Monday, April 5, 2021

On Privacy...Or the Lack Thereof

I'll start with the bottom line...unless you leave behind all of your electronic devices (watch, phone, PLB, etc) and hike a good ways into the middle of nowhere, you don't have any privacy.

I could write tomes on how we got to this point--I still fondly remember heading out to the wilderness to hunt for a couple weeks at a time with absolutely no way to contact anyone unless I left a message written on a paper plate, tacked it to a tree, and hoped whoever found it passed along the message (this actually worked on several occasions BTW)--but the erosion of our individual privacy seems to have hit critical mass over the past few years.

As we, in a no doubt futile effort, attempt to thwart the latest invasions to our privacy, there are still some ways you can manage to eek a little bit of privacy into your life...

  • don't use social media and delete your social media accounts.  These days if I want to contact someone I call (insecure), email (minimally secure with ProtonMail), message (ditto with Signal), or send snail mail (not very secure but I have a few old friends who still like written letters so this is more a source of amusement than privacy).
  • I have over the air TV (not traceable), cable internet (minimally private with a VPN), no listening devices (like Alexa, Siri, etc) in my home, dumb TVs (flat screen TVs made before all TVs could connect to the internet), and my electronic devices like phones and tablets are set far enough away that they can be heard but probably can't pick up conversation.
  • pay cash as much as possible.  This has varying degrees of privacy from most (shop at small mom and pop places that don't have video surveillance) to least (big businesses that track everyone who enters their property...even more invasive when they offer "free" wifi, loyalty apps, or even more insidious, in-store key points location tracking that tracks a shopper's every movement).
  • note that while nothing you do online or on your phone is secure, burner phones can be useful (with parameters like one time use only), Linux is probably better than Windows. Graphene is probably better than Google, Brave is better than Chrome, DuckDuckGo is better than Google, and a VPN is kinda-sorta reasonably secure.  In addition modem/router security can be marginally enhanced, and computer security and privacy is an entire topic unto itself.
  • after hearing how dystopian workplaces have become **cough Amazon cough**, I'm pretty glad I am no longer working.  Working from home seems to be a better option than in an office but again, everything you do via a computer with work-related software can delve into your privacy.
  • your vehicle can be tracked in a myriad of ways.  I will note that pre-1994 vehicles don't have black boxes, but license plate readers, toll pass tracking, and with newer vehicles in-vehicle "car-tapping" does happen.  Vehicle hacking can and does happen and it is, in fact, a favorite topic at conferences like DefCon.
Another bottom line, privacy goal posts are continually moving.  Just as soon as a newer, more secure OS is released, hackers are all over it looking for ways to hack it (much to the delight of end users like the government).  Just as soon as a "private social media platform" is created, it can be deplatformed and/or hacked.  Perhaps that why searching "how to disappear from the internet" returns so many pages...

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