Your Privacy at Risk
A Lot to Absorb
This page has a lot of information on it. The issues are complex and have significant implications for our future as a free society.
People don't really understand privacy nor value what they've given away.
If we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated, sold, or even leaked in the event of a hack, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human. We deserve better. You deserve better. — Apple CEO, Tim Cook
As disheartening as it is for some of us to believe, it's not the privacy that bothers most people — otherwise we'd be far, far more careful about all the data we're already handing over to Google and Facebook in exchange for “free” services. It's the impact on performance. We don't all hate giving away data but we all seem to hate our browsers being slow. — iMore
The purpose of this page is not to have you feel helpless, but to open your eyes to what is happening. The next step is to fight to protect our virtual privacy just as you employ locks on your doors to protect your physical privacy.
The companion page has tips and tools to help you restore your privacy.
We've all been bombarded with emails about updated privacy policies and terms of service. All those emails are a hint to disconnect from services you've forgotten about. — Mozilla
Surveillance is the New Norm
Justified by terrorism, we're faced with unprecedented attacks on personal freedom by governments worldwide. We're being constantly spied upon.
If you're willing to sacrifice some freedom to feel safe, you deserve neither. — Thomas Jefferson
I don't want to live in a world where everything I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity and love or friendship is recorded. — Edward Snowden
Governments seek to collect and store virtually everything about their own citizens including their online activities. Everyone is considered guilty.
Although [Bill C-11] is primarily a bill to fight against piracy, [i]t also gives the Canadian government more power to monitor the Internet activities of its citizens. In fact, it requires that ISPs collect and store their users' data. It legally takes away all of your online privacy. There is also the Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-51. This bill gives Canada the opportunity to share datum with the government and their allies. — Top VPN Choice
The Changing Privacy Landscape
For a long time, internet privacy seemed to only concern the conspiracy theorists and worriers among us. But these days it's getting harder to tell the difference between reality and an episode of Black Mirror. — Mozilla
Collecting information based upon a warrant issued by a judge in a public court is very different than collecting information on innocent citizens just in case it may be useful in the future or because of warrants issued by secret courts.
Corporate Attacks on Personal Privacy
Our private data has become the new currency of business. Increasingly we're told that this is the price we need to pay for all the free information and products on the Internet.
We see corporations like Facebook become wealthy by creating profiles on their users which is sold to advertisers. Microsoft changed their business model from selling operating systems and office suites to one which collects personal information to sell to their unnamed “partners” and monetizes once-free features.
So yes, our phones are listening to us and anything we say around our phones could potentially be used against us. — VICE
Everyday we hear about another undisclosed data breach. Private information being collected, sometimes sold, and given away without our knowledge or consent. CEOs sit before Congress saying they will “do better” while stories continue to break about negligence and wrong-doing. — Mozilla
“Location information can reveal some of the most intimate details of a person's life — whether you've visited a psychiatrist, whether you went to an A.A. meeting, who you might date,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, who has proposed bills to limit the collection and sale of such data, which are largely unregulated in the United States. — NY Times
Statistics Canada plans to build an enormous information bank with the real-time financial transaction data of 500,000 people in Canada. This “individual-level financial transactions data” would include SINs, account balances, cash withdrawals from ATMs, bills paid and credit card payments. And it sounds like our Internet activities might be next. — OpenMedia
Your Personal Privacy at Risk
Your personal privacy is at risk like it has never been before, yet most folks think they have nothing to hide and therefore there is no need for concern.
They are wrong!
It's not necessarily that you're doing anything wrong at all, or that you have anything to hide, but we all should have a sphere of our life where we're not on stage or being scrutinized. And we're just able to develop and grow relationships and make mistakes and do stupid but not illegal things. And if we get rid of our privacy it's going to have a massive impact on our ability to develop as humans. — Jenny Afia
Our information is being handled by an increasingly smaller number of powerful companies where your privacy impedes profitability.
It feels like every tech giant has been racing to update their privacy policies these days so we wanted to ask. What did we just sign up for? What is this bargain? — Mozilla
More about this brave new world of one-sided transparency:
- Your phone is listening and it's not paranoia.
- Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are spying on you — here is the proof!
- 7 big ways online rights have changed this year.
- The Grand Bargain.
- Why should I care about privacy, when I have nothing to hide?
Governments are Lying About Terrorism Risks
We're being lied to about the necessity and effectiveness of constant surveillance on all of us (not just the criminals or terrorists). To make it worse, there is very little accountability and records of this activity are conveniently incomplete — if they exist at all.
Protection Against Terrorism Undeliverable
Governments continue to demand even more access to our personal privacy even though unprecedented spying on their own citizens has provided virtually no additional protection against terrorist attacks.
Governments cannot protect us from terrorism without destroying our own freedom. Therefore the cost is unacceptable, especially in terms of our lost privacy.
Yet More Access is Demanded
Police and intelligence agencies are quick to point out the use of cell phones and encryption in terrorist attacks. They continue to demand new restrictions including special “back door” access.
Criminals and terrorists use many other services. Do we ban everything?
Criminals have used telephones and mobile phones since they were invented. Drug smugglers use airplanes and boats, radios and satellite phones. Bank robbers have long used cars and motorcycles as getaway vehicles, and horses before then. And while terrorism turns society's very infrastructure against itself, we only harm ourselves by dismantling that infrastructure in response — just as we would if we banned cars because bank robbers used them too. — Bruce Schneier
Back Doors Unsecure
Back doors inevitably are broken and become the tools of criminals. No one wants to share private data and financial information such as credit cards on the Internet without strong encryption.
It really never comes into play as being a personal issue or a real big factor for you personally until that information is either weaponized, used against you, or it feels personal. — The Grand Bargain
We Are the Victims
Besides their own spying, governments allowed corporations unprecedented access to our private data, then demanded access to those resources based upon the rulings of secret courts.
Democracy and privacy are the victims, not terrorism.
A lot of people assume that those who are under surveillance are quite deserving of that surveillance. That is not true. — Mailyn Fidler
These examples are only the very tip of the iceberg.
Data Breaches Reveal Personal Data
Many companies now make at least some of their income by collecting and analyzing personal data from people on social media, websites and more. Companies like Facebook are based entirely on abusing that trust. I suspect that they fail to protect this data partly because they paid virtually nothing for it.
Each year the number and severity of data breaches, compromised accounts is becoming increasingly frequent and more severe.
In 2018 alone, we saw major data theft at Cathay Pacific, Ticketfly, Marriott, Facebook and others. Over and over again. Nearly 3 quarters of ALL U.S. companies have experienced some kind of data breach. That means that millions of us have been affected. — IRL Podcast.
Where is the Accountability?
Would you simply shrug your shoulders if your bank “lost” your savings because of lax security? Why should mass data breaches be any different?
Many of these companies either are unaware that the breach took place (indicating technical incompetence) or have opted not to report the breach to those affected (essentially fraud).
Probably the only thing that will slow down the rate of these security failures is to place the company executives in jail for not providing sufficient security resources to protect the information in their care.
First, as consumers we need to stop shrugging and accepting data leaks as business as usual. Security should influence our buying decisions: the organisations we deal with won't take security seriously unless customers and the public do, too. — ZDNet.
Legislation is Probably Required
Too often we try to tell folks how to protect themselves, but how to you protect yourself from credit card and other information stolen from retailers other than by strictly using cash and refusing any personal details. “No, I don't want an emailed receipt” (it provides your email address to the retailer to send you ads).
Corporations must be held legally and financially accountable for security breaches that affect customers. There need to be fines, investigations, and court-ordered consequences. Money needs to be spent on lawyers—a lot of money. The current model where customers have to spend their own money and energy to bring lawsuits to bear is unreasonable. — PCMag
The Motive: Financial Gain and Espionage
The primary purpose of hacking these sites is financial gain, although other factors such as espionage are likely factors.
Cyber criminals have placed 617 million hacked accounts for sale on the dark web, stemming from 16 separate data breaches. — Independent
2017 Equifax Data Breach
Probably the most glaring of the many reported (and unreported) data breaches is the 2017 Equifax data breach. Not only was the data was particularly sensitive, including credit reporting information on the majority of American and Canadian citizens but there was a delay in reporting the breach while the company executives cashed out.
A company like Equifax that has sensitive, personal information on most Americans should have the best data security in the industry. Instead, it has the worst. — US Senator, Elizabeth Warren
The data stolen in the Equifax breach provides more than enough information on over half the American adult population to commit identity theft, yet if you use the site set up to check if your personal identity has been compromised, you give up the right to sue. Seriously?
Equifax settled a lawsuit with the FTC by agreeing to provide either 10 years of credit monitoring or $125 settlement fee. But Equifax gamed the system by not providing enough funds for this settlement:
Equifax earmarked only $31 million for claims, meaning that if all 147 million people affected by the breach filed a claim, everyone would get just 21 cents.— The New York Times Editorial
The Motive is a Mystery
The great Equifax mystery: 17 months later, the stolen data has never been found…. Most experts familiar with the case now believe that the thieves were working for a foreign government and are using the information not for financial gain, but to try to identify and recruit spies. — Kate Fazzini, CNBC
The Equifax data breach, which exposed the sensitive personal information of nearly 146 million Americans, happened because of a mistake by a single employee… — The New York Times
Perhaps it was all a mistake. However, the lack of quick action by the company's executives should have resulted in firings and severe financial penalties for the company. 21 cents is no incentive not to do it again.
Breaches Go Back Years
Breaches have been reported for several years in a row. Often the initial reports are short in the actual number of affected accounts.
One example is the Yahoo breach which initially reported 500 million accounts were breached in 2013. Now we know that all 3 billion Yahoo accounts were affected including Yahoo Mail, Tumblr, Flickr and Fantasy Football. Here's what to do.
- The biggest hacks, leaks and data breaches of 2016.
- These companies lost your data in 2015's biggest hacks, breaches.
We're Becoming a Police State
We've seen a series of laws and rules that greatly increase the power of the government and police to gather information on their own citizens and use it without the traditional requirement for warrants or probable cause.
This is the very definition of a police state.
Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide. — Bruce Schneier: The Eternal Value of Privacy
Your Cellular Provider is Collecting and Sharing Personal Information
Your cellular provider already tracks your physical location at all times: it knows where you live, where you work, when you go to sleep at night, when you wake up in the morning, and — because everyone has a smartphone — who you spend time with and who you sleep with. — Bruce Schneier
We love cell phones. We love them to death. For all kinds of reasons. I mean, can you imagine? Suppose twenty years ago Congress had proposed a law saying every citizen had to wear a radio transponder around his neck, all day and all night, so the government could track him wherever he went. Can you imagine the outrage? But instead the citizens went right ahead and did it to themselves. In their pockets and purses, not around their necks, but the outcome is the same. — Lee Child, A Wanted Man
The laws that govern the ability of the governments to collect this information are woefully out of date.
The Privacy Act, which oversees the [Canadian] government's use of your data, came into effect in 1983 — years before the Internet, or cell phones. — OpenMedia
Current trends are increased surveillance and a corresponding loss of privacy:
- Allowing U.S. ISPs to collect and sell your surfing data.
- Exclusion of Canadians from privacy protection under U.S. law.
- The unnecessarily broad powers provided by Canada's Bill C-51.
- Want Google to track you less? Get an iPhone, ditch the Android.
Privacy a Basic Human Need
There is a reason we have locks on our doors and curtains in our windows.
Privacy is a basic human need.
Fear of Surveillance is Real
The fear of surveillance is realistic and stifles personal expression.
We act differently when we're being followed by a police car.
In the same manner, we don't feel as free to express our creativity when our conversations or Internet activities are being monitored.
Privacy is Not About Hiding Wrongs
Protecting your privacy DOESN'T mean you have something to hide.
How would you react if you found a stranger ripping open the letters and bills in your mailbox?
How would you feel about every document, photo and file on your computer being printed and posted in a public place?
Why should you react any differently when someone is peeking into your electronic identity?
The most common retort against privacy advocates — by those in favor of ID checks, cameras, databases, data mining and other wholesale surveillance measures — is this line:If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?
… [This] accept[s] the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It's not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect. — Bruce Schneier: The Eternal Value of Privacy
The debate between privacy and security has been framed incorrectly as a zero-sum game in which we are forced to choose between one value and the other. Why can't we have both? — Daniel J. Solove, Nothing to Hide
If you believe that you have "nothing to hide" from the prying eyes of the NSA, you shouldn't mind letting a stranger rifle through your bank statements, emails, and photos — right? — ZDNet
Blaming the Victim
This spying while blaming the victim has a strong echo of McCarthyism.
Even if we think we have nothing to hide, all of us, whether world leaders or ordinary citizens, have good reason to be concerned. — TomDispatch
[A] federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia held that individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy in a personal computer located inside their home. — Electronic Frontier Foundation
More about why privacy matters:
- Mozilla's The Glass Room is a 3D virtual reality tour of the ways our privacy is invaded by devices and corporations.
- A Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic examines government back doors as privacy abuse.
- Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters — TEDGlobal October 2014.
- 10 big data analytics privacy problems. The mass collection of personal data needs to have regulation to protect our privacy.
- Appeals court affirms NSA surveillance can be used to investigate domestic criminal suspects.
Everyone is Collecting Information
Everyone is collecting vast amounts of information about you — governments, businesses and the sites you visit on the Internet. “No big deal, right?”
Your personal data has become the currency of the Internet and is worth $130 billion per year!
Digital advertisers are making approximately $250 annually — roughly twice the cost of a Netflix subscription — off you and your browsing data. — Jeremy Tillman
Right now, our data is worth a lot of coin to a lot of companies. But privacy, it's priceless. It's a necessary part of a healthy functioning society. — Manoush Zomorodi
ISPs Want in on the Action
No wonder the U.S. ISPs were pressuring the government to allow them to cull user data like Facebook and Google do. However, their premise is flawed.
ISPs are Different
ISPs are not the same as “free” services. How many users would be on Facebook if they had to pay Facebook as much as their broadband Internet access costs each month?
ISPs not only charge for their services but have access to much more of your surfing details.
This was a mistake that will dearly cost U.S. consumers, both in terms of privacy and in their pocketbook.
ISPs Can Record Everything You Do Online
ISPs see everything you do online (not just when you're logged into Facebook or another service) and can create a much more accurate profile that will be worth much more than Facebook's profile of you (which is so detailed that advertisers can focus their message to a user base more precisely than virtually any other medium).
You're vulnerable to Facebook when
- you visit the Facebook site;
- remain logged into your Facebook account while surfing the Web; or
- visit the 30% of sites containing a Facebook “Like” button (an anonymous account is created if you're not already logged into Facebook).
Using common factors, Facebook will attempt to link up the anonymous account with an actual account or combine multiple anonymous accounts into one profile.
You're providing data to Google when you use their search facilities directly (instead of an intermediary like StartPage.com) or use a Google product like Gmail, Chrome, YouTube, Google Maps, etc. or when you visit the 86% of sites that use Google Analytics.
You're particularly exposed when you're logged in to your Google account while using Chrome, YouTube or Google Search.
Tracking Mobile Device Users
The choices for mobile users is even more distinct based upon the mobile operating system:
- Android users a always being tracked except by following a complex process.
- iOS users can disable tracking by going into the Privacy settings, then Location Services then selecting “While Using” or “Never” for Google apps like Google Maps.
In my opinion, it is unfortunate that a very capable company like Google (Alphabet) did not continue to “do no evil” (their original motto, since replaced with “do the right thing”).
Governments Collecting Domestic Phone Records
The “official” purpose of NSA (and Canadian) collection of personal phone records is to prevent future terrorist attacks.
However, the process is incredibly invasive to our privacy and cannot be justified by any improvements in public safety from terrorist threats since it was introduced.
The NSA surveillance program collects hundreds of millions of phone records daily. One federal judge criticized the program asbeyond Orwellianandlikely unconstitutional.— Fight 215
We're No Safer
This abuse of privacy has made us no safer.
We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA's dragnet collection of Americans' phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence. — Senator Ron Wyden
Big Corporations Hijacked the Internet
The Internet was made for everyone but is being hijacked by big corporations that are turning people into products without their knowledge or consent. — The Hidden Business of the Internet
The data market is massive, how big? Well the going estimate puts it at over 130 billion dollars now and maybe as much as 200 billion in the next three years. Those in the business of buying and selling data, we call them data brokers. — Veronica Belmont
And it is probably going to get worse. Like sharks smelling blood, corporations are after any data they can cull. They keep it insecurely (remember, it cost them little to obtain) just in case it comes in useful later.
Trade deals like TPP, TISA and TTIP have all been open to input from industry but closed to input from both non-profit groups that look out for the public interest as well as many of our elected government representatives.
It appeared that we'd defeated the TPP then the U.S. negotiation team began making the same demands within NAFTA. One example: they are seeking to invalidate Canadian laws protecting privacy and copyright so that U.S. cloud providers face no restriction on doing business here.
Currently, policies in British Columbia and Nova Scotia require public-sector information — data from universities, hospitals, and government institutions — to be stored in Canada with the intent to prevent public information from being accessed elsewhere. However, that protection no longer applies if that data is stored in the US, and its own protections don't extend to non-citizens. — MotherBoard
Canada has bowed to U.S. pressure to approve the new NAFTA agreement which contains many of the worst aspects of the TPP. Expect to pay more for U.S. services and to have fewer protections.
Big Data: Tracking Your Every Move
Big Data is the current mantra of organizations. How to obtain it, store it, process it.
The modern ad industry isabout the buying and selling of individuals,says Jeff Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democracy.All the investments is aggressively pushing toward much more granular personalized targeting.— The Verge
Dating sites collect sensitive personal information like drug usage habits and sexual preferences. They also have dozens of trackers that can collect profile information, as well as information on where a user clicks or looks. — Axios
There is only one word that can be used to describe this practice: sleazy.
If you're using privacy software like Ghostery on your web browser, you've probably noticed that most sites now use invisible web beacons, analytics services, page widgets and other third-party page elements that are secretly tracking your every move.
[W]eb tracking has become so pervasive that approximately ten percent of websites send the data they've collected to ten or more different companies, and 15 percent of all page loads on the internet are monitored by ten or more trackers. — Jeremy Tillman
Even the videos and comments section on these sites are marketing tools. You quickly find that by blocking tracking elements, you can no longer view embedded videos or see the comments left by other site visitors.
Creepy Recording of Individual Surfing Sessions
Many of today's largest websites are not only storing generic analytics data, but individualized recordings of visits to their site, including keystrokes, mouse movements, clicks and the pages visited. These scripts even record keystrokes that aren't submitted (including your typed passwords).
"Session replay scripts" can be used to log (and then playback) everything you typed or clicked on a website. — Motherboard
While these sites claim the purpose is to improve their website, much more information is obtained which allows sites to create a precise profile about you. This data may be shared without your permission (or be revealed in a data breach) and this could have significant repercussions for your privacy in the future.
Collection of page content by third-party replay scripts may cause sensitive information such as medical conditions, credit card details and other personal information displayed on a page to leak to the third-party as part of the recording. This may expose users to identity theft, online scams, and other unwanted behavior. The same is true for the collection of user inputs during checkout and registration processes. — Freedom to Tinker
- The GDPR and browser fingerprinting: How it changes the game for the sneakiest web trackers.
- Over 400 of the world's most popular websites record your every keystroke, Princeton researchers find.
- Data release: list of websites that have third-party "session replay" scripts.
- No boundaries: Exfiltration of personal data by session-replay scripts.
- How dating sites spy on you.
More About Big Data
There's more about Big Data on these pages:
- The 600+ companies PayPal shares your data with — view the graphic (thumbnail shown on the right).
- What information is being collected about you?
- Big Data: The eye-opening facts everyone should know.
- The awesome ways Big Data is used today to change our world.
- How is Big Data used in practice? 10 use cases everyone must read.
Social media is a very important aspect of privacy because so much personal information is collected including facial recognition software, comparative and linked data (such as the Facebook "Like" button) and more.
- Most, if not all, social media data is being stored outside Canada and doesn't have the protections afforded by Canadian law.
- Most webmail is stored on servers in the U.S. or other countries.
- Your emails are scanned to profile you to serve ads, alter search results, and other purposes based upon the emails you send and receive if you're using Gmail, Yahoo! mail and similar services.
If the government said you have to have a tracking device, for certain you would rebel. But the government doesn't have to say that because you do it willingly and they just get a copy of the data. — Bruce Schneier on BBC
The Guardian reports that
- 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
- 500 million tweets are sent every day.
- 30 billion WhatsApp messages are sent every day.
- 40 million photos are uploaded to Instagram every day.
From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated five exabytes of data. Now we produce five exabytes every two days…and the pace is accelerating. — Eric Schmidt
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been seen and promoted as having huge potential for good but also has the ability to work against humanity. Machines don't suffer a concience like humans do unless it is programmed into the machine.
The reality is, AI is everywhere. AI helps diagnose our diseases, decide who gets mortgages, and power our TVs and toothbrushes. It can even judge our creditworthiness. And the impacts — touching on issues of fairness, privacy, trust, safety, and transparency — will only get more profound as our reliance on AI increases with each passing day. — Mozilla Foundation
AI allows for rapid manipulation of massive amounts of data and commercial and government entities have been collecting more data than they could possibly sift through. AI gives them the ability to make use of that collected data.
AI is being rapidly deployed and not everyone is ensuring that our privacy is being protected. We see YouTube video suggestions that reflect the extreme rather than the norm, leading many down a rabbit hole that can be destructive. Other online resources have similar issues where choices are being made by formulas managed by machines rather than people.
I strongly recommend you read Mozilla's approach to trustworthy artificial intelligence (AI) where they look at these issues.
Facial recognition is nearly perfect and is now being deployed in businesses and government services around the world. There has been an explosion of the number of cameras in public areas — often accessible via the Internet.
I think everyone's become slightly accustomed to the fact that there's a camera on every street corner, and it's always been necessary in order to keep our country safe. — Olivia Cappuccini
The British security industry association figures there are nearly six million CCTV cameras in the UK. That's one camera for every 11 people. — Veronica Belmont
Chinese scientists have developed an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabling 500 megapixel cloud camera system able to capture thousands of faces at a stadium in perfect detail and generate their facial data for the cloud while locating a particular target in an instant. — Global Times
However, much like with other technology, the legal framework to protect your privacy has fallen far behind which places us at risk.
A report by Georgetown Law Center for Privacy and Technology estimates that about half of US adults — more than 117 million people — have their images logged in a facial recognition network of some kind — a trend civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation describes as “a real and immediate threat” to privacy. — BBC
This has never happened before. It hasn't happened with fingerprints, it hasn't happened with DNA. Until now there's been a line, that unless you commit a crime we don't record the facts of your body. — Alvaro Bedoya
Facial Recognition Errors
It's bad enough that you can be recognized in photo and documents everywhere, enlarging the massive profile advertisers and governments have on you. What if there are serious errors?
In 2014, Steven was living an ordinary life as a financial broker in Denver. In the month's before a couple of bank robberies had taken place in Denver. There was a video clip from a security camera and it played on the local news. Three people who thought it could be him phoned in a tip…so the cops came for him.
Steven spent months in jail before his lawyer proved it wasn't him. Proved he was at work when the robberies took place. They let him go.
A year goes by and then he's arrested again. This time, the cops were sure it was him. They were wrong. More evidence proved he wasn't the suspect. Again, he was a free man, but the damage was done. You can't keep a job in the finance industry when you've been accused of robbing a bank.Because of what's happened Steven Talley is currently homeless. — Veronica Belmont
Windows 10 is Spyware
Windows 10 is spyware and Microsoft cannot be trusted.
Windows 10 is spying on you, especially if you're using the default privacy settings during installation, log in using your Microsoft Account and use Cortana.
Windows 10 tracks and knows where you are, what programs are installed on your computer, when they are used, what they are used for, they can also access your microphone and webcam. That's in addition to being able to access your calendar, emails, and contacts. Even your messages and call history are all saved on their server. — Top VPN Canada
Microsoft has adopted the same practice of culling your information for profit as Google and Yahoo!, except this time it is your operating system rather than a free email program or search engine doing the collecting of personal information.
With Windows 10, Microsoft has failed to be completely transparent with users about just what is going on in the background. Sure, the information is out there, but it is hidden away, difficult to interpret, and — let's face it — not something that the vast majority of people are going to spend the time to hunt down and digest. — BetaNews
The Microsoft Services Agreement revised at the same time as Windows 10 is a 12,000-word document where you essentially agree to give up your privacy.
Even the contents of your emails and documents stored in private, offline folders can be subject to scrutiny and “disclosure” (to unspecified parties), according to the wording of Windows 10: how much of my personal information can Microsoft access?. — Bernard Marr
This information is already collected by mobile devices.
By making Windows 10 mobile-first, cloud-first on desktops and laptops, Microsoft effectively extended this lack of privacy.
In less than 3 years Windows 10 will become the only Microsoft option and it is already difficult to purchase a new computer with anything else unless you choose Apple (or rarely, Linux).
Prior versions of Windows, including Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, have limited support when running on new processors and chipsets from manufacturers like Intel, AMD, nVidia, and Qualcomm. — Microsoft
Microsoft's Unethical Practices
Microsoft's tricks and schemes to get Windows 7 and 8 users to move to Windows 10 were unethical at best:
In May 2016, in an action designed in a way we think was highly deceptive, Microsoft actually changed the expected behavior of a dialog window, a user interface element that's been around and acted the same way since the birth of the modern desktop. Specifically, when prompted with a Windows 10 update, if the user chose to decline it by hitting the ‘X’ in the upper right hand corner, Microsoft interpreted that as consent to download Windows 10. — Electronic Frontier Foundation
Updates Reset Privacy Settings
Microsoft initially made automatic updates mandatory in Windows 10 and seems to reset privacy options to their more-revealing defaults during major updates rather than respecting the user's wishes for privacy.
While this resetting may prevent unrequested programs from gaining default status, it also makes it difficult to move away from Microsoft's money-generating defaults.
Too Little, Too Late?
Microsoft has begun to respond to these issues.
Users of Windows 10 Home are able to stop updates but at the cost of losing the support of their device one year after the last major update.
On January 10, 2017 a new web-based privacy dashboard was released where you could manage your browse data, clear your search history on Bing, review and clear your location data and edit Cortana knows about you.
But is it enough to restore trust?
Your Devices Are Watching You
The problem of privacy is only going to get worse as the Internet of Things evolves. Already there are more connected devices than people in the world. There is an imminent explosion of devices that will track every aspect of our lives.
Any bed that monitors your heart rate, breathing, and movement could allow people with access to that data to determine when you get up in the morning, when you go to bed at night, or even when and how often you have sex. — Mozilla
The reason I smartened up my house was to find out whether it would betray me. — The House That Spied on Me
Virtually every “smart” device is gathering information on you (perhaps including your private conversations). From connected baby monitors to smart TVs to video cameras, everything is being connected — the majority in a very insecure manner that can be hacked.
This isn't an isolated incident. Vizio surrendered to a lawsuit charging them with collection viewing data on 11 million consumer TVs.
Many people feel safe with a printed document, assuming it can't be traced.
The U.S. government made a secret deal to place yellow dots onto every page printed from many (perhaps most) colour laser printers, ostensibly to track counterfeiters.
We've found that the dots from at least one line of printers encode the date and time your document was printed, as well as the serial number of the printer. — Electronic Frontier Foundation
Smart Meters Reveal Much About You
Analogue meters simply recorded the total amount of electricity used between readings.
Smart meters do more than simply remove the need for meter readers to visit your home or business a few times a year. They record the timing, duration and quantity of electricity you use.
Privacy information begins at the video's 24:24 mark but I strongly recommend watching the entire presentation.
Apple Treating Privacy Differently
It doesn't have to be like that. As we move into an era where more and more personal data is required in order to provide services that require personal data like map services, health information tracking, etc. Apple wants to have your trust. They make their money on products, not by monetizing the data required to operate these devices.
[S]ome of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They're gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that's wrong. And it's not the kind of company that Apple wants to be. — The Washington Post
Legislation will likely be required to manage this “no holds barred” collection of personal data just as certain questions are no longer acceptable on an employment application and access is provided to challenge your credit reporting data.
Corporations have not protected the personal data they've collected “just in case” it might be financially valuable in the future. Instead they've allowed it to be hacked over and over because they had no real investment in the data (unlike their own proprietary secrets).
The European GDPR, which came into effect on May 25, 2018, is a good start. It puts control of private information back into the hands of those that suffer the most when it is compromised.
Current Trends Contrary to Privacy
Current trends in the U.S. are contrary to this protection and it will be an uphill battle.
Not only is this culling of data extremely profitable, but these companies spend a great deal of money lobbying for a relaxation of existing laws. Even politicians that should be protecting our rights want to know the demographics that will get them re-elected regardless of the threat to our privacy.
Not only have [U.S. lawmakers] voted to repeal a rule that protects your privacy, they are also trying to make it illegal for the Federal Communications Commission to enact other rules to protect your privacy online. — Bruce Schneier
This isn't just your browsing history or cookies. It's geolocation data, financial info, passwords, health info, even your Social Security Number. Anything you do, any data you enter, any online video you watch, any email you write. Your ISP could store it all and sell it for their own profit if Congress throws out the FCC rulings. — SaveBroadbandPrivacy.org
Remember, this is much more than what you're typing into your browser. More and more our applications have moved from our computer to become Software as a Service (SaaS) — software running on the Internet. Even our operating systems (e.g. Windows 10) are moving that direction. If this trend is allowed to continue, we'll soon have even less control (ownership) of our own data in the future.
- Save Broadband Privacy.
- Congress repeals Internet privacy rules.
- Five creepy things your ISP could do if Congress repeals the FCC's privacy protections.
- Snoops may soon be able to buy your browsing history. Thank the US Congress.
There are bound to be abuses by law enforcement of any tracking system.
No Privacy for Canadians in the U.S.
Trump's 'no privacy for non-Americans' order is not encouraging but don't be fooled into thinking that other governments are benevolent.
Private data for citizens of Lithuania, Estonia, Malta and the Netherlands receive greater legal protection from the U.S. than Canadians' data does. Canada is NOT designated as a “covered country” even though we share a huge common border and they are our largest trading partner and have some of the toughest copyright laws.
Fight for our Privacy
To make matters worse, a great deal of Canadian Internet traffic flows in and out of the U.S.
Add your name to the letter to these ministers to demand that they take action to fight for our privacy at Fight for our Privacy.
“We're Only Collecting Metadata”
Many organizations indicate that they are “only collecting metadata” yet are very vague about what they do with our data and who they share it with.
[M]etadata is characterized as data used to describe other data. As a result, an assessment of whether bulk collection of telephony metadata violates a reasonable expectation of privacy seems to have been rooted in three constitutionally relevant dichotomies, namely content vs. non-content data, private records vs. business records held by third parties, and hard-to-obtain information vs. information “in plain view.” — Kift & Nissenbaum
Significant is our inability to determine how those collecting our information will
aggregate, store, combine and analyze that data, and the extent to which we, the data subjects, assume the risk of metadata being shared beyond the purpose for which it was provided.
The number and size of data breaches demonstrates how little regard these organizations have for the consequences of their failure to protect our data. The implication is that we allowed them this information so they are no longer responsible.
That's like blaming you for how your credit card was used following its theft including its use in the commission of a crime.
Why Metadata Matters
Research has shown that using only call metadata, the government can determine what your religion is, if you purchased a gun or got an abortion, and other incredibly private details of your life. Former director of the NSA and CIA, Michael Hayden, recently admitted:We kill people based on metadata.And former NSA General Counsel Stu Baker said:metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody's life. If you have enough metadata, you don't really need content.
— Electronic Frontier Foundation
How revealing metadata can be is demonstrated in these three (rather obvious) examples presented by Kurt Opsahl at CCC on December 30, 2013:
- They know you rang a phone sex service at 2:24 a.m. and spoke for 18 minutes. But they don't know what you talked about.
- They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the topic of the call remains a secret.
- They know you spoke with an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour. But they don't know what was discussed.
Why metadata matters further expands this concept and helps you to better understand what metadata is and how it affects us.
Anonymous No More
A more intensive look at telephone metadata reveals much more. Your privacy could be compromised by linking the timing of anonymous data to data that directly identifies you via credit card, hotel stays and more.
All this can be used to build a profile of you that may make judgement calls which are then processed as “facts” by other parties. Metadata IS surveillance.
Even something like Alfred Kinsey's sex research data from the 1930s and 1940s isn't safe. Kinsey took great pains to preserve the anonymity of his subjects, but in 2013, researcher Raquel Hill was able to identify 97% of them. — Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Capture Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier
Much more data is collected today. We can no longer blindly provide access to all our personal data assuming it is truly anonymous.
Hacks and Security Breaches
While organizations are happy to collect your private data, they aren't committed to protecting it as carefully as they do their own private information. Instead, much of this data is protected only with the least effective (and least expensive) technology and some companies leave the information unprotected and available to anyone that can locate the server it is stored on.
These companies seldom report the loss until much later (often years later) and are not financially responsible because of their vague terms of service and poor privacy policies.
You only need to look at the way Facebook, Hotmail and others so quickly changed their privacy policies to enhance their profitability. You're on your own when it comes to protecting your identity.
If the service is free, then you are the product. — The Day We Lost Everything
Governments Collecting More
[K]now that every border that you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cellphone tower you pass, friend you keep, site you visit, and subject line you type, is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not. — CITIZENFOUR documentary
Everything We Know About NSA Spying is an excellent YouTube video about NSA spying. It shows just how extensive the reach of this program is and how easy it is to become a target.
- Fighting for privacy, two years after Snowden.
- Mikko Hypponen: How the NSA betrayed the world's trust.
- What can government security agencies tell from your phone's metadata?
In the “new propaganda era” we are entering, where the frontier between information, communication and propaganda becomes blurry, the world needs independent journalists, who engage in the pursuit of the truth, who respect standards of ethics, and whose mission is to give citizens of this world tools to understand what surrounds them. That is to say, in a word, free journalists. — Defence Handbook For Journalists and Bloggers
Governments Collecting More Personal Information
Governments are collecting more about you and your Internet activities.
Never in history has a surveillance state and a representative form of government existed side by side. A free society and a surveillance society cannot be reconciled. Biometrics is the linchpin to a surveillance society. — Constitutional Alliance
Never give a government a power you would not want a despot to have. — John Gilmore
Canadian Government Double Standard
The Canadian government will not allow its data to be stored on servers outside Canada. Canadians should be similarly concerned about the loss of privacy and protection.
However, the government is much less concerned about your privacy. They continue to share data about their own citizens with the US and other Five Eyes partners — even unconfirmed data that has cost innocent individuals their freedom.
Overseas Privacy Threatened
Microsoft successfully fought a December 2013 federal search warrant demanding that the company release emails stored in Ireland.. This demand that data stored on overseas servers be made available should concern everyone. The US is not the only country doing this.
The revelations of NSA searches on U.S. servers has cost American tech companies, forcing them to build servers overseas rather than hosting them all in the United States. This case clearly had implications for these companies being abandoned if foreign customers felt their privacy was threatened even with servers hosted in their own country.
You can find out more about governments collection of personal information at:
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation defending your rights in the digital world.
- Privacy International is committed to fighting for the right to privacy across the world.
- Surveillance Self-Defense is a guide to protecting yourself from electronic surveillance.
Other reports about privacy and surveillance:
- Map: Internet censorship around the world.
- The year that governments struck back: Seven things you need to know about privacy in 2014.
- The chilling effect of domestic spying.
- It's time for our governments to stop eavesdropping and start listening .
- Canadian privacy stories.
- Lavabit owner found no justice when indicted for refusing to provide customer passwords.
- 8 million reasons for real surveillance oversight.
- Criminal DNA collection laws “for identification” could easily be misused.
- Surveillance State: NSA Spying and more.
- Security expert Bruce Schneier on passwords, privacy and trust .
- Your interest in privacy will ensure you're targeted by the NSA.
- Ten international organizations trying to hack into your computer.
- Online privacy: using the Internet safely.
- Integration of Drones into Domestic Airspace: Selected Legal Issues (PDF–363 KB) discusses the legal issues surrounding small drones and personal privacy.
- Old Technopanic in New iBottles is a look at encryption to protect privacy following the release of Apple's default encryption.
- For sale: Systems that can secretly track where cellphone users go around the globe.
Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Capture Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier is an imperative read for everyone. Read the introduction.
The powers that surveil us do more than simply store this information. Corporations use surveillance to manipulate not only the news articles and advertisements we each see, but also the prices we're offered. Governments use surveillance to discriminate, censor, chill free speech, and put people in danger worldwide. And both sides share this information with each other or, even worse, lose it to cybercriminals in huge data breaches.
Much of this is voluntary: we cooperate with corporate surveillance because it promises us convenience, and we submit to government surveillance because it promises us protection. The result is a mass surveillance society of our own making.
But have we given up more than we've gained?
In Data and Goliath, security expert Bruce Schneier offers another path, one that values both security and privacy. He shows us exactly what we can do to reform our government surveillance programs and shake up surveillance-based business models, while also providing tips for you to protect your privacy every day.You'll never look at your phone, your computer, your credit cards, or even your car in the same way again.
Frontline's United States of Secrets is a powerful look at the dangerous spying by the NSA on their own citizens and the revelations following the release of the Snowden documents.
Frontline investigates the secret history of the unprecedented surveillance program that began in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and continues today.
Episode 1 (Transcript) shows how the dangerous plan to greatly increase the power of surveillance on the American (and international) public was secretly authorized with the stated goal of finding unknown terrorists within our midst.
Several members of the NSA and other government bodies opposed the plan on the basis that it overstepped the requirements and undercut civil liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution without any real oversight.
Episode 2 looks at the increasing commercial surveillance by companies like Google and later Microsoft, Facebook and others to generate massive advertising income. This information was later co-opted by the NSA and, in the process, further eroding every citizen's privacy. There is no evidence that any of this surveillance has made us any safer (think of the Boston Marathon attacks — the sort of event this program was supposed to prevent).