In today’s world, we live surrounded by devices that can listen, watch and record our every move. We own smartphones, smart TVs, and all kind of smart appliances continue to fill our homes. The benefits of having these are questionable, but nevertheless they are being forced onto consumers, like it or not. We can go for a walk knowing that a smart cleaning device is doing the vacuuming, and check our homes when we are on vacations. Pets can be fed by robots. “We really need to ask ourselves if the benefits really outweigh the privacy loss and security risk,” says Stephen Garcia, VP of Private Investigations at Wymoo International. Who is keeping track of where we are, who we meet and what we do? And why do they do it? Big Brother is real and more powerful than ever, as the police state and the corporate machine continues its efforts to track, monitor and control the population.
A lot of people think that only criminals should be worried about mass surveillance or being spied through their phones, because good people have nothing to hide. Nothing can be further from the truth. Would you be comfortable knowing that anyone can easily hack into your children’s smartphone, for example a pedophile? Are you still foolish enough to use a tablet or laptop without tape over the web cam? If so, there’s a good chance someone has already got a video or photo of you.
In most cases, people voluntarily give access to criminals when they install apps and allow them to use the phone’s camera, microphone and GPS data. Popular apps like Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat and others have this access. What are they sharing with third parties without our consent? Is there any guarantee that these tech companies are protecting well the information they gather? Google makes billions each year essentially building a database on you and your family, that can be shared and sold with government and private entities without your consent. Fakebook and Zuckerberg engage in even worse data collection and monitoring for the innocent victims who still use their platform, where everything you do is recorded and sold for Facebook’s financial gain.
In an era of massive data gathering by tech companies, personal information is being used for purposes many people never expected. Private investigators in China say the levels of mass surveillance carried by the government have skyrocketed, and this mass surveillance is not carried only by street cameras. Government surveillance is mainly fed by the information our own devices provide, what we have agreed to share without knowing how far that data could go.
A recent data leak demonstrated that a Chinese surveillance firm was tracking the movements of more than 2.5 million people in the far-western Xinjiang region. The database contained names, ID card numbers, birth dates and location data of all these people and was left unprotected for months. The information gathered can be used by criminals, but it could also be used to intimidate those who oppose a government. George Orwell’s 1984 is no longer science fiction, but a close reality.
Some may think that the problem of being spied on is a matter of concern only in dictatorships and that democratic countries have nothing to worry about. The unfortunate truth is that countries have shifted from one form of government to another very quickly throughout history, and it might happen again. And unlike political persecutions in the past, humanity never had such precise technology to pinpoint where “the enemies” are, what they have been doing and who they mingle with. Case and point, what would Joseph Goebbels have done in Nazi Germany with a Facebook and Google?
Smart devices are a reality that we have allowed into our lives in exchange for claimed convenience, but we cannot deny they are also a serious privacy and security nightmare. There is no going back, but there are things we can do to minimize the chances of being a victim of the criminals or corrupt authorities. Only turn on the GPS of your phone only when it is extremely necessary. Don’t use Google, Gmail or Facebook. Use a private search engine such as DuckDuckGo, and share less online and with companies. Do not allow apps to access your camera, contact information, microphone or anything else. Disconnect smart TVs and other smart devices at home when you are not using them. Tape your webcam, and your phone camera if you can and remove the tape just when you need it. But most of all, be aware of the risks and look for ways to protect your privacy and keep your family safe.
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