Privacy Tips

Now that we know that George Orwell wasn’t far off when he wrote 1984 and that “Big Brother” is indeed capable of watching us, here are a few things to think about.

First of all- when Scott McNealy of Sun Micro systems said “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it” back in 1999, that was before Facebook, Google, YouTube, and iPhones.

Now, overshare is an epidemic and as we’ve seen from the Boston Marathon Bombing, the ability to triangulate images from people taking pictures, security cams, ATM cameras and who knows what else, in record time, shows that we are in fact living in a surveillance nation.

This very email, has the ability to see when you opened it, what you click on, how many times you open it. It could also be set to see who you forward it to. Some people are still amazed when they see this technology demonstrated, but it’s really old hat in Internet time. You can switch off HTML email and get straight text emails, but you’ll feel like you are in the stone age.

While people may love the Chrome browser from Google and Gmail, both are tools that Google uses to build a profile of you- ostensibly to custom tailor your experience. That means to give you better search results- and, to give them better ways to make sure the ads you see are most likely ones you click on. Want more privacy- use Firefox and enable do not track. Read more about that here:

Just be aware, that if you have a Google TV or an Android phone, you’ve also just invited Google right in.

Browse anonymously

There are ways to browse anonymously. Gotta love this ones name: for just one visit at a time. Others like do the same thing.

But if you want all your browsing to be hidden, consider The Onion Router- or TOR:

Which hides you from everything. No more ads for “hot single women in Dayton over 50” for me- which are targeted purely by tracking my age, location and marital status from a bunch of different sources.

Are people really correlating all your data from different sites? Absolutely. It started long before the Internet- with credit reporting agencies, mail list sellers, and the government- that’s what the census is in essence.

The Internet has given us so many more ways to correlate data, and in close to real time. Not leaving a trail of everywhere you’ve been online is one thing, but here are some other things that track you:

If you are a registered voter, anyone can download your name, address, age and voting record, showing which elections you voted in and what party you are affiliated with. It’s on the Secretary of State website. What better way to get started? If you own property, the County has your information on your home, how much it cost, when you bought it, if your taxes are paid- unless you hid behind a shell corporation with an LLC.
If you’ve been married or divorced, there are records online, including the redacted details of your divorce- which can make for interesting fill in the blank.

If you’ve gotten speeding tickets or arrested- more records. Never mind the Bureau of Motor Vehicles registration- now we know what you drive too.

Facebook is your life on display

Facebook is one big hot-mess of data. Who your friends are (we may have data on them, and not about you) any personal information you post, where you posted it from (you change locations often, posting from other cities? Wow, we’ve got a traveller). Recently, I was talking to a Sheriff’s deputy who was looking for friends of a person to see where they were posting from so he could try to pick them up on a warrant.

Never mind the postings about privacy changes on FB- if you want privacy, start by shutting off your profile to be found by anyone, even if they have your email – and find your friends yourself, instead of letting them find you. Start in the privacy section at top right. Then, carefully check your other settings. Or better yet- don’t go on Facebook.

Your portable tracking device

But, that also means, don’t carry a cell phone. Even if you have location services off, your cell phone is still a trackable beacon by triangulating the signal it needs to connect to the network. Living without a cell phone for some people is a fate worse than death, for others- no big deal. Just be aware that our cars are becoming smarter too, and it’s not long before everyone of them is connected too. If you have OnStar, it’s already there.

One of the reasons Google maps could offer the best traffic info when it was the primary mapping on the iPhone was that they were tracking how fast your iPhone was moving through traffic. There are a lot more smart phones than GPS units on the roads today. And if that isn’t enough- now, there is a wrist watch from Seiko that adjusts to the correct time zone thanks to built in GPS /Astron

Going back to either Stan Lee or Voltaire: “with great power, comes great responsibility” the power to communicate to so many people has never been so easily available to all. We’ve seen with the latest “leaks” of secure information from Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, that one person can transform the conversation by publishing things to the Internet. Even if you choose to opt out, and drop out, ala Ted Kaczynski, you can still end up famous.

There may be zero privacy, but, the one thing to realize, is it applies to everyone from you and me, to 4 star generals/CIA directors, so, don’t get too depressed. Just be aware of what it means and how you can avoid doing something stupid.

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