Strategies for Dealing with Privacy as a Lost Cause

New Orleans     As Facebook slips off its pedestal of pretense and posturing about its contribution to the common good that has disguised its brutal capitalist commitments and real priorities, it’s worth wondering if claims to protect consumers’ privacy are just more empty promises.  Personal privacy may be just a lost cause and a battle engaged too late.  Many of us use Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Amazon and the rest for work, so we’re simply stuck in the muck of social media:  we can’t get out, so we’re hoping it doesn’t pull us under.

There may be some strategies though.

We could ask the European Union to regulate these companies.  They seem better at it.  In the United States, there’s too much “oh, gee!” and too little “oh my god” from politicians and potential regulators.  Asking the EU to do the job would be cheaper.  We could just enter a “me, too” agreement.  What’s good for them, would be great for us.

One of the priceless ironies is the intramural dispute between Facebook’s Zuckerberg and Apple’s Tim Cook over regulation.  Cook is saying it may be needed now even while he hedges with language about “careful crafting,” which is usually a euphemism for allowing lobbyists to write the regs.  But, look, Apple has to be the most consumer indifferent company in Silicon Valley.  Inexplicably, passwords won’t work.  They control obsolescence by weakening I-Phone batteries.  They jack their prices to try to make their products luxury items around the world.  They believe in privacy so much that they block you from their products after you buy them!

If we can’t go Euro, some people have embraced alter egos and misinformation.  There was an article where Facebook was complaining that saying you were 113 years old for example messed with their algorithms.  Their whine seems to be a mandate to try this strategy.  Monkey-wrenching their algorithms sounds like a way to go to the heart of the beast and get their attention for real!

Multiple identities are anther prospect many have used.  Some are fabricated.  Others use middle names, nicknames, maiden names, nom de guerres, or whatever in order to participate, but to create their own bubble around their privacy.  Facebook claims you can’t have two accounts, but, hey, people are doing it everywhere, so don’t tell me with 2 billion users or the recent headlines that they are on top of their business, ok?

Or, another way you can protect yourself on Facebook, which many young people are doing, is simply never join.  Of course, when they go Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, they defeat the purpose, but the Facebook growth engine is not being fueled by young people in the West, but by new users around the world.

Some of these strategies might work, but believing we still have privacy in the modern world of the internet and social media, come on, really?  If you do, please contact me, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn that I think would be a perfect purchase for you.  Message me on the FB!

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Security and Whistleblowing with Signal and Moxie Marlinspike

Signal

New Orleans   Not long ago in the Edinburgh office of ACORN, I got a crash course in some simple things about basic email and text protection from spying and other weirdness thanks to one of our leader/organizers, Jon Black, who has done a deep dive on some of this stuff, so now that everyone is looking over our shoulders, maybe it’s time to share some tips.

I had fooled Black and masked my basic techno-peasantness because I knew about the legendary Moxie Marlinspike who is seen by many as the world’s expert on encryption. Of course I only really knew about Marlinspike because I had read a number of articles by him, thought the name was fantastic, and liked the fact that he was not your standard issue Silicon Valley greed grubber. Jon has actually read all of the terms and conditions so he was able to explain to me exactly why Moxie’s Signal was better than WhatsApp, which Marlinspike also developed and is now owned by Facebook. There was an important difference involving setting specific controls on WhatsApp for the user to be notified if someone was creeping up on their account, which are automatic for Signal. At least I think that’s what he told me.

But, anyway, Signal is actually owned and run by Marlinspike, so that should just be enough. Importantly, when WikiLeaks dropped the dime on the CIA at first I shouted out for Jon that they had managed to break through the encryption at Signal, but that was wrong. I heard the Moxie-man on the radio and he made it very clear, and it’s been confirmed elsewhere since, that they cracked the smartphones, not the apps. Of course one thing is still important to remember. To really encrypt your phone calls, video calls, and texts on Signal, the other party also needs to be on Signal. It’s an easy switch, and I’d recommend it as a “why not be safe rather than sorry” move.

Another recommendation for moving in this direction were some tips I saw recently in the magazine, “Wired,” for being a leaker or whistleblower and hoping to protect your anonymity. When it came to doing so with a phone they made the following suggestions, which many would have known form any close viewing of the great HBO series, “The Wire:”

“Buy a burner – a cheap, prepaid Android phone – with cash from a nonchain store in an area you’ve never been to before. Don’t carry your regular phone and the burner at the same time, and never turn on the burner at home or work. Create a Gmail and Google Play account from the burner, then install the encrypted calling and texting app Signal. When you’re done, destroy the burner and ditch its corpse far from home.”

They never say the words GPS, cell tower triangulation, or Stringer Bell, but almost all of these cautions underscore the fact that when you’re rolling with your phone – especially if it’s switched on – anyone and everyone can track you anywhere and anytime. Regardless, I would call those instructions a huge product endorsement for Signal as top of the line, best in class now especially for the price. Heck, it’s free, so you get more security for nothing. What’s to lose?

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