Saturday, 5 October 2013


Do you want to be tracked online?  Do you want to be profiled and sold to advertisers?  Would you like to pay higher insurance rates?  How do you fancy your house being raided by police after you've done some innocent internet shopping?  Maybe have your private emails scanned?
What do you mean "NO!!!"??? .....Surely you don't mind?

I know what you're thinking! Another one of his crazy cynical blog posts, has he got nothing better to do? I can't be arsed to read this... BUT some of this routinely happens to you already and although you may take the stance of "I've got nothing to hide so I don't care", it's unwise to be ignorant to how data about you is collected, stored and used, and it's rather creepy and frightening when you discover the extent of it all.

You can take various measures to prevent, restrict and reduce this for which (although I'm no expert) I'll link to the methods I use, but first a brief overview on what on earth I'm talking about.

  • The more extreme case first- Sometime around July 2013 Michele Catalano was looking up prices of pressure cookers, while her husband was on google searching for the best deal on a new backpack. Somewhere within the US surveillance network, red flags went up.  The Catalano family then recieve a visit from 6 armed police officers from the anti-terrorism unit, they are questioned and have their family home searched all because their innocent internet activity vaguely matched the profile of making homemade bombs. full story
    • Something more likely to happen to you is that you notice those adverts that follow you around and seem to know what you've been searching for recently.  Your web browser stores tracking cookies to relay your previous browsing history.  This is useful to identify you to keep you logged on to an account and to remember your shopping cart but can also be read to recognise your past activity and predict what you may be interested in next.  Third party cookies can also be stored on your computer.  The sites you visit usually have third party adverts, these third parties build profiles about you, and that's why those adverts follow you.  Unfortunately that's not the end of it, profiles built on you can be sold and may be used against you! You may be steered towards higher prices in search results or receive higher insurance quotes, and then who knows what else!
    •  Google also saves all your searches, these search profiles can be legally requested and can be used against you (this does happen!), rogue employees can stalk your activity (this also happens), and google could get hacked (this has also happened).
    • Contrary to what you might think your internet searches on corporate search engines such as google are not listed in accordance to relevance of your search request, they are tailored to you.  Different users see different results and have their own profiled search bubble according to what you supposedly want to see.  Your search history and your 'likes' produce search results based on a prediction of what you already agree with, which effectively means your search is filtered and information that differs from your predicted interests are demoted in the search.  What are you missing?  Do you ever click past page 1 or 2 of the search results? Is your exposure to opposing information being limited?  Have you decided what you want to see?  Or has someone else predicted it?
    • The Edward Snowdon leaks on NSA surveillance revealed what we probably already knew but why be comfortable with the fact that everything we do online can be intercepted and collected as data including our private emails?  So in the name of 'anti-terrorism' NOTHING is private or anonymous?  Shortly following the Snowdon leaks two providers of encrypted email services closed down due to US government pressure to allow access to their data, Lavabit and Silent Circle shut down their services rather than be complicit with these requests.  Snowdon himself used encrypted email services (provided by Lavabit) as do many journalists, activists and civil society groups to prevent or at least make it more difficult for their communications to be monitored. 
  • So what can we do about being tracked?  Well remember not long after you opened a facebook account and you realised that all your personal information was visible on your profile? You thought oh shit I don't want all those freaky ex school mates to be able to find my email address, date of birth and mobile number!  So what did you do?  You immediately adjusted your privacy settings and hid it all, right?  Well if you did that then why would you allow companys, comporations and government agencies access to all your personal information and activities?  Because you've got no choice?  Kind of but no, not quite..... like I said before I'm far from an expert but here's what I know.....
    • The single easiest thing you can do takes literally 30 seconds, check your browser settings and decide what benefits you and what doesn't.  Some settings may help you complete forms, remember passwords and so on but will also send, save and store your information and activity.  There maybe pros and cons for some but I definitely see no benefit in having third party cookies enabled.  Overall the less features used the better for your privacy.
    • Encrypted email- I have started using a secure email account provided by, there are a number of such providers, most charge a fee, some including rise up are free and rely on donations, read about rise up's principles and policies here and here, and their statement on the Lavabit and Silent Circle closures here.  It should be noted of course that emails sent between two secure accounts stays encrypted for it's entire journey but an email sent from a secure account to a normal account is no longer encrypted once it's opened/replied to/forwarded at the other end and thus becomes readable data stored on that server.
    • Use the Tor network- "Tor helps to reduce the risks of both simple and sophisticated traffic analysis by distributing your transactions over several places on the Internet, so no single point can link you to your destination. The idea is similar to using a twisty, hard-to-follow route in order to throw off somebody who is tailing you — and then periodically erasing your footprints. Instead of taking a direct route from source to destination, data packets on the Tor network take a random pathway through several relays that cover your tracks so no observer at any single point can tell where the data came from or where it's going"
    • Use a different non-corporate search engine- I now use Duck Duck Go because they do not collect or share any personal information as per their privacy policy.  You can just go to the web page or you can add the search egine to your browser.
    • Pirate Browser is a custom configured version of the firefox browser that uses the Tor client.  The configuration and application of this browser is designed to allow you to access blocked and censored parts of the web ie. websites that the government doesn't want you to see.  YES this is relevant in the UK!  not just in Iran and North Korea like you might have thought.
 And finally, do you know about David Cameron's new internet censorship plans?  The new 'porn filter' policy will require British ISP's to block pornographic content by default unless you request to opt in.  Can you imagine many people phoning Sky or BT and asking "erm...err...can you turn my porn filter off please?",  okay that's quite funny but it's not just objectionable because the government are deciding what's best for you (whether you like it or not) but the word 'pornography' is just the headline hiding the real objective which is much wider reaching web censorship.  Quoting the article linked at the beginning of this paragraph:
"The Open Rights Group spoke with several ISPs and found that in addition to pornography, users will also be required to opt in for any content tagged as violent, extremist, terrorist, anorexia and eating disorders, suicide, alcohol, smoking, Web forums, esoteric material and Web-blocking circumvention tools. These will all be filtered by default, and the majority of users never change default settings with online services."
How far will this develop from this starting point?  And just think how all that could be applied!  For instance political activists are often labelled as extremists and terrorists when authorities need to bring them to 'justice'.  Define extremist! where is the boundary?  Censorship and state surveillance has a long history of resulting in the repression of social movements.  Do we live in a police surveillance state?  Very nearly..... but not quite fully.... YET!

Tor network
Pirate Bay browser
Rise Up email


Anonymous said...

you say about privacy but then put your private things on your blog for all to see public?

Gaz said...

Aha! Check mate. Those Americans will now be tracking your every click, eating your Spam and dunking your cookies. Amateur stuff really

Gaz said...

Shit, forgot to change profile to Anonymous

jonny brand said...

Yo anonymous! I post what I want, my choice. sorry if you don't like the look of my private things but I honestly don't remember photographing them, must have been drunk