Privacy and security for our family

Posted on July 18, 2022Comments Off on Privacy and security for our family

B. and I get dressed and go outside and HE knows that. We walk along the stream, by the farmer’s market and HE knows that. Moreover, since we left our apartment, there is a person with a camera following us all the time we are outside. As we walk into the shop there are other people with cameras in our faces. Then I pay. We go to the playground and HE knows it and the camera is still following us. HE knows we stay there for about an hour. And we go home where, finally, the camera person is not making a video of us, but HE knows we are at home and we will stay there for about next 21 hours until we go outside again. As sweaty as I am, I take a shower, and prepare snack for B. in the kitchen. And then B. watches videos on my notebook and HE knows what he likes, how I look it up, which sites I prefer. In the evening, when B. is in his bed, I check my emails, order groceries, have a video call with a friend and HE knows everything. Then I turn my notebook off and; therefore, HE knows I am about to go to bed.

My imagination in action

Short explanation according to my knowledge

I let my imagination go and create an opening paragraph of this post. It was inspired by a documentary movie Stare Into The Lights My Pretties (read more about the documentary below) where a person makes videos of random people in the streets (set video time to 01:17:15). Filmed people are indignant but helpless…

Usually when I go outside, I carry my cell phone with me. Although it is not a smart phone, it still collects some data, for example about my location: “To locate a mobile phone using multilateration of mobile radio signals, the phone must emit at least the idle signal to contact nearby antenna towers and does not require an active call.”1 We experienced a practical use of it during the pandemic in 2020 – 2021, when receiving SMS warnings from Ministry of Health about duty to register and get tested for Covid.

The person with a camera following us is a satellite or Google Maps car. Here are some examples of data collection results on Google Maps: traffic jam related to the war, intimate photographs. History is recorded and stored. Online. Anyone may access it. As an example here is a timelapse, where it is possible to see satellite views of any place in the world from 1984. And also, M. told me about his grandfather standing in his garden next to his own house. Without even blurring his face back then on Google maps Street View. M. told me that there is a newer Street View, but I did not leave it there. Of course, there is an easy way how you can see all the Street Views of one place that have ever been made (clock sign in a particular Street View). And I saw M.’s grandfather, who has died meanwhile, on Google Maps Street View from 2012.

In shops there are usually security cameras that follow each our movement. Paying with a card is also a source of information – what I bought, how much it cost, where I bought it…

At home GSM locates us too. Google stores data about everything I create and how I use their services – my emails, chats, Hangouts, videos I watch, how long I spend watching them, what I look up, my settings… Here is an example. And as I have been using Gmail for more than a decade, HE has tons of information about me.

This is just a surface, there is definitely a lot of information collected I do not know about and I am sure I would be scared of how much HE knows.

How this became my theme of last weeks

Somehow I stumbled upon a documentary movie called Stare Into The Lights My Pretties (2017) directed by Jordan Brown. At first I thought that the documentary is about what health effects using screens has. I could not be more wrong. The documentary reveals the width and depth of privacy and security (not just) on the internet. Sure, there was also the aspect of how internet usage changes how our thinking process, mind and memory work, but the amount of time on this topic is not that significant. Here are some eye-opening excerpts from what was said in the movie and my comments to it.

(00:30:31) “It becomes much harder, I think, when you’re bombarded by information and other stimuli, as you are all the time on the web, to sit down and really focus on one particular thing.”

I agree with this; however, I could not stop myself thinking about other situations I feel overstimulated. And that is during the normal day with B. He calls me so many times, interrupts whatever I do, I lost my ability to focus and finish even the simplest task. Even when he does not call or interrupt me I am still alert, on guard what is going on. So, mothers know very well what being “bombarded by information and other stimuli” means.

(00:33:43) “One of the biggest problems affecting the human brain in the 21st century is multitasking. (…) Multitasking seems to be very bad for the brain. Not just while you’re doing it, but there are lingering long-term effects. People who multitask chronically, people who multitask all the time, seem to be less able to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information, seem less able to manage their memory and seem less able to actually switch from task to task.”

Growing up I thought multitasking is a preferred way of doing things, that you can and are able to do more stuff in smaller amount of time. I also experienced what they mention in the documentary, that also in real life I wanted to behave like online – jumping from one thing to another, checking everything, not being able to calm down because my thoughts were jumping all over the place.

(00:52:32) “So Facebook isn’t the only place that’s doing this kind of invisible, algorithmic editing of the web. Google’s doing it too. If I search for something and you search for something, even right now, at the very same time, we may get very different search results. Even when you are logged out, one engineer told me, there are 57 signals that Google looks at. Everything from what kind of computer you’re on, to what kind of browser you’re using, to where you’re located. That it uses to personally tailor your query results. (…) There is no standard Google anymore.”

Many people consider it a positive and I did too – that I get results that are relevant to me. However, I can just imagine, how dangerous this practice may be. I am not the one who decides what I see, hear, read. The algorithm is. I think the only way how to stop this is not to use it.

(00:55:30) “So I do think it is a problem. And I think if you take all of these filters together, if you take all of these algorithms, you get what I call a filter bubble. And your filter bubble kind of your personal unique universe of information that you live in online. And what’s in your filter bubble depends on who you are, and it depends on what you do. But the thing is you don’t decide what gets in, and more importantly, you don’t actually see what gets edited out.”

(00:59:56) “The screen culture provides a centralized mechanism of social control pretending to be freedom and democracy.”

I have never realized that for example ads are a kind of social control. I can just congratulate myself that for some time I am on my way to free myself from this kind of social control a little.

(01:00:04) “We tend to think about the internet as this sort of medium where everybody can connect to anyone. It’s this very democratic medium, it’s a free-for-all…”

I remember how my uncle, who we saw about once a year, led me step-by-step how to create my first email address and how enthusiastic we were to send photos that were delivered in few seconds. It became so easy to connect with him and his family.

(01:02:54) “It is increasingly possible to live in an online world in which you do have your own facts and you google climate change and you get the climate change links for you. And you don’t actually get exposed necessarily, you don’t even know what the alternate arguments are.”

This shocks and scares me. I had no idea. This is so dangerous for the society!

(01:00:03) “There is a myth online that what we are doing is free.”

I remember asking myself when I was a beginner with internet which was around 2005: “How come all this amazing content is for free?” And later when I started to use Google video meetings: “Who would want to use the phone when this is totally free?” I spent hours with Google video meetings when I was on my study stay in Palma de Mallorca. Sometimes it was on all day long…

(01:04:05) “Everything we do on a computer produces a transaction record. Whether it’s your laptop, whether it’s your phone, whether it’s an ATM machine, a toll booth, using your credit card, anything with a computer creates a transaction record. Data is a byproduct of all of our information society’s socialization. (…) All of this data is increasingly stored and increasingly searchable.”

(01:06:57) “The product online is not the content. The product online is you!”

(01:15:50) “The commercial surveillance system that the advertisers have created all across the world is stunning and a cause for serious alarm. It threatens our civil liberties, it’s about getting us to buy high interest-rate credit cards, junk food, prescription drugs for illnesses we may or may not have, politicians who may or may not be good for us, that’s what all this data is being used for. We have no access to this data, we have no ability to control this information, we can’t challenge it, we can’t correct it.”

(01:24:14) “The Jews who lived in Holland in 1939 had nothing to fear from a database that identified them as being Jews. Well, they don’t have anything to fear now because they’re all dead, with very few exceptions.”

Exactly this is what I recalled after listening to parts that data collected may be once used against people or certain groups of people.

(01:27:47) “Surveillance is much more pervasive in our online lives than it is in our offline lives. And I think most people in the United States and the Democratic West are not aware of that, because when police officers come into your house or come into your office and they go through your files, they go through your desk, they go through your drawers and cabinets, it’s pretty obvious that happened. If they do the equivalent, in your email, in your online storage spaces and your Facebook, you don’t know.”

(01:50:00) “If the thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them to really understand it, that thought process was all about: how do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? And that means we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It’s a social validation feedback loop. It’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. We understood it consciously and we did it anyway.”

When I write a post on my web site, I post a short excerpt on Facebook too. There are weeks when I do not write posts and then Facebook shows me red numbers how interactions with my posts decline and it prompts me: hey, post, post! I do not like it at all – I do not do this to have green numbers, I do not do this to satisfy Facebook, I do this for me and for other people who can relate, get inspired or educate.

I am shocked, alarmed, horrified, stressed… There is not much of a solution in the documentary and maybe there is not a lot to do, except to destroy all this globalization-feeding infrastructure, as was said at the very end of the documentary. But after realizing or learning about something alarming I need solutions, something I can do.

So what can I do to increase my digital privacy and security?

I asked M. to watch the documentary with me to ask him questions as he has more insight into this. He told me what devices we already have to ensure our privacy and security. He also offered some ideas what we can do and he also started to search for solutions. And I came up with some for myself. I list our solutions here.

Stop using Google and all its services

The word “google” became also a verb meaning finding information. But Google has many other services offering. So what needs to go is:

  • Google search engine
  • Gmail
  • Google Maps

Stop using Facebook

I have been a part of a Facebook “community” for about three years. Not much, but still… My expectations were high, but they were not fulfilled. However, many people post valuable stuff on Facebook and that helped me – I used professional’s parenting tips which led me to study on some topics deeper. My Facebook account will not be active anymore after posting this post and I intend to delete it in upcoming weeks. Therefore, if you want to keep track of my website, please, sign up for my newsletter.

Stop using smartphone

This advice is directed more for M. as I have resisted his urges to buy a smartphone for eight years. Now, he needs to look for an alternative to smartphone.

Switch to open-source OS

For years I listen M. to complain about Windows (in my computer), of course he is a user of open-source OS. I tried using it too and it worked well, but there was a cost of dependency on M. with installing it, maintaining and so on. He is looking forward to teaching B. about putting together and installing his own computer from the very young age. Even now, at almost four years, he is able to name computer components and describe how they work.

Adapting my website sunanddust.com

I deleted all the share buttons and Google Analytics (meanwhile it became partially illegal) from my website. I do not know yet whether it is enough, but I am dedicated to improve my website in this matter even more.

Paying with cash more

We got used to pay with our debit cards or online. It is quite comfortable as we do not need to check whether we have cash, we have enough cash, we do not have to visit the nearest ATM… It is probably about to change.

Replacing browser bookmarks of unwanted sites

I bookmark web sites I use often so I have as easiest access to them as possible. I need to replace them with more private and secure alternatives.

Taking time to set cookies on sites

The easiest and fastest way is to accept all the cookies. But have you ever checked what you accept? Just few minutes ago I started to set cookies for a site. I started to uncheck all the boxes to what companies I do not want to send data about me (there were about 30). Before I finished I lost an interest to read an article on that particular site and closed it.

Not using multiple tabs

I often use multiple tabs in many windows to remind myself things. And there are so many of them that they are open for months until I deal with them or close them because they are no longer interesting to me. I need to change this habit of mine to avoid multitasking.

Use books as primary source of information

We read books and find information in them very often, but I will be more strict about looking up in information in books. Although faster, I will consider internet a last resort for finding information.

Of course, all these changes take time and also results are not as comfortable as services I have decided not to use anymore. However, I think this step is necessary for our family as we value privacy and security. Firstly, because of our son B. and, secondly, because of my previous experience with monitoring and tracking by a very close family member. If regarding this things get worse with my mental health I am going to follow my own advice.

Notes

  1. Mobile phone tracking. [online]. [2022-07-10]. Access: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phone_tracking>.