When online surveillance and profiling exploit our democracy

We are going to illustrate some real-life examples to show you how much online surveillance and profiling can exploit our democratic systems.

You could lose your phone or laptop with all their content (sensitive data such as credit cards, files and contacts) not being backed up and protected. This happens as well in the virtual world when someone breaks into your email or other accounts and takes over your data and contacts.

After exposing your personal opinion of a sensitive matter in a public forum or social media, someone (a nazi, a hater) can be able to track you back (through your email or other public contact) and harass you, your family and your colleagues. This happens online when you post something on social media using your own name, and you are targeted by an extremist person that starts a campaign of hate against you. Activists can lose access to their social media profile (and their data, contacts, and access to community) when they become the target of a mass reporting campaign from hate groups.

Imagine that you plan a private party in your backyard, and you advertise it on your social media profiles, and your “worst enemies” show up before it starts to trash it, and then harass your friends for coming, and even the police show up, as this whole thing is posted on social media live. This can happen if you make your events and conferences completely open with the exact location public and let everybody know what you are doing.

For all these reasons, it’s really important to make a clear distinction between your private life (and its presence on the internet) and your (online) activism. To effectively do so leave no personal traces behind: 

  • It’s clever to create a separate account and aliases for engaging and reacting to hate speech. Another effect of an alias is that nobody actually knows how many people are involved in maintaining that alias and who is doing precisely what. Choosing a good name can bring extra benefits. 
  • It is important to keep the information and people connected to your activity safe. This should be a primary concern which all team members understand and agree with. Just one wrong email sent is enough to compromise it.
  • It is important to consider that if someone is threatened, this can have the impact of scaring everybody – which can destroy all the effort you have already put in. 
  • If creating events on Facebook, keep other organisations protected too, hide the list of participants and do not publish the location. Be careful with media presence by asking journalists or photographers to register for the event beforehand – this gives you time to check if they are reliable or not. 
  • Have a clear pictures policy and always ask participants if they are ok with having their pictures taken or shared.
  • Address participants with the topic of privacy, explain it in detail or share this guide to make them understand the repercussions of not safeguarding your data.

Do you want to assess how well you are doing in terms of safety and privacy online? We have an exercise for you!


  1. How often do you update your passwords?
    1. Every one to three months
    2. Every six to twelve months
    3. Never unless I’m requested to do so
  2. How many different passwords do you have?
    1. Three to eight
    2. A different one for every website
    3. I always use the same one
  3. Usually, how long are your passwords?
    1. Bare minimum, with a lot of numbers and special characters
    2. As long as possible 
    3. Bare minimum, with not many numbers or other characters
  4. Do you ever read terms and conditions?
    1. Only sometimes
    2. Always 
    3. Never
  5. Are you aware of which websites you have shared personal information on (subscriptions, social media, etc.)?
    1. Yes, I do recall some of them
    2. Yes, I am aware of all of them
    3. No, it’s just too many of them to remember 
  6. Do you know what GDPR is and in which way it protects you?
    1. I know that it’s about internet and privacy, but I’m not sure what that actually implies
    2. Yes, I know how it protects my right
    3. Never heard of that
  7. Do you use a password manager?
    1. I know what that’s about, but never actually used that (or just partially used that)
    2. Yes, I have all my passwords on one
    3. No, I don’t know what that is about


Majority of answers are A:

You know a bit about the internet and online privacy issues. You probably could just spend a little more time working on that, and would have great results! We suggest you to read Exercise Number Two, for sure you will find some of the tools interesting!

Majority of answers are B:

You definitely know what you’re doing when it comes to internet and online privacy. For sure your laptop and devices are well protected. You could still have a look at exercise two, in case you don’t know some of the tools, but you can feel rather safe with your actual management skills.

Majority of answers are C:

You probably never paid much attention to privacy-related issues while navigating online. There is some work to do on your devices, though don’t feel discouraged! Exercise Two is here to help you in developing more awareness about your actions online, and you will find some precious tips and tools!