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Schneier: The Internet Is a Surveillance State 333

An anonymous reader writes "Bruce Schneier has written a blunt article in CNN about the state of privacy on the internet. Quoting: 'The Internet is a surveillance state. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we're being tracked all the time. Google tracks us, both on its pages and on other pages it has access to. Facebook does the same; it even tracks non-Facebook users. Apple tracks us on our iPhones and iPads. One reporter used a tool called Collusion to track who was tracking him; 105 companies tracked his Internet use during one 36-hour period. ... This is ubiquitous surveillance: All of us being watched, all the time, and that data being stored forever. This is what a surveillance state looks like, and it's efficient beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell. Sure, we can take measures to prevent this. We can limit what we search on Google from our iPhones, and instead use computer web browsers that allow us to delete cookies. We can use an alias on Facebook. We can turn our cell phones off and spend cash. But increasingly, none of it matters. There are simply too many ways to be tracked."
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Schneier: The Internet Is a Surveillance State

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  • tor (Score:4, Interesting)

    by scum-e-bag ( 211846 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @07:02PM (#43193557) Homepage Journal

    use tor
    cbf'd posting as anon-coward as even slashdot isn't anonymous...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, 2013 @07:06PM (#43193575)
    Slashdot now uses Google APIs.
  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @07:14PM (#43193627)

    There are simply too many ways to be tracked."

    There always have been. We're social creatures. Try living in total isolation from society in, say, the 1800s. It was hard to completely disappear even then. Someone always knew your whereabouts even then. That's the reality of social existance. Schneier has long had a problem of being too conventional -- he sees what is, not what can be. The problem isn't that we can be tracked, the problem is who is doing the tracking, and the length of time that data is stored, and to what purpose it is put.

    These are things that can be resolved through responsible legislation and public education. The fact that so far, it has been highly irresponsible legislation due in part to a total lack of education, and in part due to rampant greed, is a social problem.

    The problem is social. The solution must be as well. Schneier is quite correct in his characterization of how things are now. He is not correct in concluding this is how it must remain.

  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <> on Saturday March 16, 2013 @07:41PM (#43193773) Homepage

    In the UK you can demand that a company gives you all the data that it has on you, they must do so within 40 days. There is a statutory maximum charge of £10, it will probably cost them a lot more than that. The amount that they would have to supply would grow every year. It might be reasonable to ask once a year; this might encourage them to purge their data and only keep recent stuff ... but this would only have an effect if enough people did this.

    There was an EU idea of the right to be forgotten [], I don't know where that went.

  • Re:tor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TWX ( 665546 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @07:48PM (#43193823)
    Won't work so well. They're starting to write-in to the design of the website to need them in order to get the content.

    Same with noscript functions. There are lots of sites that, in order to get content, one has to have otherwise-unrelated scripts functioning for the content to ultimately appear.

    I just don't have the browser save anything anymore at close. No cache, no cookies, no login credentials, no history, nothing. I also blocked a whole bunch of crap through my router, and I further block things through the hosts file that *I* don't use but others using the router might want or need.

    The solution that I recommend is living in the real world. Get a hobby that isn't principally on the computer. I chose things like auto restoration, model rocketry, and working with older machinery.

    They only have power because you give them power. Take away their power by no longer playing the game.
  • Re:tor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pepsikid ( 2226416 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @07:50PM (#43193837)
    Whenever I log onto Slashdot, my firewall immediately reports Slashdot servers sniffing a bunch of my ports. I use DD-WRT with logging enabled and WallWatcher to display events.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, 2013 @07:53PM (#43193861)

    What about counter-intelligence tools? Actively distorting the surveillance data being gathered to render it unreliable.

    For example: at present we delete cookies. What if we swapped them. Now a cookie doesn't have specific information about one person, it has a mishmash of unreliable data from a dozen.

  • Re:IndexedDB (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GWRedDragon ( 1340961 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @08:02PM (#43193907)

    I just don't have the browser save anything anymore at close. No cache, no cookies, no login credentials, no history, nothing.

    Not even IndexedDB? If not, then how do you plan to use web applications' offline modes?

    "Web application" with an "offline mode"?? People actually use those?!?!

  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @08:49PM (#43194087) Journal

    Even if it is just personalized ads now it might not stay that way. Imagine your health insurance being more expensive because you're regularly buying alcoholics (of course they won't tell you that, they'll just tell you that you are in a higher risk group, if they even tell you as much). Or even worse, you have to pay more because you are living in a neighbourhood where people on average buy more alcoholics. Maybe you'll also get higher credit interest rates at your bank. Without explanation, of course.

    The point is that you may not actually notice it. The bank will not tell you "oh, you live in an area with above-average alcohol consumption, so your interest rate is higher." It will rather tell you "we have analysed your situation and this is the interest rate we consider appropriate." Without indicating that "your situation" does not only include your financial situation and credit record, but also the your buying habits and that of of your neighbourhood.

  • Re:tor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, 2013 @09:07PM (#43194175)

    Years ago someone posted that this was slashdot checking to see if you've been at risk for infection by common malware and therefore flag your posts as likely spam. I don't know why people are modding you down.

  • Yin/Yang (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @09:11PM (#43194193) Homepage

    There certainly is a lot of truth to your point. To broaden it out a bit, here is something I wrote years ago: []
    " ... I agree with the sentiment of the Einstein quote [That we should approach the universe with compassion], but that sentiment itself is only part of a larger difficult-to-easily-resolve situation. It become more the Yin/Yang or Meshwork/Hierarchy situation I see when I look out my home office window into a forest. On the surface it is a lovely scene of trees as part of a forest. Still, I try to see *both* the peaceful majesty of the trees and how these large trees are brutally shading out of existence saplings which are would-be competitors (even shading out their own children). Yet, even as big trees shade out some of their own children, they also put massive resources into creating a next generation, one of which will indeed likely someday replace them when they fall. I try to remember there is both an unseen silent chemical war going on out there where plants produce defense compounds they secrete in the soil to inhibit the growth of other plant species (or insects or fungi) as a vile act of territoriality and often expansionism, and yet also the result is a good spacing of biomass to near optimally convert sunlight to living matter and resist and recover from wind and ice damage. I try to recall that there is the most brutal of competition between species of plants and animals and fungi and so on over water, nutrients (including from eating other creatures), sunlight, and space, while at the same time each bacterial colony or multicellular organism (like a large Pine tree) is a marvel of cooperation towards some implicitly shared purpose. I see the awesome result of both simplicity and complexity in the organizational structure of all these organisms and their DNA, RNA, and so on, adapted so well in most cases to the current state of such a complex web of being. Yet I can only guess the tiniest fraction of what suffering that selective shaping through variation and selection must have entailed for untold numbers of creatures over billions of years. To be truthful, I can actually *really* see none of that right now as it is dark outside this early near Winter Solstice time (and an icy rain is falling) beyond perhaps a silhouette outline, so I must remember and imagine it, perhaps as Einstein suggests as an "optical delusion of [my] consciousness". :-)
        So much for "world peace" when even the tranquil seeming forests have so much Yin-Yang complexity going on within and around the trees. :-) The best I feel we can hope for is balance (like Ursula K. Le Guin's writings):
    or maybe, transcendence to some form of universe certainly way beyond our present understanding; example, with its own flaws:
    But still, no matter what examples the universes sets before us, or in what proportion, as *ethical* and *spiritual* beings, we humans can choose a different way, and at least approximate world peace among ourselves as best we can. Something I learned from an old and wise biologist (Larry Slobodkin) who studied both philosophy and nature."

    So, we can make choices, as sentient creatures, about how we want to live. The current laws of physics may constrain those choices, but we can still make choices as individuals and collectives. How do we want to live? How can we shape our rules, norms, prices, and architecture to influence that behavior? (Lawrence Lessig's point in "Code 2.0").

  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @09:48PM (#43194369) Journal

    First, what you consider as misbehaving may not be the same as what the government considers as misbehaving. Think dissidents, who certainly are seen as misbehaving by their respective governments.

    Second, even if you didn't explicitly say it, your comment shows that you are one of those who think "if you do nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide." Well, I'm not going to mention the obvious counterexample, as I don't want to Godwin this thread.

    And no, privacy is not about a rule-free context. There are things you don't want others to know even if they are not illegal, nor immoral.

    Also note that privacy and anonymity are not synonymous. For example, if a policeman for some reason would ask me to identify myself, it would certainly end my anonymity relative to him, but not necessarily my privacy. On the other hand, if the police would be listening to my phone calls, I certainly wouldn't have any privacy on my phone, and that would be true even if for some reason the police wouldn't know whose phone they are listening to (for example, someone mistyped the phone number when initiating the wiretapping).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, 2013 @10:39PM (#43194601)

    You know, I just love it when people tell others to behave like grown ups because it's usually the person doing the telling who acts like an infant.

    The Internet, back in the "rule free" days, was also pretty harmless. It didn't conduct commerce. There weren't connections to real world control systems. Nobody used their real names anywhere. If there was tasteless and offensive stuff, and there was (and still is) you didn't have to look at it. Getting on the Internet required actual intention to do so and some amount of money.

    Enter the alleged "grown ups". The corporations. The business people. The ones who didn't actually invent the Internet and who have contributed little to it except strife. The ones who strolled in and started with insecure e-Commerce and e-everything and who, when they had their heads handed to them by people who actually knew what a house of cards most of their insecure crap was, ran to the government to get them to prosecute the "evil hackers" instead of actually fixing their crap. The ones who did nothing to learn about the environment they put themselves in and then complain the loudest when things don't go exactly their way. The ones who want to track everything everybody does, and who want to keep that secret and quiet because exposing it to the light of day also brings to light that most people don't really like it when they do that.

    In other words, these "grown ups" are the ones who acted like 2 year olds, saw something shiny, and yelled "Mine! Mine!" and try to possess everything wtihout compensation or even permission.

    True "grown ups" know about risks and rewards. They know when it's OK to let loose and when it's not OK. They find or provide safe outlets for things like that because true grown ups know that it is human nature to want to be uncontrolled some of the time. Having had such an outlet and then having it first invaded by clueless idiots and then by greedy profiteers, it is only logical that some people might take offense and take action.

    The thing is, the Internet could not be invented today. It came into being precisely BECAUSE there was no commerce, no marketers, no corporate presence in any real sense. There is proof of this. The proof is that every corporate attempt to invent something like the Internet has failed, so they try to take over what they could not invent. Regarding the unfortunate number of people who believe that the Internet is Facebook, Twitter, and Google, they have had some success. Even those services, though, keep the tracking and the marketing and the spying as low key as they can because they know that even the dumbest of humans somehow finds it offensive to be recorded all the time.

    So, now, go grow up please.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @04:28AM (#43195645)

    It's poisoned data. Since it has become virtually impossible to leave no trace and not be tracked, make sure you poison their data pool enough to make the data useless. It's a bit like buying condoms and dog food and making the analyst at your local store freak out.

    Also, you can use the data hunger of companies to your advantage. If you dig through the net by my real name, I seem to be rubbing shoulders with the greatest of the industry. Schneier is actually one of them. I have met him briefly, but we're nowhere near the seemingly constant exchange of ideas you'd think we have when you start data mining on me. When preparing for a job interview, rest assured people will start digging through facebook and google to find out what they can about you, and make sure that they find what they're supposed to find. Worked for me pretty well so far.

    As for the rest, like I said, make sure the data that can be gathered about you makes no sense. Disinformation is the name of the game, once it becomes impossible to tell truth from lie, the whole data mining effort goes to waste.

  • by Burz ( 138833 ) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @06:11AM (#43195891) Homepage Journal

    Don't be naive.

    There are tried and true statistical methods that can filter out falsified data. It isn't just for multiple choice questionaires, you know.

    It is far better to curtail the amount of tracking that can reach you.

  • Poison the databases (Score:4, Interesting)

    by amck ( 34780 ) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @06:50AM (#43195983) Homepage

    Add false data to the databases.

    Create false identities, not just anonymous ones. Don't allow facebook, etc. to interlink.
    Script this, add plugins for browsers to do this.
    In shops, use discount cards with cash, and swap the cards regularly with friends.

    Poisoning the databases, especially for "non-legal" transactions (i.e. don't lie when buying on the internet, but give as little
    away as possible, and don't use real identities where monetary transactions are not involved - don't commit fraud)
    means the existing data collected elsewhere is not trustworthy. It devalues the whole point of data harvesting and data mining,
    much better than hiding data alone.

    It also still allows the "correct" (non-evil) functioning of the system. Looking up my real name give my real details, when it matters,
    allowing the site to interact with me the way it was advertised to. Searching for all "X" in the data give 90% garbage, and so mining
    becomes pointless. Deal with customers properly.

Would you people stop playing these stupid games?!?!?!!!!