It’s a Steep Learning Curve and I’m Way Behind
November 6, 2016
One guy’s journey toward understanding what happens beneath the surface of our plugged-in world.
Crypto, privacy, PGP, TAILS, TOR, Bitcoin, Ulbricht, Silk Road, PRISM, Snowden, NSA, keylogger, RAT, hack, breach, SOCKS5, proxy, checksum, FISA, deepweb, darknet, metadata. What does it all mean? What, if anything, do they have in common, with each other? More importantly, what do they mean to you? What do they mean to me?
On the surface, many people don’t pay much attention at all when these words and acronyms show up on their news-feeds or news programs. They simply browse past them in their search for something they care more about, perhaps not understanding that they should care.
Up until just a year or so ago they didn’t really mean much to me either. Sure, I knew the NSA was a government agency. Yes, I had heard about that guy Snowden who ran away to Russia after telling someone something. None if it was directly affecting me though, so why would I let it bother my pursuit of cat videos and deals on Amazon?
Amazon.com is where my rabbit-hole story begins – where I first discovered someone was watching me. Not in the sense that I had discovered a creepy guy at my window with binoculars, but in the, “Hey, that’s neat, I searched for that on my phone yesterday and now I’m there’s an ad for it in my email!” Clicking on the advertised link took me to the Amazon website where I ended up sorting through countless products and customer reviews of those very same products.
A week or so later it happened again – an item I had looked up in a search engine popped up as an advertisement in my email. It was followed by an ad for the same item in the sidebar on Facebook. How long had this been going on for? Was this the first couple of times or had I simply failed to notice it beforehand? Was this a new feature the social media giants had rolled out to make our lives better? A simple search entered into the world’s most popular search engine was akin to Neo choosing to take the proffered red pill from Morpheus.
It turns out you and I are simply a means to an end for the data mining and warehousing machines that are Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and any number of other online behemoths. While so many of us have grown accustomed to the fast, free, and functional services these companies provide, few stop to think about why it is we are getting them for free. Or, more accurately, questioned what we are giving up in return for our access to email and social networking and being able to swipe right or left as our hearts desire.
Each day I learn more and more about how deep our electronic trails go. They are everywhere and anywhere and each time you check your email, tweet about cats, like someone’s dinner plate, rate someone’s face, snap someone’s chat, or whatever else, you leave traces about yourself and your activities. Traces that are being watched, monitored, recorded, graphed and Venn-diagramed into a picture of who you are and what products you like and those you are likely to buy. These traces result in specific consumer profiles valued highly by companies who want to sell you their latest product or service.
They can also be used for less above-board purposes; by people you wouldn’t necessarily want watching or tracking you. People who, by law, aren’t allowed to do the very things they are doing yet do it anyway in the name of ‘security for everyone.’
As the first ‘real’ post on this website, my goals are multifaceted but can probably be best summed up as this: I desire to learn as much as possible about how each and every action we take in an increasingly wired world is interconnected with the other things we do. As I go forward I’m learning more and more about the devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), that we use and rely on so much upon and how they both help us while exposing us to other possible dangers that many of us are unaware of.
I don’t promise much of anything. Some entries may be funny, some may be political, others will be science fiction, and some will offend you. Read all, read none, read some, read none – all I promise is I will speak honestly