The Importance of Open Source Software & Online Privacy

The sheer amount of data we feed our personal machines is insane, and it's important that companies are transparent about what data they collect and how it's used. I commonly hear that most people “just don't know how much data is being tracked,” however, when I try to show people examples of how deeply companies actually track them, they simply respond with “I have nothing to hide.” In this post, I hope to inform people who don't believe privacy is important of why it's a vital human right, which must be protected, along with how open source software can pave the way for a better, more private future. Even if you don't have anything to hide, there are plenty of reasons you should care about privacy. Many individuals need privacy to fight back against oppressive governments, abusive partners, and even malicious companies, which can target vulnerable people. Isn't who you are something you should be able to share on your own terms? Privacy should be a universal right, not something only people who “need” it are awarded, as such a system actually decreases privacy and puts a target on anyone's back who finds it important. But how does open source software incorporate with privacy? Well, since open source programs are 100% free to look at review, anyone with some free time can diagnose exactly how data is collected and stored from these programs. This means that companies will be held more responsible for any shady business they partake in, and users will be more informed and competition will be encouraged, meaning a better, more privacy oriented future for everyone. Just think about the programs you run on your personal computer. Many people run things like Chrome, Steam, Riot Vanguard (gaming anti-cheat with ring 0 access), all of which can be running shady code without your knowledge. Hell, even the Windows or MacOS Operating systems have been found to be doing very shady things behind their users' backs. MacOS was sending unencrypted http signals to Apple's servers, telling Apple every single app you opened, and Windows blatantly tells you it's impossible to entirely turn off their tracking. Isn't that dystopian? The fact that these companies have been caught with this kind of stuff, means there's likely a lot more going on behind the scenes, which is honestly terrifying. Open source software also increases security for the same reasons it increases privacy. The code is open, meaning any individual can look at it, find vulnerabilities, and commit security patches or report security issues for others to look at. Since the amount of good-hearted individuals will likely be higher than the amount of malicious individuals, security issues will usually be patched out very quickly and faster than malicious people can exploit them. So how do you make a difference? The best and easiest ways to make a difference is to simply start using open source alternatives to your everyday software. I have an article showcasing many awesome open source programs, and they would be a great place to start. If you're tech savvy, submitting bug reports on github/gitlab for these programs is a good place to start, and you can even submit bugfixes if you know how!