How to save your privacy from the Internets clutches

Another week, another massive privacy scandal. When it’s not Facebook admitting it allowed data on as many as 87 million users to be sucked out by a developer on its platform who sold it to a political consultancy working for the Trump campaign, or dating app Grindr’ fessing up to sharing its users’ HIV status with third party A/ B testers, some other ugly facet of the tech industry’s love affair with tracking everything its users do slides into view.

Suddenly, Android users discover to their horror that Google’s mobile platform tells the company where they are all the time — thanks to baked-in location tracking bundled with Google services like Maps and Photos. Or Amazon Echo users realise Jeff Bezos’ ecommerce empire has amassed audio recordings of every single interaction they’ve had with their cute little smart speaker.

The problem, as ever with the tech industry’s teeny-weeny greyscaled legalise, is that the people it refers to as “users” aren’t genuinely consenting to having their information sucked into the cloud for goodness knows what. Because they haven’t been given a clear picture of what agreeing to share their data will really mean .

Instead one or two select features, with a mote of user benefit, tend to be presented at the point of sign on — to socially engineer’ consent ‘. Then the company can walk away with a defacto license to perpetually harvest that person’s data by claiming that a consent box was once ticked.

A great instance of that is Facebook’s Nearby Friends. The feature lets you share your position with your friends so — and here’s that shiny promise — you can more easily hang out with them. But do you know anyone who is actively utilizing this feature? Yet millions of people started sharing their exact locating with Facebook for a feature that’s now buried and largely unused. Meanwhile Facebook is actively use your location to track your offline habits in order to be allowed to make money targeting you with adverts.

Terms& Conditions are the biggest lie in the tech industry, as we’ve written before.( And more recently: It was not permission, it was hiding .)

Senator Kennedy of Louisiana also made the point succinctly to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg this week, telling him to his face: “Your user agreement sucks .” We couldn’t agree more.

Happily disingenuous T& Cs are on borrowed period — at the least for European tech users, thanks to a new European Union data protection framework that will come into force next month. The GDPR tightens permission requirements — mandating clear and accurate information be provided to users at the point of sign on. Data collection is also more tightly tied to specific function.

From next month, holding onto personal data without a very good reason to do so will be far more risky — because GDPR is also backed up with a regime of supersized fines that are intended to construct privacy regulations much harder to ignore.

Of course U.S. tech users can’t bank on benefiting from European privacy regulations. And while there are now growing calls in the country for legislation to protect people’s data — in a bid to steer off the next democracy-denting Cambridge Analytica scandal, at very least — any such process will take a lot of political will.

It surely will not happen overnight. And you can expect tech giants to fight tooth and nail against laws being drafted and passed — as indeed Facebook, Google and others lobbied ferociously to try to get GDPR watered down.

Facebook has already revealed it will not be universally applying the European regulation — which entails people in North America are likely to get a degree of lower privacy than Facebook users everywhere else in the world. Which doesn’t precisely sound fair.

When it comes to privacy, some of you may think you have nothing to hide. But that’s a straw man. It’s especially hard to defend this line of believing now that big tech companies have attracted so much soft power they can influence elections, inflame conflicts and divide people in general. It’s time to think about the bigger impact to new technologies on the fabric of society, and not just your personal case.

Shifting the balance

So what can Internet users do right now to stop tech giants, advertisers and unknown entities tracking everything you do online — and trying to join the dots of your digital activity to paint a picture of whom they think you are? At least, everything short of moving to Europe, where privacy is a fundamental right.

There are some practical steps you can take to limit day-to-day online privacy dangers by reducing third party access to your information and shielding more of your digital activity from prying eyes.

Not all these measures are appropriate for every person. It’s up to you to determine how much effort you want( or need) to put in to shield your privacy.

You may be happy to share a certain amount of personal data in exchange for access to a certain service, for example. But even then it’s unlikely that the full trade-off has been made clear to you. So it’s worth asking yourself if you’re genuinely getting a good deal.

Once people’s eyes are opened to the fine-grained detail and depth of personal information being harvested, even some very seasoned tech users have reacted with shock — saying they had no idea, for example, that Facebook Messenger was continuously uploading their phone book and logging their calls and SMS metadata.

This is one of the reasons why the U.K.’s information commissioner has been calling for increased transparency about how and why data flows. Because for far too long tech savvy entities have been able to apply privacy hostile actions in the dark. And it hasn’t really been possible for the average person to know what’s being done with their information. Or even what data they are giving up when they click’ I agree’.

Why does an A/ B testing firm wished to know a person’s HIV status? Why does a social network app need continuous access to your call history? Why should an ad giant be able to continuously pin your motions on a map?

Are you really getting so much value from an app that you’re happy for the company behind it and anyone else they partner with to know everywhere you go, everyone you talk to, the stuff you like and look at — even to have a pretty good idea what you’re thinking?

Every data misuse scandal glistens a bit more light on some very murky practises — which will hopefully produce momentum for regulation a modification to sterilize data handling processes and strengthen people’ privacy by spotlighting trade-offs that have zero justification.

With some endeavor — and good online security practises( which we’re taking as a devoted for the purposes of such articles, but one quick tip: Enable 2FA everywhere you can) — you can also make it harder for the web’s lurking watchers to dine out on your data.

Just don’t expect the lengths you have to go to protect your privacy to feel fair or just — the horrible truth is this fight sucks.

But whatever you do, don’t give up.

How to hide on the internet

Action : Tape over all your webcams
Who is this for : Everyone — even Mark Zuckerberg!
How difficult is it : Easy peasy lemon squeezy
Tell me more : You can get fancy removable stickers for this purpose( noyb has some nice ones ). Or you can go DIY and use a little bit of masking tape — on your laptop, your smartphone, even your smart Tv … If your job requires you to be on camera, such as for some conference calls, and you want to look a bit more pro you can buy a webcam encompas. Sadly locking down privacy is rarely this easy .

Action : Install HTTPS Everywhere
Who is this for : Everyone — severely do it
How difficult is it : Mild effort
Tell me more : Many websites offer encryption. With HTTPS, people running the network between your device and the server hosting the website you’re browsing can’t see your petitions and your internet traffic. But some websites still load unencrypted pages by default( HTTP ), which also causes a security risk. The EFF has developed a browser extension that makes sure that you access all websites that offer HTTPS utilizing … HTTPS .

Action : Use tracker blockers
Who is this for : Everyone — except people who like being ad-stalked online
How difficult is it : Mild effort
Tell me more : Trackers refers to a whole category of privacy-hostile technologies designed to follow and record what web users are doing as they move from site to site, and even across different devices. Trackers come in a range of sorts these days. And there are some fairly sophisticated ways of being tracked( some definitely harder to thwart than others ). But to combat trackers being deployed on popular websites — which are probably also building the pages slower to load than they otherwise would be — there’s now a range of decent, user-friendly tracker blockers to choose from. Pro-privacy search engine DuckDuckGo recently added a tracker blocker to their browser extensions, for example. is also a popular extension to block trackers from third-party websites. Firefox also has a built-in tracker blocker, which is now enabled by default in the mobile apps. If you’re curious and want to see the list of trackers on popular website, you can also install Kimetrak to understand that it’s a widespread issue .

Action: Use an ad blocker
Who is this for : Everyone who can support the moral burden
How difficult is it : Fairly easy these days but you might be locked out of the content on some news websites as a result
Tell me more : If you’ve tried using a tracker blocker, you may have noticed that many ads have been blocked in the process. That’s because most ads load from third-party servers that track you across multiple sites. So if you want to go one step further and block all ads, you should install an ad blocker. Some browsers like Opera come with an ad blocker. Otherwise, we recommend uBlock Origin on macOS, Windows, Linux and Android. 1Blocker is a solid alternative on iOS.
But let’s be honest, TechCrunch attains some fund with online ads. If 100% of web users install an ad blocker many websites you know and love would just go bankrupt. While your individual selection won’t have a material impact on the bottom line, consider whitelisting the sites you like. And if you’re angry at how many trackers your favorite news site is running try emailing them to ask( politely) if they can at least reduce the number of trackers they use .

Action : Make a private search engine your default
Who is this for : Most people
How difficult is it : A bit of endeavor because your search results might become slightly less relevant
Tell me more: Google likely knows more about you than even Facebook does, thanks to the things you tell it when you type queries into its search engine. Though that’s just the tip of how it tracks you — if you use Android it will keep running tabs on everywhere you go unless you opt out of location services. It also has its tracking infrastructure embedded on three-quarters of the top million websites. So chances are it’s following what you’re browsing online — unless you also take steps to lock down your browsing( see below ).
But one major route to limit what Google knows about you is to switch to using an alternative search engine when you need to look something up on the Internet. This isn’t as hard as it used to be as there are some pretty decent alternatives now — such as DuckDuckGo which Apple will let you set as the default browser on iOS — or Qwant for French-speaking users. German users to be able to check out Cliqz. You will also need to remember to be careful about any voice deputies “youre using” as they often default to employing Google to appear stuff up on the web .

Action : Use private browser conferences
Who is this for : Most people
How difficult is it : Not at all if you understand what a private conference is
Tell me more : All browsers on desktop and mobile now let you open a private window. While this can be a powerful tool, it is often misconstrue. By default, private sessions don’t induce you more invisible — you’ll get tracked from one tab to another. But private conferences let you start with a clean slate. Every hour you close your private conference, all your cookies are erased. It’s like you vanish from everyone’s radar. You can then reopen another private session and feign that nobody knows who you are. That’s why using a private conference for weeks or months doesn’t do much, but short private conferences can be helpful .

Action : Use multiple browsers and/ or browser containers
Who is this for : People who don’t want to stop using social media entirely
How difficult is it : Some effort to not get in a muddle
Tell me more : Using different browsers for different online activities can be a good way of separating portions of your browsing activity. You could, for example, use one browser on your desktop computer for your online banking, say, and a different browser for your social networking or ecommerce activity. Taking this approach further, you could use different mobile devices when you want to access different apps. The phase of dividing your browsing across different browsers/ devices is to try to make it harder to link all your online activity to you. That said, lots of adtech endeavour has been put into developing cross-device tracking techniques — so it’s not clear that fragmenting your browsing sessions will successful beat all the trackers.
In a similar vein, in 2016 Mozilla added specific features to its Firefox browser that’s intended to help web users segregate online identities within the same browser — called multi container extensions. This approach gives users some control but it does not stop their browser being fingerprinted and all their web activity in it linked and tracked. It may help reduce some cookie-based tracking, though .
Last month Mozilla also updated the receptacle feature to add one that specifically isolates a Facebook user’s identity from the rest of the web. This limits how Facebook can track a user’s non-Facebook web browsing — which yes Facebook does do, whatever Zuckerberg tried to claim in Congress — so again it’s a way to reduce what the social network giant knows about you.( Though it should also be noted that clicking on any Facebook social plug-ins you encounter on other websites will still send Facebook your personal data .)

Action : Get acquainted with Tor
Who is this for : Activists, people with high risks attached to being tracked online, committed privacy advocates who want to help grow the Tor network
How difficult is it : Patience is needed to use Tor. Also some effort to ensure you don’t accidentally do something that compromises your anonymity
Tell me more : For the most robust sort of anonymous web browsing there’s Tor. Tor’s onion network runs by encrypting and routing your Internet traffic haphazardly through a series of relay servers to make it harder to connect a specific device with a specific online destination. This does mean it’s definitely not the fastest sort of web browsing around. Some sites can also to continue efforts to block Tor users so the Internet experience you get when browsing in this route may suffer. But it’s the best chance of truly preserving your online anonymity. You’ll need to download the relevant Tor browser bundle to utilize it. It’s pretty straightforward to install and get going. But expect very frequent security updates which will also slacken you down .

Action: Switching to another DNS
Who is this for : People who don’t trust their ISP
How difficult is it : Moderately
Tell me more : When you type an address in the address bar( such as ), your device asks a Domain Name Server to translate that address into an IP address( a unique combination of numbers and dots ). By default, your ISP or your mobile carrier operates a DNS for their users. It means that they can see all your web history. Big telecom companies are going to take advantage of that to ramp up their ad endeavours. By default, your DNS query is also unencrypted and can be intercepted by people running the network. Some governments also ask telecom companies to block some websites on their DNS servers — some countries block Facebook for censorship reasons, others block The Pirate Bay for online piracy reasons .
You can configure each of your device to use another public DNS. But don’t utilize Google’s public DNS! It’s an ad company, so they truly want to see your web history. Both Quad9 and Cloudflare’s 1. 1.1.1 have strong privacy policies. But Quad9 is a not-for-profit organization, so it’s easier to trust them .

Action : Disable locating services
Who is this for : Anyone who feels uncomfortable with the idea of being kept under surveillance
How difficult is it : A bit of attempt discovering and changing puts, and a bit of commitment to stay on top of any’ updates’ to privacy policies which might try to revive location tracking. You also need to be prepared to accept some reduction in the utility and/ or convenience of the service because it won’t be able to automatically customize what it shows you based on your location
Tell me more : The tech industry is especially keen to keep tabs on where its users are at any given moment. And thanks to the smash hit success of smartphones with embedded sensors it’s never been easier to pervasively track where people are running — and therefore to deduce what they’re doing. For ad targeting intents locating data is highly valuable of course. But it’s also enormously intrusive. Did you just visit a certain type of health clinic? Were you carrying your telephone loaded with location-sucking apps? Why then it’s trivially easy for the likes of Google and Facebook to connect your identity to that trip — and connect all that intel to their ad networks. And if the social network’s platform isn’t adequately “locked down” — as Zuckerberg would put it — your private datum might leak and end up elsewhere. It could even get passed around between all sorts of unknown entities — as the up to 87M Facebook profiles in the Cambridge Analytica scandal appear to have been.( Whistleblower Chris Wylie has said that Facebook data-set went “everywhere” .)
There are other potential risks too. Insurance premiums being assessed based on covertly collected data inputs. Companies that work for government agencies use social media info to try to remove benefits or even have people deported. Location data can also influence the types of adverts you watch or don’t consider. And on that front there’s a risk of discrimination if specific types of ads — jobs or housing, for example — don’t get served to you because you happen to be a person of colouring, say, or a Muslim. Excluding certain protected groups of people from adverts can be illegal — but that hasn’t stopped it happening multiple times on Facebook’s platform. And locating can be a key signal that underpins this kind of prejudicial discrimination .
Even the prices you are offered online can depend on what is being inferred about you via your motions. The bottom line is that everyone’s personal data is being made to carry a lot of baggage these days — and the majority of members of the time it’s almost impossible to figure out exactly what that unasked for luggage might necessitate when you consent to letting a specific app or service track where you go .
Pervasive tracking of locating at very least dangers putting you at a disadvantage as a consumer. Surely if you live somewhere without a proper regulatory framework for privacy. It’s also worth bearing in mind how lax tech giants can be where locating privacy is concerned — whether it’s Uber’s infamous ‘god view’ tool or Snapchat leaking schoolkids’ location or Strava accidentally exposing the locations of military basis. Their record is pretty terrible .
If you really can’t be bothered to go and hunt down and switch off every location defining one fairly crude action you can take is to buy a faraday enclosure carry case — Silent Pocket makes an extensive line of carry lawsuits with embedded wireless shielding tech, for instance — which you can pop your smartphone into when you’re on the move to isolate it from the network. Of course once you take it out it will instantaneously reconnect and locating data is likely to be passed again so this is not going to do very much on its own. Nixing location tracking in the sets is much more effective .

Action : Approach VPNs with extreme caution
Who is this for : All web users — unless free Internet access is not available in your country
How difficult is it : No additional effort
Tell me more : While there may be periods when “youre feeling” tempted to sign up and use a VPN service — tell, to try to circumvent geoblocks so you can stream video content that’s not otherwise available in your country — if you do this you should assume that the service provider will at very least be recording everything you’re doing online. They may choose to sell that info or even steal your identity. Many of them promise you perfect privacy and great terms of service. But you can never is well known if they’re actually doing what they say. So the rule of thumb about all VPNs is: Assume zero privacy — and avoid if at all possible. Facebook even has its own VPN — which it’s been aggressively pushing to users of its main app by badging it as a security service, with the friendly-sounding name’ Protect’. In reality the company wants you to use this so it can way what other apps you’re utilizing — for its own business intelligence intents. So a more accurate name for this’ service’ would be:’ Protect Facebook’s stranglehold on the social web’ .

Action : Build your own VPN server
Who is this for : Developers
How difficult is it : You need to be comfortable with the Terminal
Tell me more : The only VPN server you can trust is the one you construct yourself! In that case, VPN servers can be a great tool if you’re on a network you don’t trust( a hotel, a meeting or an office ). We recommend using Algo VPN and a hosting provider you trust .

Action : Take care with third-party keyboard apps
Who is this for : All touchscreen device users
How difficult is it : No additional effort
Tell me more : Keyboard apps are a potential privacy minefield given that, if you permit cloud-enabled features, they can be in a position to suck out all the information you’re typing into your device — from passwords to credit card numbers to the private contents of your messages. That’s not to say that all third-party keyboards are keylogging everything you type. But the risk is there — so you need to be very careful about what you choose to use. Security is also key. Last year, sensitive personal data from 31 M+ users of one third-party keyboard, AI.type, leaked online after the company had failed to properly secure its database server, as one illustrative instance of the potential risks .
Google knows how powerful keyboards can be as a data-sucker — which is why it got into the third-party keyboard game, outing its own Gboard keyboard app first for Apple’s iOS in 2016 and later bringing it to Android. If you use Gboard you should know you are handing the adtech giant another firehose of your private datum — though it claims that merely search queries and “usage statistics” are sent by Gboard to Google( The privacy policy further specifies: “Anything you type other than your searches, like passwords or chats with friends, isn’t sent. Saved terms on your device aren’t sent.” ). So if you believe that Gboard is not literally a keylogger. But it is watching what you search for and how you use your phone.
Also worth remembering: Data will still be passed by Gboard to Google if you’re utilizing an e2e encrypted messenger like Signal. So third party keyboards can erode the protection afforded by robust e2e encryption — so again: Be very careful what you use .

Action : Use end-to-end encrypted messengers
Who is this for : Everyone who can
How difficult is it : Mild effort unless all your friends are using other messaging apps
Tell me more : Choosing friends based on their choice of messaging app isn’t a great alternative so real world network impacts can often work against privacy. Indeed, Facebook uses the fuzzy impressions you have about your friends to manipulate Messenger users to consent to continuously uploading their phone contacts, by suggesting you have to if you want to talk to your contacts.( Which is, by the by, solely bogus .)
But if everything your friends use a messaging app that does not have end-to-end encryption opportunities are you’ll feel forced to use that same non-privacy-safe app too. Dedicated that the other alternative is to exclude yourself from the digital chattering of your friend group. Which would clearly suck.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp does at the least have end-to-end encryption — and is widely used( certainly internationally ). Though you still need to be careful to opt out of any privacy-eroding terms the company tries to push. In summertime 2016, for example, a major T& Cs change sought to link WhatsApp users’ accounts with their Facebook profiles( and thus with all the data Facebook holds on them) — as well as sharing sensitive stuff like your last insured status, your address volume, your BFFs in Whatsapp and all sorts of metadata with Zuck’s’ family’ of companies. Thankfully most of this privacy-hostile data sharing has been suspended in Europe, after Facebook got in trouble with local data protection bureaux.

Action : Use end-to-end encryption if “youre using” cloud storage
Who is this for : Dedicated privacy practitioners, anyone worried about third party accessing their stuff
How difficult is it : Some endeavour, especially if you have lots of content stored in another service that you need to migrate
Tell me more : Dropbox IPO’d last month — and the markets signalled their approval of its business. But someone who doesn’t approve of the cloud storage giant is Edward Snowden — who in 2014 advised: “Get rid of Dropbox”, arguing the company is hostile to privacy. The problem is that Dropbox does not offer zero access encryption — because it retains encryption keys, meaning it can technically decrypt and read the data you store with it if it decides it needs to or is served with a warrant .
Cloud storage alternatives that do offer local encryption with no access to the encryption keys are available, such as Spideroak. And if you’re looking for a cloud backup service, Backblaze also offers the option to let you manage the encryption key. Another workaround if you do still want to use a service like Dropbox is to locally encrypt the stuff you want to store before you upload it — use another third party service such as Boxcryptor .

Action : Use an end-to-end encrypted email service
Who is this for : Anyone who wants to be sure their email isn’t being data mined
How difficult is it : Some effort — largely around migrating data and/ or contacts from another email service
Tell me more : In the middle of last year Google eventually announced it would no longer be data-mining the emails inside its Gmail free email service.( For a little perspective on how long it took to give up data-mining your emails, Gmail launched all the way back in 2004.) The company likely feels it has more than enough alternative data points feeding its user profiling at this point. Plus data-mining email with the rise of end-to-end encrypted messaging apps risks pushing the company over the’ creepy line’ it’s been so keen to avoid to try to stave off the kind of privacy backlash currently engulfing Facebook .
So does it mean that Gmail is now 100% privacy safe? No, because the service is not end-to-end encrypted. But there are now some great webmail clients that do offer robust end-to-end encryption — most notably the Swiss service Protonmail. Really it’s never been easier to access a reliable, user-friendly, pro-privacy email service. If you want to go one step further, you should set up PGP encryption keys and share them with your contacts. This is a lot more difficult though .

Action : Choose iOS over Android
Who is this for : Mainstream customers, Apple fans
How difficult is it : Depends on the person. Apple hardware is generally more expensive so there’s a cost premium
Tell me more : No connected technology is 100% privacy safe but Apple’s hardware-focused business model means the company’s devices are not engineered to try to harvest user data by default. Apple does also invest in developing pro-privacy technologies. Whereas there’s no getting around the fact Android-maker Google is an adtech giant whose revenues depend on profiling users in order to target web users with adverts. Basically the company needs to suck your data to make a fat gain. That’s why Google asks you to share all your web and app activity and place history if you want to use Google Assistant, for instance .
Android is a most open platform than iOS, though, and it’s possible to configure it in many different ways — some of which can be more locked down as regards privacy than others( the Android Open Source Project can be customized and used without Google services as default preloads, for example ). But doing that kind of configuration is not going to be within reach of the average person. So iOS is the obvious choice for mainstream customers .

Action : Delete your social media accounts
Who is this for : Committed privacy devotees, anyone with public sharing
How difficult is it : Some endeavor — mostly feeling like you’re going to miss out. But third party services can sometimes require a Facebook login( a workaround for that would be to create a dummy Facebook account purely for login purposes — employing a name and email you don’t use for anything else, and not connecting it to your usual mobile phone number or adding anyone you actually know IRL)
Tell me more : Deleting Facebook clearly isn’t for everyone. But ask yourself how much “youre using” it these days anyway? You might find yourself realise it’s not really that central to what you do on the Internet after all. The center of gravity in social networking has changed away from mass public sharing into more tightly curated friend groups anyway, thanks to the popularity of messaging apps .
But of course Facebook owns Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp too. So ducking out of its surveillance dragnet entirely is especially hard. Ideally you would also need to run tracker blockers( see above) as the company ways non-Facebook users around the Internet via the pixels it has embedded on lots of popular websites .
While getting rid of your social media accounts is not a privacy panacea, removing yourself from mainstream social network platforms at least reduces the risk of a chunk of your personal info being scraped and used without your say so. Though it’s still not absolutely guaranteed that when you delete an account the company in question will faithfully remove all your information from their servers — or indeed from the servers of any third party they shared your data with .
If you really can’t bring yourself to ditch Facebook( et al) solely, at least dive into the defines and make sure you lock down as much access to your data as you can — including checking which apps have been connected to your account and removing any that aren’t relevant or useful to you anymore .

Action : Say no to always-on voice deputies
Who is this for : Anyone who values privacy more than gimmickry
How difficult is it : No real effort
Tell me more : There’s a rash of smart speaker voice deputies on store shelves these days, marketed in such a way that suggests they’re a whole lot smarter and more useful than they actually are. In reality they’re most likely to be used for playing music( albeit, audio quality can be very poor) or as very expensive egg timers.
Something else the PR for gadgets like Amazon’s( many) Echos or Google Home doesn’t mention is the massive privacy trade off involved with installing an always-on listening device inside your home. Essentially these devices function by streaming whatever you ask to the cloud and will typically store records of things you’ve said in perpetuity on the companies’ servers. Some do offer a delete alternative for stored audio but you would have to stay on top of deleting your data as long as you keep using the device. So it’s a tediously Sisyphean chore. Smart speakers have also been caught listening to and recording things their owner didn’t actually want them to — because they got activated by collision. Or when someone on the TV utilized the trigger word .
The privacy risks around smart speakers are clearly very large indeed. Not least because this type of personal data is of obvious and inevitable interest to law enforcement departments. So ask yourself whether that fake fart dispenser gizmo you’re giggling about is really worth the trade off of inviting all sorts of foreigners to snoop on the goings on inside your home .

Action : Block some network requests
Who is this for : Paranoid people
How difficult is it : Need to be tech savvy
Tell me more : On macOS, you can install something called Little Snitch to get an alert every time an app tries to talk with a server. You can approve or reject each request and create rules. If you don’t want Microsoft Word to talk with Microsoft’s servers all the time for instance, it’s a good answer — but is not really user friendly .

Action : Use a privacy-focused operating system
Who is this for : Edward Snowden
How difficult is it : Need to be tech savvy
Tell me more : If you really wishes to lock everything down, you should consider using Tails as your desktop operating system. It’s a Linux distribution that leaves no tracing by default, uses the Tor network for all network requests by default. But it’s not exactly user friendly, and it’s quite complicated to install on a USB drive. One for those whose menace model really is’ bleeding edge’ .

Action : Write to your political reps to demand stronger privacy laws
Who is this for : Anyone who cares about privacy, and especially Internet users in North America right now
How difficult is it : A bit of effort
Tell me more : There appears to be bipartisan appetite among U.S. lawmakers to bring in some kind of regulation for Internet companies. And with new tougher regulations coming in in Europe next month it’s an especially opportune moment to push for change in the U.S. where web users are facing reduced standards vs international users after May 25. So it’s a great time to write to your reps reminding them you’re far more interested in your privacy being protected than Facebook winning some kind of surveillance arms race with the Chinese. Tell them it’s past period for the U.S. to draft laws that prioritize the protection of personal data .

Action : Throw away all your connected devices — and opt your friends wisely
Who is this for : Fugitives and whistleblowers
How difficult is it : Privacy doesn’t get harder than this
Tell me more : Last month the former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont — who, in October, dodged arrest by the Spanish authorities by fleeing to Brussels after the region’s abortive attempt to declare independence — was arrested by German police, after crossing the border from Denmark in a auto. Spanish intelligence agents had reportedly tracked his movements via the GPS on the mobile device of one or more of his friends. The vehicle had also been fitted with a tracker. Trusting anything not to snitch on you is a massive risk if your menace model is this high. The problem is you also need trustworthy friends to help you stay ahead of the surveillance dragnet that’s out to get you .

Action : Ditch the Internet solely
Who is this for : Fugitives and whistleblowers
How difficult is it : Privacy doesn’t get harder than this
Tell me more: Public administrations can ask you to do pretty much everything online these days — and even if it’s not mandatory to use their Internet service it can be incentivized in various ways. The direction of traveling for government services is clearly digital. So eschewing the Internet solely is get harder and harder to do .
One wild card option — that’s still not a full Internet alternative( yet) — is to use a different type of network that’s being engineered with privacy in intellect. The experimental, decentralized MaidSafe network fits that bill. This majorly ambitious project has already clocked up a decade’s worth of R& D on the founders’ mission to rethink digital connectivity without compromising privacy and security by doing away with servers — and decentralizing and encrypting everything. It’s a fascinating project. Just sadly not yet a fully-fledged Internet alternative .

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Facebooks tracking of non-users ruled illegal again

Another blow for Facebook in Europe: Magistrates in Belgium have once again ruled the company transgressed privacy statutes by deploying technology such as cookies and social plug-ins to track internet users across the web.

Facebook utilizes data it collects in this way to sell targeted ad.

The social media giant failed to make it sufficiently clear how people’s digital activity was being used, the court ruled.

Facebook faces fines of up to EUR1 00 million (~$ 124 million ), at a rate of EUR2 50,000 per day, if it fails to comply with the court ruling to stop tracking Belgians’ web browsing habits. It must also destroy any illegally obtained data, the court said.

Facebook expressed disappointment at the judgement and said it will appeal.

“The cookies and pixels we use are industry standard technologies and enable hundreds of thousands of businesses to grow their businesses and reach customers across the EU, ” said Facebook’s VP of public policy for EMEA, Richard Allan, in a statement. “We require any business that uses our technologies to provide clear notice to end-users, and we give people the right to opt-out of having data collected on sites and apps off Facebook being used for ads.”

The privacy lawsuit dates back to 2015 when the Belgium privacy watchdog brought a civil suit against Facebook for its near invisible tracking of non-users via social plug-ins and the like. This followed an investigation by the agency that culminated in a highly critical report touching on many areas of Facebook’s data handling practices.

The same year, after failing to obtain adequate responses to its concerns, the Belgian Privacy Commission decided to take Facebook to tribunal over one of them: How it deploys tracking cookies and social plug-ins on third-party websites to track the internet activity of users and non-users.

Following its usual playbook for European privacy challenges, Facebook first tried to argue the Belgian DPA had no jurisdiction over its European business, which is headquartered in Ireland. But local magistrates disagreed.

Subsequently, Belgian courts have twice ruled that Facebook’s use of cookies contravenes European privacy laws. If Facebook keeps appealing, the occurrence could end up going all the way to Europe’s supreme court, the CJEU.

The crux of the questions here is the permeating background surveillance of internet activity for digital ad targeting intents which is enabled by a vast network of embedded and at times entirely invisible tracking technologies — and, specifically in this lawsuit, whether Facebook and the network of partner companies feeding data into its ad targeting systems have obtained adequate permission from their users to be so surveilled when they’re not actually use Facebook.

“Facebook collects information about us all when we surf the Internet, ” explains the Belgian privacy watchdog, referring to findings from its earlier investigation of Facebook’s use of tracking technologies.To this end, Facebook utilizes various technologies, such as the famous’ cookies’ or the’ social plug-ins’( for example, the’ Like’ or’ Share’ buttons) or the’ pixels’ that are invisible to the naked eye. It uses them on its website but also and especially on the websites of third parties. Thus, the survey reveals that even if you have never entered the Facebook domain, Facebook is still able to follow your browsing behaviour without you knowing it, let alone, without you wanting it, thanks to these invisible pixels that Facebook has placed on more than 10,000 other sites.”

Facebook asserts its use of cookie tracking is transparent and argues the technology benefits Facebook users by letting it show them more relevant content.( Presumably, it would argue non-Facebook users “benefit” from being indicated ads targeted at their interests .) “Over recent years we have worked hard to help people is how we use cookies to maintain Facebook secure and show them relevant content. We’ve constructed squads of people who focus on the protection of privacy — from engineers to designers — and tools that give people choice and control, ” told Allan in his response statement to the court ruling.

But given that some of these trackers are literally invisible, coupled with the at times dubious quality of “consents” being gathered — say, for example, if there’s merely a pre-ticked opt-in at the lower end of a lengthy and opaque set of T& Cs that actively discourage the user from reading and understanding what data supplied by theirs is being gathered and why — there are some serious questions over the sustainability of this type of “pervasive background surveillance” adtech in the face of successful legal challenges and growing consumer antipathy of ads that stalk them around the internet( which has in turn fueled growth of ad-blocking technologies ).

Facebook will face a similar complaint in a suit in Austria, filed by privacy campaigner and lawyer Max Schrems, for example. In January Schrems prevailed against Facebook’s attempts to stall the lawsuit after Europe’s top tribunal threw out the company’s claim that his campaigning activities cancelled out his individual consumer rights.( Though the CJEU’s decision did not allow Schrems to seek a class action style lawsuit against Facebook as he had originally hoped .)

Europe also has a major update to its data protection laws coming in May, “ve called the” GDPR, which beefs up the enforcement of privacy rights by introducing a new system of penalties for data protection violations that they are able scale as high as 4 percent of a company’s global turnover.

Essentially, GDPR means that ignoring the European Union’s fundamental right to privacy — by relying on the fact that few customers have historically bothered to take companies to tribunal over legal violations they may not even realize are occur — is going to get a lot more risky in just a few months’ time.( On that front, Schrems has crowdfunded a not-for-profit to pursue strategic privacy litigation once GDPR is in place — so start stockpiling the popcorn .)

It’s also worth noting that GDPR strengthens the EU’s consent requirements for processing personal data — so it’s certainly not going to be easier for Facebook to obtain consents for this type of background tracking under the new framework.( The still being formulated ePrivacy Regulation is also relevant to cookie permission, and aims to streamline the rules across the EU .)

And indeed, such tracking will necessarily become far more visible to web users, who may then be a lot less inclined to agree to being ad-stalked almost everywhere they go online chiefly for Facebook’s fiscal benefit.

The rise of tools offering tracker blocking offers another route for irate consumers to thwart online mass surveillance by ad targeting giants.

“We are preparing for the new General Data Protection Regulation with our result regulator the Irish Data Protection Commissioner. We’ll comply with this new law, just as we’ve complied with existing data protection statute in Europe, ” added Facebook’s Allan.

It’s still not fully clear how Facebook will comply with GDPR — though it’s announced a new global privacy situates hub is coming. It’s also running a series of data protection workshops in Europe this year, aimed at small and medium businesses — presumably to try to ensure its advertisers don’t find themselves shut out of GDPR Compliance City and on the hook for major privacy legal liabilities themselves, come May 25.

Of course Facebook’s ad business not only relies on people’s web browsing habits to fuel its targeting systems, it relies on advertisers liberally pumping dollars in. Which is another reason consumer trust is so vital. Yet Facebook is facing myriad challenges on that front these days.

In a statement on its website, the Belgium Privacy Commission said it was pleased with the ruling.

“We are of course very satisfied that the court has fully followed our position. For the moment, Facebook is conducting a major advertising campaign where it shares its attachment to privacy. We hope he will put this commitment into practice, ” it told.

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Mobile phone companies appear to be providing your number and location to anyone who pays

You may remember that last year, Verizon( which owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch) was punished by the FCC for injecting datum into its subscribers’ traffic that allowed them to be tracked without their permission. That practise appears to be alive and well despite being disallowed in a ruling last March: companies appear to be able to request your number, locating, and other details from your mobile provider quite easily.

The possibility was discovered by Philip Neustrom, co-founder of Shotwell Labs, who documented it in a blog post earlier the coming week. He procured a pair of websites which, if visited from a mobile data connect, report back in no time with numerous details: full name, billing zip code, current place( as inferred from cell tower data ), and more.( Others received the same thing with slightly different results depending on carrier, but the demo sites were taken down before I could try it myself .)

It appears to be similar to the Unique Identifier Header used by Verizon. The UIDH was appended to HTTP petitions made by Verizon customers, allowing websites they visited to see their location, billing data and so on( if they paid Verizon for the privilege, naturally ). The practice, in common use by carriers for a decade or more, was highlighted in the last few years and eventually the FCC necessitated Verizon( and by extension other mobile providers) to get positive consent before implementing.

Now, this is not to say that the whole thing is some huge swindle: that data could be very useful for, for example, an administrator who wants to be sure that an employee’s phone is actually in the place their IP seems to indicate. Why bother with a text-based one time password if a service can substantiate you’re you by querying your mobile provider? It’s at least a reasonable possibility.

And that’s what companies like Payfone and Danal are using it for; furthermore, users of their services would by definition be opting into this kind of tracking, so there’s no problem there.

I asked Payfone CEO Rodger Desai for a little clarification. He wrote back in an email 😛 TAGEND

There is a very rigorous framework of security and data privacy permission. The main issue is that with all the legitimate mobile change events fraudsters get in … For instance, if you download a mobile banking app today, the bank is not sure if it is you on your new phone or someone acting as you- the fraudster merely requires your bank password. PC techniques like credentials and device print don’t progressing well- since it is a new phone.

But as Neustrom found out, mobile providers don’t appear to be working very hard to verify that consent. Both sites provide demos of their functionality, pinging mobile providers for data and presenting it to you.

Of course, if you want the demo to run, you kind of opt into the tracking as well. But where’s the text or email from the mobile provider asking you for verification? It seems that this kind of request could be made fraudulently by many entails, since the providers don’t substantiate them in any way other than a few programmatic ones( matching IPs, etc ).

Without rigorous permission criteria, mobile companies may as well be selling the data indiscriminately the same style they were before advocacy groups took them to task for it. For now there doesn’t appear to be a way to officially opt out — but there also doesn’t appear to be a clear and present threat, such as an obvious scammer or wholesaler using this technique.

I’ve asked T-Mobile, AT& T, and Verizon whether they participate in this kind of program, subscriber details to anyone who pays — and who, in turn, may provide to to others. I’ve also asked the FCC if this practice is of concern to them. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

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