projectz

Tech, Gadgets, Photography, Social Media and Poor Spelling

Why are we so shocked that a government is reading our data? Everyone else is..

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So the US government is reading our data, Facebook, Google, Microsoft is handing it over to them willy nilly, we are all doomed, the G-Man knows that Tiddles had milk through a straw at breakfast..

So if your in the tech industry and weren’t cave dwelling for the last 48hrs, the word Prism now instead of providing a now defunct Mozilla project on Google fires up blog articles covering how the US Government, and because we are by default the POTUS Lapdog the UK was getting direct access to the data of several large tech companies. The Verge explains the situation in headline grabbing form as such:

Do you use services from Microsoft, Google, Apple, or many other major Silicon Valley companies? If so, a long-running government program called PRISM may have been harvesting your photos and other user data, The Washington Post has revealed. The news comes just a day after journalist Glenn Greenwald uncovered a secret court order requiring Verizon to collect records of both domestic and international phone calls and report them to the National Security Agency, giving it the ability to conduct widespread surveillance of US citizens.

The White House has defended its surveillance, and others say this is simply business as usual for the Bush and Obama administrations. But the document has made explicit what many feared: that laws like the FISA Amendments Act and the Patriot Act have allowed the US government to run roughshod over citizens’ privacy.

Bad?

stock-photo-a-hand-over-a-hi-tech-screen-with-binary-numbers-and-circuits-as-concept-for-internet-security-2395982The tech community yesterday was throwing all sorts of items out of its holier than though pram, telling anyone who would listen, in every shade of grey just why this is a bad thing, and on the face of it, you’d have to agree, we don’t really want the Government of any country snooping on our mails, harvesting our data, looking at photos of our cats and our son’s doing stupid things with skateboards, rooftops and leverage devices do we? There is part of me however which does like knowing that the governments of the world are actually trying to track down people who think wandering into a London street and beheading someone is an OK thing to do, or fly a plane into a building, or blow up an underground train.. I’d like to thin that TV programs like Spooks do have the “good guys” as cyberaware might not be so far from the truth and we can use IT to stop some, if not all of these things happening.

Is this justified?

Governments will always justify this type of thing, with the word terrorism or terrorist in the same breath, this is being  done for the good of the nation, for our safety. And to a point they are actually not that wrong, while i’m the first to condone the locking down the internet at the slightest whiff of something bad happening, I do have to agree that systems such as Skype, throw away mail addresses, Tor, MSN, Youtube are all being used activity by the radicals of our society to communicate, this is being done on the back of the security features we know and love when we sign up for these services. We are looking for a certain level of security, and so are terrorist cells, paedo rings and all the other people who stand in the shadows, and as time has moved forward companies have made encryption and other security systems better and better making it harder to compromise their service, mainly as a sales point, but also to stop the blog community boring them a new one post data leakage compromise.  Whoever said there was no such thing as bad press has obviously not seen th venom which Tech journalisms bit with.

ProtectionIt’s worth noting as well it’s always harder to justify this type of action when people are arrested but nothing happened, take the bombings at the Chicago marathon, big TV moments, lots of people, spectacle, explosions, lots of post analysis and opinion, bad guys caught, we are all happy. Imagine the scenario had using data from PRISM via  Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft had lead to the arrest of the same guys the day before, no big bang, no fuss, business as usual.. No injuries.. however no news time, we don’t care, its story 10 on the 30 minute news cycle, maybe a discussion, but not much more..

With security getting tighter, its harder for national security agencies to track and trace people not using some services for its intended purposes, and considering the figures, its not just security which poses a threat, its the sheer volume of data.

Amount of data

While you sit there still brooding over just how the men in black suites  are using your data.. consider these facts

  • Facebook has over 500,000,000 users generating 60 million status updates daily in any of the 70 languages Facebook supports
  • More than 5 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared each week
  • More than 3 billion photos are uploaded to the site each month and 14 million videos are uploaded each month
  • There are 100 million active Twitter users, 50 percent of these 100 million users log in every day.
  • On a busy day, Twitter sees about 175 million tweets, thats about 750 tweets a second
  • There are more searches on Twitter each month than Yahoo and Bing—combined (24 billion vs. 4.1 billion and 9.4 billion, respectively).
  • Google uses approximately 20 petabytes of user-generated data every day. (Petabytes are estimated at 10 to the 15th power. So 1 petabyte is approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes.) It uses massive amounts of computation to index the Web, process search results, serve up ads, and more.
  • In May 2011, over 1 billion unique visitors visited the Google website

The point of these facts is to put across the sheer enormity of the data which is generated by the 3 BIG services, and thats not even including other social sites, VoIP, IM, web pages, peer to peer networks, Usenet, Bittorrent and everywhere else in dark corners we don’t even talk about after 5 pints in the pub.

To thin that a government agency is sitting there analyzing all that data with a free pipe into the bac end of each of these servers is just absurd. If they were doing that, they would be far better off actually setting up their own services..

Everyone else is looking.

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Then there is a simple question, isn’t it a bit counter intuitive to be worried about the government looking at your data, when you accepted that the companies you use on the web can do that anyway, and they are doing it to make cash from your habits not stop people flying planes into towers..

If you use Google Calendar, Google may also know your schedule, what books you’ve read on Google Books, and what videos you watch on YouTube. They also save all your search queries, your IP address, your browser and its set language, the date and time of every request, your SMS messages, the cookies used for advertising services, and third-party application data. According to one critic, “Google knows more about you than your mother.”z

We have been conditioned to be social, did you see that fact above “Twitter sees about 175 million tweets, thats about 750 tweets a second” they are all public (well apart from the DM’s but hey) we post about everything…

The generation of Teens growing up today will have some of the most documented lives of any generation ever, we will be able to trace their every move, emotion, life moment through their entire life. Even today, with the 10 years or so of public data what we post is being looked at by banks, perspective employers, future spouses, government departments when we apply for things like passports, benefits etc.. everyone is looking at what we do, when we do it and who we do it with.

Any positives?

tso_2So are there ANY positives to come out of this? Well i did find a rather interesting take on it on Techcrunches site.  The article starts off with this.

The NSA may have wanted full firehoses of data from Google, Facebook and other tech giants, but the companies attempted to protect innocent users from monitoring via compliance systems that created segregated data before securely handing it over as required by law, according to individuals familiar with the systems used by the tech companies targeted by PRISM.

The widely criticized corroboration with the NSA therefore may have benefited citizens rather than being to their detriment.

Hang on a minute, this whole thing might of helped us? Well it seems had tech companies done what was requeted to the minimum of the US law, they would have provided a steady “stream of unfiltered data which the NSA would have filtered themselves, so could have potentially seen that Aunty Bess was recently caught lighting here moustache at a family party.. LOL..” (sic) however the tech companies, again nowing just how much bad press can damage that stock value.. were a little more canny it seems..

When the NSA has specific people they want to data about, they make a specific, legal request for that data that the tech companies are required to comply with. Google or Facebook then puts the specific requested data into the locked mailbox where the government can access it. This keeps requested data about suspected terrorists or other people who are threats to national security segregated from that of innocent users.

So actually in the last year, there were only 1,865 FISA requests for data which would have been narrow requests rather than broad spectrum search terms. This system would have been put in by tech companies who yes i’m sure wish to fight the “War on Terror” bad press not to really, but also know that handing over petabytes of your raw data to “the man” might also cause such a backlash as to not come back from..

Conclusion

Now we have got over the intial headline grabbing “Tech companies do evil” headlines, it does appear that actually Google and others were complying with the US legal system, however in such a way as to not be too broad. And while this does make for some headline grabbing stories, considering the sheer amount of data on us which is public either by choice, or because we don’t realise Facebook has changed it settings for a 3rd time this week. its a bit too late in most cases to worry about it. If you are really that bothered about what the government ows about you, then you shouldn’t be using gmail, apple, microsoft, facebook, twitter etc.. However in not doing so, you WILL probably make yourself a target for the all seeing eye anyway..

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