The network traffic of the internet contains a bonanza of information for governments, companies, and individuals alike.
Right now, you are being tracked. The NSA has intercepted your internet connection and analyzed it for data that the government wants. Google analytics has looked at your traffic. Any network peer for your ISP, and your ISP itself have had access to your traffic data. Your unecrypted email is being perused by applications to give you targeted marketing. If you're on your phone, your GPS coordinates are available. Even if you have GPS disabled, your cell provider is logging which towers you hit to make calls or connect to the internet. Facebook tracks the actions of all of its users on the site, even people who are not logged in. As reported in our article about Raytheons RIOT, not only can they track your tweets, they can aggragate everyone you are associated with and track huge swaths of people at once.
The internet has become the surveillance state feared in George Orwells 1984. Every detail of your travel around the internet is scrutinized like streets filled with cameras. The information gathering is ever increasing, and privacy is eroding.
New initiatives are coming to further encroach on the liberties we are used to on the internet. Firms are pushing Deep Packet Inspection technology so that packets can be pulled an analyzed in real-time. This could allow them block information, or reroute your data over slower paths. The ITU has already adopted the Y.2770 standard, which standardizes the methods for deep packet inspection among ISPs and Governments.
The Defense: How to thwart attempts to track you.
You can disable the GPS features of your phone, but this still leaves you open to being tracked by the cell towers you are hitting. The best defense here is to talk to your representative in government about your location privacy and make the issue known. Other than that, the only real defense is shutting off your phone when it isn't in use.
This is a complicated issue with many options for defense. The nuclear option is to encrypt everything you do on the internet. You can do this through VPN Services or TOR. These services make you anonymous on the internet, provided your VPN service provider has good privacy policies. However, this still leaves you open to tracking, because data is unencrypted when it leaves your VPN host and goes to the target website. So called "End to end encryption" is only acheived through connecting to HTTPS websites. The plugin HTTPS everywhere for Firefox or Chrome is a powerful tool that allows you to automatically connect to all websites using HTTPS provided the website supports it. Disabling cookies would also help, but many websites require them to be enabled. You're also still tracked based on what you put up on websites. If you upload a picture to facebook, it has EXIF data with GPS coordinates unless you strip them off of the file.
Get an encrypted email service. This still requires you trust the party providing your email services to be secure and to have implemented proper encryption. I can't personally reccommend any services out there now, as i haven't tried them. VikingVPN is working on an end-to-end encrypted email service for our customers. I will update this post with a link when it becomes available.
Personally, I have taken all of these steps, save shutting off my phone, to stay as private as possible.