Tag Archives: Fieldguide

Developing Digital Literacy (One Video at a Time)~


Welcome to this week’s bonus post ^.^ I’m going to try to keep it short & sweet!

A big topic in class related to privacy, data tracking, and navigating online spaces as a whole is that of digital literacy. Data tracking, learning algorithms, and surveillance capitalism have largely been allowed to propagate and perpetuate and make a butt-ton of money off of all of us due in large part to a lack of regulation. Unfortunately, much of this has gone unregulated not because people do not care but because they do not know they need to care in the first place. A vast majority of the population, especially in the US, is simply unaware of the dangers online spaces pose to their privacy and other personal information. Most people don’t know that when a website is free, that means they are the product.

In order to enact meaningful change in regards to imposing regulations on the conduct of these digital entities, the public needs to speak up and elect officials who can make changes. But, in order for the public to speak up on these issues, they need to be informed and they need to know why it matters. To help better inform people at all levels on the issues affecting their relationship to the Internet and the Internet’s relationship to user information, I highly recommend Crash Course on Youtube’s Media Literacy series.

The series covers not only many of the topics we’ve already discussed so far in class but also discusses the intersection some of these concerns have with others. I think this series provides users with a good foundation from which to further develop their own stance on the issue. This source, too, I believe can be helpful for educating even younger users on the many issues affecting our interactions with the Internet.

I would give this resource a solid 9/10? There’s always room for improvement and I’m sure people have their own opinions on “educational Youtube”. Overall, at least, I think this is a useful tool to keep in our library.

More, I firmly believe that education is the spark that will light up the darkness of the web like a clear night sky.


~Till Next Time~

Do Algorithms Get Scared?

The e-lit piece from last semester, called ScareMail Generator, is a prime example of how to cover your tracks on the Internet. Since I did not choose to talk about it back then, I assume it’s fair to do it for this particular post. ScareMail Generator is basically a program that adds “a narrative containing a collection of probable NSA search terms” at the end of an e-mail “in order to disrupt [their] surveillance”. In our last class, we were asked to come up with a way to fight back the algorithmic systems that collect personal information. Figuring out a way to confuse the algorithm is the best approach for the time being. Although this particular program, ScareMail Generator, is somewhat limited and specific, the concept of it is worth noting. Perhaps, another type of program with the same concept could be created for a wider online platform (twitter, maybe?).

I’m still not sure about the structure (or expectation) of our final project for this class, which is supposed to be a collaborative field guide of some sort. So, I do not know how effective something like the program above would be for it. Though, I believe it’s still relevant in terms of concept. As far as the optimism rating goes, I’d probably give it a 7.5 out of 10. The uncertainty of its impact drops the score little bit. If you wish to give it a try, here’s the link for it: https://bengrosser.com/projects/scaremail/scaremail-generator/

I’m Unique…Like Everyone Else

If anything, delving into online data tracking has made it readily apparent just how much of our information is, well, readily apparent. Just about every application you could conceive of using is tracking you to some extent. Don’t believe me? Sounds far-fetched? Well, there are plenty of sites you can explore that will break down for you how different forms of online data tracking work.

This week, were provided a list of different sites in the class blog post that let you view how your own online activity is being tracked. Now, I know this post also said not to use sources shared in the class post for any additional blog posts. But, in this case, only brief summary of these sites were provided. Also, most people will not have the opportunity to explore every site more thoroughly. So, given those circumstances, it seems it would be helpful to have posts exploring the sites in more detail.

Anyway, justification for this post provided, let me get into what “Am I Unique?” does!

The site “Am I Unique?” allows users to discover how identifiable their own “device/browser fingerprint” is online as well as explore how comparable their fingerprint is to other users around the globe. Device/browser fingerprinting is “the systematic collection of information about a remote device, for identification purposes.” This kind of tracking seems like an inherent capability on most devices/browsers. The goal of this project seems to be to make people more aware of “cookieless monsters”. See, device/browser fingerprints are not a kind of tracking cookie or composed of many tracking cookies. Instead, it seems like a device/browser fingerprint is generated by you just connecting to a server. According to “Browser Fingerprinting: What Is It and What Should You Do About It?” by PixelPrivacy, “when you connect to the internet on your laptop or smartphone, your device will hand over a bunch of specific data to the receiving server about the websites you visit.” From your fingerprint, any interested party can find out all about your browser usage, operating systems, plugins, timezone, languages, screen resolution, as well as any other of your active settings. Essentially, your fingerprint will reveal what your computer looks like to someone else.

While this seems highly concerning to me, “Am I Unique?” points out that this fingerprint is a “double-edge sword”. Fingerprints can be used to fight fraud and hijacking and confirm that a user is a legitimate one. But, they can also be used to create a profile of you for advertisers as well as exploit you in other ways through targeted attacks. PixelPrivacy states, “Websites bulk-collect a large set of data of visitors in order to later use it to match against browser fingerprints of known users.” Even if your fingerprint isn’t used right away, it can be stored in a system for future targeting by a given entity.

And, this is all legal practice in the US right now.

More, this is not even the worst of it. There’s canvas fingerprinting as well (which deals with HTML5 coding–so I didn’t get too into it because I’m not familiar enough with the terminology). Essentially, your fingerprint is written into this code and freely accessible if you know where to look. The thing you want to look for is called the “canvas element”. I recommend checking out the wiki article if you want to know more about the mechanics of how this system works.

Anyway, “Am I Unique?” allows users to see for themselves how easy it is for their fingerprint to be accessed. Mainly, the site shows user what kind of data points are generated by their fingerprints.

For example, this is the overview of my fingerprint:

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The site breaks down how much of the sites you use are “unique” and kind of shows you how a site would collect this kind of info so they can target specific groups of people (like Windows 10 users). The site also provides some charts so you can see how specific parts of your user profile further break down.

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In this chart, you can see the browser break down of all the people who have used “Am I Unique?” around the world. It’s a little disconcerting and by a little, I mean a lot. You can also see the languages people search in:

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I like this one because it looks like a spider

It’s honestly wild just how much information about you can be extrapolated in like 30 seconds if that. I mean, this is just a broad overview of all the information that could so easily be accessed for any reason by anyone interested.

What’s very concerning about this kind of fingerprinting is that there is really nothing that can be done to totally eliminate it. If you want to use the Internet, you’re going to have to accept some minimum invasion of privacy. For most of us, it’s a massive invasion though. We don’t know to manage the online tracking of our data. More, we don’t even know what and how much is being tracked. For those concerned about their device/browser fingerprint, PixelPrivacy recommends: 1) Using private browsing methods (like going incognito) 2) Using plugins that block ads like AdBlock Plus, Disconnect, etc. 3) Disabling JavaScript & Flash 4) Installing Anti-Malwate Software 5) Using the TOR browser (if you’re serious) and 6) Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), of course. Now, all of these things have their downsides and can severely impact your Internet browsing experience (i.e cause slower loading times, interrupt the functioning of sites, etc.). It is important to weigh one’s concerns against the risks before making any decisions in this area.

Of course, what is most important is that we continue to try and educate ourselves on important online issues like data tracking and online privacy as well as continue to develop our digital literacy practices. Sites like “Am I Unique?” provide a lens through which we can better understand and conceptualize important issues like this that are, unfortunately and nefariously, often hidden from view. I highly recommend checking out this site in order to learn more about the importance of one’s browser fingerprint and about what this fingerprint can be used for.

~Till next time~

What Color Duct Tape Should Go On My Webcam? 🤔

photo of turned on laptop computer
Photo by Danny Meneses on Pexels.com

The last adventure that we had to do was search for two articles that we have not discussed in class, and the results I found were amazing! At first, I wasn’t sure what to research since I am still very new to Alchemy and this digital world; but then I started to think about the short discussion we had at the end of class last week about some of my classmates and their concerns about their children on the internet. Jean, the mother of a young daughter, posted a blog about five tips on YouTube safety. (Click Here for Link) She even taught me a few things about YouTube safety that I was not aware of before. Here were her tips:

  1. Enable YouTube safety mode on computers: it will prevent some unsavory content from younger eyes. Comments are not immediately visible.
  2. Disable YouTube app on mobile: simply not have the app on your phone since there’s no safety mode available on mobile devices.
  3. Use a kid-safe browser on mobile devices and tablets; Since you can still view YouTube on devices through browsers, install a kid-safe browser.
  4. Kids don’t need a YouTube account to view videos: A YouTube account is required to upload a video or comment on a video. However, anyone can view a YouTube video, you don’t need a YouTube account.
  5. As always, talk to your kids!

Hopefully, my fellow classmates could use these tips! The theme of this week seemed to be about safety on the internet. I thought this article was a great read to add to the discussion. On my dark to light scale, I found this article to be a nine out of ten. YouTube can’t magically make all of the privacy scares and kinks in the settings vanish, however, I do believe this was a light in the darkness when it comes to controlling how we handle our internet safety.

The second article I found was about laptop webcams and the dangers that go with it. I believe by now, anyone who is at least 40 years old and younger may know that putting tape or a cover over your webcam on your laptop or your computer is safer than leaving it out in the open. The reason is that hackers can still access your webcam even though it’s “off.” I saw on the news that a woman had Facetimed her boyfriend and after she hung up, a hacker was still able to see her after ending the call. What she thought was private was being seen through the camera. Danny Yadron writes about the cameras and surveillance safety. (Click Here for Article) What I liked about this reading is that there was an opposing argument stating that people were overreacting when it came to covering their webcams. Here are the main points of the article and also some points I found interesting for others to know:

  • For years security researchers have shown that hackers can hijack cameras to spy on whoever is on the other end.
  • The fear over web cameras has penetrated deep into popular culture.
  • In a hearing on Capitol Hill in February 2016, the US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, acknowledged how the so-called “internet of things” could be used for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment or gain access to networks or user credentials.
  • The opposing side: Brain Pascal, a privacy expert says a cost-benefit analysis let him conclude he’d rather have a useable camera, which he can use to record his son. But he acknowledged such stickers are a way for people to signal that they worry too much about Big Brother.

The second article seemed to be more on the lines of what was discussed last week in class. The topic of surveillance and what comes with it. Also, talking about identity and what can be out there on the internet for others to see. I would rate this article a zero, which means I found this article in the dark. The reason why I gave it such a “low” rating is because it did point out many issues involving the webcam on an everyday used item. However, to leave this post on a positive night, this article does give a lot of insight on a topic that is still unknown to a lot of people. What I’m hoping is that people will be able to decide on their own whether or not Big Brother isn’t that scary and they have nothing to worry about or making take precautions in this surveillance era is necessary to stay as safe as possible. For me, this article (the first one as well), made me want to protect myself more as much as possible. Even if someone might think I am overthinking all of this surveillance talk and the “internet of things”; I believe this is important and honestly, an overlooked topic.

So what do you think; Gold Duct Tape or Superman Patterned? My webcam will be covered TOMORROW!

I Actually Really Do Feel like Someone is Always Watching Me…👀

The ‘K’ in Keurig Stands for Kreepy