What Surveillance Valley knows about you

The simple answer is everything

News Privacy is Dead – Get Over It Recommended Links Big Uncle is Watching You Cyberstalking Google secret redirects in search results
"Everything in the Cloud" Utopia Issues of security and trust in "cloud" env Google Toolbar spyware Search engines privacy How to collect and analyze your own Web activity metadata Squid as privacy enhancing tool
Google and copyright law What Surveillance Valley knows about you 75% of Internet traffic is intercepted Cyberstalking Nephophobia: avoiding clouds to reclaim bits of your privacy Facebook as Giant Database about Users
Total control: keywords in your posts that might trigger surveillance  Interception of "in-transit" traffic as violation of human rights What Surveillance Valley knows about you Pitfalls of Google as a Search Engine Humor Etc

Thirty-five percent of US citizens and residents  now have a profile on at least one social networking site, and 51 percent have more than one. Three-quarters of users between the ages of 18 and 24 have an online profile (USA Today). The Pew Research Center found that 89 percent of these people use the sites to keep up with friends, 57 percent to make plans with friends and 49 percent to make new friends.

All that means that Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn,  Yahoo, Amazon, etc are companies that collect tremendous amount of information about you. See What Surveillance Valley knows about you and Privacy is Dead – Get Over It for some discussion of this alarming trend of dominance of "Surveillance Valley".

Especially if  you are eager to share your thoughts and feelings. But just like in real life, there's such a thing as sharing too much information (TMI). that that creates specific dangers such as cyberstalking

It's easy to get distracted by the social aspects of sites like Facebook and  you choose to share information that you actually do not want for others to see. And it is illusion that you can limit who can view your information.

The same study by Pew Research found that 40 percent of users have open access to their profiles, allowing anyone to view their information. The other 60 percent restrict access to friends, family and colleagues.

Sharing personal information with strangers can be dangerous business, and there are some things you should definitely put on your "do not share" list.

there are some simple rules that helps to limit damage is you are addicted to social sites and can't limit your self to regular emails (which actually are pretty adequate).

  1. Any personal information in general including but not limited to
  2. Never use social sites to conduct business, or God forbid to replace your office mail.
  3. Never mix private life with you work. Linking Facebook with your LinkedIn work profile might put your job at risk.
  4. Do not use Facebook and friends for organizing parties.  There are also some security issues at stake here. Imagine a scenario where a jealous ex-boyfriend knows that you're meeting a new date out that night. What's to keep the ex from showing up and causing a scene or even potentially getting upset or violent? Nothing.  If you're planning a party or an outing with a group of friends, send a personal "email" for their eyes only. If you're trying to cast a wide net by throwing out an idea for a social outing, just remember that anyone who has access to your profile sees it.
  5. Never put personal conversation on your wall. The wall is there for all to see, while messages are between the sender and the receiver, just like an e-mail. Personal and private matters should never be shared on your wall. You wouldn't go around with a bullhorn announcing a private issue to the world, and the same thing goes on the Internet. This falls under the nebulous world of social networking etiquette. There is no official handbook for this sort of thing, but use your best judgment. If it's not something you'd feel comfortable sharing in person with extended family, acquaintances, work colleagues or strangers, then you shouldn't share it on your Facebook wall.

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[Apr 03, 2015] Random findings

Personal details of world leaders accidentally revealed by G20 organisers Guardian. Schadenfreude alert.

Tor reportedly hires Verizon's PR firm to fight back against Pando's reporting Yasha Levine, Pando

Before leak, NSA mulled ending phone program Associated Press (furzy mouse)

NSA Tried to Roll Out Its Automated Query Program Between Debates about Killing It Marcy Wheeler

Obama's Intelligence Oversight Board a Corporate Lot PEU Report

[Mar 30, 2015] Big Brother Is Here Facebook Reveals Its Master Plan - Control All News Flow

This attack on RT is another skirmish in the war for your minds, http://rt.com/shows/crosstalk/244401-media-eu-nato-us/ , maybe lesser known sites will just be disappeared.
Mar 29, 2015 | Zero Hedge
Submitted by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

The new proposal by Facebook carries another risk for publishers: the loss of valuable consumer data. When readers click on an article, an array of tracking tools allow the host site to collect valuable information on who they are, how often they visit and what else they have done on the web.

And if Facebook pushes beyond the experimental stage and makes content hosted on the site commonplace, those who do not participate in the program could lose substantial traffic - a factor that has played into the thinking of some publishers. Their articles might load more slowly than their competitors', and over time readers might avoid those sites.

- From the New York Times article: Facebook May Host News Sites' Content

Last week, I came across an incredibly important article from the New York Times, which described Facebook's plan to provide direct access to other websites' content in exchange for some sort of advertising partnership. The implications of this are so huge that at this point I have far more questions than answers.

Let's start with a few excerpts from the article:

With 1.4 billion users, the social media site has become a vital source of traffic for publishers looking to reach an increasingly fragmented audience glued to smartphones. In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

Such a plan would represent a leap of faith for news organizations accustomed to keeping their readers within their own ecosystems, as well as accumulating valuable data on them. Facebook has been trying to allay their fears, according to several of the people briefed on the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were bound by nondisclosure agreements.

Facebook intends to begin testing the new format in the next several months, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. The initial partners are expected to be The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, although others may be added since discussions are continuing. The Times and Facebook are moving closer to a firm deal, one person said.

Facebook has said publicly that it wants to make the experience of consuming content online more seamless. News articles on Facebook are currently linked to the publisher's own website, and open in a web browser, typically taking about eight seconds to load. Facebook thinks that this is too much time, especially on a mobile device, and that when it comes to catching the roving eyeballs of readers, milliseconds matter.

The Huffington Post and the business and economics website Quartz were also approached. Both also declined to discuss their involvement.

Facebook declined to comment on its specific discussions with publishers. But the company noted that it had provided features to help publishers get better traction on Facebook, including tools unveiled in December that let them target their articles to specific groups of Facebook users, such as young women living in New York who like to travel.

The new proposal by Facebook carries another risk for publishers: the loss of valuable consumer data. When readers click on an article, an array of tracking tools allow the host site to collect valuable information on who they are, how often they visit and what else they have done on the web.

And if Facebook pushes beyond the experimental stage and makes content hosted on the site commonplace, those who do not participate in the program could lose substantial traffic - a factor that has played into the thinking of some publishers. Their articles might load more slowly than their competitors', and over time readers might avoid those sites.

And just as Facebook has changed its news feed to automatically play videos hosted directly on the site, giving them an advantage compared with videos hosted on YouTube, it could change the feed to give priority to articles hosted directly on its site.

Let me try to address this the best I can from several different angles. First off, what's the big picture plan here? As the number two ranked website in the world with 1.4 billion users, Facebook itself is already something like an alternative internet where a disturbing number of individuals spend a disproportionate amount of their time. The only thing that seems to make many of its users click away is content hosted on other people's websites linked to from Facebook users. Other than this outside content, many FB users might never leave the site.

While this is scary to someone like me, to Facebook it is an abomination. The company doesn't want people to leave their site ever - for any reason. Hence the aggressive push to carry outside news content, and create a better positioned alternative web centrally controlled by it. This is a huge power play move.

Second, the New York Times righty asks the question concerning what will publishers get from Facebook for allowing their content to appear on the site seamlessly. Some sort of revenue share from advertisers seems to be an obvious angle, but perhaps there's more.

While Facebook isn't a huge traffic driver for Liberty Blitzkrieg, it isn't totally irrelevant either. For example, FB provided about 3% of the site's traffic over the past 12 months. This is despite the fact that LBK doesn't even have a Facebook page, and I've never shared a link through it. Even more impressive, Facebook drove more traffic to LBK over the same time period than Twitter, and I am very active on that platform. So I can only imagine how important FB is to website editors who actually use it.

This brings me to a key point about leverage. It seems to me that Facebook has all the leverage in negotiations with content providers. If you're a news website that refuses to join in this program, over time you might see your traffic evaporate compared to your competitors whose content will load seamlessly and be promoted by the FB algorithm. If a large percentage of your traffic is being generated by Facebook, can you really afford to lose this?

One thing that FB might be willing to offer publishers in return other than advertising dollars, is increased access to their fan base. For example, when I try to figure out through Google analytics who specifically (or what page) on Facebook is sharing my work, I can't easily do so. Clearly this information could prove very useful for networking purposes and could be quite valuable.

Looking for some additional insight and words of wisdom, I asked the smartest tech/internet person I know for his opinion. It was more optimistic than I thought:

This could be a huge shaper of news on the internet. or it could turn out to be nothing.

Other than saying that I don't really know how to predict what might or might not happen, and I sort of don't care much because it is in the realm (for now at least) of stuff that I don't read (mainstream news), on a site that I never see (Facebook). However, the one thing I wonder in terms of the viability of this is whether in the end it may drive people away from FB.

Back in the day, probably when you weren't so aware of the nascent net, there were two giant "services" on the Internet called Compuserve and America Online. They were each what you are thinking that Facebook is heading toward; exclusive, centralized portals to the whole net. They were also giant and successful at the time. Then people outside of them started doing things that were so much more creative and interesting. At the same time, in order to make everything fit inside their proprietary boxes and categories, they were making everything ever more standardized and boring. Then they just abruptly died.

Given the enormity of what Facebook is trying to achieve, I have some obvious concerns. First, since all of the leverage seems to reside with Facebook, I fear they are likely to get the better part of any deal by wide margin. Second, if they succeed in this push, this single company's ability to control access to news and what is trending and deemed important by a huge section of humanity will be extraordinary.

balolalo
I think this shows how desperate both parties are. The MSM is dying. Facebook has plateued. However the risk is great to both parties. What happens when users hijack the message? And how do they control feedback? I think this will shoot both of them in the foot in the end. BLOWBACK BITCHEZ.

Macchendra

Do you see any of your code on Facebook?

Did I use any of your code?

What? Match.com for Harvard guys?

You know, you really don't need a forensics team to get to the bottom of this.

If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you'd have invented Facebook.

Macchendra

And honestly, the "goy" version of this, classmates.com, had been around for ages stinking up your spam folder. Thank God the MBAs didn't win this battle. They would have monetized it to death. And YOUR opinion has benefited. YOU have been given a voice.

GetZeeGold

The master plan is nothing new.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ForvEyNABs8

fudge

What happens when users hijack the message?

Yes, this is all about control of the 'message'. They are loosing control, this is one option they've chosen and they'll attempt to vilify any and all alternate sources.

This attack on RT is another skirmish in the war for your minds , http://rt.com/shows/crosstalk/244401-media-eu-nato-us/ , maybe lesser known sites will just be disappeared.

WordSmith2013
Who REALLY Controls The Mainstream Media?

Taint Boil

Imagine FaceFuck controlling all the information delivered to the sheep on say ….hmmm, Russia for example.

doctor10

"they" have lost control of the narrative. Can't even get a good game of cowboys and indians going anywhere in the world any longer.

When despite all their insane raving about him, even Putin comes off looking more of a statesman than anybody in the West, its obvious the stories no longer hold together into a believable story

Burt Gummer
I'm gonna twitter this shit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBCUCJNWimo
Paveway IV
"...With 1.4 billion users..."

Yeah, and I account for a dozen of those. I can't remember the username or password or email account that I made up the last time I was forced to use it so I just make up another one. Which I promptly forget again because I never use it.

When you hear your teenage kids say, "Facebook?? Facebook SUCKS" you know it's over for them.

MSM want's to funnel their feces through FB? Hey - I'm all for it. More power to them. I would rather have ALL the knuckle-draggers self-confined to their own little cage somewhere on the periphery of the internet than wandering around loose and showing up on worthwhile sites. Like I would ever even bother to make up yet another fake account on Facebook to read somethign like the NYT, WSJ, WaPo, Bussiness Insider, etc., etc., etc.

bag holder

This sounds exactly like America Online back in the 90s. They tried to create their own self-contained Internet, too. It didn't exactly end well.

in4mayshun

Half the people I know already ditched FB for Instagram. The other half were smart enough never to join FB..

Installing Tails Live Linux Operating System For Preserving Privacy and Anonymity On The Net

October 1, 2014 | nixCraft

in Open Source, Security

Nowadays, privacy does not hold much value when it comes to the privacy of our data on our digital devices or on the internet. In the past few weeks, we learned that everyone who tries to maintain privacy on the net is under suspicion which is all the more reason to try to keep our data, contacts, communications, and whereabouts on the internet anonymous and hidden from prying eyes as much as possible. This holds true even more for people that are more exposed like human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and even doctors. Some of the distributions that try to assist us with this build on the Tor network.

One of these distributions is Tails, based on Debian Testing. It had a formidable boost when whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed, that he used Tails to stay anonymous. The latest release is Tails 1.1 which was released on July 22. We are going to show you how to set it up on a device like a USB memory stick or a SD card. The term 'installing' is used by the Tails project in this context, but technically this is only partially correct. The easiest way of using Tails is to just copy the bootable image to the device using the linux command dd as opposed to real installations to USB devices. If you want a read-only device for anonymously surfing the internet, that will suffice. If you need a setup that you can also write to and save your work on, the setup is a little bit more complicated, as the Tails installer only works from inside Tails.

We will test both ways of 'installing' Tails.

[Mar 27, 2015] Leave Facebook if you don't want to be spied on, warns EU by Samuel Gibb

March 26, 2015 | The Guardian
The European Commission has warned EU citizens that they should close their Facebook accounts if they want to keep information private from US security services, finding that current Safe Harbour legislation does not protect citizen's data.

The comments were made by EC attorney Bernhard Schima in a case brought by privacy campaigner Maximilian Schrems, looking at whether the data of EU citizens should be considered safe if sent to the US in a post-Snowden revelation landscape.

"You might consider closing your Facebook account, if you have one," Schima told attorney general Yves Bot in a hearing of the case at the European court of justice in Luxembourg.

... ... ...

Schrems maintains that companies operating inside the EU should not be allowed to transfer data to the US under Safe Harbour protections – which state that US data protection rules are adequate if information is passed by companies on a "self-certify" basis – because the US no longer qualifies for such a status.

The case argues that the US government's Prism data collection programme, revealed by Edward Snowden in the NSA files, which sees EU citizens' data held by US companies passed on to US intelligence agencies, breaches the EU's Data Protection Directive "adequacy" standard for privacy protection, meaning that the Safe Harbour framework no longer applies.

Poland and a few other member states as well as advocacy group Digital Rights Ireland joined Schrems in arguing that the Safe Harbour framework cannot ensure the protection of EU citizens' data and therefore is in violation of the two articles of the Data Protection Directive.

... ... ...

Facebook declined to comment.


techcafe CompleteBullShit 27 Mar 2015 21:16

read this: NSA poised to control the internet, by Julian Assange, 1996

techcafe, 7 Mar 2015 21:08

The European Commission has warned EU citizens that they should close their Facebook accounts if they want to keep information private from US security services…

unfortunately, facebook only allows you to 'deactivate' your account-but not delete it. in other words, with farcebook, you may check-out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

i 'deactivated' my facebook account a few years ago, and asked to have my account permanently removed, but facebook won't even respond to my repeated requests.

Loquito 27 Mar 2015 20:16

Facebook is the ultimate expression of the infantile, shallow and narcissistic approach a lot of people take to their lives nowadays. People who like to be watched and spied. People who thoroughly enjoy being stupid.

Raytrek 27 Mar 2015 19:53

I want to be spied on, the spies may learn a thing or two.

Joseph Jessup 27 Mar 2015 19:48

The EU is just a vassal for the US anyway, not sure why everybody is complaining here. The EU is pretty much controlled by the US in all aspects. "If the US says Bark, roll over", the EU does it faithfully, and demonstrates it daily in every sphere of foreign and domestic policy.

EU citizens have no right to complain until they start showing a little pride and independence, because now, it is is just a marionette.

CaptCrash -> BlancoDiabloMagico 27 Mar 2015 19:36

Oh... I filled in a form to close the account, with a reason of "duplicate account". Gone within 48 hours I think.

Zooni_Bubba 27 Mar 2015 19:16

This is the most of course story ever. The US government is breaking all sorts of laws, why would anyone put their information under in their domain. People should also not use any US based software products or email servers.

It is illegal to look through someones mail and therefore should be illegal to look through email, phone records, cookies etc.

GiovannidiPietro0714 27 Mar 2015 19:09

Leave Facebook . . .

more like leave planet earth, right?

That "Collect it All", "Process it All", "Exploit it All", "Partner it All", "Sniff it All" (tm) mindset, which by the way was started by U.S. IT companies, won't ever be abandoned by "freedom-loving" politicians and police.

... ... ....

Scott Gordon Scott Gordon 27 Mar 2015 17:39

www.businessinsider.com/25-cutting-edge-companies-funded-by-the-central-intelligence-agency-2012-8

Scott Gordon 27 Mar 2015 17:36

there is a story from a few years ago stating a cia agent helped fund facebook

ChristopherPrice Bob Howie 27 Mar 2015 16:23

There's a difference between secrecy and privacy. Having "nothing to hide" is good (which means you are likely a non-secretive, law abiding citizen), and it goes under the category of being transparent with regards to the rule of law. However, your ethical right to privacy is an entirely different discussion. Would you mind if the gov authorities placed a camera inside of your home and took pictures of your unclothed wife?

robertthebruce2014 27 Mar 2015 13:56

The corporate State considers that private enterprise in the sphere of production is the most effective and useful instrument in the interest of the nation. In view of the fact that private organisation of production is a function of national concern, the organiser of the enterprise is responsible to the State for the direction given to production.

State intervention in economic production arises only when private initiative is lacking or insufficient, or when the political interests of the State are involved. This intervention may take the form of control, assistance or direct management
.
(Benito Mussolini, 1935, Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions, pp. 135 / 136)

egbertnosausage -> SusanTorveldtt 27 Mar 2015 13:51

You're being spied upon all the time.

Turn off location services and use on an as needed basis then turn off again.

You're phone is a walking microphone telling companies like Google where you go and who you meet.

Dunnyveg 27 Mar 2015 12:50

Europeans should be just as concerned with keeping their private information away from EU authorities. Both Washington and Brussels are controlled by the same liberals who have declared war on their own citizens.

Alan Tasman 27 Mar 2015 12:20

I agree with this assessment 100%

Loveable Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called his first few thousand users "dumb fucks" for trusting him with their data, published IM (Instant Message) transcripts show. Zuckerberg has since admitted he made the comments.

Zuckerberg was chatting with an unnamed friend, apparently in early 2004. Business Insider, which has a series of quite juicy anecdotes about Facebook's early days, takes the credit for this one.

The exchange apparently ran like this:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don't know why.

Zuck: They "trust me"

Zuck: Dumb fucks

leveut2 27 Mar 2015 12:04

This is almost funny. More correctly put: "EU citizens that they should close their Facebook accounts if they want to keep information private".

Facebook's business plan is:

  1. get people to put as much as their personal information as possible on Facebook,
  2. figure out out to screw them over but good using that personal information, and
  3. screw them over but good.

By putting your information on Facebook you lose any right to complain about snooping by anyone.

uzzername 27 Mar 2015 10:48

Why don't the EU make Facebook put its server farms for European users within the territory of EU.

This way traffic from EU citizens won't leave its borders.

Kelly Trujillo 27 Mar 2015 10:48

So European nations have figured out that they don't want to be part of the U.S. nazification of the whole world. How long before the so called American "intellectual property" companies like Facebook become irrelevant?


BaffledFromBalham -> SirDemilo Brewer 27 Mar 2015 09:02

Who cares if FB is spying on you; if you don't have anything to hide what's the problem?

What if you do have something to hide? What if you were a member of some protest group in your student youth but now wanted to go on holiday to the US ... maybe you might want not want the US government to see all of your old posts of "down with this sort of thing" in case they got touchy and banned you from entering the country.

BaffledFromBalham -> Mike Kelligan 27 Mar 2015 08:52

just look at the contract and what it stipulates

It's not just what's in the contract; the NSA were using the data sent over the wire to by these apps.

BaffledFromBalham -> amberjack 27 Mar 2015 08:48

If the spooks can just suck your data out of the wires, it doesn't really matter which social network you're on.

Indeed, that's why GCHQ were tapping into the undersea internet cables. I guess the only defence then is https.

ID8246338 27 Mar 2015 08:40

One would have to be very stupid to think that any on-line communication is 'safe' or 'private' unless one takes specific steps.

Security has been a concern since the internet started to develop. From the beginning hackers were beavering away to find ways of accessing government systems - many of them very successfully. Many of them became employees of the governments who they were once hacking.

Combine this with the resources available to governments around the world nowadays and the cooperation of social media giants and other providers and its not hard to understand the risks one takes by using the internet.

Although we may think that we are doing nothing that the authorities would be interested in, the fact is that those authorities like data. They can analyse it and do all kinds of projections and discover trends in society which may be a threat to their power. That is the reason - not as much of that analysis is related to crime as they say it is.

Its common sense not to put anything on the internet you do not want others to see - no matter how private you think it is.

Wharfat9 27 Mar 2015 08:05

The idea of spying, snooping, entering into ... is rather against the idea of ´private´. Of course, if a phenotype puts a photo of self, 3/4´s naked, and then starts to blab his/her intimacies ... considering the platform, he/she has somewhat unlatched the locks, cut the barbed wire and otherwise ´invited the world on in.´

We are, aren´t we? .. pretty exhibitionist creatures.

Where we want to ´be seen´ ´heard´ ... offers the silly putty of our little ego´s up for those who want to snoop.

The people at Bluffdale, NSA, FBI, CIA have never had it so good. The kind of data collection they get as freebie, swooping it up by the ton - from willing bedmates throughout the social networks - is the kind of data collection they could only have dreamed of .. if Hoxha could have had this, Albania might be poised to take on the world!

What happens if there comes a day when we just simply turn these things off? What would be gained? What would be lost? The ´puter .. as someone in the U.S. said to me, "can´t live with ´em, can´t live without ´em." Is that really the way it is?

There is lingering curiosity, too: why in the world do governments want to snoop so badly? Beyond simple, grade ´b´ perversity, what is it? The United States, my country, has had as close to zero-success in snooping as has any country in the world, free, unfree, or oblong.

What´s the deal?

.. millions of bucks, snooping .. failure after failure .. what´s the deal?

Everything that could have gone wrong vis-a-vis terrorism, has.

Maybe U.S. officials want to talk about the ´ones they thwarted.´

"Oh, if only you knew!"

.. that, children, would require a leap of faith that he who writes here is not willing to take-make.

Reading the great Malinowski, his investigation of the Trobriand Islanders, one notes a complete, integral society, at work, at play, celebrating, mourning, living. Less than a hundred years ago. The stunning clarity of his writing portrays an integral society. If the society is whole, the community - as sub-strata, is whole, as well. Or, at least, can be ...

One can´t get over the fact that the ones who took the flying lessons before whacking the WTC´s (if this is really how it went) went into small town ´flying schools´ .. being very foreign, and .. ? .. ! .. and, the terrible serial killer who lived next door, ´was such a quiet boy.´

If we have lost it, the integrity, the integral part .. the rest is left-overs, bits ´n pieces, bacon bits, halal. And spying is the least of us. Lord help us.

david wright 27 Mar 2015 05:33

The 'right to be forgotten' legislation, however well-mening, was drafted in fairly complete ignorance of various technical realities. It provides very litle - if any - meaningful protection, beyond a comforting illusion. Would you care to be protected in shipwreck by an illusory life-jacket? Thought not.

General point being that absent accurate, timely and clear technical briefing of lawyers and parliamentary draughters, such laws will be effective purely by chance.

Dave Butler 27 Mar 2015 05:05

As a UK citizen who is already spied on more than any other country in the world what can the Americans find out that GCHQ , the thousands of camera's and the tracking of my phone, plus following my fancy new bank cards purchases is not already in the public domain.

Of course if you have something worth hiding you may feel different......

dralion 27 Mar 2015 04:54

Never joined, it or any other of the anti social networks.

Still can't understand this need to spread its life all over the net to thousands of so called friends. Croaks (as opposed to tweets) are reliable news for many and decision are based on rumours, false information...

There is no need for any of this. People are no more than cattle for those companies, milked out of their money, their time, their liberty of thinking; drone consumers...

ID3547814 -> Khoryos 27 Mar 2015 04:51

Not even FB deleting your account removes everything, from that FB help page;
"Some of the things you do on Facebook aren't stored in your account. For example, a friend may still have messages from you even after you delete your account. That information remains after you delete your account."

This means some incriminating posts you may have made will be stored on your FB friends accounts. Better still, you'll need to get all your friends to make a request to delete their FB accounts too, and their friends as well. Ad infinitum until the only account still using FB is Mark Zuckerburg's.

Денис Панкратов -> Khoryos 27 Mar 2015 04:44

Unfortunately, this is not quite true. By these actions, you can close your page for users, but not for US intelligence. But if you do not intelligence agent, not a politician, not a businessman, but simply communicate on the network, no need to worry. Special services are not interested in you. By the way, not only the "Facebook" is watching you. It is actively engaged in "Google", almost all social networks, file sharing, porn sites and sites for storing files.

The principle is the same: you want to keep confidential information, do not spread it to the network.

amberjack -> BaffledFromBalham 27 Mar 2015 03:54

Would you really trust a social media site set up by a governing organisation? Surely it would be way too tempting for them to fit backdoors for EuroPol to log in and search through all data, public and private.

That could be addressed by using a free open-source product like Diaspora. If everyone can see the code, back doors are easily detected and publicised. And it's a distributed system, so if you're really paranoid, you can install it on your own server and operate it on a peer-to-peer (pod to pod, in Diaspora jargon) basis.

The drawback is, of course, that as sdkeller72 and others have pointed out, once the information is transmitted between different pods/countries, it becomes vulnerable to third parties. If the spooks can just suck your data out of the wires, it doesn't really matter which social network you're on.

If you just don't like Facebook using your private information to pump you full of ads, though, a distributed, democratic system like Diaspora is the way to go.

monostatos 27 Mar 2015 03:44

has anyone found a way to delete a FB account in the real sense of 'delete' and not just abandon. I couldnt find a definitive answer in the comments. The offcial procedure on FB has very little effect on your data.

Its probably best to assume that anything ever uploaded to FB will exist forever right?

Khoryos NoahDiff 27 Mar 2015 03:39

You can delete it, they just make it as hard as possible to find -
https://en-gb.facebook.com/help/224562897555674

NoahDiff 27 Mar 2015 02:57

So the EU is urging people to close their Facebook accounts if they are concerned with possible privacy breaches. Sounds reasonable enough. I agree.

There's just one gotcha. Currently, it seems, there is NO way to actually close your Facebook account. You can deactivate it, but that doesn't actually delete it. All deactivating does is makes your account invisible; all your data is still there.

The closest you can get is to delete every last bit of data in your Facebook account -- and that means sitting there and deleting perhaps years worth of posts to your wall and the like, contacts, and any other services you have used on Facebook. The deactivate it and hope you and no one else trips over it in the future.

If there is anything the EU could demand, it would be to require that FB provide a means to truly delete an account. I mean, it is ridiculous that this is not available, given that this is doable on virtually every other site on the web. Not just ridiculous, outright lazy and irresponsible.

ramacaida58 27 Mar 2015 02:49

Are people naive?

"Face Book" National security project made by National security agencies.

We all applauded well done you clever boy how did you come out with such clever ideas.

But this is democracy we do have the choice to "shut it down or keep it open". We, who are the peaceful ordinary citizens of this word. Have nothing to worry about. May be even it is good for our security. At the end most of us we have nothing to hide.

orag -> Cumming madeiranlotuseater 27 Mar 2015 02:48

No, Facebook is where people post news that the mainstream media are reluctant to publish. It was the first place, for example, where people were extensively warning about NHS privatisation, or about the terrible effects of benefit sanctions.

It's also great for finding links to really interesting science sites, or culture that you may be interest ted in.

argonauta -> madeiranlotuseater 27 Mar 2015 02:46

My dog has 12 friends on FB. She's popular among my friends. I have no FB but my dog loves me anyway. And I love her friends, because the friends of my dog are my friends, chiefly when they were my friends in the first place. It's a win-win-woof situation

Brian -> Haughan Ellenrocr 27 Mar 2015 02:44

We all need to use an instant messaging solution like Cribble where messages can only be decrypted by the intended recipient. That way it doesn't matter where the servers are located because the governments can't read your messages anyway.

John MacKenzie -> tempodulu 27 Mar 2015 02:43

One of Edward Snowdons revelations was never to use Dropbox, ever. Continously monitored apparently.

John MacKenzie 27 Mar 2015 02:40

Can I suggest that, if you want your privacy protected, download Ghostery and ZenMate. Ghostery blocks 'trackers,' essentially online ads and tracking apps that run in the background mining data. For example, at the moment, on the Guardian site, Ghostery is blocking the following -

Audience Science
Criteo (ads)
Double Click (ads)
Facebook Social Graph
Google Ads
Krux Digital (ads)
Net Ratings (analytics)
Outbrain (tracker)
Scorecard Research

Zenmate is a VPN.

Ghostery does make the internet so much better as the pages load faster. They don't need to load ads and trackers all the time.

Just a thought.

[Mar 27, 2015]Big Data Is Watching You

In reality the state took an active role in creating such companies as Google and Facebook. So I would not call their excessive zeal for surveillance of the users accidental. Quote: "Headlines have always been composed to grab attention, but now they can gather intelligence too. Your decision to click-and even the amount of time you spend reading or watching-is a piece of data for which the advertiser will pay good money. As Silverman describes it, the urge to gather endless data about all of us-from our spending habits to the pace of our heartbeats-is a huge, lucrative industry, driven by the fantasy that correlation is causation, that because you did X activity, you'll buy Y product."
March 12, 2015 | In These Times
The hidden price of Google, Twitter and Facebook.

Your decision to click-and even the amount of time you spend reading or watching-is a piece of data for which the advertiser will pay good money.

What are we prepared to give up in the name of convenience? Throughout Jacob Silverman's capacious study of the world we're in and the world we're making-or rather, allowing tech companies to make for us-it's demonstrated repeatedly that billions of us are happy to surrender our privacy to save a few keystrokes. Why not log in to that other website with your Facebook or Twitter or Google ID? Why not use your real identity and photograph, with a record of your movements, all across the web? You have it on Google's word that they're not "evil"; what could be the harm?

Silverman's new book, Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection, does a thorough, if sometimes long-winded, job of explaining what the harm is and what it could become. He begins with an analysis of the philosophy, variously termed "techno-utopianism" or "cyber-libertarianism," that drives the major social media companies. The ideology should be familiar in essence, if not in name-we've been soaking in it for the past decade. Media theorists, long before the advent of Facebook, were calling it "the Californian ideology." It's what happens when youthful rebelliousness and a countercultural, anti-authoritarian spirit meets gobs of cash and untrammeled power. It's the myth-tirelessly peddled by optimistic tech, business and culture reporters and embraced by the customers who line up for new gadgets-that a corporation that calls its headquarters a "campus" and equips its offices with slides, snacks and free daycare is something other than a capitalist entity, with motives other than profit.

To be fair, the big tech companies-Google and Facebook are the stars here, with Twitter, Tumblr and LinkedIn singing backup - do have goals beyond their bottom line. They want to do the kinds of things that beauty-pageant contestants want to do: cure diseases, end terrorism, go to the moon. They share a disdain for government - Mark Zuckerberg is committed to the idea of "companies over countries" - but also share a zeal for surveillance.

For Silverman, the harm of social media is both specific and philosophical. It turns journalism into a clickbait race, for instance, but it also radically changes our concepts of privacy and identity. He considers the fate of those who are chewed up and spat out by the Internet's nano-fame cycle (nobody gets 15 minutes anymore), whose embarrassing or self-aggrandizing antics, captured on video, do the rounds and attract a quick, overwhelming torrent of derision or rage. But while we might shrug our shoulders at the fate of an Antoine Dodson or a Taylor Chapman (respectively a viral hero and villain), Silverman argues that we should be aware of the numbing and alienating consequences of the viral instinct. Not only does it frequently make clowns of those who are seriously disadvantaged, and destroy reputations and careers, it also molds the larger media world in its own image. Hate-watching a two-minute video of a reality show contestant's racist rant is a sign that you'll give attention to this kind of content-and the site that hosts the video, beholden to its advertisers, traffics in your attention, not your intelligence or humanity.

Headlines have always been composed to grab attention, but now they can gather intelligence too. Your decision to click - and even the amount of time you spend reading or watching-is a piece of data for which the advertiser will pay good money. As Silverman describes it, the urge to gather endless data about all of us - from our spending habits to the pace of our heartbeats - is a huge, lucrative industry, driven by the fantasy that correlation is causation, that because you did X activity, you'll buy Y product.

It may be foolhardy to make predictions about the fast-evolving tech world, but Silverman offers some chilling evidence that the world of "big data" is beginning to affect the choices available to us. Some healthcare companies will lower your premiums if you use a fitness-tracking app (and share that data, of course). Data about what you eat and buy is increasingly being used like your credit score, to determine if you are worthy of that job, that car or that home.

So what? A good citizen who eats her greens and pays her bills has nothing to fear! And if she worries that some misstep-glancing at an unsavory website, running a red light, suffering a computer hack-will damage her, she can just pay protection money to one of several companies that exist to safeguard their clients' online reputations. Silverman has no solution to these linked problems, of course, since there is far too much money driving this brave new world and far too little government will to resist. Mass surveillance is the present and the future. But if information-meaning data points-is corporate power, then knowledge and critical thinking may be citizen power.

Silverman is too cautious and self-conscious a thinker to inspire a revolution. Instead, he advocates a kind of lowlevel "social-media rebellion" - messing with, rather than rejecting, the digitally networked world in which we live. Putting up a cartoon monkey as your online avatar might not feel like much of a blow to the Facebook assault on privacy, but it's an annoyance to the booming facial- recognition industry-and perhaps a few million determined annoyances can disrupt the techno-utopia in favor of the common good.

Joanna Scutts is a freelance writer based in Queens, NY, and a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. Her book reviews and essays have appeared in the Washington Post, the New Yorker Online, The Nation, The Wall Street Journal and several other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @life_savour.

[Mar 07, 2015] Under the Radar, Big Media Internet Giants Get Massive Access to Everything About You By Jeffrey Chester

March 5, 2015 | alternet.org

A White House-backed bill would give the corporate elite control over how our data is used.

Editor's note: The following is the latest in a new series of articles on AlterNet called Fear in America that launched this March. Read the introduction to the series.

The Internet and our digital media are quietly becoming a pervasive and manipulative interactive surveillance system. Leading U.S. online companies, while claiming to be strong supporters of an open and democratic Internet, are working behind the scenes to ensure that they have unlimited and unchecked power to "shadow" each of us online. They have allied with global advertisers to transform the Internet into a medium whose true ambition is to track, influence and sell, in anever-ending cycle, their products and political ideas. While Google, Facebook and other digital giants claim to strongly support a "democratic" Internet, their real goal is to use all the "screens"we use to empower a highly commercialized and corporatized digital media culture.

Last Thursday was widely viewed as a victory for "Internet Freedom" and a blow to a "corporatized" Internet as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) endorsed a historic public utility framework for Network Neutrality (NN). It took the intervention of President Obama last year, who called for "the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality," to dramatically transform the FCC's plans. Its chairman, Thomas Wheeler, a former cable and telecom lobbyist, had previously been ambivalent about endorsing strong utility-like regulations. But feeling the pressure, especially from the president, he became a "born again" NN champion, leading the agency to endorse "strong, sustainable rules to protect the Open Internet."

But the next day, the Obama White House took another approach to Internet Freedom, handing the leading online companies, including Google, Facebook, and their Fortune-type advertising clients, a major political victory. The administration released its long-awaited "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" legislation. The bill enables the most powerful corporations and their trade associations to greatly determine what American privacy rights will be. By giving further control over how data are gathered and used online, the administration basically ceded more clout to a corporate elite that will be able to effectively decide how the Internet and digital applications operate, today and in the near future.

How do privacy rules impact the openness of the Internet, and the ability to promote and sustain progressive and alternative perspectives? While much of the public debate on pervasive data mining has focused on the role of the NSA and other intelligence agencies that were exposed by Edward Snowden, there has not been as much discussion on the impact of the commercial data system that is at the core of the Internet today. Google, Facebook, and others use our data as the basis of an ever-expanding global system of commercial surveillance. This information is gathered from our mobile devices, PCs, apps, social networks, and increasingly even TVs-and stored in digital profiles. These far-reaching dossiers-which can be accessed and updated in milliseconds-can include information on our race/ethnicity, financial status, health concerns, location, online behavior, what our children do, whom we communicate with on social media, and much more.

The major online companies are continually expanding their commercial data gathering practices. They now merge and use our online and offline data (what we do online and information collected from store loyalty cards, etc.); track us across all the devices we use (PCs, mobile, etc.); and amass even more data about us supplied by a vast network of data broker alliances and partnerships (such asFacebook with its myriad of data partners, including Acxiom and Epsilon). A U.S. digital data industry "arms race," with companies vying to own the most complete set of records on every consumer, has also led to a wave of mergers and acquisitions, where companies that have already compiled huge datasets on Americans (and global consumers) being swallowed up by even larger ones.

Leading corporations are investing vast sums to harvest and, in their own words, make "actionable" information we now generate nearly 24/7. So-called "Big Data" technologies enable companies to quickly analyze and take advantage of all this information, including understanding how each of us uses online media and mobile phones. A score of "Math Men and Women"-led advertising-technology companies have pioneered the use of super fast computers that track where we are online and, in milliseconds, crunch through lots of our data to decide whether to target us with advertising and marketing (regardless of whether we use a PC or mobile device and, increasingly, using our geolocation information).

These machines are used to "auction" us off individually to the highest bidder, so we can be instantly delivered some form of marketing (or even political) message. Increasingly, the largest brands and ad agencies are using all this data and new tactics to sell us junk food, insurance, cars, and political candidates. For example, these anonymous machines can determine whether to offer us a high-interest pay day loan or a lower interest credit card; or an ad from one political group versus another.

But it's not just the ability to harvest data that's the source of increased corporate clout on the Internet. Our profiles are tied to a system of micro-persuasion, the 21st century updating of traditional "Madison Avenue" advertising tactics that relied on "subliminal" and cultural influence. Today, online ads are constructed by connecting our information to a highly sophisticated digital marketing apparatus. At places like Google's BrandLab, AT&T's Adworks Lab, or through research efforts such as Facebook IQ, leading companies help their well-heeled clients take advantage of the latest insights from neuromarketing (to deliberately influence our emotions and subconscious), social media monitoring, new forms of corporate product placement, and the most effective ways to use all of our digital platforms.

The online marketing industry is helping determine the dimensions of our digital world. Much of the Internet and our mobile communications are being purposely developed as a highly commercialized marketplace, where the revenues that help fund content go to a select, and largely ad-supported, few. With Google, Facebook, major advertisers and agencies all working closely together throughout the world to further commercialize our relationship to digital media, and given their ownership over the leading search engines, social networks, online video channels, and how "monetization" of content operates, these forces pose a serious obstacle to a more democratic and diverse online environment.

One of the few barriers standing in the way of their digital dominance is the growing public concern about our commercial privacy. U.S. companies have largely bitterly opposed proposed privacy legislation-in the U.S. and also in the European Union (where data protection, as it is called, is considered a fundamental right). Effective regulations for privacy in the U.S. would restore our control of the information that has been collected about us, versus the system now in place that, for the most part, enables companies to freely use it. But under the proposed Obama plan, Google, Facebook and other data-gathering companies would be allowed to determine the rules. Through a scheme the White House calls a "multi-stakeholder" process, industry-dominated meetings-with consumer and privacy groups vastly outnumbered and out-resourced-would develop so-called self-regulatory "codes of conduct" to govern how the U.S. treats data collection and privacy. Codes would be developed to address, for example, how companies can track and use our location information; how they compile dossiers about us based on what we do at the local grocery store and read online; how health data can be collected and used from devices like Fitbit; and more. This process is designed to protect the bottom line of the data companies, which the Obama White House views as important to the economy and job growth. (Stealing other people's data, in other words, is one of America's most successful industries). Like similar self-regulatory efforts, stakeholder codes are really designed to sanction existing business practices and enable companies to continue to accumulate and use vast data assets unencumbered. The administration claims that such a stakeholder process can operate more effectively than legislation, operating quickly in "Internet time." Dominated by industry as they are, stakeholder bodies are incapable of doing anything that would adversely impact their own future-which currently depends on the ability to gather and use all our data.

The administration's bill also strips away the power of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which now acts as the leading federal watchdog on privacy. Instead of empowering the FTC to develop national rules that enable individuals to make their own privacy decisions, the bill forces the agency to quickly review (in as little as 90 days) the proposed stakeholder codes-with little effective power to reject them. Companies become largely immune to FTC oversight and enforcement when they agree to abide by the self-regulatory policies their lobbyists basically wrote. In a rare rebuke to the administration, the FTC, leading Congressional Democrats, and the majority of consumer and privacy organizations rejected the White House's privacy plan. But the administration does not appear to be willing, for now, to change its support for the data companies; and as we know, Silicon Valley and their business allies have strong support in Congress that will prevent any privacy law from passing for now.

To see how the online lobby has different views on Internet Freedom, compare, for example the statements of the "Internet Association"-the lobbying trade organization that represents Google, Facebook, Amazon and dozens of other major online data-gathering companies-on last week's two developments. It praised the FCC NN decision for creating "strong, enforceable net neutrality rules … banning paid prioritization, blocking, and discrimination online." But the group rejected the Administration's privacy proposal, as weak as it was, explaining that "today's wide-ranging legislative proposal outlined by the Commerce Department casts a needlessly imprecise net." At stake, as the Internet Association knows, is the ability of its members to expand their businesses throughout the world unencumbered. For example, high on the agenda for the Internet Association members are new U.S. brokered global trade deals, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which will free our digital giants from having to worry about strong privacy laws abroad.

While the NN battle correctly viewed Comcast, Verizon, and other cable and phone giants as major opponents to a more democratic digital media environment, many of the online companies were seen as supporters and allies. But an "open" network free from control of our cable/telco monopolies is just one essential part for a more diverse and public interest-minded online system. Freedom must also prevent powerful interests from determining the very structure of communications in the digital age. Those companies that can collect and most effectively use our information are also gatekeepers and shapers of our Internet Future.

The NN victory is only one key step for a public-interest agenda for digital media. We also must place limits on today's digital media conglomerates, especially their ability to use all our data. The U.S is one of the only "developed" countries that still doesn't have a national law protecting our privacy. For those concerned about the environment, we must also address how U.S. companies are using the Internet to encourage the global public to engage in a never-ending consumption spree that has consequences for sustainability and a more equitable future.

There is ultimately an alignment of interests between the so-called "old" media of cable and the telephone industry with the "new" online media. They share similar values when it comes to ensuring the media they control brings eyeballs and our bank accounts to serve them and their advertising clients. While progressive and public interest voices today find the Internet accessible for organizing and promoting alternative views, to keep it so will require much more work.

Jeffrey Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy ( www.democraticmedia.org).

[Mar 07, 2015] What Surveillance Valley knows about you Crooks and Liars By Yasha Levine

December 22, 2013 | crooksandliars.com

"In 2012, the data broker industry generated 150 billion in revenue that's twice the size of the entire intelligence budget of the United States government-all generated by the effort to detail and sell information about our private lives."
- Senator Jay Rockefeller IV

"Quite simply, in the digital age, data-driven marketing has become the fuel on which America's free market engine runs."

- Direct Marketing Association

* *

Google is very secretive about the exact nature of its for-profit Intelligence operation and how it uses the petabytes of data it collects on us every single day for financial gain. Fortunately, though, we can get a sense of the kind of info that Google and other Surveillance Valley megacorps compile on us, and the ways in which that intel might be used and abused, by looking at the business practices of the "data broker" industry.

Thanks to a series of Senate hearings, the business of data brokerage is finally being understood by consumers, but the industry got its start back in the 1970s as a direct outgrowth of the failure of telemarketing. In its early days, telemarketing had an abysmal success rate: only 2 percent of people contacted would become customers. In his book, "The Digital Perso," Daniel J. Solove explains what happened next:

To increase the low response rate, marketers sought to sharpen their targeting techniques, which required more consumer research and an effective way to collect, store, and analyze information about consumers. The advent of the computer database gave marketers this long sought-after ability - and it launched a revolution in targeting technology.

Data brokers rushed in to fill the void. These operations pulled in information from any source they could get their hands on - voter registration, credit card transactions, product warranty information, donations to political campaigns and non-profits, court records - storing it in master databases and then analyzing it in all sorts of ways that could be useful to direct-mailing and telemarketing outfits. It wasn't long before data brokers realized that this information could be used beyond telemarketing, and quickly evolved into a global for-profit intelligence business that serves every conceivable data and intelligence need.

Today, the industry churns somewhere around $200 billion in revenue annually. There are up to 4,000 data broker companies - some of the biggest are publicly traded - and together, they have detailed information on just about every adult in the western world.

No source of information is sacred: transaction records are bought in bulk from stores, retailers and merchants; magazine subscriptions are recorded; food and restaurant preferences are noted; public records and social networks are scoured and scraped. What kind of prescription drugs did you buy? What kind of books are you interested in? Are you a registered voter? To what non-profits do you donate? What movies do you watch? Political documentaries? Hunting reality TV shows?

That info is combined and kept up to date with address, payroll information, phone numbers, email accounts, social security numbers, vehicle registration and financial history. And all that is sliced, isolated, analyzed and mined for data about you and your habits in a million different ways.

The dossiers are not restricted to generic market segmenting categories like "Young Literati" or "Shotguns and Pickups" or "Kids & Cul-de-Sacs," but often contain the most private and intimate details about a person's life, all of it packaged and sold over and over again to anyone willing to pay.

Take MEDbase200, a boutique for-profit intel outfit that specializes in selling health-related consumer data. Well, until last week, the company offered its clients a list of rape victims (or "rape sufferers," as the company calls them) at the low price of $79.00 per thousand. The company claims to have segmented this data set into hundreds of different categories, including stuff like the ailments they suffer, prescription drugs they take and their ethnicity:

These rape sufferers are family members who have reported, or have been identified as individuals affected by specific illnesses, conditions or ailments relating to rape. Medbase200 is the owner of this list. Select from families affected by over 500 different ailments, and/or who are consumers of over 200 different Rx medications. Lists can be further selected on the basis of lifestyle, ethnicity, geo, gender, and much more. Inquire today for more information.

MEDbase promptly took its "rape sufferers" list off line last week after its existence was revealed in a Senate investigation into the activities of the data-broker industry. The company pretended like the list was a huge mistake. A MEDbase rep tried convincing a Wall Street Journal reporter that its rape dossiers were just a "hypothetical list of health conditions/ailments." The rep promised it was never sold to anyone. Yep, it was a big mistake. We can all rest easy now. Thankfully, MEDbase has hundreds of other similar dossier collections, hawking the most private and sensitive medical information.

For instance, if lists of rape victims aren't your thing, MEDbase can sell dossiers on people suffering from anorexia, substance abuse, AIDS and HIV, Alzheimer's Disease, Asperger Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Bedwetting (Enuresis), Binge Eating Disorder, Depression, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Genital Herpes, Genital Warts, Gonorrhea, Homelessness, Infertility, Syphilis… the list goes on and on and on and on.

Normally, such detailed health information would fall under federal law and could not be disclosed or sold without consent. But because these data harvesters rely on indirect sources of information instead of medical records, they're able to sidestep regulations put in place to protect the privacy of people's health data.

MEBbase isn't the only company exploiting these loopholes. By the industry's own estimates, there are something like 4,000 for-profit intel companies operating in the United States. Many of them sell information that would normally be restricted under federal law. They offer all sorts of targeted dossier collections on every population segments of our society, from the affluent to the extremely vulnerable:

If you want to see how this kind of profile data can be used to scam unsuspecting individuals, look no further than a Richard Guthrie, an Iowa retiree who had his life savings siphoned out of his bank account. Their weapon of choice: databases bought from large for-profit data brokers listing retirees who entered sweepstakes and bought lottery tickets.

Here's a 2007 New York Times story describing the racket:

Mr. Guthrie, who lives in Iowa, had entered a few sweepstakes that caused his name to appear in a database advertised by infoUSA, one of the largest compilers of consumer information. InfoUSA sold his name, and data on scores of other elderly Americans, to known lawbreakers, regulators say.

InfoUSA advertised lists of "Elderly Opportunity Seekers," 3.3 million older people "looking for ways to make money," and "Suffering Seniors," 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer's disease. "Oldies but Goodies" contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece. One list said: "These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change."

Data brokers argue that cases like Guthrie are an anomaly - a once-in-a-blue-moon tragedy in an industry that takes privacy and legal conduct seriously. But cases of identity thieves and sophistical con-rings obtaining data from for-profit intel businesses abound. Scammers are a lucrative source of revenue. Their money is just as good as anyone else's. And some of the profile "products" offered by the industry seem tailored specifically to fraud use.

As Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Yves Leblanc told the New York Times: "Only one kind of customer wants to buy lists of seniors interested in lotteries and sweepstakes: criminals. If someone advertises a list by saying it contains gullible or elderly people, it's like putting out a sign saying 'Thieves welcome here.'"

So what is InfoUSA, exactly? What kind of company would create and sell lists customized for use by scammers and cons?

As it turns out, InfoUSA is not some fringe or shady outfit, but a hugely profitable politically connected company. InfoUSA was started by Vin Gupta in the 1970s as a basement operation hawking detailed lists of RV and mobile home dealers. The company quickly expanded into other areas and began providing business intel services to thousands of businesses. By 2000, the company raised more than $30 million in venture capital funding from major Silicon Valley venture capital firms.

By then, InfoUSA boasted of having information on 230 million consumers. A few years later, InfoUSA counted the biggest Valley companies as its clients, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL. It got involved not only in raw data and dossiers, but moved into payroll and financial, conducted polling and opinion research, partnered with CNN, vetted employees and provided customized services for law enforcement and all sorts of federal and government agencies: processing government payments, helping states locate tax cheats and even administrating President Bill Clinton "Welfare to Work" program. Which is not surprising, as Vin Gupta is a major and close political supporter of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In 2008, Gupta was sued by InfoUSA shareholders for inappropriately using corporate funds. Shareholders accused of Gupta of illegally funneling corporate money to fund an extravagant lifestyle and curry political favor. According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit questioned why Gupta used private corporate jets to fly the Clintons on personal and campaign trips, and why Gupta awarded Bill Clinton a $3.3 million consulting gig.

As a result of the scandal, InfoUSA was threatened with delisting from Nasdaq, Gupta was forced out and the company was snapped up for half a billion dollars by CCMP Capital Advisors, a major private equity firm spun off from JP Morgan in 2006. Today, InfoUSA continues to do business under the name Infogroup, and has nearly 4,000 employees working in nine countries.

As big as Infogroup is, there are dozens of other for-profit intelligence businesses that are even bigger: massive multi-national intel conglomerates with revenues in the billions of dollars. Some of them, like Lexis-Nexis and Experian, are well known, but mostly these are outfits that few Americans have heard of, with names like Epsilon, Altegrity and Acxiom.

These for-profit intel behemoths are involved in everything from debt collection to credit reports to consumer tracking to healthcare analysis, and provide all manner of tailored services to government and law enforcement around the world. For instance, Acxiom has done business with most major corporations, and boasts of intel on "500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person. That includes a majority of adults in the United States," according to the New York Times.

This data is analyzed and sliced in increasingly sophisticated and intrusive ways to profile and predict behavior. Merchants are using it customize shopping experience- Target launched a program to figure out if a woman shopper was pregnant and when the baby would be born, "even if she didn't want us to know." Life insurance companies are experimenting with predictive consumer intel to estimate life expectancy and determine eligibility for life insurance policies. Meanwhile, health insurance companies are raking over this data in order to deny and challenge the medical claims of their policyholders.

Even more alarming, large employers are turning to for-profit intelligence to mine and monitor the lifestyles and habits of their workers outside the workplace. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal described how employers have partnered with health insurance companies to monitor workers for "health-adverse" behavior that could lead to higher medical expenses down the line:

Your company already knows whether you have been taking your meds, getting your teeth cleaned and going for regular medical checkups. Now some employers or their insurance companies are tracking what staffers eat, where they shop and how much weight they are putting on - and taking action to keep them in line.

But companies also have started scrutinizing employees' other behavior more discreetly. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina recently began buying spending data on more than 3 million people in its employer group plans. If someone, say, purchases plus-size clothing, the health plan could flag him for potential obesity - and then call or send mailings offering weight-loss solutions.

…"Everybody is using these databases to sell you stuff," says Daryl Wansink, director of health economics for the Blue Cross unit. "We happen to be trying to sell you something that can get you healthier."

"As an employer, I want you on that medication that you need to be on," says Julie Stone, a HR expert at Towers Watson told the Wall Street Journal.

Companies might try to frame it as a health issue. I mean, what kind of asshole could be against employers caring about the wellbeing of their workers? But their ultimate concern has nothing to do with the employee health. It's all about the brutal bottom line: keeping costs down.

An employer monitoring and controlling your activity outside of work? You don't have to be union agitator to see the problems with this kind of mindset and where it could lead. Because there are lots of things that some employers might want to know about your personal life, and not only to "keep costs down." It could be anything: to weed out people based on undesirable habits or discriminate against workers based on sexual orientation, regulation and political beliefs.

It's not difficult to imagine that a large corporation facing a labor unrest or a unionization drive would be interested in proactively flagging potential troublemakers by pinpointing employees that might be sympathetic to the cause. But the technology and data is already here for wide and easy application: did a worker watch certain political documentaries, donate to environmental non-profits, join an animal rights Facebook group, tweet out support for Occupy Wall Street, subscribe to the Nation or Jacobin, buy Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine"? Or maybe the worker simply rented one of Michael Moore's films? Run your payroll through one of the massive consumer intel databases and look if there is any matchup. Bound to be plenty of unpleasant surprises for HR!

This has happened in the past, although in a cruder and more limited way. In the 1950s, for instance, some lefty intellectuals had their lefty newspapers and mags delivered to P.O. boxes instead of their home address, worrying that otherwise they'd get tagged as Commie symps. That might have worked in the past. But with the power of private intel companies, today there's nowhere to hide.

FTC Commissioner Julie Brill has repeatedly voiced concern that unregulated data being amassed by for-profit intel companies would be used to discriminate and deny employment, and to determine consumer access to everything from credit to insurance to housing. "As Big Data algorithms become more accurate and powerful, consumers need to know a lot more about the ways in which their data is used," she told the Wall Street Journal.

Pam Dixon, executive director of the Privacy World Forum, agrees. Dixon frequently testifies on Capitol Hill to warn about the growing danger to privacy and civil liberties posed by big data and for-profit intelligence. In Congressional testimony back in 2009, Dixon called this growing mountain of data the "modern permanent record" and explained that users of these new intel capabilities will inevitably expand to include not just marketers and law enforcement, but insurance companies, employers, landlords, schools, parents, scammers and stalkers. "The information – like credit reports – will be used to make basic decisions about the ability of individual to travel, participate in the economy, find opportunities, find places to live, purchase goods and services, and make judgments about the importance, worthiness, and interests of individuals."

* *

For the past year, Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV has been conducting a Senate Commerce Committee investigation of the data broker industry and how it affects consumers. The committee finished its investigation last week without reaching any real conclusions, but issued a report warning about the dangers posed by the for-profit intel industry and the need for further action by lawmakers. The report noted with concern that many of these firms failed to cooperate with the investigation into their business practices:

Data brokers operate behind a veil of secrecy. Three of the largest companies – Acxiom, Experian, and Epsilon – to date have been similarly secretive with the Committee with respect to their practices, refusing to identify the specific sources of their data or the customers who purchase it. … The refusal by several major data broker companies to provide the Committee complete responses regarding data sources and customers only reinforces the aura of secrecy surrounding the industry.

Rockefeller's investigation was an important first step breaking open this secretive industry, but it was missing one notable element. Despite its focus on companies that feed on people's personal data, the investigation did not include Google or the other big Surveillance Valley data munchers. And that's too bad. Because if anything, the investigation into data brokers only highlighted the danger posed by the consumer-facing data companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Apple.

As intrusive as data brokers are, the level of detail in the information they compile on Americans pales to what can be vacuumed up by a company like Google. To compile their dossiers, traditional data brokers rely on mostly indirect intel: what people buy, where they vacation, what websites they visit. Google, on the other hand, has access to the raw uncensored contents of your inner life: personal emails, chats, the diary entries and medical records that we store in the cloud, our personal communication with doctors, lawyers, psychologists, friends. Data brokers know us through our spending habits. Google accesses the unfiltered details of our personal lives.

A recent study showed that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to having their online activity tracked and analyzed. Seventy-three percent of people polled for the Pew Internet & American Life Project viewed the tracking of their search history as an invasion of privacy, while 68 percent were against targeted advertising, replying: "I don't like having my online behavior tracked and analyzed."

This isn't news to companies like Google, which last year warned shareholders: "Privacy concerns relating to our technology could damage our reputation and deter current and potential users from using our products and services."

Little wonder then that Google, and the rest of Surveillance Valley, is terrified that the conversation about surveillance could soon broaden to include not only government espionage, but for-profit spying as well.


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