Law in the Internet Society

How to live a life of surveillance

-- By MelissaTeh - 04 Dec 2019

Realizing that I will never be free

To live a life completely free of spying would require such dramatic overhaul of my current lifestyle that it seems almost impossible. My problem is exacerbated by my reliance on other people and systems – for example, even if I were to personally give up using outlook or gmail, I would have still have no choice but to use outlook for work, gmail for school, etc.. Not using standardized messaging apps also seems like a futile cause – the unfortunate reality is that the choice of which app I use, be it iMessage, FB Messenger or Whatsapp, is almost entirely contingent on what apps other people use. To choose to use a different app would be useless to me because if my friends were not also using that app, I would have nobody to message. I am aware I am only scratching the surface here – in fact, my current behavior facilitates the tech industry’s ability to successfully rob me of my secrecy and anonymity and is thus, host to a plethora of problems.

Adjusting my expectations

As such, I have come to the realization that although freeing myself from constant spying should be a task that is worth my best effort, it does not seem attainable given my situation and lack of technical computing skills, coupled with my general lack of awareness (of the problem). Beyond all, however, my unwillingness to give up my current lifestyle probably stems from my complacency and mischaracterization of the severity of the threat of constant surveillance. Whatever the reason, the question then becomes not how I am able to completely free myself, but how to reduce my Internet footprint.

Reduce reliance on my devices

The functions or applications I currently rely on the most would be my social media apps (Facebook and Instagram), gmaps, and my messaging apps. One thing I could do to reduce my footprint and reliance would be to cut down on my use of such apps. For directions, I could map my route before hand. Interestingly, I was forced to do that when I had to go to Brooklyn College to take the MPRE exam, which prohibited cellphones from the premises. As such, I could not bring my cellphone and had to memorize my way to the exam venue, which I was successful at doing, surprisingly. Using printed maps, or simply asking people for directions is also possible.

Minimizing social media usage

Use of social media can be reduced to almost nothing. Currently, my usage is relatively little, and when I do use social media, it is mostly to view content (posted by my friends) rather than to share my own information. Although it would be most ideal to delete my presence entirely, it would be difficult at this point since I rely on these apps to contact my friends – astonishingly, I do not have most of my friend’s phone numbers or email addresses (and in any case, if I text them, that content would still be screened by my phone.) I have however, tried to be more selective in connecting with people on these apps – as of yesterday, I have deleted several hundreds of my Facebook “friends” and a good number of followers on Instagram, although I am not sure if this really helps to reduce my overall footprint. In any case, less lay people are privy to my information.

Microphone and other spying functions

One thing that was particularly disturbing for me was the realization that my phone and laptop were constantly recording what reading I was saying and browsing, and synthesizing that information. Just yesterday, an advertisement for an eye cream appeared on my Instagram feed minutes after I mentioned (verbally) to a friend that I wanted to buy it. Although stopping my phone from reading my messages/emails is slightly more challenging, I have tried to reduce (perhaps in vain) my phone’s ability to record my conversations. I did this by increasing the privacy settings in my phone and revoking the microphone access to all my apps. Notably, this means I will not be able to use siri – thankfully, I already do not. I have also committed to not getting any integrated home systems like Alexa or Google Home. By the same vein, I also disabled the location services on my phone apps.

Giving less information

Additionally, I can, and have tried, to reduce the information I voluntarily give up. Often, I am enticed to give up my personal information – typically, my name, email address, phone number and postal code – by receiving something in exchange. Usually, the reward is very small, like free WiFi? or a one-time discount code, and the cost is larger than I had realized. As such, refusing to give up information so willingly especially when I do not know how my information will be used is a good starting point. Additionally, I also try to give fake information when signing up for things like WiFi? or discount codes, although I do realize that my IP address remains unchanged. However, the point is that I am slowly starting to become cognizant of the value of my personal data and will continue to take steps in the right direction.

Paying in cash wherever possible

I have noticed that my generation of peers, myself included, is extremely reluctant to carry cash. Personally, I am hugely reliant on using my debit/credit cards, which inadvertently means that all my purchases are being recorded and that my spending habits are no longer anonymous. My friends also use apple pay or other apps, which facilitate the deeper integration of their cellphones into their lives. As such, I have and will continue to try to reduce my spending on the internet, and instead, make cash purchases in person. This will overtime, help to reduce the amount of information tech companies have of me, and one metric I will use to gauge if that is true is if I receive less targeted advertising by email or on my social media.

A very good draft. You show clearly how your desire for better privacy is thwarted by an absence of privacy-focused technical education: you would do more if people would teach you how to do more, but you can't find the teaching. You show equally clearly why skills we all took for granted a moment ago, like finding our way through the city, are becoming endangered by privacy-destroying services, just as our friends' helplessness and reluctance to do difficult things like writing email and placing telephone calls, draws you into destroying your own privacy. (Telling your friends, "If you want me, send email or place a telephone call," seems impossible to you, while for me that's not only possible, it's just the fact. People cannot communicate with me unless they want to use the modalities that I find acceptable. That's every human's basic power, but you don't believe you possess it.)

So a little more can be said, supplementing what you have said already, that more clearly defines the steps you would have to take to get what you want, and outlining what you'd need to know in order to get it. That's a demand to be taught. You pay a great deal of money to be educated, and when you demand to be taught something, it should be taught to you, pronto.

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r2 - 19 Jan 2020 - 13:20:50 - EbenMoglen
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