How I Learned to stop worrying and love the information security

Valeria Mingova
Oct 1, 2019 · 5 min read
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Nowadays, network security is one of the hottest topics for government security experts, as well as for ordinary people. The thing is almost impossible to maintain absolute privacy. You must either completely abandon all gadgets and any activity on the Internet, or to be advanced IT specialist to take into account all the factors that modern marketing and other analytical algorithms can calculate for you. In our article, we will dispel myths related to cybersecurity, talk about real cases of collecting personal data, and give simple tips for those who don’t want to put up with the presence of Big Brother in their lives. For instance, Facebook leaked data from millions of users, including 133 million US citizens, 18 million British, 50 million Vietnamese citizens, as well as Russian users.

A little bit of history

The fact that we are not able to avoid total surveillance has been predicted by many science fiction writers, including Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Stanislav Lem. And we can safely say that each of their scenarios to some extent has come to life. For instance, Stanislav Lem wrote in “Summa Technologiae about the ethical issues of future technologies and their global impact on all humankind’s development. The anti-utopian worlds of Orwell and Huxley mostly showed two sides of the same coin: the possibility of total surveillance and subjugation of the mind. And if in the first case the whip method worked, then in Huxley’s vision people will enjoy climbing into the trap themselves. Nevertheless, the perspectives drawn by the classics in both cases leave a feeling of impending totalitarian hopelessness.

What your kudos can say about you?

In pop culture, the influence on our livelihoods and data security is best disclosed by the British television series Black Mirror. In one of the episodes, folks even noticed an already existing reality. The episode tells the story of a world in which integrity and likes essentially replaced the money. Your rating affects everything: your career ladder, acceptance in society, the ability to make payments. Be like everyone else, smile, and follow the rules. Otherwise, you die in solitude, and poverty is the main idea of this world. It would seem that our society is not so gloomy. However, in China, there are already similar trends. A system of social rating is already operating in the Celestial Empire, and now the government wants to introduce even more external control algorithms that will take into account citizens’ personalities, figures, and movements.

If you presume that the authorities of different countries are one of the main consumers of information about people, then you are mistaken. Our data is a real piece of cake for analytical marketing companies, whose customers, in turn, are various commercial structures. Who is selling this data? First of all, huge social networks. There are already a lot of scandals: Twitter acknowledges the transfer of user data, Facebook confessed to listening to users’ messages.

Why do you think Facebook requests access to our microphone, applications, and Internet access? Of course, Facebook will say that this is all done to improve interaction with the app, but, obviously, this is done to collect data. To ensure yourself on it, try to make two clean accounts. From one to the other, write a message: “My dear friend, let’s go to Tula. Almost guaranteed, after 2–3 days you will receive an advertisement about tours there. The thing is social network will scan personal messages, which seems to violate the privacy policy, but it will be impossible to prove it. Applications’ data is frequently collected to find out the income level of a particular person.

An interesting fact: calling a taxi from the same place from an iPhone and an android will cost differently because before placing an order, the system will receive data about the platform. Also, running applications can tell a lot about a person: what kind of car he uses, in which bank he has an account, whether he has a life partner, what interests he has.

How companies use your data?

Even laying out information about yourself personally, you may accidentally appear on a photo from a party that your friends have posted, thereby falling into the social network analysis system, and you will also receive targeted advertising.

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Analyst companies extract data from your photos. For example, if you published an exact car about five times in a year and a half, then they will assign this car to you. Also, from photographs of your travels, the presence of a vehicle, the brands of alcohol you have used, they can conclude not only about your financial condition but even about the fact of tax evasion. There are many stories about how the government agencies found the perpetrators precisely with the help of social networks.

One of the latest snooping technologies is Wi-Fi. When a person comes to the mall, connects to WI-FI, his address is tracked and companies can understand how the person moved. This is a rather specific algorithm since suppliers include new locks for such tracking in their equipment. Then this shopping center will be able to share data with analytical companies about you. By the time a person enters the subway, much can be understood: does he study or work, whether he is a visitor or a resident of the particular area if he is childless or has a baby.

How does AI work with your photos on social networks?

AI identifies the objects in the photo. It’s able to identify your hairstyle, determine the brand of alcohol. Then these data are easily transmitted to alcohol producers, beauty companies, and other commercial structures.

Fitness trackers are just an inexhaustible thing of the most critical information for Facebook, medical corporations, and research centers, manufacturers. After all, they know almost everything about us: how we eat, what we eat, how we sleep, when we engage in physical activity, how much time we spend on it. Fitness trackers’ producers make good money obtaining so much personal information about their customers. And recently, Strava made a giant heat map of the people throughout the day, spotlighting a secret military base in Syria. This proves once again that the consequences of owning Big data can be unpredictable and the effects that can appear can be theatrical.

Small tips, which will calm you

Nevertheless, the vast majority of people are not ready to refuse using social networks and surfing the Internet. Вut after all, even if you are being watched and you know it, isn’t it better to keep the most valuable information from prying eyes and live calmly? Just follow basic information hygiene:

  • Do not give dubious applications access to your camera and information
  • Do not connect to every Wi-Fi
  • Get yourself a private VPN and think less about global conspiracies


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