Saturday, February 15, 2014

Internet/Mobile Privacy and Anonymity: I don’t think so

Privacy is a myth

Many years before most companies and consumers were even aware of cookies, spyware, and other internet privacy issues, governments and technology firms were developing methods to use this information in the name of national security and monetary gain.  Over time those methods of have become increasingly sophisticated.  The scope and reach has grown so broad that it begs the question does anyone truly have privacy anymore?

The following video clip discusses the recent infiltration by hackers into some of the largest retailers in the United States in a successful effort to collect personal and financial data.  The clip also provides some tips to consumers on how to better protect their personal data.  While taking these additional steps can certainly reduce risk, do they really keep your personal information protected?

As technology has evolved, Privacy Laws [1] have been updated to encompass more scenarios that warrant action to prevent violations of privacy.  However, it has been consistently demonstrated over the years that there are always groups (private corporations, governments, hackers, etc.) who are comfortable breaking these laws.  For the moment let’s ignore the legality and morality of these issues and focus on the capabilities.

Is there anything they can’t see?

Many governments are currently deploying software that is [2] “…capable of stealing documents from hard drives, snooping on video chats, reading e-mails, snatching contact lists and remotely flipping on cameras and microphones so they can quietly spy on a computer’s unwitting user.”  With the advancement of wireless phone technology, these same capabilities exist in that arena as well.  While you may be thinking this only happens to people who have something to hide, you may want to keep reading.

Another example demonstrating just how far governments are taking this technology comes from Edward Snowden, a former member of the CIA and NSA, who has disclosed a large number of top secret documents detailing the ability of various governments to spy on private citizens.  One document [3] shows how Canada’s electronic spy agency, Communications Security Establishment Canada,  used the airport Wi-Fi to, “track the wireless devices of thousands of ordinary airline passengers for days after they left the terminal.”  This document further indicates that, “The Federal agency was then able to track the travelers for a week or more as they – and their wireless devices – showed up in other Wi-Fi ‘hot spots’ in cities across Canada and even at U.S. airports.”  Using the same methodology they could also track where those people had been prior to their arrival at the airport.

Think about the number of places that have “hot spots” and you can quickly see that there is a large grid constantly collecting metadata for every person with a Wi-Fi enabled tablet, wireless phone or laptop.  This data provides a relatively detailed view of your individual social patterns and eliminates the privacy (which is really only a perceived privacy at this point) that many people value. 

Sleep with one eye open

While this degree of data collection and use is currently a government initiative to help maintain national security and provide local law enforcement an edge on crime, this could easily become a powerful segmentation and marketing tool in the hands of private corporations.  With so many firms collecting and dealing in “big data” across the world, it is likely just a matter of time before this information is readily available to all companies for a price.  In either case, if you are high-profile target or a private citizen with nothing to hide, your data is being collected and has been for some time now.  The power to watch you, listen to you, and track your movements is a reality.  Consider that the next time you are walking through the airport, eating at McDonald’s, enjoying your morning Starbucks, or just surfing the web at home.    


[4] (Still Image)

[5] (Video)

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