The reality of privacy is that there is very little, especially online privacy.
I have been finding myself more angry with people promising internet security and privacy in the modern age. At the same time, I am not a person to just start running my mouth about it without doing a lot of research.
Well after reading well over 1,000 pages I feel that I am ready to make my argument and also tell you about a few things that will increase your privacy. Notice I said increase. I did not promise you protection from all threats because that is simply unrealistic.
Look I get it that people are trying. They really are. There are some folks that really want to create products that improve your privacy online but they promise too much.
Before I get into some solutions to reduce your exposure, I think we need to talk about what you are really up against. Assessing the reality of a threat is the first step towards forging a real plan for taking it on.
Cell phones track your movements and they are precise.
I had someone tell me that they recently found out where Google had their location data for the past 10 years. They had no idea they were being tracked and their location logged. If you have a smartphone, it can be traced.
I actually lost my smartphone back in the summer. Guess how I found it? I went to my computer and tried out the location service that is part of every phone that is Google-based. I was able to see on a Google map that my cell phone was on the road in our vineyard. It is that accurate and that is frightening.
I ditched my Smartphone recently
I never get phone calls so Matt and I have decided to share a single phone. We can communicate on the farm other ways. I had a cheap $20 talk and text plan but that is still $500 per year with taxes. I don’t need it. I have a computer and internet connection.
The only thing we use the phone for is to talk to our parents. One phone will do. Unfortunately, I may have to reactivate my phone for a month to get some info off of it because of Facebook and some things I have to use require me to verify by phone text. A recent laptop failure resulted in blocking my login so social media has not seen a post from me in a few days. If you have a Facebook page with a large following, they can be harsh regarding security.
If I don’t want to verify via text message, I have to send them a copy of a government-issued photo id or a picture that shows my face and me holding a sign with a special code. I don’t want to send Facebook photos so they can scan my face better and I don’t want a copy of my photo ID out there. Sorry but I don’t believe them when they say they delete this info after confirmation.
NSA and CIA Programs
If you haven’t read Ed Snowden’s book then you should. It is worth every penny. There was something in the news about the government trying to seize all royalties from the book. This has led some people to choose to not legitimately purchase the book but get it via illegal download or at least used. Amazon and other retailers do have used copies available. I bought mine before it was announced that the government was entitled to the royalties. I passed it on to family to keep getting the message out.
The government programs we are up against when it comes to privacy are formidable.
Sure there has been plenty of talk and regulations since Ed Snowden did what he did but if you think that means you are not being watched all the time you are mistaken.
Nothing you do online is every erased and it can come back to haunt you at any point in your life if the right person of the powers that be find it in their interest to do so.
Get rid of the onboard camera and mic on your laptop
I have my onboard laptop camera blacked out and it will remain that way. Any web conferences I do that require video will be done with external cameras. I also have an external microphone and I will be attempting to find the onboard mic and plugging it with glue.
Things are on and listening when they appear to be off.
Your computer, smartphone, and any smart devices in your home are spying on you at all times. Apple recently got in trouble for recording people having sex.
When you are using a camera in your home you are opening yourself up to the world.
I hear too many people talking about getting ads for things they are talking about in the supposed privacy of their own homes. Target advertising is creepy and I do not want my personal information shared.
Many search engines save everything. There are a few that are rumored to be better but I am not going to count on that. While I can understand targeted advertising based on my searches, advertisements popping up about things that have just been talked about it points to a total invasion of privacy.
The reality of VPNs
I kind of want to yell when I hear somebody tell people that someone sold them a VPN that will take care of all spying. It is awful that companies and individuals are making elaborate claims and taking people’s money.
Yes, I have a VPN that is included with my antivirus but I know that it is not going to block some interested parties.
Look, a VPN is going to offer you some basic protection, it may even block a few foreign governments or hackers if you have a good one but it is not going to block the CIA, FBI, NSA, or Google and the PRISM project.
Just put that out of your head right now. I don’t care if you have an ex-military or government official telling you so and trying to sell you a product, it is is not true. People are not always what they seem and then again sometimes they are exactly that.
Gorgon Stare and DARPA
While this is not something normally deployed in the USA, DARPA technology is extremely scary. Imagine an eye in the sky that can see all, record it, and then search through that in retrospect? Well, that is what the Gorgon Stare Technology is capable of.
We have come a long way in the field of surveillance.
Surveillance planes and drones used to have a problem in that they could just see a certain point. It was like looking through a straw. DARPA and Gorgon Stare changed all that. Now drones and planes with Gorgon Stare technology can see a huge range all at once and zoom in. We are not limited in our surveillance. This is how we can target a person or group and annihilate them from the air with no ground troops involved. Here is a link to an excellent book on the topic.
The internet has gone from bringing people together and access to educational info to selling people and their lives.
Your life is for sale online. We are all in this together. Do you ever wonder why something seems inexpensive? It is because your life is being sold. Your buying patterns are a good example.
People are so desperate for attention and some chance at 15 minutes of fame they will do whatever it takes and allow their privacy to be infringed. Many will even welcome it since a lot of the invasion of privacy is never something that comes up. That is until it does.
Why I turn down documentary offers and reality tv=invasion of privacy and the negative effect it has had on society
Reality tv is big business. It is all about getting a look at what is supposed to be “real situations”. It is a huge invasion of privacy to participate in something like this. Watching it normalizes people to the idea that it is fine to see a lot of personal moments and information. In fact, people compete to have their privacy invaded.
Reality shows and documentary crews will promise that you get the final say in what airs but that never happens. They can take 3 days of video and audio and cut and splice it together to make you look however they want.
So why do people do it? Money is a major motivator while fame and prestige are another. Matt and I have turned down some offers over the years. They were not offers that were likely to make us anything and the privacy invasion would have been awful.
I am not going to say that I will never give a video interview or participate in a project that I felt would have a good impact but that is probably not going to come from any mainstream network or show. Maybe if a group of preppers or like-minded people did something educational, it would be different. I just could not trust a mainstream outlet at this time.
Newspapers and magazines do not let you see your interview before it is published either. You give up privacy just to have them do what they want with your words.
I and some of the people I talk to in the survival world have learned our lesson about giving interviews. Just like video, they spin it how they want too. There is also a good chance that even if you give a good interview, you might get cut anyway because you do not fit their stereotype or how they want to angle the story. In my case, I got cut because they were looking for the prepper stereotype of an overweight straight white person with a gas mask and camo on. I didn’t fit the bill.
Everything you have looked at can probably be retrieved if someone has the resources and needs the info to meet their needs.
If you have looked anything up that could be classified as pornography or drug-related then there is a record of it. This is why systems admins and others laugh when people say they have never looked at some things. Ed Snowden talks about this in his book.
The reality of what people look up and view online is far different than the conservative claims people make.
Think about that the next time you think no one is looking. They might not be right over your shoulder but there is a record being recorded.
If you have drawn the attention of the wrong people, they may be able to see your desktop. I am not telling you anything that is not in Ed Snowden’s book. This is not a conspiracy, this is the technologically advanced age we live in.
Bitcoin and other digital currencies
People act like Bitcoin is the best thing since sliced bread but the reality is that there is a lot about it that smells to high heaven. If you think Bitcoin is private and not under surveillance than I want what you are drinking. The currency exists because intelligence agencies allow it to. They could shut it down any moment and all those that are invested in it would see their wealth dissipate in the blink of an eye.
Just because Bitcoin gets represented with a gold coin doesn’t mean it is backed by anything real. It is just another form of digital funny money that is not backed by something solid. I see no reason to trust it. Also, it is very energy-intensive.
Cash is not as secure as it used to be.
Your currency each has a serial number that is scanned when it is dispensed to you. If you go pay someone and they deposit that cash in their account or spend it, there is a record of it. That could lead to some interesting patterns. While cash is definitely more private than digital transactions, it is still not at the level people think.
FYI Big Brother’s Headquarters Is In Bluffdale, Utah
Bluffdale, Utah is the site of a huge repository of data. They can save virtually all the data of everyone there. The construction of this facility started in 2011. The land area is vast so there is no reason this cannot be expanded as needed.
The plan is that this center will store any data the NSA gathers, indefinitely, this means that what you put out to the world will never be erased.
The security agencies in this country lie regularly about what information they gather and keep. It didn’t stop when Snowden blew the whistle or Wikileaks started releasing docs.
The NSA director lied in 2012 about what info is gathered. This was during a congressional session. “We are not authorized to do it nor do we do it”. That is one quote from the session. I encourage you to watch the video below and make your own conclusions.
People give away a lot more in conversations and social media than they realize
People do not always intentionally give away info that compromises the privacy of those around them or themselves. People like to talk about themselves and those that are in their life. Bragging or showing off on social media is normal behavior.
You can be fairly careful about what you say and the personal info you offer to the world but unless you don’t ever talk to others about anything personal, those around you may be letting things slip out about you to other people. Gossiping is human and people just do it.
For example, a friend might say they are feeding your pets while you are away and that info could fall into the hands of someone that wants to steal when they find out you are out of town. Your friend wasn’t being malicious. They were just not considering the possibility that your vacation status might be more interesting to some than others.
Insurance companies, tax assessors, etc all just come and go as they please on private property. There is no notice of even a slight time frame that they may arrive to assess or ask questions.
I don’t mind paying my county taxes because it is the tax we pay that I feel does the most good and is used the best way. What I would like done differently is the government just giving a rough estimate as to when they will be coming around. People that live off the beaten path like us are not used to people just showing up. I remember the last time this happened I was eating a bowl of cereal and saw a man’s head go by the window. I was alone except for my dogs and it scared me.
I jumped up and peeked cautiously and saw a man peeping with a clipboard and eventually saw the county truck. I actually asked if they had knocked and they said yes when I know for a fact they did not. You would think that at least announcing your arrival would be the thing to do. Situations like this could be dangerous if someone doesn’t know what is going on.
Plus I would venture that most of the things assessors do could be done via air photography, drone, and GIS more easily but that also has the potential to be an invasion of privacy.
Insurance companies make a lot of money but they spend a lot of time figuring out ways to get higher rates. I get the impression that this is worse if you actually own your home. Insurance is usually included in a mortgage payment and those people don’t seem to get assessed as readily as those that pay homeowners insurance out of pocket.
Insurance firms don’t pay out anywhere near what they take in and they always investigate a lot to see if there is a way to avoid paying out. So just sending people out when they feel like it seems like a bit much.
Facial recognition and scans
There have been a few scandals where stores such as Home Depot and Lowes have been discovered scanning people’s faces without their permission. At airports, it is becoming more common. People that have refused it have been told that very soon if they wish to travel they will not be able to refuse.
One thing that people don’t like to acknowledge about facial recognition is that it doesn’t work as well on some ethnic groups as others and experts are trying to improve it so that it does. They are making progress. We are approaching a time when facial recognition software is going to be utilized more readily to charge people with crimes. That is terrifying considering that video can be altered a lot so that it would be easy to frame someone for a crime if desired.
Privacy is a human right and when people don’t have it on some level, things get weird
People need privacy to be healthy. When you are always on guard and your mind is considering how you appear to others on every level all the time and how your actions will be perceived, you are living ina constant stressful state that over time, leads to major mental issues and unhappiness.
Lack of privacy contributes to self-censorship
When people are worried about their opinions being kept private, they tend to censor themselves. There is an actual risk of ruining your career and personal life just by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or someone even just saying you said something. There are a lot of conversations that should happen on important topics that never do because people are scared of their words being used against them.
Lack of privacy reduces creativity and innovation
When people cannot talk to one another freely or consider both sides of an issue without backlash, they are less likely to be creative and explore innovation. Matt and I lead a pretty private life and I can say anything to him even if it is potentially pretty dumb. If a crowd of people was around, I might not explore an avenue that could lead to something great.
Phone and online scams are rampant and the easy access to information has helped them along.
Someone in the family got a call that indicated I had been arrested and was in jail. I guess they were trying to get bail money. The call was quite convincing but luckily the person called me first. No, I was not in jail in Cherokee, NC. The reality was that I was at home watching a video on knitting, having a glass of wine, and giving myself a facial while my cat purred next to me.
I kind of had a moment though where I was like “wait a minute, this person thought it might be true”. I laughed a lot about it at the time. Just for the record, I have never been arrested in my entire life.
So what can you do to lead a more private life online and off?
- Don’t mention overly personal things on Facebook and social media.
- Avoid giving away too much info when talking to people that are not in your core circle.
- Socialize and date away from your residence until you have a chance to get to know someone better
- Use a VPN and antivirus to prevent some basic attacks and hacks but don’t believe it will help against those that are very determined or skilled.
- Don’t put anything out on the internet that would be totally disastrous if someone got their hands on it
- Use external video cameras and microphones and block out the onboard versions
- Teach your kids to not talk a lot about some private matters with others and to not post absolutely everything online.
- Put your smartphone in something where it cannot listen to your conversations. Something well padded is ok. A mylar bag is another option.
- Value the friends that you have that respect your privacy and are trustworthy.
- Watch out for charismatic people that are fishing for information both online and in real life.
- Avoid bumper stickers on your vehicle that give away info on your family. Those stick figure decals may be cute but they give info away. School bumper stickers are also not a good idea. I realize that parking pass stickers may be necessary.
- Add some security measures to your property and home. Here are some links to articles that can help you figure out what you can do.
- Help the older people in your life be aware of scams via phone and online. There are many people that get taken advantage of every year when people pretend to be someone they are not.
What do you do to maintain what privacy is possible in today’s modern world? How do you teach your kid’s about privacy? Please share in the comments below.