Your privacy is lost on the Internet in a plethora of ways. Let’s explore a few.
In years past email was a paid service as there is a cost to the provider. Consider what is happening when you send or receive an email.
You compose an email and it is sent to your email provider. The provider in turn handles finding the recipient's email server and sends it along it’s way. The recipient eventually connects to his email server and obtains the email.
To receive an email it is essentially the same process in reverse.
Free email services became popular, but why? The provider has a real cost to run the servers. Was it out of the goodness of the heart of these corporations who were raking in large piles of cash? NO!
The obvious example is Gmail, but the same logic applies to others.
It is interesting to note that a few years back Google made a big deal that they now use encrypted communications for email in order to make us feel safe. But note well the communications is encrypted, but when Google gets the email, they have it in the raw form.
Is this an issue, or is this THE issue?
It isn’t a person sitting behind a desk, but Google’s computers that read your email, and they read every one. Early on it was simply to look for words that they could note so they could send better advertising to you. But is has matured beyond words, to sentence structure and meanings. Your interests, mood, beliefs, can be reasonably guessed at.
Most importantly, it gives them details about you, where you were when, your relations, who you are contacting either by email or mentioning in the email, and what you are viewing or referring to via links or the text itself.
They can give you this service free, because you are the product. They know you better and can directly tailor advertising to you to increase their revenue. But is it only advertising?
During the early days of the web, when we viewed a web page on our computer, it was simply static data with links that allowed us to go to the next page. Over time the pages started to include methods where the browser would run a program, or script, on your computer that was downloaded with the page. This opened the door to things like games, maps that you could scroll and zoom, and so much more, such as the ability for the web page to ask about your computer’s characteristics, and of course embed a virus.
Some, notably Google Analytics, use script to uniquely identify your computer, collect information about your computer, and collect the metadata about what you are viewing when and from where. They can provide lots of details to the web page providers so they can know their users and again you are the product.
There is an effort, frequently known as “no script” to avoid the use of script. It is making little headway.
Years ago Skype was a stand-alone corporation. They provided a simple but useful service. They operated servers that your computer would briefly connect to to start a conversation with another computer. The amount of traffic required for this was very small, and so was their cost.
When a Skype user connected to another Skype user, the Skype servers arranged the connection, but then the two users’ computers would start to communicate directly and Skype was no longer involved. The conversation or virtual phone call was now direct.
Microsoft bought Skype and the service initially continued the same. Over time Microsoft’s servers became involved in the conversation. Your computer no longer connects to the recipient, but to Microsoft.
They could offer additional services, such as transcriptions or even live language translation. It sounds remarkable, but a little point is left out.
Just like the free email providers, Microsoft now has your conversation, not only the audio but the transcription.
Just like with free email, again you are the product. Microsoft is getting to know you by your words. But even more, by the tone of your conversation and the sounds happening in the background. They have real value and give real control of you.
Skype might seem like an extreme and nothing to worry about if you don’t use it, but you probably use a phone. Just as Skype migrated from direct connections between users, you phone calls, even to your physical neighbor, are routed through longer paths than are necessary and end up going through large data centers. Why would this be?
In years past there was the idea of a wiretap, which is where a third-party listener would physically tap into the wire that is connecting two parties in a conversation. If you route all calls through data centers, then you have fewer places you need to have the technology to tap a call.
A great example is in the 1940s a physical wiretap was done to allow the US Government to listen in on the Japanese Government before the incident at Pearl Harbor. It was an individual tap on an individual line in San Francisco.
Some many years later, but only about a mile away, another wiretap, or we could call it a fiber-tap, was made public by Mark Klein, the infamous room 641-A. This is an individual tap, but on all lines. All phone calls routed through that data center are copied. While the San Francisco tap was the first to be exposed, there are many dozens in the US and around the world doing the same thing on a large percentage of all voice calls.
The data is sent to and stored permanently in multiple locations, such as the Utah Data Center, Fort Meade, The Doughnut, and other data centers.
Like Skype, to varying degrees the audio, the transcript, and the metadata are stored permanently for even the most trivial call.
As the technology matured, the infrastructure built, and people became comfortable with computers, then came the rise of social media.
While there are many examples, the elephant in the room is Facebook. They are providing a free service and again you are the product.
Not only are they getting what the email and phone providers get, but they ask details about us, from birthday to mood, and we give willingly. We feel the barrier has been lowered, so we want to share with our friends do so freely and publicly.
We share thoughts and photos and they store them for us. Like the email and phone providers they have a cost and it is huge.
Consider the amount of data they have and what it takes to store all the data.
For a rough analogy, many can grasp that the US Library of Congress is huge as they attempt to store essentially a copy of all books that have been written.
Now consider a football or soccer ball and compare its size to the field. The Library of Congress is the football. Facebook is the field. They are massive and the cost of this is paid for by selling their product, you.
Note also that when you upload a photo, it is not simply stored and shared, it is examined by their computers like email and phone conversations. When metadata is embedded into the photo, like camera model, time, and location, it is noted. Facial recognition has advanced greatly in recent years, as demonstrated by the latest iPhone, and Facebook can recognize who is in the photos you upload, some of the situation they are in and even their mood.
Your privacy is lost because you gave it away.
To be continued…