Technische blogs geschreven in July 2013

  • Privacy on the internet

    Well, we can be very short about that, privacy on the internet doesn't exist.

    No matter which site you go to, you'll get tracking cookies, sites that read your browsing history, targeted ads based on your search history and probably a lot more. The real question is whether this is a serious problem or not.

    For example, Google. Did anyone ever try to turn of the tracking in Google? It is possible, if you have a Google account, just log on to your account and find the option to disable tracking and targeted ads. I did this, you know what the result was? I suddenly got a shitload of ads for dating sites and mortgages in the US (I am Dutch). People started asking me what I did on my computer that I got ads like that all the time, simple, I didn't get tracked anymore so my search results weren't taken in account when serving the ads.

    So, that's actually a positive thing about being tracked, you actually get ads for things you might actually be interested in, this is good for the people who place the ads, they have a far better chance on actually earning money on it and it is a good thing for you since you have a far better chance on actually seeing an ad for a product you would really like to have or for information you could really use

    But of course there is a big downside to all this, the people tracking you can use the information they gather for a lot of purposes, including building a complete profile of your online activities, this is potentially very bad. Of course they really want to use it to earn money so the ad selection is automated and no one actually wants to look at the browsing history of millions of people, so the information is aggregated and anonymously stored for the most part, so far not really a problem. However, more and more parties (also big parties like Facebook and Google) are willing to sell this data to third parties and some are willing to sell the data before aggregation and with all the relevant data which can lead to you as a person included. This data is outside your control and outside of the control of the party you, implicitly or explicitly, trusted with this data.

    Most people respond to this with 'I have nothing to hide, so why worry?' well, I agree, I have nothing to hide from government officials but I am really curious why someone would want to know everything I do? To earn money, ok, I can understand that and even respect that and if it stays with targeted ads, I can even live with that, as long as there is some guarantee that my information is stored anonymously.

    But now we get to things I do have to hide, not from the government, but at least from some other parties, imagine I have some embarrassing illness which I don't tell my friends and co-workers about but do search the internet about. One of the results will be targeted ads and if I use the same Google profile at work as I do at home this means I will suddenly get ads with solutions to my illness, my co-workers or friends will notice this as soon as they look at my monitor. This is a somewhat innocent but very realistic probability. It can also mean that my boss sees this information and decides he or she doesn't want me working there anymore and finds a reason to fire me. This is a bit of a stretch but things like this do happen more then is comfortable. Not to me of course, I don't have an embarrassing illness nor will I use my private profile on a work related computer since work and my private live should be separated in my opinion, however, loads of people still make these mistakes and they can actually ruin lives.

    Though what scares me more is that the big parties sell this data, imagine my insurance company buying data from big advertisement companies like Google and Facebook specially of everyone who did a search for medical problems, this means they know I have an illness, this means they can decide to raise my insurance fee as a result.

    These are realistic options.
    There is of course also the scary thing called Prism, secret services who gather the same information. Well, I don't really mind if a Dutch secret service has a profile on me, I tend to trust my own government not to make too big mistakes or frame me if I say something they don't really appreciate (even if they have shown a horrible incompetence when it comes to ICT and the internet).
    But do I mind that the NSA has a profile on me? Well, yes, actually I do, I don't trust the USA and their blatant ignoring foreign laws if it suits them.
    For example one day the USA wanted to arrest someone in Germany, to do this they wanted to land in the Netherlands with an airplane, the Dutch government said they wouldn't allow it, the USA did it anyway and our beloved Dutch government send them a stern letter of disapproval, very impressive response. There are loads and loads of similar stories out there although a big portion of them may be fabricated by conspiracy theorists a part of them is proven to be true, that part is big enough to paint a picture which ignores foreign laws and policies, even of their allies if it suits them.

    So no, I don't trust the USA. So do I want their most secret organization, an organization which has proven in the past that they ignore even the laws of their own country, to have a profile on me? No, not really, I don't see the use, I am not one of their citizens, I am not a terrorist or a criminal, so why would they need it? They have it anyway, they have it of everyone who has a Facebook or Google profile or on some other mayor social networking site. Remember, these are the people who blatantly ignore their own laws if it suits them, coming from a country which ignores everyone else his laws when it suits them.

    Frankly, this scares me, and I hope I am not alone.

    Some related links:

    http://www.thoughtcrime.org/blog/we-should-all-have-something-to-hide/
    www.groene.nl/2013/30/onweer-op-komst (Dutch)

    The top link illustrates very well that we all have something to hide, even if we aren't aware of it, for example, did you know that in the USA it is illegal to have a lobster (dead or alive, bought or found) in your possession if it is smaller then a certain size?

    Gives you something to think about doesn't it?

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