Saturday, 2 January 2010

Apparently ...

... big business has been looking at the rather ovine response of the public around the world in general and Britain in particular when faced with draconian government interference in our lives and liberties and thought: "we'll have some of that!"

The coming decade is shaping up to be one in which we, as consumers and citizens, will see our control over choice and privacy eroded by business and government. Some of the effects will be mere annoyances, but others will transform society. And not for the better.

This unwelcome transformation is already underway in the personal-technology sector, led by two of the most secretive companies in our industry: Apple and Google. Waiting in the wings are corporate entities eager to exploit your personal information, and government agencies watching your every step.

Welcome to the out-of-control decade.

Ah, mere hyperbole, you might say. But the thin end of the wedge has already been inserted and is being firmly hammered in:

What the iPhone and iPod touch don't have in common with earlier computers is the fact that you don't control what software you can use with them. Apple does.

To be sure, you can now choose from among 100,000 apps to load upon Apple's handhelds. But who selects the apps from which you can choose? Apple does.

And Apple's control over its App Store is deservedly notorious. Examples are legion.

So, you feel like you have control, and you feel like you have loads of choice, but actually, some very restrictive constraints have been imposed. Ultimately, a lot of choices have been taken away from you, but you can't see that because of all the apparent choice you do have. Even though a lot of the "choice" you have is things like 57 different "apps" that make farting noises.

And remember how this started off: Apple were adamant that this was all to make sure that the iPhone was not exposed to security risks.

And then there's the other, "do no evil" corporate:

The world's largest online ad merchant and search provider has already begun its efforts to move apps and files off your machine and into its data centers. To be sure, its Google Apps suite provides cost-effective convenience, but to take advantage of its benefits you need to relinquish control of your content.

Yes, Google's privacy policy states that the company takes "appropriate security measures to protect against unauthorized access to or unauthorized alteration, disclosure or destruction of [your] data." But the fact remains that your data is not under your own explicit oversight. That may be perfectly fine with you, but it's yet another sign that the 2010s will be the out-of-control decade.

Meanwhile, with roughly 70 per cent of today's online search market, Google is well on its way to knowing everything about what you're looking for online, and its AdSense and DoubleClick services inform the search giant which ad-enabled pages you've visited. Add to that Mountain View's recent decision to implement what it calls its Google Public DNS, and your web habits are both trackable and storable.

And as Google's search and ad market share grows, it controls more of what you see on the web.

Google knows what you're looking at. They always flannel when asked about your privacy, which leads me to suspect that they probably can identify pretty much anything that anyone has ever searched for by IP address. And they've shown themselves to be pretty compliant about accommodating governments like the Chinese.

And then there are the local practitioners of data collection, like Nectar and Tesco. They can tell people when and where you bought groceries and petrol, what you bought, whether you're eating healthy food, whether you've inadvertently bought the ingredients for a home made bomb (even if you bought them over the course of several months!)

And just to tie it all up with a nice bow comes the "internet of things", which doesn't sound scary at all:

Today, the internet is essentially a computing and communications space. During the next decade, a vast array of embedded-internet devices will hop aboard what was once jocularly referred to as the infobahn.

Be they supermarket barcode scanners, electronic toll collectors, ID-card readers, home refrigerators, smart electrical meters, healthcare devices, or whatever, being internet-connected these devices will all potentially be able to talk amongst themselves in the next decade's omniscient cloud, sharing data while cross-checking usage patterns.

All that data taken together will paint a highly detailed picture of you, your whereabouts, diet, health status, purchasing patterns, and lifestyle. And in some hands - say, those at the end of the long arm of the law or those clenched into an iron fist - that information could be used against you.

Don't get us wrong. You might feel perfectly comfortable with your life being an open book, agreeing instead with Google CEO Eric Schmidt's peculiar notions of privacy. As he recently told CNBC. "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

The operant word in Schmidt's smug statement is "anyone." He assumes a benevolent, paternalist "anyone" who's just like you and me, and keeps us good folks safe by watching out for terrorists, pedophiles, and other odious "thems". In Schmidt's world, there's a "them" and an "us".

If only life were that simple. It isn't.

The definition of "them" is a highly mutable one. Here in the United States, citizens out of step with the dominant political philosophy have been regularly designated as "them," and subjected to both extra-legal and legal-but-selective scrutiny - think of the McCarthy years, the late 1960s, and the post-9/11 hysteria, for example.

A patchwork of legal protections currently exists to protect against the unfettered tracking of such digital droppings as your location, buying practices, financial dealings, and health records. Although that protective shield is in clear need of consolidation and strengthening, it exists. Today, at least.

But data is an increasingly valuable commodity. And wherever there's value to be found, there's money to be made - and that money will fund an army of lobbyists to fiscally twist pliant lawmaking arms to weaken those protections.

The phrase "increasing shareholder value" is a talisman of almost religious power these days, matched only in its magical inarguability by its working-class mirror mantra of "job creation". Expect both of those incantations to crop up in data-deregulation debates during the out-of-control 2010s, no matter which political party is in power.

Information about you is worth money. Big money. But to take an even darker view, it might be worth your life.

Come a significant breach in public security - a "9/11 redux", if you will - and data safeguards will evaporate. Poof. Faced with an existential threat - whether real, imagined, or trumped up - the Schmidt philosophy will rule, and personal privacy and protection will dissolve.

Big business and governments will wind up with the means to fuck you over completely, all in the name of "convenience" and "security". It's difficult to counter this:
  • A simple place to start is to chuck away your Nectar card and Club Card along with any other "loyalty" card you may have*.
  • Start paying for things with cash again.
  • Use a mix of different search engines and only use Google as a last resort.
  • Don't use Google Chrome.
  • Consider using a proxy server like HideMyAss or SwissVPN (the Swiss still care about data privacy!)

It's a big ask and it means you have to change your habits. It's also not going to protect you completely, but it will make it more difficult for people to piece "you" together. But if privacy matters to you at all, do it now, so that it doesn't look suspicious in the future.

It probably will already look suspicious now.

*Loyalty cards are the cheapest way for a business to model and influence your buying habits.


Anonymous said...

The whole reason for the total freedom given to the internet was to literally monitor our thoughts. Now, everyone has a little file which one day may decide your life.

For all the good technology does us, we may as nuke a couple of cities into oblivion, oh yeah, we have.

I reckon even these new "digital tv sets" that were pushed onto us with their shitty reception and shittier channels could possibly be the predecessor of 1984's telescreen.

Mobile phones with their microphones and electromagnetic signals pinpointing your exact location means the CIA never need bother with those 'manhunts'.

A brave new world awaits, just hope the drugs are as fantastic as the book proclaims.

Trixy said...

Fucking hell, it's all so depressing. I only have one loyalty card (Boots - actually does give you money back as proved by my brand new hairdrier) it just pisses me off how everyone wants to know what the fuck I am doing all the time.

FUCK OFF AND LEAVE ME ALONE. Why? Why are we all so interesting that they must interfere with my computer and demand to know what kind of tea I bloody drink? Emigration is the only option, it would seem. The Tories aren't concerned enough with these issues to do anything about them: they'll say enough stuff to convince the stupid masses that they're the right guys for the job and that'll be that.

JuliaM said...

57 of those apps now? Wow, there was only 43 last time I looked... ;)

manwiddicombe said...

Firefox users. To help confuse your Google search profile install the SquiggleSR addon.

Anonymous said...

But this isn't America - it just couldn't happen here - we have "RIPA" and besides Doleful Dave has promised to "sweep away" all this unnecessary monitoring every aspect of our lives and "justify yourself and what you are doing" mentality. Yeah right. {dissolves into fit of uncontrollable manic laughter alternating with weeping.}

Oldrightie said...

Not far removed from my blog of 01/01/2009.

Simon Cooke said...

Have put in a special order for you - one lead lined hat on its way :)

Business wants my personal details for one understandable reason - to flog me more stuff. I have the power to say no.

I worry more when Government allows itself access to the persoanl data "so as to protect consumer interests"

Obnoxio The Clown said...

@Simon Cooke -- I agree entirely. I have no problem with a business improving their understanding of what I want so I can buy it from them more easily. But I'm shitting myself at the idea that this data is being kept and that the government can look at it without any effort at all.

irtings said...

I got rid of the store cards years ago. I buy a higher proportion of stuff cash than most folks - judging by the illiterate tits in the "cash only" queue using plastic to spend a £1. I don't use google chrome and refuse their scrip and cookies. BTW my browser says your site doesn't say who owns it but is storing cookies on my puter ( and which I'll be deleting shortly ). I tried to use Tor but its as slow as a week in jail.

I fear for the future of free thinking people here. Most folks actually don't get it. And if they did they would sell their freedom for security. The beauty of the modern social market economy is that most of us live in the blissful illusion that we are free. But hey, my grandparents didn't have an indoor bathroom, and the Germans were dropping bombs on them for 5 years. So is it such a bad country?

Mitch said...

Apple can kiss my bell end specially that crappy iphone.
got me a droid phone,no loyalty cards and pay cash for everything,this cash I get free from tescos ATM then go to the next garage and buy my fuel.
whenever a survey is pushed at me I give very spurious answers like earn £5k but drive a Porsche, Holiday in the Caribbean ...and ...well u get the picture.
Sad maybe but anything to screw them up.

Pogo said...

@Obnoxio: But I'm shitting myself at the idea that this data is being kept and that the government can look at it without any effort at all.

Too true young clown.

For example, one potential scenario that comes to mind, especially as drinkers appear to have been selected as this new decade's "target", would be a demand that supermarkets divulge who's been buying booze. Run this against the register of children and have Social Services "investigate" the worst cases.

For me, not much of a problem. I don't have any loyalty cards (largely through inertia rather than intent), tend to buy fuel with cash (since I had a card cloned at a garage, though, to be fair, the credit card company were superb in their quick response and solution), wouldn't touch either iPhone or iPod with a disinfected bargepole and use assorted nerdy methods to keep at least some of my personal data from unintenionally leaking out into the interwebs.

Steve Antony Williams said...

I knew there was a reason I didn't want an iPod or iPhone :)

irtings said...

Huh. On the positive Obo, the fact that I was being told cookies were being stored puzzled me. I am usually paranoid about such stuff and set every puter I get access to to ask before accepting cookies. It seems those great guys at Mozilla have altered how they manage cookies in Firefox 3.5 . The default is to accept them. So there I go innocently letting Firefox upgrade and all the while the cunts are spying on me again without my permission.

So all you users out there who assumed their old settings for cookie handling would be unaffected by an upgrade beware. Go check it.

Happy New Year Obo. You are my favourite clown. And that includes Ronald McD and G McBroon.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you, Obo.

Joe Public said...

And that caring, considerate charity called MicroSoft got fined £millions by our EU overseers for simply forcing us to accept software with their own browser pre-installed.

Maybe it's time for Brussels to investigate the Cupertino Cosa Nostra.

Also, how come the Office of Fair Trading haven't investigated Apple UK's pricing restrictions?? Every reseller of Apple PCs & Laptops have identical prices.

Scoper said...

Yeah, but we haven't got any money, so it's all moot. The state is facing a 30% reduction in its income. Hold on for the ride.

schlumpf23 said...

Chrome is a great browser but needs to be tamed:
I would never use Google search & highly recommend Scroogle to all:
Open DNS provide an excellent DNS service, far better than the usual ISPs:
Gmail is useful but for anything really private, you really need to be using encrypted email, hushmail provide a good free service:
I always use a VPN when browsing, most decent ones charge a monthly fee. Tor is always worth a look:

Barking Spider said...

Thanks for the SwissVPN link, Obo, all set up and running fine

Anonymous said...

Microsoft are the biggest shills of all, yet don't seem to merit a mention in this article. FWIW, Linux has come of age; you can download Mint, PCLinuxOS, Fedora, Mepis or any number of other excellent variants that will work straight out of the box with any luck. Then install a different browser; one like Iceweasel or Lynx. By far the biggest risk of having your privacy violated comes from using a Microsoft operating system.

Anonymous said...

But you're using bloody blogspot.

Anonymous said...

Tesco's data collection is interesting because the credit card account detail's of the majority of the poor innocent bastards targeted in Operation Ore - who had had their accounts used by Paedophiles - were obtained by hacking into Tesco's database.

Shop at Tesco and get banged up as a paedophile. Every little helps!

Real Estate Values said...

What is the coolest piece of technology on SciFi shows. What is the coolest thing we actually have?

stimarco said...

To be fair, Apple don't claim to be in the business of making open, easily-hackable kit for geeks. They're a design boutique, not a tech company. Their competition are the likes of Sony and Bang & Olufsen, not Microsoft.

Also, the iPhone's limitations are partly imposed by the operators, not Apple. (Steve Jobs couldn't wait to be shot of the DRM in iTunes' own store, imposed by the music industry dinosaurs.)

To those who whine about Apple's kit and then claim to have chosen an Android-based phone instead: Android is made by... Google! (As is Chrome.)

If there's one company I'd be worried about, it's Google. They've made no secret of their desire to know everything about you and sell that information on. And the sheeple seem to be more than happy to let them.

Microsoft are probably #2 (although News International would be my choice for that spot).

Apple aren't in the low-price, mass-market sector, so aren't likely to become anywhere near as dominant in our daily lives. Not everyone who uses a computer has any Apple gear, but almost everyone *does* use Google.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

stimarco: I did a little bit of a look around after I wrote this to see which search engine I could recommend, and by golly there aren't any!

Google is so dominant that no-one else really has a look in, and Bing and Yahoo are just as bloody bad! We are so fucked! :o(

manfromthefuture said...

thanks for the swissvpn idea. i signed up for 1 month to see how it goes.

there are others doing this too, but i feel the swiss are more neutral EUwise. so im going with them unless their service is bad.

some tech notes for others:

i have several machines here and dont want to install VPN clients on them all. also different OSes (and mobiles). So, it's possible to configure some routers to route automatically through the VPN - invisibly to all local machines. i have a vigor 2910VG. their other models do this too. you need the LAN-to-LAN VPN setup. once this is done, everything just works!!

one point is that if you use your ISP for DNS and EMAIL, these will stop working because you're no longer calling from your ISP. you can either use a public DNS (eg opendns), or setup your own local DNS server.

i never use ISP email anyway, it's an obvious trap. so things here are already working fine.

i'll see in a month's time whether i pay again!


Anonymous said...

Read this Obo, you won't like it: