Friday, May 14, 2021

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Tech Talk

Only the paranoid are truly alone


techA common misconception of the First Amendment is that the constitutional right to freedom of speech applies in all situations. People who have this belief live a backward life and think they can be as crass as they wish, wherever they desire, and there will be no repercussions. In terms of legal trouble, they’re almost free and clear, but socially, civilly and vocationally, life tends to straighten them out. A similar delusion is found with the Fourth Amendment, our constitutional protection from illegal search and seizure, which many hold as a right to privacy. The problem is, one forfeits that right when willingly handing over property, or in terms of tech, data.

If a person is on Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon or simply uses any of the popular web browsers, this person has signed over his or her privacy. Beyond the mystifying terms and conditions that users lie about reading before accepting a digital service, all major digital services pilfer your web browsing history. Not stopping there, they also browse your chats, tweets, snaps, emails, physical location and messages. This is not only the norm, it is the way the Internet knows what you may want to purchase, share, read, listen to and watch.

Many people don’t understand that their web browsers keep tabs on their every click and site visit. Worse yet, many more don’t realize their browser is giving that information to practically every site they visit. The most blatant offenders are Google and Amazon. Advertising is the lifeblood of the Internet, and these two are the biggest blood banks. Ever wonder why, moments after you close an Amazon browser tab, your other tabs start showing products you were searching for on Amazon? That’s because sites like Facebook partner with Amazon and Google to sell advertising space. Amazon advertises for products and services you can purchase on its site. Google advertises for everything — sites, services, products, nonprofits, competitors and basically anyone who is willing to pay its rate.

Some might think Amazon and Google ads are connecting consumers with goods and services they may want to buy. Others might think a trail of website visits is no one else’s business. If you’re in the latter camp, there is a solution to prying digital eyes, and it’s called “do not track.” While not a legal mandate, Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer and nearly all modern browsers incorporate a “do not track” feature that tells the browser and individual websites to stay out of your browsing history as well as to not follow your web habits while not on their sites. Still, seeing as websites are generally part of a business, “do not track” is not always followed.

For real Fourth Amendment privacy nuts, there is encryption. True security online means disguising your data while it’s floating through the Internet so only you and the party you intend to share it with can see it. Encryption and decryption allow for this. To be this safe, a browser like Tor or a messaging service like Signal are the only way to go. Signal and Tor conceal all user activity, web history, data and communications, and discard all of your personal data when you are done using either service. The downside is that these tools can be quite cumbersome when trying to casually visit favorite sites or keep track of correspondence, as no passwords or chat history is ever retained.

Prep Iowa

Could Signal and Tor be considered overkill? Sure. But you should know it’s not only your web habits that are being perused. Vizio was just slapped with a $2 million penalty by the Federal government for recording and selling viewers’ TV habits. Can anyone truly feel secure if our TVs are selling us out? ♦


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