I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy — but that could change.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Slate on Secret Surfing

A great article on Slate: http://www.slate.com/id/2180881?nav=wp by Paul Boutin on Internet security.

I am posting my reply here: I have a dream...

The dream is to one day go off the grid altogether. No web, no mobile, no credit cards, no social networking.

I am reminded of Ben Kingsley announcing to Robert Redford in 1992 movie Sneakers - "No more secrets, Marty."

With that in mind, the article is very timely. Thank you Paul.

The truth is that there is no way to protect one's privacy in today's world. You would have to become a brilliant sysadmin and spend most of your time worrying about sweeping up your breadcrumbs and even then, you will ultimately fail.

Recently I happened to read a job avert posted by a manager of a search company that was obviously uncensored:

"Our mission is to convert the massive amount of data from web activity generated by a half-billion users world wide, into valuable insights, relevant content and services, and becoming the partner of choice in our ecosystem. We collect over 10 terabytes of click stream behavioral data each day (the equivalent of all the information stored in the Library of Congress). Our user data warehouse is the largest in the world--in the order of petabytes."

You can no longer rely on security by obscurity. And you can do something. Everyone should take an active interest in safe computing.

It would take a good size book to really address the issue and there are many good ones already. Paul’s article is a good start. I’d add:

  • get Firefox and install extensions like CustomizeGoogle, Adblock Plus and NoScript.
  • Learn how to block information collection sites through your hosts file. Here is a start: http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm
  • Use multiple search engines! Spread your information out. Competitors do not share data.
  • Using an out of country proxy server as Paul suggests is a good adea, but how do you know that the company that owns this proxy does not keep and market information about you?
  • Remember that information about you remains in a thousand places long after you have deleted this email or posting. I have run very large databases and the rule of thumb is – you never delete an item, just mark it deleted, plus keep the backups forever.
  • Avoid social network sites to the extent you can. Go for a walk with a real friend!
  • Checkout Mailinator site for one time email use.
  • Consider switching from Windows to a free Linux distribution like Ubuntu. Well, this has nothing to do with anonymity. Just a personal preference. :)

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I am a cantankerous man living and working in the Silicon Valley where reading books is an abomination that is virtually unheard of, frowned upon and may be detrimental to one's career. I avoid censure by never conceding that I ever read or owned a book in my life. If anyone accidentally glimpses my scant proficiency in any subject matter, I immediately accredit it to having glanced at DrudgeReport that day.

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