From Guest Writer Abigail Mason

* Content, including links, belongs exclusively to the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Symbols.

Are Internet Users Being Pushed Underground?

Governments all over the world, as usual, are a bit behind the population when it comes to technology and its uses. During the London riots of 2011 politicians were mystified by this curious communication technique called BBM. This of course was just Blackberry Messenger. The use of this made it incredibly difficult for police to monitor those taking part and thus the entire situation was very difficult to control. In comparison, people who posted Facebook updates supposedly encouraging the riots were swiftly arrested. The internet is no longer a safe place to voice your opinions without the government, or anyone else for that matter, knowing about it. Everything you do online can be traced easily directly to you. Plenty of legislations has been suggested by governments such as ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), which are the most well known. All have been introduced in an attempt to stifle online piracy of films, music and other media. This legislation also had a more sinister side to it which directly infringed on the civil liberties of internet users. The whole point of the internet is that it is meant to be a free place for all to share whatever opinions and ideas they have without fear of retribution. As governments begin to realise the potential of the internet they also realise it is potential they don't want solely in the hands of their citizens and not them. So how can you protect yourself?

First and foremost is the obvious. The less personal data online the less there is to be stolen. Withdrawing yourself from social networks is a great step. If you want a little bit of a scare to push you in this direction then make use of a feature Facebook now offers. You can now easily request every bit of data that Facebook has on you. This is essentially every status update, photo and whatever else you have shared through your account. Apart from the embarrassment of reading the kind of things you posted 4 years ago, it is a great shock to see how much information can be gleaned just from your account on Facebook. It might hard at first to unplug yourself as people rely on it so much for staying connected these days, but it is the first step to not only protecting your personal data but towards controlling it.

One of the most powerful tools to look after yourself online is the use of Tor. Tor is a way to access the dark side of the web. Essentially this is where websites are that you cannot access through a normal browser or bring up in search engines. Without Tor, you can't get to them. Tor as well completely hides you online. Anything you do cannot be traced by anyone in the slightest, not even the government. Everything you post or look at is completely secret to you and this is where the internet is headed. As governments become more oppressive, users will be pushed underground and to get there they will use Tor. As more and more people head into the dark depths governments will suddenly be faced with what looks like an increasingly empty internet, despite bandwidth use suggesting otherwise. What is in this hidden web though?

One of the most infamous websites is one called Silk Road. This is an online market place where anything is for sale. By that I mean you can buy drugs, weapons and fake passports. The currency used is called “bitcoins”, which is an online currency which is also untraceable without a hefty and time-consuming investigation by various bodies. Here is an example of what you could get on there. You could purchase an old vehicle you've always wanted on there for a great price without anyone being able to trace the transaction. What about protecting a classic car, such as the one you just bought? Well, with your purchase you could also get some surveillance or tracing equipment to help you with that problem as well. It would be a simple matter of picking up you vehicle and the only people who will know about it will be you, the seller and anyone you decide to tell.

As time goes on it is increasingly likely that more people will move to this part of the internet. As it's use grows, so does the services offered. It is a haven for criminality so its increase in popularity is not always going to be a good thing. For the moment though, it is a great way to hide yourself away from prying eyes.
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