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The cost of online privacy: $2,200 a year

Published Mar 5th, 2014 12:25PM EST
How To Stay Private Online

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Free apps and services have a high price for some users. Take Julia Angwin, a senior reporter at ProPublica who writes in The New York Times that she spent $2,200 last year to make sure that she could still use the web while avoiding all of the free services offered by companies such as Google and Facebook that harvest her data and use them to sell more targeted ads.

What did she have to buy that cost so much money, you ask? Angwin says that among other things she bought “a $230 service that encrypted my data in the Internet cloud; a $35 privacy filter to shield my laptop screen from coffee-shop voyeurs; and a $420 subscription to a portable Internet service to bypass untrusted connections,” among other things. While this may seem excessive, Angwin says that it’s worth it to avoid attacks from hackers and to avoid having everything she does online tracked by major tech companies.

What this really boils down to is how much you’re willing to let Google, Facebook and other tech firms stalk you. Tech companies are offering you a lot of amazing free services if you let them track you on a regular basis. For people like Angwin, these services are worth so little that she’s willing to pay a hefty sum of money just to avoid them every year. However, she also thinks that the price of maintaining her privacy is going to start coming down once more people decide to opt out of stalk-for-service web apps and decide that their privacy is actually important.

“It all reminds me of the early days of the organic food movement, when buying organic often meant trekking to inconveniently located, odd-smelling stores and paying high rates for misshapen apples,” she writes. “A similar evolution in the personal-data-protection market is underway. Traffic to the privacy-protecting search engine DuckDuckGo has more than doubled since Edward J. Snowden revealed vast government surveillance programs last June. The Blackphone, a $629 not-yet-released Android-based smartphone that will have privacy-protecting software installed to allow users to send encrypted texts and make encrypted calls, is being pre-ordered by the thousands.”

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.