Want to Protect Your Data? Visit a Privacy Café


Privacy Café is a meetup of motivated computer users in the Netherlands who want to learn how to protect their data. The project was founded two years ago by Douwe Schmidt and Xander Bouwman. With the help of the Dutch digital rights organization Bits of Freedom, the Privacy Cafés aim to make free internet and data protection accessible for all. Free as in free speech, not free beer. The Privacy Cafés are held in all parts of the Netherlands and very well attended. Together with volunteers of the Café, visitors look for the right tools to protect their digital devices. The toolbox by Bits of Freedom serves as a reference guide during the meeting. The toolbox is a collection different pieces of software accompanied with advice to improve your online security.

Since one of the founders of the Privacy Cafés has passed on the baton, I had the honor to host my first Privacy Café in the public library of Amsterdam (OBA) this February. I would like to share the story of this event with you.

Securing your online data is a long and complicated ongoing process. It will never be finished. This does not mean you should not start at all, but you should really consider where to start. Being present at the Privacy Café means you at least are interested in, and have taken the first step to protect your data. Where to start?

Step 1) How?

First you have to think of how your data is collected. Which devices do you use? The first items to come to mind are the laptop and the smartphone, but have you ever thought about the chip-cards you use for electronic payment? Or the smart devices, such as a thermostat, you use at your house? Bear  in mind that transaction companies are bound by law to stricter security demands than commercial internet services. At the Privacy Café we will help you with making your laptop and/or smartphone more secure.

Step 2) Where?

Where is this information stored? Like the word says, the Internet is a large worldwide network of information highways. However, one huge difference with cars is that information does not necessarily take the most direct path, but always the fastest one. Meaning that the information I send to you could easily travel from America, to Africa or to Australia (if need be) before it arrives at your computer. The same goes for every search request you send from your computer. At every node (datacenter) the information travels to, little pieces of information you have sent is stored in the form of copies. The company that owns these datacenters can access these copies of the information you have sent. If you have encrypted your message, all the intervening company will only see is a disordered set of information.

Step 3) What?

What does privacy mean to you? Do you want complete control over the data that enters the digital world? Or do you just want to know what happens with this data? Do you want to keep your message strictly private between you and just one other person? Or perhaps two or three friends, or a particular group? Or do you just care about the context in which your data is shared? For example: family, friends, or on the job? When you have your priorities straight in this section you can decide which area of digital technologies will have your first focus. Such as social media, browser security or email.

Step 4) Who?

Whom do you want to protect your data from? Keep in mind that not everybody is a target of the government. Also, intelligence agencies (especially the American NSA and the British GCHQ) have a lot of computer power to break in. To completely protect your data from them requires a deep technical knowledge of how the Internet and a computer works. It is easier to protect yourself from databrokers and the average hacker. Or perhaps you are worried about friends and neighbors sharing pictures and videos that include you. All of these require a different level of protection. It is best to start with the easiest one and work your way up. You are most welcome to join us in next Privacy Café with questions you have run into at home.

Step 5) To work!

When you have clearly formulated the answers to these questions, it is time to discover how you can protect your data. The Bits of Freedom Toolbox provides tools and advice for everybody to protect their data. Our volunteers are standing by to help you with your questions and use of the tools. Also help each other! Our experience is that everybody knows something the next person doesn’t. By teaching someone you will also learn a lot!

Are you curious about the Toolbox? Visit: https://toolbox.bof.nl/

Do you have questions and want to visit a Privacy Café, want to help out as a volunteer, or want to organize your own Privacy Café? Visit: https://privacycafe.bof.nl/

(both are Dutch only)


Jennifer Veldman