Brexit may have been about “taking back control”, but for UK internet users they may be giving up further control of their personal data once the UK officially leaves the EU on 31 December this year.
Google made waves back in February when it announced that after the UK leaves the EU at the end of 2020, UK users’ data will come under the control of Google LLC, putting millions of peoples’ data under the jurisdiction of US regulators. The changes may be behind the scenes and ppear technical, but the impact could be dramatic.
Since 2019, shortly after Europe’s strict GDPR privacy rules were enacted, the official service provider and data controller for UK users had been Google’s Irish subsidiary. As US data protections are significantly weaker, digital campaigners say that British users could have their data far more easily snooped upon by authorities both in the UK and US from 2021.
Google maintains it is not making any changes to its data protection standards for UK users and users will see no changes to their privacy settings. The UK’s ICO also says that the UK’s data protection rules will still apply after 2021, but in reality everything is up in the air with no deal on the table and it would not be difficult to see Boris Johnson’s government giving up data protections in order to secure a US trade deal.
So how can you protect your data?
If you are going to use the services of the likes of Google, Facebook, and other digital behemoths then they are going to have control over a large swathe of your data, and could give access to authorities if so compelled. However, there are a number of steps you can take to keep your data secure.
Modern computers are powerful enough to handle pretty advanced and secure encryption on-the-fly, so if you want to keep your data away from prying eyes then make sure to encrypt your data. This means encrypting the data on your hard drive using tools like VeraCrypt, as well as choosing communication tools that encrypt your data end-to-end.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are all the rage these days with people using them for everything from protecting their identity to appearing to be in another country to get a different Netflix catalogue. There are a wealth of VPN options available to protect your data online, with some focusing on speed and other son more features as this detailed Expressvpn review explains. Make sure you pick one that has been externally audited, well reviewed, and has strict policies of protecting your data.
Not all email is created equal. Google changed the game when it launched GMail back in 2004 and few competitors can match the level of service and storage Google offers for free. However, as the adage goes, when you are using a free service you are the product – and that is certainly true with free email providers that are supported by ads. If you want a more secure email service then you could set up your own email server on a VPS or you could sign up for a security-focused email service like ProtonMail.
Many messaging apps encrypt your data from end-to-end today, which is why services like WhatsApp and iMessage have proved so unpopular with police and security services. All of these services are inherently more secure than email or text message, but some like Signal make security and privacy their main focus and can be great alternatives that also have the benefit of not being owned by US corporations like Facebook and Apple.
Photograph by The Digital Way