Last month's blog on "Information Weaponization and Warfare" received more attention than any since we began in 2014. I couldn't be more thrilled with the robust response. After all, in 2014, when first using "digital autonomy" in a public presentation, I risked being yawned off the stage. At the time, few cared about ownership and control of personal information.
Well, as we mark off the first month in 2021, things have changed. People are more aware and increasingly fed up with the manipulation and distortion of information. They're outraged by "fake news" and corporate censorship, and the abuses of their privacy and personal information. And they no longer want to blindly leave it to Big Tech to define so much of what they see and hear every day.
Everyone knows Big Tech provides some great tools. But we've become wise to "free" on the internet, and the trade-off has come to the point they're gouging users. The cost of living in their online world and for their corporate agenda, not our own, has become too high.
The most significant risk to information manipulation and censorship is its cumulative effect, called a "filter bubble." Here, we'll explain the filter bubble and list some tools that can significantly reduce its influence.
The Filter Bubble
Wikipedia defines a filter bubble as:
"A filter bubble – is a state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user, such as location, past click-behavior and search history."
It's said the effect of a filter bubble is akin to "living in an echo chamber online." Diverse opinions and information are limited, and our eyeballs see what suits the provider's goals best, not our own.
While the term "filter bubble" does a good job of representing the effect, you can also think of it as a magnifying lens. Like glass can focus light, Big Tech's algorithms bend information to focus on what makes you tick, or click as it may be.
I wrote "On Filter Bubbles and the Data-Industrial Complex" in 2018, for "The Bauman Letter." It's notable that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said last week:
"It's time to fight the Industrial-data Complex, ... they're manipulating people's behavior."
Tim Cook in an interview with GQ, Jan. 28th
The term "filter bubble" was coined by internet activist Eli Parsier in 2011. I first viewed the seminal TED talk video in 2012, and heard him say Big Tech's algorithms create:
“... a unique universe of information for each of us … which fundamentally alters the way we encounter ideas and information.”
Eli Parsier, 2011
As a student of Moore's Law and the Network Effect, I immediately understood how his views would play out. Lies and half-truths could quickly go viral and create truths of their own. Superpower oligopolies using unscrupulous algorithms would hold enormous control over their captive users, like puppets on a string.
Parsier had a tremendous influence on my work and our TDS mission since that first TED talk viewing in 2012.
✓ To better understand filter bubbles and how Big Tech can censor and manipulate so much across society today, check out the TED talk by Eli Parsier here.
Bursting Big Tech's Bubble - Tools for Digital Autonomy
TDS' clients are interested in privacy, digital security, and personal safety. We believe none of these is possible without some degree of digital autonomy from Big Tech. Below are the primary tools for bursting Big Tech's filter bubble and finding greater freedom with increased privacy and security.
#1) Privatize your email account
If you use "free" email, you do not own or control the information you transmit over the provider's systems.
When agreeing to use Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL, Baby Bells' mail, and all other "free" email accounts, you are contractually transferring the rights of ownership of your information to the provider.
Using "free" email puts your attachments, photos, documents, and metadata, into the hands of Big Tech. They sell your information to third parties, and in turn, filter and control what you see in your inbox.
Think about your email information and how much value and power it transfers to the "free" provider. And that over 90% of successful cyber attacks start with an email. For these reasons, email privatizing is the first step for many of our private clients and families.
✓ The first step toward digital autonomy and greater security and safety is privatizing personal email.
#2) Change your browser
Think of a browser as the barn door to your digital life. It's a big target for those who want to get in and watch and track what you do online.
"Our privacy experiment found Chrome ushered in over 11,000 trackers - in a single week."
There's enough blame to go around, and plenty of offenders are making billions in the business of hijacking our digital lives with "free" stuff online. The worst perpetrator is Google. Google's business model is to spy, skulk, and stalk users to such a degree they can predictably anticipate and manipulate how you think and what you do, in real life and online. Each of us has to find our own balance between convenience and cost with privacy and security. It pays to avoid Google's products and services as much as it makes sense for you.
The best alternative to Google Chrome, Microsoft Explorer/Edge, and Apple's Safari is Firefox. Firefox's parent is Mozilla, a nonprofit organization. Mozilla makes fantastic internet tools without a motive to abuse you and your information for profit.
✓ Set your default browser to Firefox; it's the best option for browsing online with privacy and security. Learn more here.
#3) Change your search engine
Browsers and search engines are not the same things.
- a browser is your door in and out to the internet
- a search engine is like a compass, or GPS - a tool to navigate where you want to go online
While search engines and browsers provide different functions, they are similar in that Big Tech builds the popular ones to track, monitor, and control the user.
Big Tech collects and stores the search data, and lawyers can subpoena the personal information - including for civil cases like divorce. In 2019, Google responded to over 150,000 requests for such information about its users
For private internet searches, your best bet is another nonprofit organization, DuckDuckGo. With DuckDuckGo, your search history is private and never tracked.
"Tired of being tracked online? We don’t store your personal information. Ever."
✓ For searching, use DuckDuckGo for privacy and to avoid being tracked online.
#4) Text with privacy
One of January's most asked questions is, "What do you think about Signal?"
Signal is a fresh alternative to the standard messaging apps everyone uses. It's another nonprofit that serves to avoid Big Tech's misaligned profit motives.
"Signal is an independent nonprofit. We're not tied to any major tech companies, and we can never be acquired by one either. Development is supported by grants and donations."
✓ Signal is the easiest way to send secure, end-to-end encrypted messages, and it's free for iPhones and Androids.
It will get worse, and better
The stakes are high with such vast power in the hands of government-shielded oligopolies. More so than many understand. It isn't overstating the matter to says the risks of Big Tech's power include losing the power of self-determination. It's a threat to our democracy and freedom, and we shouldn't stand for the status quo.
For now, the digital oligopolies are in the driver's seat, and we don't trust anyone will clean up their act soon. It's up to us, as individuals, to seek and fight for our privacy and digital autonomy online.
Fortunately, online privacy and digital security tools are getting better, and we expect new options will emerge before long. We'll be on the lookout and hope you will too. Send us your thoughts and findings, and we'll keep others informed as we find solutions suitable for our audience.
✓ Use digital autonomy tools to cut Big Tech out and claim ownership and control of your own damn data and personal information.
Must do - get an IRS PIN
If you have not yet received an IRS PIN, this is a must-do.
Only Big Government could make a policy that says you can't get protection until after getting hacked. Someone must have woke up over there because for the first time, the IRS has finally made its Get IP PIN tool available to all taxpayers.
Cybercrime guru Krebs has the full scoop in the first tile below, and it's worth reading for the in-depth information he provides.
Also, while I don't want to pile on, just this past Friday Krebs reported:
"Countless Americans will soon be receiving notices from state regulators saying they owe thousands of dollars in taxes on benefits they never received last year."
Krebs on Security, Jan. 29th.
These are serious scams and they cause life-altering consequences all the time. Like injury to insult, having to deal with the IRS to untangle the mess of a tax-related hack makes matters worse.
✓ If you want to plant your digital flag anywhere, it is with the IRS. Get your PIN as soon as practical.
Best Tech Startups in West Palm Beach
It hasn't felt like a startup at TDS for a while now, but it's nice to be recognized by the Tech Tribune.
"The Tech Tribune staff has compiled the very best tech startups in West Palm Beach, Florida.
#5 - Total Digital Security - Professional cybersecurity solutions and services with a personal touch. Enterprise-grade protection for private clients, wealthy families, VIPs, executives, and remote workers."
The Tech Tribune
GameStop and Robinhood
Remember; the internet democratizes everything it touches.
Examples of the internet's democratizing effect include Uber's impact on the taxi business, and AirBnB's on the lodging industry. In 2013, I started TDS because I saw the internet would soon democratize cybercrime. No longer a problem exclusively for institutions, IT departments, and servers, but a problem for individuals and their personal technology too.
Wall Street hasn't been immune from the powerful forces unleashed by the internet. The recent GameStop saga proved individuals could collectively stand up to the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful financial institutions in the world and win.
The response was predictable. So alarming and threatening is such an action to the establishment, they censored individuals from trading in a manner that ran contrary to their plan. The action makes it clear. Like Big Tech, Robinhood's individual users are the product, and it's the big institutions that are their customers.
February 1st, 2021