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What activity history looks like to Big Brother

International_Logo_of_Big_Brother

A lot of people easily fall for the flawed argument that if you don’t do anything wrong, then you don’t have anything to hide. “Metadata” belongs to the flawed argument that if you don’t know the contents of a conversation, then it’s not violating a person’s privacy. I decided to put some hypothetical history to refute these myths.

  • [Search] John Biggs searches Google for “nipple swollen”, clicks on result leading to Wikipedia
  • [ISP history] John Biggs visits Web site with medical doctors’ directory
  • [Landline history] John Biggs calls Dr. Jones, who specalises in cancer of the breast. Call lasts 15 minutes.
  • [Cellphone location log] John Biggs goes to the bathroom
  • [Cellphone log] John Biggs places a call from the bathroom, speaks to his wife for 60 minutes
  • [Search] John Biggs searches Google for “cancer death probability”, clicks on link pro-suicide forum
  • [ISP history] John Biggs spends 2 hours browsing around the pro-suicide forum
  • [Cellphone log]] John Biggs sends his friend, Daniel, SMS message stating: “Those suicide folks are crazy. Did you ever visit their sites?”
  • [E-mail log]] John Biggs writes to his uncle, who is 3 degrees of separation away (friend of a colleague of a friend) from an American Muslim whom the NSA deems “target” (hence E-mail can be viewed fully). E-mail parsed by semantic analyser and then interpreted by one of the many staff members of the NSA.
  • [E-mail log]] John Biggs writes another E-mail in which he mentions ammonia (in relation to a medical drug). The E-mail, which contains detailed description of John’s condition, can thus be read to ensure he is not building a bomb with ammonia.
  • [Cellphone location log] John Biggs goes to a chemist, who is also known by a vast database of people to have sold illegal drugs before. John Biggs is now added to the database as a “target”.
  • [Cellphone log] In collaboration with the DEA, John’s conversations with his wife can now be listened to in real time.

Just another day in life under Big Brother. But hey, it’s about fighting “terrorism” and it’s all just “metadata”.

More Google Surveillance

Google knows precisely what you search for and keeps a record of it indefinitely. If you have a Google account, it also knows all YouTube videos you watch (how long, how many times) and many Web pages you visit (with AdSense, YouTube embed, etc.). Never mind PageRank, Feedburner, etc. It knows your real identity now. The PATRIOT ACT (and the likes of it) lets governments access this data, too, so it’s not a purely corporate issue anymore. Lawyers and thugs turn up at the scene. There is nothing for Web users to gain from it, no matter the propaganda about “terrorists” and “pedophiles”. It’s sickening to see how lightly privacy is taken by those whom we supposedly elect.

When Google started requiring that people sign up to access a lot of its stuff (with a verified E-mail address) it was no longer just playing dice with IP addresses. Google Plus was a step further, which drove me to other search engines. Sometimes people have a common name, such as John Wilcox. By offering Google Profiles/Plus Google is able to discern one from another, plus pair it with an E-mail address. They even know how you navigate through Google StreetView and Maps. Google may also have copies of all your mails which you sent to people in GMail (certainly all of it if you use GMail). People tend to forget all of this. And this data is not being destroyed. Some is used for marketing and Google openly admits many government requests for people’s data all around the world (Google complies without a fight and without informing those affected). Transparency through statistics hardly makes the practice benign.

Do you still use Google? You probably oughtn’t, except when there is no other choice. Consider accessing YouTube from other devices without a cookie. Wherever Google is going, I don’t like it. And a lot of people forget that it’s dominantly proprietary, so I hardly care it it’s “not Microsoft” or “not Apple”. Even Android is becoming a little too creepy on the privacy side (e.g. its browser which phones home with location and usage data). Canonical takes a lesson from this business model of Google and now turns Ubuntu into spyware. I spoke to Richard Stallman in recent days. He will soon write about this topic. As always, Stallman had good foresight when it comes to privacy on the Net.

“Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.”

Bruce Schneier

ixquick: Another Good Search Engine

Search

A few weeks ago I moved to Scroogle as the default search engine everywhere. All was fine and dandy, but Google is said to be blocking some nodes of Scroogle, which makes search inaccessible sometimes. In that case, ixquick.com comes in handy, but frankly, its results are not as useful as Scroogle/Google results. In Konqueror, the syntax to use for ixquick is http://ixquick.com/do/metasearch.pl?query=\{@}.

Going All Scroogle (Firefox and Konqueror)

IF YOU are not worried about what you search for and how you surf the Web, perhaps you should. By letting us know that we are watched as we search and surf, we are led into a state of self-censorship. Ideas can be suppressed this way, so for the more progressive among us everything becomes riskier.

I have not much against Google. They tried to hire me several times and I support Android wholeheartedly. After Microsoft had hijacked Yahoo, the only viable crawlers-based search engine (no meta-searches and such) which was not operated by criminals seemed to be Google. On a relative basis, Google is not evil, but it is easy to pick on.

If you wish to use Google but not leave a trail for the oppressive US regime (the one set in place by Bush et al. after 9/11), then use Scoogle. It gives more search results per page and it offers a lot more privacy. I’ve set Scoogle as my default in Firefox address bar (instructions here) and in Konqueror, using the search URI “http://www.scroogle.org/cgi-bin/nbbw.cgi?Gw=\{@}” (where \{@} is a placeholder for the search query).

Enjoy your invisible (to oppressive authorities) searching.

MRI Tagging

Tagged heart

Sudden change in plans and improvement of research direction leads me to the exploration of MRI tagging, which proves to be difficult when one tries to actually find raw data to work with, not information about it. In the coming days I plan to prepare a post explaining to people where they can obtain tagged data of the brain and the heart (trying to help others solve the problem which occupies many hours of my time). The Internet is extremely mature when it comes to sharing of text and sometimes even audio and film, copyright being an obvious barrier. When it comes to medical data, however, it is another story altogether, even if it’s totally anonymised. Personally, I’ve put 3-D scans of my brain on this Web site, hoping to provide people with the sort of data I sometimes struggle to get a hold of.

Search Engine Downtime Has a High Cost

Servers stack

BACK when I communicated with Google, I came to realise that they have engineers whose sole/main purpose was to ensure the site stays online at all times. A few days ago I had another odd realisation, but perhaps a very obvious one. To search engines, downtimes are a hugely damaging thing. If people are unable to search for something immediately, they will choose a different tool. They must. By testing the water elsewhere—as such a downtime would lead to—failure can encourage them to switch to the rival.

Ordinary sites, as opposed to such complex tools, do not have this problem. How many of us use a single search engine exclusively? What would happen if one day we found that the grass is greener elsewhere? Search, as opposed to a flow of information, tends to have immediate need. It cannot be deferred until the favourite site returns. So, defection can be a matter of availability and its impact should not be underestimated. Downtime on a corporate network rarely has any long-term impact, unlike search tools whose quality is a subjective thing.

Being Big But Doing No Evil?

Google Cookie

The eternal Google cookie leaves room for worries and doubt

A Guardian writer opines that Google’s growth will make it fearsome.

As the world’s biggest search engine starts to compete with old media it risks becoming the ‘Microsoft of the internet’. Richard Wachman reports

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