Why We Can't Opt Out of Surveillance Culture

Popzazzle | Friday, 17 September 2021 |

There's only one reason why we're implored or forced to keep software "up to date", and it's not "security". It's so the tech industry has an instant push system for each new Big Brother powerplay as it's released. "Up to date" has never been a real necessity. It's a manufactured necessity. A brainwash.

Untrusted Connection
Remember a time before browsers blocked important pages? The more updates you accept, the more freedom you lose...

"Unsupported browser - access denied!"... "Your security is at risk - access denied!"... "Your TLS version is out of date - access denied!"... "Your system is too slow - access denied!"... "Certificate invalid - access denied!"... "Page data cannot be authenticated - access denied!"... "Your connection is unsafe - access denied!"... "Your device has exhibited unusual behaviour - access denied!"... "This site cannot verify that you are human - access denied!"...

Do you ever get the feeling that someone's throwing obstacles at your attempts to use the internet?

That's because they are. The inexhaustive range of artificial barriers I've cobbled together above illustrate just how much our agency to freely roam the internet is waning. More and more, we're finding that software and hardware needs the approval of powerful data companies in order to function properly in cyberspace. Among other things, that means we can no longer use the technology we want to use. We have to use what we're told to use.

And the end game? Our submission to 24/7 surveillance. If a piece of technology doesn't afford tech powers the means to spy on us, it gets blocked from the internet. Most often, the block is not the decision of individual websites. It's a collusion between the browser providers and a range of immensely powerful tech corporations who have appointed themselves as the Internet Police. A besuited, shiny-shoed middle-mafia has formed between you and the sites you seek to visit. And if either you or the sites ain't playin' ball with the whims of Big Tech, more now than ever, it's access denied.

Beneath the hard wall of blocked access, there's then a wider-reaching soft wall. A wall in which search engines - the tools we use to source relevant content - are algorithmically pushing us towards the "right kind of content", and away from the "wrong kind of content". Anyone who thinks I'm chasing some wack conspiracy theory should check this...

Optimising Your Online Privacy With Self-Minimisation of Data

Popzazzle | Sunday, 8 August 2021 |

"Corporate spying, at the level it's now reached, is creepy, stalkerish, manipulative, predatory, warped, perverted, and abusive of human rights. Even if it carries no demonstrable collateral harm, you don't need to feel it's something you should willingly and happily accept."

Data is Money

The easy way to write a post about online privacy would be to list a range of so-called “privacy respecting” alternatives to Big Tech. But it's become increasingly obvious that at least some of these alternatives are a far cry from what they claim to be, and are actually part of the very system they profess to oppose.

At best, simply trusting services because their marketing says “we're all about your privacy”, when some of the worst privacy policies in the world open with “Your privacy is important to us”, is a wildly superficial and somewhat naïve approach.

The true key to optimising online privacy lies in disrupting the core tenets of tracking. Tenets as simple as product allegiance, for example. By sticking with one brand, one browser, one login, we make ourselves frightfully easy to monitor. Whilst, say, a VPN is touted as a route to better privacy, it allows a single provider to log the entirety of a user's online activity. And there's nothing other than that provider's word to say that the available information will not be packaged and sold to the Great Inscrutables.

DuckDuckGo Gets BLOCKED by Privacy Protection Routine

Popzazzle | Saturday, 31 July 2021 |

"Unlike when you load other “private search engine” homepages, you're not alone with DuckDuckGo. You're actually connecting to the Microsoft cloud hosting service... And that means Microsoft knows both who you are, and what you searched for. Oh dear..."

Cloud Firewall blocks DuckDuckGo

If you read my posts regularly, you'll know the issue that prompted the title of this post would have come as no surprise to me. But it's finally happened. DuckDuckGo - the search engine that presents itself as a paragon of privacy - has been blocked by a Firefox browser extension designed to protect users from the grip of the big six megatrackers. Namely: Amazon, Apple, Cloudflare, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. And as regular readers will have guessed, the megatracker responsible for DuckDuckGo's blocking, is Microsoft.

Big Silence: What “Privacy Respecting” Services DON'T Tell You About Their Data Handling Continuum

Popzazzle | Tuesday, 27 July 2021 |

"This contradiction, enabled by a loophole in data protection law, allows “ethical tech” companies to be considerably LESS transparent about the entirety of the data-handling continuum than “big tech” companies."

Data mining sign
Image by Bob Leggitt @ Planet Botch

It's a wonderful development that more people are starting to care about and reject aggressive surveillance, as they steadily recognise the very real societal rot that unrestrained corporate spying and monitoring can cause.

Surveillance fears ultimately stifle freedom, and in some areas reduce public safety. We might be less likely to upload a profile picture online because of face recognition tracking in the offline world. We might limit our learning because we fear the consequences of searching for information on sensitive subjects. We might even decline to visit a doctor for an embarrassing or stigmatised physical or mental condition, because of the sharp rise in health service data-sharing with inscrutable private companies.

Simultaneously, we're at higher risk of indentity fraud, as surveillance giants like Facebook warrant themselves more and more personal data, whilst increasingly displaying a "shit happens" attitude to being hacked.

For the sake of freedom and safety, we desperately need an alternative to surveillance-crazed tech, but do we really have one?

Brave Search: Industry Revolution or Ad Bar in a Face Mask?

Popzazzle | Wednesday, 21 July 2021 |

"Depending on what you search for, you may in fact be getting 100% of the results sourced from Google."

Money signs
Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash (image modified)

It's been heralded as game-changing in that it headlined its post-intro fanfare with a non-Google, non-Microsoft search index. But now that it's made its beta version public, does Brave Search look like the wise choice it promised to be in the pre-launch posturing? Is this a revolution in web search, or is it basically a 2008 ad bar in a face mask?

One of the problems with the discourse about privacy is that we can get so focused on who is or isn't getting their hands on our data, that we lose sight of the bigger issue. Namely, the corruption of information integrity that advertising companies have a lucrative incentive to engineer. And one of the problems with Brave is that however much it screams the word “privacy” into our faces, it's still an advertising company, whose primary goal is to show us ads. Just like Google. Just like Facebook. The methods and data-gobbling capacity may be different, but the funding still comes from people whose only concern is that we buy their shit.

So there are really three questions hovering over Brave Search.

1. Is it what we thought it would be?

2. Given that user privacy and online commerce roundly detest each other, does it really offer good privacy?

3. How much does the company's advertising focus interfere with the integrity of the results?

Why I Uninstalled Brave Browser

Popzazzle | Thursday, 15 July 2021 |

"The company knows those megatrackers shouldn't be there. It's already evolving from privacy by default to privacy for sale."

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash (image modified)

I've split up with my browser... No, it's okay, I'm fine... I'm picking up the pieces. I mean, obviously, you don't end a relationship without some personal impact, but... No honestly I'm fine... I really just don't wanna talk about it... Well, except to say...

Why Social Media Should Shadowban All Gated Content Links

Popzazzle | Tuesday, 6 July 2021 |

"If 'activism' disappears behind a paywall and you still think it's activism, never submit to the temptation to take an IQ test."

Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

“Annoying”, “infuriating”, “irate”… Just some of the language that's regularly used with regard to the discovery of gated content at the dark end of a social media link. Links to content that the vast majority of people can't access have now reached spam-wave volume on social platforms, as money-focused publishers line up to cash in on the lucrative new craze.

The practice has generally slipped through the spam net so far, but an ever-rising proliferation of what to most people are dead links, makes for an extremely poor user-experience on the Social Web. And worse, the inaccessibility of the content is promoting the spread of misinformation, as wildly exaggerated, trickbait titles become “reference works” in themselves, without the tempering effect of body text.