Quick, log in to your Twitter account! See that padlock logo before the URL, which reads “https” instead of “http”? That means the website you’re visiting is protected by SSL encryption.
Yesterday, as part of the Reset the Net campaign, major online companies including Reddit, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and more implemented that same encryption standard on their websites – Public Knowledge among them. This campaign is in response to the one-year anniversary of the first publication of Edward Snowden’s discoveries about U.S. surveillance.
In plain English, websites without encryption can be spied on by almost anyone. Surveillance of a non-encrypted site doesn’t require you to submit any data or take an affirmative step (like logging into an account) to make your activity vulnerable. The websites you visit, the articles you read, the links you click – they’re all fair game. To borrow from Christopher Soghoian of the ACLU, unencrypted sites are like libraries where the government can track what books you’re checking out.
Additionally, when what you read is coupled with other private information – your name, age, ethnicity, religion, who your friends are, where you live, where you work – your web surfing tendencies can be compiled into a profile. Whether in the hands of governments or advertising agencies, the uses for this quantified and algorithmically sorted data are only as limited as the imagination of its holder.
Public Knowledge has implemented HTTPS to help protect our readers and supporters from surveillance. That’s not to say turning on SSL is a magic bullet – if there’s one thing the last year has borne out, it’s that no system is invincible. Users should take additional steps to protect their personal privacy like installing the HTTPS Everywhere extension for their browser, turning on two-factor identification for online accounts, and avoiding using the same password for more than one login.
A truly open internet is one where readers can visit a website without glancing over their shoulders and worrying about who’s watching their every click – and HTTPS is a step in the right direction.
Interested in learning more about SSL encryption? Check out Reset the Net at www.resetthenet.org.
Image credit: Flickr user zebbie.