Saturday, March 31, 2018

You Can Close The Open Book That Is Your Data

Now that it has been demonstrated Facebook is not the benign social media giant it has always claimed to be, people are becoming more conscious of how vulnerable and how valuable their data is to unscrupulous entities. Among those who are concerned, there will be a corp looking for ways to keep more of their information private. Fortunately, you don't have to be a technical wizard to take prophylactic measures.

Exactly what does Facebook have on you? It is easy to find out, and easy to change your privacy settings to frustrate those who 'want to get to know you better'.
In the Facebook settings for your account — right below the link to deactivate it — there’s an option to download a copy of all your Facebook data. The file can be a creepy wake-up call: All those years of browsing the News Feed, and sharing selfies, engagements and birthday wishes on Facebook have taught the company quite a lot about you. You, the user, are part of the reason that Facebook has become so good at targeting ads. You’re giving them everything they need to do it.

Here’s a link that will take you right to the settings page, if you’re logged in to your account. One there, click on the link to download your archive, and follow the prompts.
The following video offers further explanation:

Yesterday I downloaded my data and, after nine years on Facebook I was amazed at what is stored there: all manner of messages, posts, photos and likes. While most of what I put on the social media is not personal, as I prefer to use it to post links to articles and interesting blog posts, in the past I have included vacation photos and other such memorabilia, but for the most part have always kept this information either private (available only to me, or limited to my FB friends). Nonetheless, I am not at all confident that the data could not be taken and sold by FB anyway.

However, it is easy to change your settings, and something privacy experts agree is a good start.

On a related note, I have stopped using Google for my searches, because all of them are tracked and sold; instead, I am using another engine called DuckDuckGo, which does no such tracking. You can click on this link to find out more about it.

Finally, those who are cavalier about their data may want to think twice after reading this article about the "extreme vetting" the U.S. is subjecting visa applicants to, expected to affect 14.71 million applicants, including those who apply as students, for business trips, or on vacation.


  1. Extreme vetting, indeed. It's been years since I paid attention to those visiting my blog. Before that I did it periodically because there was a time when I found that information worrisome. I had discovered that agencies such as US Army intelligence and US Naval intelligence would show up with some regularity. Lockheed was a reliable visitor, sometimes twice a day. I even logged hits from the Speaker of the US Senate, the CIA and, once, the FBI.

    One of my children turned my blog into a web site, two in fact, through GoDaddy - and Then, one day I found both sites down, just a black screen. I contacted GoDaddy support and was told that I had sold or transferred both sites to somebody named Ruiz from Kansas City, Missouri. When I argued I had not, I knew no one named Ruiz and had never been near Kansas City, Missouri, they replied that Ruiz had all the authorization data which, they claimed, only I could have given him. The only alternative was that I had been hacked for the purpose of getting the authorization code which had then been used to steal the websites for the sole purpose of shutting them down.

    When the term expired, GoDaddy contacted me to say that the sites were available and did I want to reactivate them. They've apologized a couple of times for allowing those sites to be stolen but there's nothing to prevent it from happening again so I just passed.

    The last time I went to the States was about four years ago when I traveled to Port Townsend to get a beagle puppy from an old friend. I was nervous as hell going through the border. Nothing came of it and I was very relieved.

    Do you remember when Bush/Cheney tried to establish the Office of Total Information Awareness under the direction of Admiral John Poindexter? Talk about a Brave New World. Congress balked and so, we were told, the initiative was abandoned. That was not true. What the US government actually did was to dismantle the Total Information Awareness idea into three or four constituent sub-agencies that, collectively, would achieve the same purpose. If it goes via satellite or undersea cable, chances are they have it. If it's on the internet, they have it. Calls between American citizens are notionally off limits without a warrant but calls between American citizens and a Russian ambassador are fair game. Our saving grace seems to be that they're left struggling to cope with the oceans of data they harvest. Mundane data becomes noise that interferes with their efforts to identify what they're seeking.

    I don't want to sound defeatist. Resisting, purging whatever data we can, is always worthwhile. That, however, does not allay my fears that we are already so far down this rabbit hole that we'll always be a half mile behind the guys we're so desperate to foil.

    1. Your commentary here is a quite sobering cautionary tale, Mound. So much goes on behind the scenes that we are not privy to, and our rights, if we really still have them, I guess are trampled with regularity.

      What I do wonder about is how cavalier the younger generation seems about violations of their privacy. Despite the many warnings about, for example, potential employers demanding access to their social media platforms, they still post compromising things and don't mind sharing with the world the many peccadilloes that youth is prone to, peccadilloes that often come back to haunt them.

      Being retired, I have never worried too much about my own digital footprint; indeed, when I used to track who my visitors were, I was often amused by the frequency with which the government of Canada visited; I always hoped those visits would give someone in the Harper government indigestion, despite the fact that in the blogging world, I am pretty small potatoes.

    2. I too worry about our younger generations but is this really a function of their indifference or arrogance or failure to appreciate privacy or, perhaps, is it really a result of conditioning? I think most of our generation, Lorne, were brought up to be a bit circumspect in our dealings with others, especially strangers or casual acquaintances. I was taught that there was an inner circle, immediate family, and an outer circle, close friends, and then everyone else.

      I'm sure the simpler means of communication available to us contributed to our notions of privacy. Using email it costs me as much to communicate with my child in Vancouver as it does to reach my daughter in Dublin or friends in Australia. It costs me nothing beyond my basic internet access fee. We can have video chats on Skype. Compare that to what we had sixty years ago when our generation's values were being forged. Different worlds entirely. Different worlds, different rules, different values. They look much more aberrant to us than they do to them.

    3. All so true, Mound. It is really amazing to think of the changes we have witnessed in our lifetimes, and the fact that even we 'old guys' have been able to adapt, without entirely forgetting the lessons of the past, is no doubt a testament to our resilience, eh? ;)

  2. Cannot get on with Duckduckgo.

    Extreme lack of privacy suspicion back in 2010 or so made me never sign up with Facetrash or Twatter. Thank goodness.

    Got a new Android phone recently since I've never bought into Apple's jive talk. The old Samsung G4 croaked. A new G8 is $1300, an utter uselessness to me for the money. Got a Chinese phone from the carrier for $80, all aluminum case - makes the old S4 seem like trash.

    Since I use Gmail, I turned off all the usual privacy traps, and all was well. Then, a week later, Google "upgraded" me, unasked, to Android 6 on ye olde wifi. Well, that reset all the permissions to ON. Unasked. Another hour to root through all lines, submenus etc. to turn them off again. Worse than before, because Android 6 has more built-in crud than Android 5.1.

    Not content with that, two weeks later, Google delivered me an updated Assistant, unasked for. First I knew of it was a message telling me what my favourite way to work was! Being retired for five years, this was indeed a revelation. So another round of turning off permissions was needed.

    But I was not thorough enough. As I prepared to comment here, the "comment as" box had my name staring back at me. So thanks for the alert. It has taken several hours to learn even more of the little cul-de-sacs Google has built in to trap the unwary. Some processes require pressing a Pause button for 5 seconds to opt out. No instructions, of course. It's trial and error. Thank you, Google. And when you're finally successful, a page pops up to advise you of the error of your ways, in the most mincing words imaginable. Squawk, we won't be able to send you directed searches based on your history, whine, you won't get the latest directed ads, blah, blah. So far as I'm concerned, Great.

    Google makes you opt out rather than opt in. Bloody data pirates. Anyway, that's why I comment anonymously. Probably only cosmetic, no doubt we all are still tracked anyway, but I feel better.

    Speaking of which, contemplating a new car. Vehicles have been a lifelong passion. Mine's 11 years old and has none of these new touchscreen data traps, but she's getting on. Don't ever plan to visit the US ever again. Not one reason to want to go. Got most roads in NS memorized, so navigation not required. Listen to CBC, but hey I'm supposed to consume boughten iTunes music. Need no electronic bells and whistles. Want a good suspension, good steering - driving is serious and I enjoy it. But I do realize that there is no opting out of location tracking on any new car, regardless. We're all stuck.

    The car companies are now in the data-mining/flogging business too. Android Auto will latch onto my phone like a leech for targeted ads on the big car screen. I mean, how many bum fast food hamburgers can anyone swallow at one go? Or pizzas? Or dreadful Timmies coffee? The Brave New World of advertising and consumerism, with dope soon being legal to tranquilize us all, even as history is rewritten in 1984 fashion in other ways, something the Americans are already past masters at. I mean, who won WW1 and WW2? America. And who really believes in global warming, soil despoilation and running out of resources? Not Amerika. Under Dems or Elephantz.

    Good thing I got to three score years and ten and enjoyed myself before I really rumbled the BS we get fed by the greedy elite every day. This world isn't destined for long, I'm afeared.


    1. Thanks for your always penetrating and insightful comments and analysis, BM. Your experiences with Google and location tracking are quite telling; I have an 11-year-old car and will at some point have to face the barrage of tracking you discuss here.

      I am taking the liberty of once more featuring your response as a guest post so more people can learn from your experiences.

  3. Thanks for the helpful information, Lorne. Big Brother is watching . . .

    1. You're welcome, Owen. Anything to cloud up BB's vision.