Tag Archives: web tracking

Internet Spying: Your Home is Full of Snitches


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A lot of African-Americans are going to be extremely surprised by what I am about to tell you. Your home is full of snitches. Everything in it is spying on you. And not just your home. Your car is a snitch as well.

Black people are extremely averse to having our business in the streets. We believe in minding our own business and reminding you to stay out of ours. But we live in the information age and things have become very open and complicated. Technology has gotten to the point where you can’t do much or anything or go anywhere without someone knowing exactly what you are doing. 

AACR Rule #11, Information is the currency and commodity of the digital age.

Let’s look at the devices in your home that are telling your business.

1) Televisions – Black men love a big screen television with all the tricks and features. You gotta have it to watch the game. But these new smart TVs can and do track what you watch. Electronics manufacturer LG makes televisions that not only spy on what channels you’re watching but sends the names of files on thumb drives connected to the set back to LG. Hackers can also hack some models of Samsung smart TVs and use them as instruments to steal data from your network and all the devices connected to it. And are you ready for this? Hackers can even watch you through the webcam built into the television.

2) Your DVR/Cable-Box/Satellite-TV ReceiverNow even if your television is not spying on you then your cable box may be doing the job. Those set top boxes do more than bring you cable television. They can also provide your Internet service. So everything you watch on television and do online is recorded somewhere. Cable providers can track what you are watching and recording. They use this information to target ads more efficiently. Did you read your service contract? You may have agreed to allow the cable company to sell this information and even turn it over to the government.

3) Kitchen Appliances – Yeah; the newest refrigerators and other high tech kitchen appliances are connected to your home network allowing for great convenience and energy savings. But there is a catch; spying and security risks. So what can a kitchen appliance tell someone about you? How about when you wake up in the morning. That connected coffee maker is a snitch. If you have a refrigerator with a barcode reader it will tell someone your shopping habits. Smart kitchen appliances have had known security vulnerabilities for some time now. Can you believe there is a documented instance where hackers were using a smart refrigerator in a malicious email attack. I’m not joking! Hackers successfully used a smart fridge to send out malicious emails.

4) Cell Phones – If this comes as a surprise to you then you clearly have not been paying attaention. Your cell provider may be following your everymove, call and text. This information includes whom you communicate with and your location. This also includes the various apps you load on to your phone. Haven’t you heard about Angry Birds That and other apps may track other more detailed activity. Some apps will sync your phone contact list with the app the providers’ servers by default.

5) Your Webcam or Home Security Cameras Malware on your computer can operate your computer webcam  and record you or your family. That’s right. That webcam may be busy taking photos or video and you think the camera is off. Some notable people have found themselves the target of blackmail from a hacker who captured compromising images. Miss Teen USA was blackmailed by a hacker who took control of her laptop’s webcam. The hacker photographed her naked and demanded more images. Your home security cameras are vulnerable as well. Malware on computers could intercept transmissions from your home security cameras. These cameras are attached to your network and allow you to watch your homes from anywhere. Once hacked a criminal can see you’re not home or, more frightening, who is at home.

6) Your Telephone – You got the bundle right? Phone, internet and television service all in one. All using your home network and router. Easy pickings especially if you have not changed your router default password. Look at your phone bill. Every call, every number you dialed and every incoming call is listed and how long you were on the call. Its all there. And the provider has it too. See #1 & 2.

7.)  Lighting, Home Entertainment System, Home Security System – Can you turn on the lights from your cell phone? Open the garage door? What about your home alarm system? All these things are controlled via the Internet. Very convenient.  But ask yourself if this information is available to outsiders?  Is your security company recording your coming and going? What about your home entertainment system? Do you have a DVD player that streams Netflix? Do you stream music over your home stereo? This information is  relayed to manufacturers of the equipment as well as the supplier of the music or programming. Remember that anything that connects to the Internet can be hacked.

8) The house thermostat (s) Internet connected thermostats are now on the market. These devices provide convenience and energy savings. And the energy companies learn your habits and preferences. Google’s recently purchased the Nest thermostat maker. And keep in mind that Google is a notorious information collector. Your utility company may offer comparable devices to help you save on your energy bills. But what else is that thermostat or better versions that are sure to come telling your utility company?

9) Your Medical Devices This should definitely shock you but its not anything new. Medical devices such as pacemakers, insulin pumps, and other medical devices can and have been hacked. But even if they have not been hacked these devices may still be spying on you. Some pacemakers can transmit patient status information over the Internet allowing the doctor to monitor the patient.  Could this information be intercepted? What if a hacker transmitted phony information to the doctor? Also known as a man-in-the-middle attack.  And please forgive me thinking like this, but what if a hacker took control of a pacemaker or insulin pump? Would that be the perfect murder?

10) Your car – You have GPS don’t you? What about Bluetooth? Pandora radio? What about EzPass or other toll taking devices? Wherever you drive you can be tracked. Cars are the latest target of hackers because more and more come with Internet connectivity and some even act a WiFi hot spots. But what about how you drive? Some insurance companies are now offering devices that track your driving habits in exchange for insurance discounts. Progressive insurance uses a device called a SnapShot. It tracks your driving habits for 30 days and then adjusts your rates accordingly.

11) Your gun! – America loves its guns and it seems everyone has one at home. Is this a privacy issue? As firearms technology advances we may see the day of the  “smartgun.” A weapon that is computerized with various safety features meant to prevent accidents and unauthorized use. Such as by a child or someone other than the owner. Look for these on the market soon.  But can these devices be used to spy on the owner? Can the gun be remotely disabled by a hacker or law enforcement? Would the government be interested in such a high tech measure? Could a citizen or criminal be tracked by following his gun? Could a stolen firearm be tracked or how about illegal gun sales. And what would the NRA say about it? Stay tuned!

Now You Know




Online Tracking of Children Legislation

canstockphoto5147385Senate bill s1700-113, “Safeguards Against Tracking Children Online” is currently being considered in the U.S. Senate. The bill is intended to ban online tracking of children. In the bill the definition of a child is between the ages of 12 and 16 years of age. But the legislation currently being debated is very similar to rules laid out by the FTC in 2013.

The bill is intended to prohibit corporations, marketers and other web entities from collecting personal information for marketing purposes from children and minors using web or mobile applications. The bill also establishes additional privacy protections against collecting personal or geographic location information from children and minors. The 2013 FTC rules also covered web and mobile apps.

According to a 201o Wall Street Journal report  websites that attract children and teens use cookies and other tracking instruments more than sites aimed at adults. The WSJ studied  50 popular U.S. websites for children and teens. It was discovered that these sites installed 4,123 cookies, beacons, and other tracking tools on the simulated child’s computer used for the test.  That is 30% higher than tools used to track adults. 

According to Common Sense Media and the Center for Digital Democracy over 90% of adults surveyed did not believe it was okay for advertisers to collect information about a child’s location from that child’s mobile phone.

Just a year ago the Federal Trade Commission released new and tougher rules designed to limit tracking of children online. The new rules stopped the collection of  personal information for children under 13.  The FTC rules also banned tracking a child’s physical location and the collection of  photos, videos and audio files. Also banned was behavioral advertising aimed at children without parental notice and re-targeting of ads based on the child’s browser history.

After the release of the new rules in 2013 Jeffrey Chester of the Centre for Digital Democracy said, “This is an important victory for privacy rights on the Internet.” The Centre for Digital Democracy spent four years lobbying for the new rules.

“There is no more secret tracking or behavioral tracking,” Chester says.

The 2013 rule changes were applauded by many public health and consumer and digital rights groups. Also endorsing the new rules were the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Consumers Union and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The current Senate bill was introduced in November of 2013

Breaking It Down

First of all let me say this to black parents; don’t let a computer or tablet babysit your child! What you just read was that companies have been collecting information about your child and, in a round about way, information about you. If a child answers a simple question such as what school they attend a marketer can quickly discern your income and other data. Did you read the part where  some marketers had collected pictures, location and audio recordings of children? We have to protect our children from the onslaught of marketers who will stop at nothing to advertise to children. Why are they advertising to children? Because the earlier in life a child begins to associate with a product the more likely they will become lifelong customers. Because advertising to children creates demand for products. Because advertising to children creates profiles in data bases in some company’s computers. And those profiles tell the marketer where to advertise to that child now, where as they get older and maybe for the rest of their life. Because children are not old enough to understand the connection between online games and entertainment and product affiliation and thus are being manipulated. Advertisers have no mercy and few scruples. For example, have you noticed how many new fruit flavored beers and liquors are being advertised? These people are advertising to teens! Get them associated with some new apple flavored ale early and they will be customers for life. Clothes, cars, fast food, alcohol, technology, whatever it is . The marketers job is to get into your child’s head early.



Easy Ways to Protect Your Privacy

Teaching black people about the digital age is what this blog is all about. And black people need to understand what information collection is and stop surrendering so much of it. We ignore the incessant collection of personal information for the sake of convenience. In the end it doesn’t just demean us but all people. Information is the currency and the commodity of the digital age. The more you have the better off you will be. So whatever information you have left here is how to keep it and, in some cases, re-claim it.

First of all I could tell you to use a good password to protect your devices but that would be wrong. Use a good pass phrase. Most devices like your phone or tablet use just four characters to unlock it.That means its could take as little as 9,999 tries to unlock it. Don’t use your address or birthdate or any easy number to guess. Don’t use the pattern recognition thing either. My niece unlocked my phone on the first try just by looking for the greasy smear on the screen. It can be seen if you hold the devices at the right angle. Try using a picture choice instead. But use something.

Most black people don’t like you going behind their back to learn something about them. Its just not cool and very sneaky. So if you want to know who is looking you up then use Google Alert. This service allows you to keep track of when your name is searched online. Yeah, Google will sound the alarm if anyone searches your name. Go to http://www.google.com/alerts enter your name, and any variation of your name with quotation marks around it. But be prepared to get a lot of feedback because I’m sure you’re not the only person with your name in the county let alone the world. But if your name is unique then you got a chance. You can also do it for your children, your business or that new person you’re dating. This is especially helpful if you are job hunting. You will know if a potential employer is searching your name online.

Sign out of your online accounts when you are done. You know; the same online accounts that you are now using pass phrases instead of passwords; remember? That means email, social media, banking, shopping, everything! This will reduce the ability to track your web surfing. I hope you’re not using a public computer. If someone came along behind you they could get a look at your activity just by hitting the back button. Even if you’re using a friend’s computer sign out! Leave those accounts open and suffer the consequences. Did you know that the public library is a prime spot for identity theft?

Don’t share your email, phone number or zip code unless its ABSOLUTELY necessary! Why the hell do stores ask for your zip code or email address at the checkout counter? Because they are collecting information on you that’s why?  African-American consumers should refuse handing over anything except cash at the checkout. Like I said, stores are building a profile of you and what you buy. Don’t be so helpful. 

Use encryption on your computer. By encrypting your computer no one can access your files without a pass phrase.  Let’s be real you could have malware on your computer that allows someone to access to it. It happens. If you have a Mac go to your settings, select “Security and Privacy,” then “FileVault,” click the “Turn on FileVault” option. You’re encrypted! For you PC owners use Bitlocker.

If you use Gmail then you want to use Two Step Authentication. This process turns your phone into a security assistant. If you want to access your Gmail account from a new or different device you will need a special code that arrives in your phone as a text message. So even if someone gets your password there is no way they’ll able to use it to sign into your Gmail account. Google claims millions of people use it and “thousands more enroll each day.” You’d be smart to be one of those people.

If you don’t want anyone to know what you’re buying pay cash. Yes, cash is king! Even in a digital economy it’s still accepted worldwide and no one can trace it back to you.  So when it comes to the sensitive  or embarrassing items just pay cash and no one will know and no embarrassing ads will show up at your home in your email.

Don’t be stupid on social media. Make sure your settings only allow your friends to see your posts. Don’t like anything. Trust me, they are doing fine without your help. Don’t friend the friend of a friend. Keep strangers out of your life until they prove they are worthy. Don’t use your picture or your children’s picture on the page. Ask your friends not to tag you in pictures. And be cautious about what you do post. I like to post things two weeks after they happened.

Clean up your browser history and those unwanted cookies at least monthly. You can set your browser so that it erases your history after every session. Simply to the  go to the “privacy” setting in your browser’s  options and set it to clear browser history and cookies when you close it. That’s how you cut down online tracking. You can also use the add on called TACO. This also helps to reduce online tracking. Anyone can look at a computer and check the browser history to see what websites you been to. Keep that in mind when someone is using your computer. Most websites use cookies to track you. Delete them frequently. They tell anyone who looks where you been as well. I am a big fan of keeping my computer clean and secure. See my post here.

Make use of an IP masker. Tor browser is an excellent way to hide your online movements. You can download Tor or use another browser add-on  like HideMyAss.com. The objective is to prevent companies and other information collectors from following you around the web. Its really creepy to know that somebody somewhere has a lists of all the websites you visit and what you’re looking at. But, yes someone does.

Keeping your information yours is extremely important for black people. We have a problem because we don’t know how this information is used. And we know its sometimes used against us. Information collection has become a huge industry; an unregulated industry. So these companies are watching you and everything you do with impunity. Are you gonna play along?

Now you know.

Re-Claim Your Online Privacy

Privacy is becoming a huge concern for everybody. So how do you re-claim your online privacy? Black people need to begin to look for a way to do this.  You have heard it before but I am going to say it again. There is no privacy on the Internet or anywhere for that matter. But there are ways African-Americans can begin to re-establish some privacy online.

If you use Google Chrome then you can use their Incognito function but whether that works or not is debatable.  Incognito works by preventing websites from tracking your movements online. Problem is there are other ways to track you on the Internet that Incognito simply can’t fix such as your IP address. For those of you who don’t know; an IP address is the address of your computer on the Internet.

Another way to web surf anonymously is to use the Tor browser. Tor has some sinister facets. Tor has become synonymous with what has become known as the “dark web“. Or places and activities that are certainly illegal. The Tor browser was originally developed for the defense department for the purpose of protecting government communications.  Now the browser is used every day for a wide variety of purposes by everyday people.

People use Tor to prevent websites from tracking them or family members online. Tor lets users publish web sites, surf the web and use other services without revealing who or where they are. People use Tor for socially sensitive communication such as chat rooms and web forums for rape and abuse survivors, or people with illnesses. So as you can see not everything on Tor is illegal.

Another tool for anonymous web surfing is the Disconnect Me browser extension. A browser extension is a computer program that extends the functionality of a web browser. In other words it lets your browser do things it was not originally programmed to do.

Disconnect Me claims to block over 2,000 websites from following you around the web. The browser is an open source program meaning developers can modify it to their liking. It is not free nor does it have a price. The website simply asks you to pay what you can. Disconnect Me allows you to see or block websites that invisibly track you.

I encourage black people to examine these tools. You need to re-claim your privacy. Its nobody’s business what websites you visit. Unfortunately there is a lot of information about you in the hands of merchants, marketers and data collectors. You can re-claim some but not all of it. But if you begin using these tools you can certainly limit how much information you broadcast and as the years go by you may even become semi-invisible in a lot data bases. So if you are interested in re-claiming your privacy you have some pretty good tools to help you do so. Now you know.



Facebook Digs Deeper Into Your Life

Facebook has been at the center of the privacy storm for sometime. It continues to seek more and better ways to get into your life and learn everything it can about you all in the name of advertising. And now they are moving into your life to watch television and listen to music with you.

Facebook introduced a new audio fingerprinting tool to be used on your smartphone to identify what you are watching on television and what music you are listening to.

Audio fingerprinting is designed to stop you from looking for a hashtag.  With this technology you simply click a button on your Facebook mobile app. The device listens to the TV show you’re watching then it automatically posts your comments to the right online forum. According to Facebook executives that’s how its supposed to work. It won’t be available for at least a month.

Now why is Facebook doing this? Its all about knowing what programs you watch or music you listen to and getting to know your needs and desires. And needs and desires add up to advertising dollars.   The idea is to capture advertising dollars that go to television.

But the people at Facebook see it a different way. ““We really wanted to make it even easier to share music that’s playing or what TV shows you’re watching and make that a very easy part of posting a new story to Facebook,” says Facebook product manager Aryeh Selekman. 

Facebook is really doing its best to get into your life. In the past week Facebook users have received notices that Facebook plans to institute a more effective advertising formula. Facebook will track users activity all over the Internet, not just on Facebook, to target ads. This action has  serious privacy implications for users that don’t want their every move tracked online.

But the people at Facebook offers some options to their users. They are introducing ad preferences. This tool allows Facebook users to click on the ad to explain why they’re seeing that specific ad. They have the option to add or remove the ad to help control what ads they see. This also helps Facebook to better understand you and what you like and dislike and to offer even more accurate targeting for its advertisers.

Breaking It Down

The question is when is enough? Think about this for a second, if Facebook knows what television programs you are watching  then they know what ads are being run during those programs and they also know the shows demographics. Demographics means you!

Black people have specific television watching habits just like other ethnicities. Some shows appeal to us some don’t. What Facebook is doing is making damn sure they know who is watching what at what time and how often so they can tell advertisers how specific their audience metrics is. We know that.

But we need to visit my “Internet Rules To Live By” because I clearly state that there is no privacy! Are you going to allow Facebook to own your life? You post pictures of everything you do. Facebook owns all images you post! Talk about everything in your life from your child’s birthday to your job to your grandmother’s surgery. Facebook owns that!  You like a web page, product or celebrity and Facebook owns that.You share everything and Facebook owns it all. As long as you allow Facebook to use you then they own you. And haven’t black people had enough of being owned?

This move to monitor your web movements and your television watching and music listening is pretty much them saying that they are hell bent on knowing everything about you. They don’t take it from you. You give it up every time you log on. You have the Facebook app  on your phone so they know where you are at all times. It getting ridiculous!