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Security and Privacy

A person should not have to have more extensions on Firefox to deal with security and privacy issues than extensions to enhance browsing. A person should not be flagged every second of his online life by adverts, spying scripts, and other little piranhas which individually don't add up to much but collectively have already absorbed your life's details, cached away on a thousand servers across the world.

Stop adware and spyware. Stop datamining. Stop blasting adverts across the net and across meatspace. Stop profiling me and my friends based on our search entries, our emails, our instant messages and forum posts and blogs and usernames and IP addresses. Stop collecting mind-boggling amounts of metadata on our personal activities and lives. And, for the love of all that is good and right, stop spamming us with your mindless shit which no one ever actually follows through on. It isn't funny, it isn't cute, and it isn't even close to effective.

I live a life on the Internet that is quiet, and much of the time, I cannot be seen, if I choose to enable all my anonymizers. However, that anonymity comes at a price. I can't download much more than images, can't use Flash or JavaScript-enabled pages, can't fill out most forms, can't watch videos, can't check my email, and can't get all my bandwidth.

I don't usually have to worry about most malware, because I run an operating system based on the Linux kernel. This does not mean that I am immune to malware, just that, by hiding behind the masses of Windows users, I am very effectively cloaked. Few virii and other malware is written for Linux boxes because few people use it. I also have more control of my OS than a Windows user (and sometimes more than is good for me, I'm afraid), and know more about the inner workings of it.

However, the online content you see on a regular basis is the same content I see. I use Firefox the same as you (you are, right? If not, no problem. Just don't use IE). The same things that capture your every move online, from which sites you go to and what you do there, to where you enter credit card info (not the info itself, just the locations you enter it), to what you searched for last week Friday when you were bored and got a strange idea into your head, all that information can also be collected from me.

I try to foil this, by hiding behind an anonymizing network that disassociates me from my IP address; by running Ad-Block Plus, which strips out the ads from web pages; by running TrackMeNot, which sends random queries to search engines to break data profiling; by encrypting as much communication as I can with SSL and SSH; by using passwords based entirely on random characters, seeded by a memorable passphrase; by running NoScript, which blocks all JavaScript, Flash, and other scripts from running unless you tell it explicitly to allow ones you trust on a case-by-case basis; by using common sense to avoid pitfalls like sending sensitive data across wireless connections; by checking the network traffic around me to make sure no one is spoofing the server I'm talking to; by eliminating DRM from my media; by not using proprietary document formats; by not giving out personal information when it isn't needed; by using proxies at public terminals.

However, I can still guarantee that there are people out there who know who I am, what I like to do on Sunday afternoons when I'm bored, what type of computer I'm running, what demographic I'm in, what my politics are, what at least one of my passwords is, and where I live. There's someone out there who knows that I frequently type two uppercase letters in a row, especially at the beginning of sentences, and that I drop words out of sentences when I get tired. There's very likely at least one person who has seen my house and known that I live there. There's probably a person who has a picture of me and knows who it is. There is definitely one person at least who has a voice recording of me in a file somewhere, labeled with my name and social security number.

I don't mean to sound paranoid, and I'm not. I don't spend every second of my day, peeking over my shoulder and sneaking from one hiding place to another. I am, nonetheless, aware of my surroundings, especially online, and I try to be as unobtrusive as I can in that environment. I applaud companies such as Google, who recently denied several governments, including our own, access to their enormous vaults of data. I say boo to those same companies for having said data in the first place. I realize that it is Google's stated mission to categorize and index the world, but to do so means to collect very detailed information on everything, including people. Individuals. Citizens who have been given certain promises of at least a sense of security to be provided from whatever institution governs their actions. And I disagree with that in a truly heartfelt manner.

This is why I am in the PSG at Tech. This is why I vote against people who support the Patriot Act. This is why I am against DRM. This is why I tell people what browser and software to use, and back that up with support on said software. This is why I am worried about Google and other large technical companies. I am passionate about this issue, and, well:

I am not a pair of eyeballs to be captured or a consumer profile to be sold. I am an individual and you will respect my privacy.
I am not a piece of your inventory.
I will not be bartered, traded, or sold.
On the net, I am in control.

--ZKS, "a consumer manifesto"

And I will fight back...


March 18 2008, 23:45:39

Fight back eh? I'll start mixing up the napalm.

March 19 2008, 02:06:24

I was thinking more like decompression bombs and spam redirects to DDoS the spammers, but napalm works too.