Friday, 23 January 2015

Biggest Online Danger

What is the biggest danger to your digital self?
In these post Snowden days, it seems obvious the answer is a mix of government and commercial threats. When I look at the matter from my own selfish point of view, though, the answer seems to be narrowed down further.

Yes, the most obvious and powerful threat is that of the NSA (and its Five Eyes partners, including the GCHQ and the Australian Signals Directorate). The NSA is a threat because it gobbles up everything we do online; there is little hiding from this all powerful monster. Even encryption is not the cure for all, now that we know the NSA has its ways for acquiring passwords and isn’t phased by VPNs.
However, as threats go, the NSA is rather impotant. What does it do with all of its data? Mmm… Let me think [scratching my head]. Oh, I got it: Nothing!
Yes, nothing. Did the NSA stop any acts of terrorism? No.
Did the NSA stop the Sony hacks? No.
I would therefore argue it is obvious the NSA’s sole purpose with gobbling up our data is to simply scare people from dissenting. As in, China has its great firewall but the West has the NSA; both are there to serve the exact same purpose.
And if you had any doubt that data collection and retention is all about submission and intimidation, spend a minute familiarising yourself with the fate of journalist Barrett Brown.

Next up on most people’s lists is Facebook.
Here’s an evil organisation for you, a company devoted to sucking as much privacy out of its users in order to sell them to the highest bidding advertiser! Or even to the lowest bidding one. Or anybody out there, for that matter; Facebook just wants money.
Sure, Facebook is a threat to privacy. However, if one is seriously concerned about Facebook, one only needs to not register (or delete their profile if they’re already in). Sure, there is public pressure to be connected, but is it serious? In most cases it’s purely up to the user to determine whether their privacy is worth the prize of Facebook.
Sure, Facebook can get you even without you registering. Your real life friends who do register, and that’s the majority of your friends, will upload your info to Facebook when they allow it to access their contacts list; they will probably upload some photos of you and politely let Facebook know who it is they took a photo of. That’s bad, but not exactly “the biggest threat ever”.

Which brings me to the regular number 3 on most people’s lists: Google.
It doesn’t take much to figure out Google combines the worst of the NSA and Facebook. Here is a service that gobbles up most of what you do online by virtue of you doing it while either logged in to Google, using Google’s search facilities, or using websites that talk back to Google through all sorts of various means (e.g., Google Analytics).
Unlike Facebook, however, the threat of Google cannot be avoided. This week alone I noted how a health care provider has been using Gmail to convey sensitive information. Also noted was a school holiday program company running Gmail internally with children's health and government related information passing back and forth. Sure, I can wage war and inform them that what they are doing violates my privacy as I have never signed for Google to share my data when I signed for a school holiday program; but in this real life, who has the time? They'll probably have no idea what I'm talking about in the first place. It is so much easier to give in.
Google is effectively unavoidable, and that is why I consider it the biggest danger to my digital self. By proxy, it is thus the biggest danger to my privacy, period.

I’m not going down without a fight, though. I haven’t been using Google’s search services for a while now, opting instead for DuckDuckGo, StartPage or Disconnect (the latter two allowing me to use Google’s superior search engine without the privacy sacrifice). Now I can also [happily] report the retirement of my Gmail email address.

Image by, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence

1 comment:

wile.e.coyote said...

From my eyes, the biggest online danger is that it sack up my time, keeping track of blogs, FB, WoW, forums is taking out too much of my time.
My employer assist me by blocking game related sites, but even without it, there are many other on-line activities that drink my time.
I need a tool that will collect all the on-line data I consume and put it on a hard copy to use while I'm in the toilet.
But when I will read my newspaper when I will have that tool?