Tag Archives: Privacy

Privacy Is A Privilege?

“We are paying for everything right now. The currency we’re trading is data.” ~ Anne-Marie Scott

So, this week the polar vortex finally descended upon us and swallowed us whole in a show of might that only emphasized how insignificant we are–

Actually, class just got snowed out cause global warming is a thing and it’s screwing with the weather. What are you gonna do??? Pass Ocasi0-Cortez’s Green Deal???

Anyway, despite this week’s unfortunate weather, some of us were still able to meet online and continue shedding some light on the dark practices and conjurings happening just below the web’s  seemingly glossy surface. To help guide our discussion on the increasingly complex issues of privacy online, data tracking, real vs. fake, etc., we had Anne-Marie Scott (@ammienoot) and her insight and expertise.

Don’t You Forget About Me The Light

In this week’s Studio Visit with Anne-Marie, a lot of discussion revolved around data protection and privacy in online spaces. In the European Union, where Anne-Marie is located, there are specific regulations put in place that decide what information about you can be collected or used by entities that wish to use the Internet as a platform for their content. These regulations are known as the GDPR (Global Data Protection Regulation) and control the flow and collection of data in the EU. There must be transparency if an entity is tracking your data for any reason and entities are not allowed to target specific persons with the data collected or else there could be severe penalties. Essentially, privacy online in the EU is being valued as a right rather than this private information being valued for financial gain. It’s an entirely different ideology than the one in America, where regulations are often viewed as hindrances to innovation and capital.

This contrast of belief is a highly contentious subject (as are most subjects where $$$ is involved). To be honest, I can understand both sides of the issue. Like, I get that it is through a lot of this data tracking and targeted advertising that many platforms we consider “free” make the revenue necessary to keep the sites accessible. If that revenue were to disappear or be severely cut, these site could no longer operate as virtually free entities. To a degree, I’m sympathetic. When my data is not being used for inherently questionable purposes, I admittedly don’t have a problem with its collection. Especially if it is providing the funding necessary to keep news organizations in circulation or to help creators online make the profit they need to continue making cool things. But, unfortunately, this kind of control over my data is not guaranteed in the current system in the US. Right now, it’s the “wild west” out here. A consumer free-for-all. A Capitalist wet-dream.

Apart from a complete and utter paradigm shift, I’m not sure what actions could be taken to change this system in the US. Especially under the current administration (that killed net neutrality ’cause this whole “everyone has equal and equitable access to the Internet” sounds a lot like Communism >.>). Something suggested was paying extra for additional security that could ensure privacy; this is something many users seem willing to do, especially as they learn more about just how much of their data is being collected and used for less-than-what-should-be-legal purposes. That said, this brings into questions difficult issues such as privilege and access. As Anne-Marie so eloquently put it, “Privacy is a privilege.” I think it’s hard for many people, myself included, to understand what a privilege it is just to be able to discuss a subject like privacy. As we learned in our last Studio Visit with Chris Gilliard (@hypervisible), surveillance is nothing new to so many persons from marginalized or vulnerable groups of the population. And, I wonder if it would still be a big deal in big tech organizations if it were only affecting certain consumers. Also, as Anne-Marie noted, making privacy a privilege one has to pay for may only further segment the population, not only along social lines but also along class lines. Again, the most vulnerable would be the victims.

If anything, this discussion highlighted how privacy and online data tracking are not issues exclusive to themselves; instead there is much intersection. Many complex issues such as class, access, race, etc. intersect with privacy and data tracking. There is no simple solution for the problem–because there is not only one problem. There are many.

That said, Anne-Marie did suggest the GDPR could bode well for the future of many online services. Since these different services already have to alter their operations for implementation in the EU, why not implement these altered operations worldwide? They’re already going through all the effort, right? I’m a bit pessimistic about this suggestion, tbh. But, I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised. Also, Anne-Marie mentioned that some of these data collecting practices can be used for the creation of very helpful platforms–such as Wikipedia. An open-source platform like Wikipedia allows for conversation and community to develop around information which can allow for better information in the end. As many of us stated this week, it is the sense of community online spaces allow to develop that really redeems the Internet and makes endeavors to better and more fairly facilitate community and collaboration online worthwhile.

Ultimately, I believe the Internet is a clusterf*ck of #problematic issues to say the least but I also want to believe cue the X-Files theme that it can be this place for free and creative enterprise and interchange to occur. There is so much potential for such a space to exist if we are able to elect people into positions of power and influence who believe the Internet’s best qualities are community, collaboration, and creative enterprise. In America, at least, action like this needs to be taken or else change will not occur. I firmly believe that. It’s going to take an invigorated and self-actualized public to have meaningful impact on these issues. I think that privacy and data tracking are, of course, issues of personal responsibility as well. But, also, I don’t think it’s right that the burden to protect data and privacy should fall fully on individuals. The truth of the matter is that the general person is not informed of nor educated about these issues–which is another aspect of this that is important: education. In fact, it may be the first step that needs to be taken before others actions can be carried out. In this digital age, digital literacy should be as important as any other subject in school. When not “up-to-par”, this lack of education has a real-world, measurable impact on individuals. As I’ve stated before, I truly believe that education is what will always light the way. If anything, our efforts should be focused on how we can provide everyone with both access to such essential information and thorough explanation of that information so that informed decisions can be made.

I think classes like ours are igniting the spark.

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Bonus Post

This week, in an extra post, I shared a resource I think could be helpful in developing digital literacy skills. The resource is a series on Youtube made by Crash Course. The series explores Media Literacy which intersects with many of the issues we explore in our own course. How to navigate a post-truth world is a focus of the series as well as how to become more informed about these unseen practices going on behind our screens. I think it’s a great tool to have in our library.

Daily Digital Alchemies

(So, full disclosure, these were kind of done between posting weeks but I’m putting them towards this post because I’m having a busy life this week and I need to do this >.< I’ll work on managing this!)

In my first DDA, I posted a screenshot of my screen use which my phone has been tracking since an update or two ago???. I’m a little horrified at myself but I also think it could be worse–and has been. I’m either getting better at managing my screen time or I’m too busy to even look at my phone these :)))))) #gradlife #illcompletethisthesisordietrying

For my second DDA, I put my good ol’ giphy skills to use and giffed the first few sentences of my thesis. One copy is “disemvoweled”. I used a different site than the one suggested on the DDA though because I couldn’t access that site due to Adblocker??? Anyway, I hope you enjoy my avant-garbage~ There will be more to come.

~Till Next Time~

Your Fave Pyro

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~

This Post Goes Out to My FBI Agent (Thanks for Always Being There)~

fbiselfie

mulderscreaming

How my FBI agent probably looks most of the time~ I’ve missed you over the shutdown T_T

Anyway….

I’m back and better than ever.

Hope you haven’t missed me too much 😉 I’ll try to make up for lost time and get right into the snarky commentary~

Big Brother is Watching You

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“How do we know who, what to trust online anymore?…What keeps you up at night or worried about your own internet activity?”

I see we’re starting off light this semester.

Anyway, what doesn’t concern me about using the internet anymore??? It seems like every other day we learn about some new way the government has been tracking our internet activity or about some third-party company or multi-million dollar company (here’s looking at you Zuckerburg >.>) making stupid amounts money selling our data to the highest bidder. That was the story last year and it’s still the story this year. Third-party tracking, learning algorithms, privacy–the issues with all of those things are only getting worse as the internet becomes more ubiquitous and people become more inclined/manipulated to plug-in. The internet is becoming more convenient. It’s more convenient to go paperless with most information these days, to auto-save passwords, to venmo, to group chat, etc. The decision to forego privacy for convenience is becoming more and more voluntary, the methods driving this shift decidedly more and more nefarious.

Tbh, though, I don’t find myself as concerned with being tracked these days. It just seems like such a given, now. Of course, someone or some corporation is surveilling me and making money off of it. Of course some shady entity is using the internet to manipulate not only people but concepts like reality and truth. It’s so easy. Really, check out how stupid easy it is:

These are 2 of my fave videos of all time and I share them a lot~

Truth doesn’t matter anymore. Facts don’t matter. Unless they’re alternative facts…. While I’m a strong believer that the great thing about facts is that they don’t change whether you believe in them or not, an increasingly horrifying number of people seem to be of the mind that facts are things one can choose to arbitrarily believe in or deny, as if facts have somehow rumors or hearsay. It’s a troubling ideology that has only been galvanized and perpetuated and even weaponized (here’s looking at you Russia >.>) by internet intervention.

Rather than the internet being this place for creative enterprise and the free exchange of ideas, it has become this thriving cesspool of misinformation and bigotry that has gained a sphere of IRL influence that is expanding at an alarming rate.

And, it’s not very clear to me if more or less regulation will alleviate any of these issues. There’s never been a space like the internet before and it’s challenging to make decisions about the space. To make matters worse, many of the people in positions to make decisions about this space are older persons who, quite frankly, don’t even have a basic knowledge of how to convert a Word doc to a PDF or an idea of the different between Facebook and the internet let alone the knowledge necessary to pose meaningful sanctions on what information third-party servers can make a market of.

This is only a small curation of the many issues with the internet I have that keep me and many other people up at night. While I really want to be hopeful and believe that the internet can be this place for the democratization of information and this place for creative and free exchange, the current reality complicates this idealistic vision and the current sociocultural and political environment does not seem supportive of it. There are these little pocket realms where these ideals seem embraced–AO3, closed-species communities, select Reddit and Twitter threads, etc.–but for the most part, there is a lot to be desired.

All this said, I think it is more important than ever that media literacy and digital literacies be an integral part of education. Despite everything, I am a firm believer that education and knowledge bring the understanding and empathy necessary to overcome any kind of ignorance or intolerance and really instigate change. Facts and truth will never matter again unless we are actively teaching people that they do. We don’t have to be the loudest voice–just the most consistent. Hope may be the spark but education is what keeps that light at the end of the tunnel bright and burning.

To me, alchemy is nothing more than the pursuit of knowledge, digital alchemy the pursuit of digital knowledge. It is also the pursuit for best practice, making it an ever-changing kind of “magic”. But, above all else, it is meant to be illuminating. This semester, I hope we are able to cast a little light of our own~

I’ve been feeling rather “dim” lately and I could really use a little light.

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I’m the Map, I’m the Map, I’m the…

If you need a little pick-me-up after such a bleak post, I highly suggest you check out my own personal map of the internet and my interactions with it. While I’ve still got my reservations, I think I express my hopes for the internet in an articulate, albeit embellished and a little bit pretentious I quoted Van Gogh like an assh*ole???, way.I’m not a total killjoy make some noise just mostly one–it’s kind of my #brand~ ^.^

Sweet Screams

Zero stars????? What’s a girl gotta do to get some stars??? Go give me some love~

Daily Digital Alchemies

I made a gif in Giphy for #dda238 and for #dda240, I took a swing at NJ Transit ^.^ one of my fave #pastimes~

~Till next time~