried to claim that he wasn’t on the property at the time of the murders. When it got to court, a phone expert told the jury exactly where he was standing & how many steps he took to get into his home, which rooms in his home that he went into, how many steps he took to get to his truck, the route he took to get to his parent’s home, where he stopped to dispose of his wife’s phone. He then tried to claim it was a hitman who did the deed & they showed that there was NO other activity on his land during the same timeline. His son had taken a video at the time & sent it to a friend, so they had all the needed meta data to show that he was indeed there at the projected TOD. The ONLY thing the phone didn’t tell them was what he had had for breakfast & if he peed while in the house. They even knew how many times someone woke up their phone to do something.

Zaku's avatar

@LadyMarissa Yes, that’s a case of a horrifyingly privacy-invading technology being used to solve a murder. Meanwhile, people with access can do the same level of observation to most other people, for whatever reason they might want.

On the other hand, this question is about how much one could keep private. And, not everyone needs to have their trackers enabled, or to carry their trackers on them, or to not give their trackers to other people, or to have trackers at all.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

Well we don’t do Facebook, Twitter,or things like that, anything we buy on line is done with a visa gift , don’t do on line banking, and still get notices that my information was compromised by an investment that was hacked luckily didn’t lose it but pulled it out right away,have learned don’t put anything on line that you have no trouble with the whole world knowing.

jca2's avatar

This is why stores and restaurants all have apps and they want you to download their apps and they make it advantageous for you to download and use their apps. They want to compile information on you and compile statistical information on their customers.

A friend keeps telling me that I should download the McDonald’s and DD apps, and that they both send you offers for free stuff like McDonald’s always offers free fries. I said no thanks, if I’m offered free stuff, I’m likely to want to go get it and I don’t need free food (that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten) and I don’t want my information going anywhere more than necessary. Nothing is free and they’re getting your info in exchange for occasional offers of cheap and bad food.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@jca2 That’s exactly how I look at it! I do not need anyone else having my data – data that can be sold, misused, stolen, lost, etc. Once they get your smart phone number they can get info from other apps.
It is not worth the risk for a free fries or donut that I don’t need.

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