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The Evolution of Online Privacy: A Brief History of Private Browsing
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The Evolution of Online Privacy: A Brief History of Private Browsing

By Simon Patel
Representing of privacy history

“The right understanding of any matter and a misunderstanding of the same matter do not wholly exclude each other.”

Franz Kafka, The Trial

Privacy always had some issues to be articulated clearly in the name of the law, but its online journey is highlighted by changes that were hard to wrap minds around. Some events affected how the Internet looks today maybe even more than imagined.

Is it data entropy raising certain questions or is it an increasing number of internet users leading to the politicization of internet privacy regulation? Guessing is hard, so we’ll better concentrate on the internet privacy history’s timeline and facts.

Pre-internet era

There will be two important points we’ll continue from:

  • Since its drafting in 1950, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights declares: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home, and his correspondence.”
  • In 1967 the Fourth Amendment, which initially pertained solely to individuals and their belongings (“persons, houses, papers, and effects”), was broadened to encompass anything a person “seeks to preserve as private” following the Supreme Court ruling in Katz vs. The United States.

Borderline-new millennia

Cookies enter the stage in 1994. Innocuous in the beginning they are supposed to ease the burden of retyping URLs, passcodes and etc. People believe that “the sky is the limit”, the internet is not so crowded yet and is full of opportunities. Only a small group of people called humorously cypherpunks riot for the future of data privacy and call into question governments’ and corporative involvement, especially when third-party cookies get widespread.

The aftermath of September 11th of 2001 brings not only Potemkin villages of pop culture, relying on the Mandela effect. Changing the scenery from Twin Towers to Empire State Building details in the Sex and the City opening is one thing, but The Patriot Act emerged as an absolutely different one. It shifts Americans’ view to the point where there’s no difference between privacy and security. One of the most influential secure browsers, Tor is created using onion routing in 2002. The safest browser for privacy purposes then.

Soon, the first World Summit on the Information Society **** happens in Geneva in 2003. Promoting increased internet accessibility in the developing world, “it only allows multi-stakeholder discussions on internet-governance, but cannot decide on norms or policies”.

The big three: Google, Facebook, Apple

Though Google is already here when Facebook occupies the spotlight in 2004, it was only then that it realises that switching from groups to individuals in matters of data processing can be profitable. They launch Youtube in 2006, and the year after — Apple presents its first iPhone. Does almost unlimited internet access make it a pocket user activity tracker? Check!

Advertisement is striving for expansion, taking up more and more internet space. Concerns are on the rise, not exponentially but distinctly. Serious precedents are only starting to show off and link together data breaches and information wilfully given to all the apps and companies in supposedly lightweight interactions.

Online privacy protection is still in its infancy when the data market is growing wild. The Internet slowly becomes a goldmine for capitalism.

Mr. Snowden*

Data breaches turn into data floods. Though questions were asked earlier, they only hit the wall of “I have nothing to hide”. Users peacefully fill questionaries in the new Facebook app “This is your Digital Life” presented by data-scientist Aleksander Kogan.

Trust in the government’s best intentions and conscientiousness is steady. Or is it? USA surveillance reaches the point of no return when someone blows the whistle.

NSA sub-contractee bothered by the future of privacy finally reaches his “breaking point”. In June of 2013, Edward Snowden reveals numerous global surveillance programs disclosing a huge violation of privacy. NSA needs information from Google, Facebook and Apple? No warrant is needed. Tapping calls, conversations, and massive databases of emails, browsing histories, and other metadata without any authorization. Turns out they even monitored foreign leaders and cooperated with other countries’ spy agencies. Voices protecting online privacy start getting some attention.

Plateau

People start realizing that their data can be used unethically behind closed doors without their knowledge. According to Pew Research Center findings in 2014 91% of adults in the survey “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies. The digital footprint is finally recognized by the masses.

EU adopts General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2016. Meanwhile, Cambridge Analytica becomes a star of data analysis due to Donal Trump’s presidential campaign.

The Pegasus spyware, developed in Israel, is found to exploit iOS systems by leveraging zero-day vulnerabilities. When a malicious URL is opened, the software can jailbreak an iPhone, allowing it to gather communication data, locations of targeted smartphones, and even WiFi passwords. The analysis of this software, was conducted by Citizen Lab and Lookout, who subsequently notify Apple’s security team. The issue is patched within ten days, raising many questions about their bug-bounty program.

Browsing privacy’s eruption

There are still no major regulations on internet privacy covering all the issues. Once again Guardian releases exclusive material on data misuse in the spring of 2018. It is another turning point in the history of internet privacy.

This time it is Cambridge Analytica that manipulated Facebook users’ data to shift unsure voters towards candidates they worked for. Data was harvested illegally from 87 million people. Not without the help of Aleksander Kogan. And that’s not only America we’re talking about: Australia, India, Kenya, Malta, Mexico and etc. were listed in Cambridge Analytica service record.

Mark Zuckerberg testifies in front of Congress calling Facebook’s role not a data breach, but a “breach of trust”. GDPR becomes enforceable. Following the EU example Turkey, Japan, Brazil, and others pass similar laws.

Dmitry Pushkarev, our founder, creates Sidekick in 2019 as a fast and handy browser for business.

2021, Facebook promises they’re working on new methods of showing ads that won’t involve personal data. Apple officially announces iOS 14.5 with an opportunity to opt out of apps’ all-seeing-eyes. Google… well, Google claims their plans to adopt similar measures but softly.

Present day. Present time. Hahaha**

How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I?

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The rich history of data privacy is a witness to numerous turning points. Now, when it’s possible to quit many unwanted interactions because they’re presented transparently, in many cases, it’s still a mousetrap where your absence of interest in sharing information equals being cut from the needed tool. Breaches and data exposure are just a part of everyday life, that’s why open-source intelligence (OSINT) is as accessible as Tidal.

On the bright side — there’s a rising acknowledgment of privacy’s importance. More and more people are using VPNs, end-to-end text messengers, password managers, modern encrypting software, and choosing safe browsing. Even the big three are somehow trying to give privacy a credit. Though Gartner’s prophecies are yet to be judged, the route is defined for now. Researchers are fighting to find a balance to enable broad sharing of data across contexts and domains where it is desired or required that individuals’ identities or sensitive attributes are protected.

And it’s still important to raise awareness and make safety easy to reach for average users. That’s what we do in Sidekick. We care about privacy in the Internet age.

*Barack Obama in a 2016 interview for Der Spiegel said “I think that Mr. Snowden raised some legitimate concerns”

**Introduction from cyber-punk anime series “Serial Experiments Lain” (1998)

FAQ

There are lots of tools. For example, at Sidekick, we prioritize browser privacy by integrating features such as a built-in adblocker, privacy-focused settings, secure local storage, and an optional built-in VPN (in the paid version). We are dedicated to enhancing our privacy features and implementing cutting-edge security measures through regular updates, ensuring a secure and private browsing experience for all our users.

VPNs play a vital role in guarding privacy by establishing a secure, encrypted connection between a user’s device and the VPN server. Hides users’ IP addresses, stops ISPs from monitoring browsing history, and enables access to geo-restricted content. However some providers are undermining the privacy benefits they promise, so it’s important to choose reputable ones.

Sidekick is actively committed to addressing the future of privacy concerns by continuously evolving its security and privacy features. We stay up-to-date with the latest developments in privacy protection and implement innovative solutions to keep our users’ data secure. Our team regularly rolls out updates to enhance privacy measures and respond to users’ feedback.

Tracking cookies can compromise privacy protection by monitoring users’ online activities for targetting. You can adjust browser settings to block or delete cookies, browse in private or incognito mode, opt-out of personalized ads, or choose a privacy-focused browser like Sidekick, which offers built-in adblockers and tracking protection features for enhanced privacy and security.