Anonymity on the Internet is Slowly Dying

Recently, I booted up my old iPod (4th gen nano) and enjoyed listening to one of my old music collections that’s basically only there, and on a hard drive back home in Canada. It’s a ~235 song playlist composed primarily of melodic dubstep, with some electronic, and some older techno songs sprinkled in. I spent a lot of time making it back in the day, grabbing every song from YouTube and properly naming them all, remixes and all.

And well, my iPod isn’t doing too well anymore. The buttons don’t respond like they used to, and it’s clear I’ll need to buy a new mp3 player before long. So I had the idea of making a playlist on YouTube with all of the songs from this collection, to basically archive it for myself and make it easier to access in the future.

And then I figured, “Why don’t I make the playlist and share it for others? Surely there are other people out there who would like to listen to this playlist.” And the process of looking into that is what’s made me realize that it’s slowly becoming impossible to be anonymous on the Internet.

At first, I thought I could just make it on the account I normally operate under – the one tied to my real life Gmail, which I use for everyday life. It’s just become my main account for YouTube because it’s always signed in anyways. Problem is that YouTube playlists, when shared, show the account of the playlist owner, which allows you to click into their “channel” and see their other playlists and such.

Maybe I’m overreacting here, but I just don’t want anyone clicking on my YouTube account even if they can’t get my email from there. I just don’t want any ties to my personal email like that.

So I figured, I’ll just make a new YouTube account and make the playlist there.

And that’s when I found out that you can’t just type in an email and password and be on your way. Instead, you not only have to verify with the email, but you also have to verify via a phone number! This was already supposed to be a throwaway account of sorts, at the very least one not tied to me personally in any way. Sure, they say that they’ll keep the information private, but I don’t want Google knowing my personal phone number period. (I tried several temporary numbers from online SMS services but none worked, as they’d already been used for a different account).

Funny thing is, I actually have a gmail for this blog that I could use, but Google won’t let me sign in because it doesn’t recognize my devices. Even though I know the password, and Google confirms that I know the password (via a forwarded email saying “someone knows your password”. No kidding.) I guess if you only use a Gmail account on a single device, and something happens to it, you can be screwed out of your account. The account recovery process tells me just that, saying to “log into a familiar device”.

What ever happened to the days where you could just make an account with a username and password?

Why do online accounts for services like YouTube, where I listen to music / watch some videos, nothing more, need to be tied to an email, phone number, et cetera?

I mean, I already know the answer to this, but it won’t stop me from writing this rant on the topic. The need for everyone and their mother to collect people’s personal information in any way, shape, or form is becoming insane.

It’s getting to the point that services like the temporary SMS even exist just to give people a little reprieve from companies constantly trying to pry into our personal lives. I didn’t even know the temporary SMS websites / apps were a thing until I looked into it after wondering about it. I know there are also temporary email services as well. Both seem like extremely useful tools when navigating the Internet these days.

Even applying to jobs these days will sometimes result in you ending on some corporate page that require you to create a profile to proceed with your application. And sure, you may be thinking “that’s not a big deal though – they’ll have all my personal info from my application”, the issue is that even if you don’t get the job, they’ll still have your email on file. Who knows when your email will end up on some random mailing list in the future?

There are just so many unnecessary signups these days for everything, and then for the things that should require a signup, such as YouTube, they take it a step further by asking for your phone number. You think they just “forget” the phone number after you type it in to verify your new account? Not a chance. If they did, then the online numbers I tried would have worked, but instead they were denied because they’d already been used before.

And if the issue is just security related, well, how about I make the account first, and then choose if I want the security? I don’t think a YouTube account, not exactly a bank account, should just immediately jump to two-factor authentication in the account creation process. I don’t even have anything to lose at that point, the account doesn’t exist yet.

I can understand the desire for more security and all, but I feel like in this big push for security, we’re being asked to sacrifice our privacy, in some way. Today they mainly ask for our emails with a little phone verification sprinkled in, but what about tomorrow?

Speaking of banks… My bank actually slapped an SMS verification on my account sometime after I came to Japan. An SMS that I was physically unable to receive in Japan, because my Canadian mobile service provider does not have coverage in Japan, nor would I pay for roaming charges or whatever anyways just to receive SMS.

As a solution I actually had to order a new SIM card on the same number to my parent’s house, so they could put it in an old phone in order to receive the SMS so I can log into my damn bank account. So I can basically only log into my bank account now whenever my parents are home and able to receive the SMS.

Again, I understand this is for security, but I would have appreciated being ASKED first!

I’m reminded of that old quote (that’s had much more relevance in recent years):

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Benjamin Franklin

You might think I’m crazy for bringing this up when talking about having to put in a phone number, or even an email, to sign up for something online. But the thing is, privacy is an incredible freedom to have, both online and offline. And it’s one that we’re slowly losing, both online and in real life.

It’s no conspiracy (anymore) that we’re all being spied on, constantly, our information sold around to the highest bidder. And while you may not care, the fact still remains that there are databases out there that contain some information about you, as they all collect more pieces of your puzzle. Innocently downloading an app, or punching in your phone number to verify something, will result in small pieces of information about you, your device, and location being collected.

Even if phone verification isn’t required to make a Gmail (I’m pretty sure it isn’t… oh nevermind, I guess it is!), for example, Google still records information about the device you used to sign up / log in with. That’s clear, considering I’m locked out of one of my own Gmail accounts, despite knowing the password.

I genuinely believe that we should have the right to remain completely private and anonymous on the Internet if we so choose. I’m no Internet security expert or anything like this, but I can say that the Internet, technology, et cetera, have become more intrusive now than ever before. We never used to have to jump through hoops to do things on the Internet, we never used to have to create an account for everything we do, and sacrifice bits and pieces of personal information to do so.

Considering how bad things are getting when it comes to crucifying people over things they said / did at ANY point in their lives, with no forgiveness, it’s more important now than ever to maintain your privacy. A single tweet, or picture, or comment… you really never know anymore. And what’s acceptable now may not be so in the future.

And services are continuing to pry more information out of us, and even sell it off to third parties without us knowing. Throw in some algorithms / AI and it’d be no problem for these companies / databases to piece together complete profiles on any of us.

So yeah, I’m no expert on this stuff myself, but I do think that at the very least we can consider making use of temporary emails, online numbers to receive SMS, and resources like this whenever possible. You should also consider using fake names, birthdays, and other lies whenever you’re signing up for something that shouldn’t require your personal information. I can understand a real life service needing some personal information, but not an email service or website like YouTube.


I guess I’ll leave it with that.

I’ll see if there’s any way I can get this playlist up, somehow, via another account. If I do, I’ll share it on the blog. But I might just give up on the idea. We’ll see.

Anyways,
What do you all think about this topic?
Anyone else miss the old days of the Internet like I do?

Until next time,
Thanks for reading.

14 thoughts on “Anonymity on the Internet is Slowly Dying

  1. Twitter has this problem too, rumor has it that you can even get banned from using it on any device. You know it’s messed up when somebody has to resort to using a VPN and fake phone number to create an account and reconnect with friends. I can understand the need for it given the rise of things like cyberbullying and to fight terrorism but for everyday things like gaming or job application like you said, it’s just ridiculous.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I may not even agree with it for fighting cyberbullying / terrorism, because that means sacrificing everyone’s privacy for the sake of a few. That, and if people were truly anonymous on the Internet, cyberbullying at least shouldn’t be a problem. If people want to put their face / identity on the Internet, that’s on them… but even then they should be able to remove themselves from the Internet if they choose to.

      But these days, you could probably delete your account and still have something “problematic” surface decades later to your detriment, the way things are going.

      As for terrorism, well, people are going to talk regardless. It makes it more difficult for people to organize on the Internet, but there’s nothing stopping them from meeting in person. The idea that every single phone call made is recorded, and every word typed is logged, to protect us from terrorists, is pretty crazy. Again, invading everyone’s privacy for the sake of a few. And then, they probably have ways to get around all of that anyways, via VPNs and so on, so really it’s invading everyone’s privacy for nothing if they are competent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It certainly seems like the big tech and telecom companies are taking advantage of legitimate worries over security to collect more personal information. Hopefully their lies about “having concern for your privacy” are seen for what they are now — just a way for them to cover themselves. For my part, I limit my social media use as much as possible and have avoided Facebook at all costs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, but as Wingking brings up in his comment, even if their intentions are fine, they can still get hacked and lose all your information anyways. The best intentions clearly would be to not collect the information in the first place, unless it’s absolutely necessary (bank account type situation). But then, we all know that there’s big money in selling information to advertisers, or utilizing it to try and cater ads to us.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True, no matter what their intentions are, it’s all the same if they screw up and lose our data anyway. Talk is cheap anyway; actions are what matter.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. A few years ago I got a letter in the mail from Georgia Tech University telling me that they had a data breach on campus and some of my personal information may have potentially gotten out. At first I was confused because I have no connections to Georgia Tech. I was never a student or employee there, and I’ve never been anywhere near the place. It wasn’t until much later that I (barely) remembered I had sent in a job application to work at the campus library once, back when I was just out of grad school and applying for work wherever there was an opening. I didn’t even get invited to interview, but apparently even fifteen years later they were still keeping my data in a computer file somewhere. And it frankly really annoyed me that they could be so cavalier about something like that (most other places where I’ve worked including my current employer have a policy of not holding on to application data for more than six months), but it just illustrates that even something you think is supposed to be “safe” can come back to bite you if people are careless with the information you give them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, that’s insane. And the idea of hacks basically means that everyone is at risk, all the time, because real-life services and such all have our information, which is one hack away from being revealed to someone / the world.

      Like

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