Future of privacy and safety on the internet

It is widely understood by about 90% of the population that the future of our societies will be internet based. Companies are talking of an “Internet of Things”, which means a lot of our devices will be connected to the internet, and thus allowing us to control them remotely. Imagine being able to run a hot bath whilst you’re on your way home from work, and being able to turn on a heater to warm your place before your arrival in the depths of winter. Already, people have pet cams, that allow them to monitor their pets, whilst they’re at work.

However, there is an atavistic, Luddite reaction to the internet. They, politicians and company managers, clearly do not understand what they are proposing, and the consequences. For instance, currently in the UK some politicians are proposing to ban encryption (Wikipedia). Such a ban would make all of your communications vulnerable to access by anyone. All your phone and computer access to people, to websites, information, and even your contacts, photos, videos, and documents. It’s like banning locks and walls on houses, allowing only windows and open spaces.

Already now, internet literacy is important, but sadly, it seems many Japanese adults are clueless about this (Murray and Blyth, 2011). Here are two websites that talk about privacy on the internet, and how to protect yourself from online bullies, online gangsters, and intrusive governments: New Matilda, and Edutopia. In short, they say these things, among others (see the original sources for details).

CC Renee Aquirre, 2013, https://flic.kr/p/gwF5CH

CC Renee Aquirre, 2013, https://flic.kr/p/gwF5CH

Passwords: Have a unique password, and a unique one for each website. The password can be broken by a computer trying multiple combinations often starting with easy (dictionary words) to more difficult keyboard combinations, so a ‘strong’ password is a must. For example, choose your favourite movie quote, use only the first letters of it, and your lucky number (not your date of birth, or house number), and the first letter of the website you use, like Twitter. For instance, “Frankly, my dear. I don’t give a damn” from Gone with the Wind (1939), would be: FMDIDGAD8T. So, you could use this for most of your websites, and it will be a little unique to each website. However, this is not a foolproof method. So invent your own system.

Internet browsing: Use something like Firefox. It is far safer than Windows Internet Explorer, and you should set it to never remember your passwords, and to clear your browsing history automatically after closing it. It’s also faster, and lets you install security features like HTTPS Everywhere (EFF). Also use Blur to block tracking. There are companies and other groups that want to know what websites you are looking at, and the information you send and receive. If you’re really worried, use TOR for slow, but safe internet browsing (Wikipedia).

Personal information: Only share it face to face, never over the internet. Where possible, don’t use your real name, but a pseudonym. Facebook might seem alluring, but don’t over-share things. There are parents out there who already prohibit people from sharing photos, and even the names of their children on Facebook and other SNS (Blyth, 2015). Only store your credit card information on the most reputable websites (like Amazon), but still expect that Amazon will one day lose control of this information.

Photographs: Say no to selfies. Don’t post them on websites willy-nilly, simply because current face recognition software exists, is good, and is used by Facebook and Google+ (Blyth, 2015). I avoid sharing my photo anywhere, unless I really must. Otherwise, I use degraded versions, or avatar-like photos. All your photographs should be listed as “Copyright”, so people cannot use them as they like. If you take photos of friends, classmates, or family, and really want them to be Creative Commons, ask permission first; and if you’re asked, look at the photo and choose wisely.

Webcam shot. CC paul.klintworth, 2008. https://flic.kr/p/4TpERP

Webcam shot. CC paul.klintworth, 2008. https://flic.kr/p/4TpERP

Hardware: Disconnect things you don’t need like your webcam and microphone when you don’t need them. There is software that can remotely easily turn on your webcam  and record what you are doing in your bedroom (Google Search).

Online chats: Don’t use Skype, as it can be easily hacked into. Anything you say over the mic, or show over the webcamera, can be viewed and recorded by a third (unknown) person. So use Signal, or CryptoCat. Also consider using Virtual Private Networks (VPN; Wikipedia).

Free apps are not free: It’s true. If you are using a free app on your phone or tablet, then the app maker is making money from you (The Guardian). How? They gather information from you, like your contacts list, browsing history, the products you click on on Amazon, and so on. They then sell this information to advertisers. Ever wondered why you suddenly started to get spam for home insurance, not long after you Googled “Home Insurance”? Or how about memory pills after you messaged something about “exams” to a friend. You are being spied on by companies who want to sell you things. Only use apps you pay for, and only from reputable makers.

Get Educated: The Australian minister for parliament, Scott Ludlum, says that we should “get educated” regarding how to safeguard ourselves. The technology is always changing, and so we need to keep upto date. For more information, take a look at Fried.com/Privacy/, Privacy Tools, and EFF Twitter feed.

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