Too boring to be spied on?

We all know Big Brother is watching. Yet the thought that we may be “too boring to be spied on” or that we “have nothing to hide” dissuades us from securing our personal data.

May 13, 2015 · 4 min read

As part of an AJ+ collaboration with Brett Gaylor’s documentary, Do Not Track, we hope to change the way you might think about personal data security.

The most interesting feature of Gaylor’s interactive documentary is Illuminus, a simulated data collection and analysis tool that compiles and analyzes your Facebook posts in real time.

One AJ+ producer gave Illuminus permission to scrape his Facebook data. This is what it brought back:

“Your high scores in Openness and Extroversion indicate extreme potential for risk-taking behavior in your social decisions (e.g. standing for election, publicly challenging a rule or decision).”

Illuminus reached this conclusion by snooping into the pages he likes, the public profiles he follows and the content of his posts. The part about running for office might be flattering, but “extreme potential for…publicly challenging a rule or decision” might not be something an average citizen wants to be tracked as.

Police departments already use “Stingrays” and other tools to collect metadata and track targeted individuals, so data scraped from your social profiles only helps bring in more real time information, selfies and all. Illuminus is just a test, but there are people who do this for a living, for profit and most importantly, to monitor political activists.

Each episode of Do Not Track delivers similarly confounding examples of how data marketers can easily transform otherwise mundane online activities into a gold mine and gather invaluable insights into our lives.

With every single click, every “like” and form submission, we create a trail of actions that, once put together and analyzed with our “check-ins” to libraries, restaurants and public parks, become bankable information in the hands of marketing agencies.

In an era where both governments and private companies leverage personal data for profit and political power, the stakes are high.

The spy in my pocket

Mobile is emerging as one of the most coveted venues for surveillance and private data collection — in part because we are so wedded to our devices, with location tracking, metadata from calls and the added convenience of a built-in camera and microphone.

Our daily activities on the web create an elaborate picture of who we are, what we do and how we spend our time and money. Data marketers are not so much interested in the content of our posts (that’s for the NSA) as they are in our habits and associations (also of interest t0 the NSA).

While marketing companies collect this data for commercial purposes, the implications take a nefarious turn when it comes to government surveillance programs, which have a direct impact on civil liberties.

The National Security Agency’s surveillance program has been controversial since its inception, not least because of the implications of warrantless searches of personal information.

NSA spying: How did we get here?

In an interview with the German press, Edward Snowden pointed out that it’s not so much about someone else looking at our private data, but the unwarranted collection and interception of private communications.

“The surveillance and the abuse doesn’t occur when people look at the data, it occurs when people gather the data in the first place.” — Edward Snowden

So how do you protect yourself?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been working to answer this question. Surveillance Self Defense, one of the foundation’s initiatives, has developed a comprehensive kit of tools that help with daily personal data management.

Useful tools out of the SSD toolkit include PGP email encryption, KeePassX and HTTPS Everywhere, a browser plugin that allows you to “bring-your-own-security” by encrypting your communications when you visit most websites.

“Anonymity is hard. It’s hard to do anonymity correctly.” — Danny O’Brien, Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

It’s time to acknowledge that the internet as we know it is riddled with security flaws that at best allow some to profit off our data and at worst can jeopardize our political freedoms.

AJ+ On the News

AJ+ is a global news community that highlights human struggles and achievements, empowers impassioned voices, and challenges the status quo. Here, we take a deeper look at the stories you are following.

Thanks to Tawanda Kanhema


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AJ+ is news for the connected generation, sharing human struggles, and challenging the status quo. Download the app to be a part of a global community.

AJ+ On the News

AJ+ is a global news community that highlights human struggles and achievements, empowers impassioned voices, and challenges the status quo. Here, we take a deeper look at the stories you are following.

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