Arguments against “I have nothing to hide” on digital privacy

“If I have nothing to hide, why shouldn't I give my data to the government or companies like Google in return for security and convenience?”

As someone who cares about and spreads digital privacy, I often hear people say, “I have nothing to hide, so why shouldn't I give my data to the government or companies like Google in return for security and convenience?”

I have multiple responses to that, some my own and some learnt from following wise people and communities on the Web.

  1. Privacy isn’t about hiding things, it’s about your individuality. It’s part of who you are as a human being. When someone is constantly watching you, you tend to react and think differently, even if you aren’t doing anything wrong.

  2. Here’s a simple example from day-to-day life: Everyone knows what you do when you are in the bathroom. And yet you close the door. Every single time. There’s nothing to hide there, what you’re doing is perfectly normal. And yet it’s simply personal.

  3. You may love and trust your life partner but would you like it if he/she was continuously monitoring your chats? Your browsing history? Emails? Nope. So why let corporations make data sets out of your personal activities and sell your info to advertisers without your consent? This has been the mechanism through which corporates have been controlling what we like and how we think for decades.

  4. To give up your privacy by saying, “I have nothing to hide” is like saying, “I have nothing to say so I don’t need freedom of speech.”

  5. Data privacy is also about data protection. Private data in the hands of the undesired people can be misused for theft, fraud or other criminal purposes. Security and privacy are thus linked to each other, they are not isolated entities.

  6. Now let’s think about health issues. If you or your loved one has some very personal and severe health issue(s), would you be willing to disclose it to anyone and everyone? Even though health problems are just a part of life, some of it is best kept private. Passively giving away our health data via apps and services only enables ad networks and their partner businesses built around health to sell you more things in the name of fear, of course packaged to sound generous.

  7. Giving access to all your data to governments and corporates also gives them immense power to control and predict you. You may feel today that our government is a good one, or that Google’s CEO is a nice person. But lest you forget, organizations are not people. People powering these organizations change, and so do their motives. It’s a question of when, not if. What will you do when they change policies that directly or indirectly suppress us for their business or political gains? What if we already are being tamed and don't even know it because we are born and brought up this way so things feel normal to us? After all, they ultimately decide what we consume, where we network, and more.

There’s value and trust-building in choosing to share what we do, think and want. Privacy is an intrinsic right, which if destroyed obliterates our individuality. Digital privacy therefore should not be treated as anything different than our physical privacy. If you’re inclined to make small but effective changes to preserve your digital privacy, I’ve prepared a list of privacy-respecting apps that just work regardless of if you’re a technically inclined person or not.