The Biggest data breach yet
Your emails aren’t private. Your messages aren’t private. Your conversations aren’t even private.
It’s national privacy day!
They say write about what you care about. So here we are: part 1 of 2 for the biggest data breach you’ve never heard about.
There has been so much in the news lately about data thefts. From individuals and from giant companies. It seems you can hardly go two or three days without hearing some other group suffered a breach. And it saddens me a bit. Not so much because of the evil and hatred out there (though yes, that is indeed sad) but because the biggest breach isn’t being talked about. In fact, it isn’t so much a breach as it is a theft. Against ALL OF US. But no one knows about it. It’s time for that to change.
This has been happening for many years, and sadly, it is simply one of those things which started off slowly and gained traction over time. It started off so slow, in fact, that no one even noticed it. But sure enough, it eventually became a part of day to day reality. The new norm. And now we’re at the point where society as a whole has become desensitized and accepts this breach as not just a commonplace deal but a way of life.
This isn’t a big data breach some company faced for having holes in their security. No, it is a data breach currently happening to all people around the world who have interactions with technology. And for the most part, no one even knows it’s happening.
Now please don’t get me wrong. My intention is not to scare you here but it is important that you understand what is happening. After all, how could you possibly make an informed decision on anything unless you understand what it is you are deciding?
I started off with some pretty bold claims talking about your email, messages, and conversations. Sadly, I was being completely honest with you. These areas are not near as private as you might hope. Truth be told, it really comes down to one simple statement:
You have been made into the product.
Let me start to break some of this down.
Your emails are being read. If not by people, by robots. But before I even get into the why, it’s important you understand this. It isn’t just emails you send but ones other people send you. Taking Google as an example here, they readily state that they can read your emails. Yes, this is limited to specific cases (or if the government tells them to do so… we’ll venture down that hole later) but still, they have the power to do this should they feel the need. Personally, I don’t want some random person to be able to read my emails on a whim.
Venturing past the humans, using Google again as my example, automated systems scan emails. Now, to Google’s bennefit, they have ceased this but still allow all of their 3rd party apps to do so (but you can opt out if you wish). This isn’t just Google. Yahoo, AOL, and most all of the rest have the same practices. Why? Advertisement. Did you email home that you’re thinking about using Chewy for your pet’s food? Chewy would love to buy that tip so they can push some advertisements to you.
So what about texts?
Sorry, more bad news. Your texts, also known as SMS or Short Message Service, are still not as private as you might hope. The premmise sounds great, however, and tricks many people. See, these messages are advertised as “encrypted while in the air.” Ok great, so they are only in plain (readable to end users) text while on your phone and the recipients phone, right? Not quite. They are indeed encrypted while in the air… all the way to your mobile carrier’s server where a copy of these messages is retained for an unlisted time. The message is of course encrypted again through the air on its way to the destination but it isn’t end-to-end encrypted (end to end means encrypted on your phone and kept in that safe, unreadable state all the way to its destination where it is then and only then decrypted). Why keep your messages? Part of it is NSA deep data surveillance on everyone and part is to aid law enforcement as needed. They don’t seem to hold on these texts too long (a case of a sports player “losing” his phone to prevent authorities from receiving texts to prove sterioid use does exist where AT&T could not retrieve the texts either… suggesting that the holding window truely isn’t too long) but if you have information you want to keep (truly) private, any time is bad time.
But my conversations…
I wish. Though in good news, conversations are far easier to keep private than anything else. It is more a case of understanding your surroudings and that wonderful little tracker in your pocket called a smart phone. The thing to keep in mind here are that microphones are everywhere. And while you might come across a good number of dummy cameras out there, most of the mics actually work. That includes the one on your phone. Ever take a look at how many apps “require” mic access? Sure, some of them need it to do things like translate speach to text for the keyboard. But why does that new game require it? Or the cool calculator you found for free? You are the product. Remember what you say when microphones are around.
Surely it can’t be that bad. I mean, I have nothing to hide so why should I care about any of this, right?
Interesting point. But this is actually what allowed for the problem at hand. After all, as data mining and surveillance slowly became a thing, people figured for whatever benefits they saw that the costs were worth it since surely there wasn’t a huge interest in them. And they certainly weren’t doing anything to warrent investigation. I have heard “It doesn’t matter, I don’t have anything to hide” more often than I would like. The problem with that statement is that we are a society built upon freedoms. The statement of having nothing to hide should be irrelavent to the problem. You should not have to need to hide something in order to expect privacy. It’s like saying “I have nothing to say so I don’t need a right to speak.” See the problem there? The errosion of our privacy was so slow and consistent that it wasn’t noticed until it was too late and figures such as Snowden were blowing the whistle. And no, this isn’t just for illegal activity. Maybe you don’t want anyone to know you are searching for a particular topic on Google. As is currently, however, that search is known by Google, Facebook, and most every other service you use thanks to this data harvesting.
The truth is that our lives are not near as private as we would hope. And most people do not even have a clue what is happening. Looking at this and how it happens, it seems that the younger generation actually has a completely different view of privacy than the older generation, more of an expectation of the lack of privacy than an understanding that this is something we should have by default. But it’s a big world out there and we individuals are possibly the most valuable commodities in it.
So now you know. Everyone is watching. What can you do about it? A fair amount actually. But for now (sorry about this…), you’re just going to have to wait for the lengthy part 2 of this post.
(but I’m not going to leave you completely hanging here. This is a great post on why many users are starting to abandon Facebook and touches on some alternatives for communication.)