Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Internet is not private.... OK?

Here's a little thought for you this morning. Putting aside the question of indecent exposure, if I was to stand at my front window stark naked and opened the blind, would someone walking past who looked at me be invading my privacy? I'd say not, but you may think differently.

Here's another question for you, if I played loud music in my house that could be heard from the street outside, would the people walking past that could hear it be invading my privacy in those fleeting moments that the sound was audible and they knew what (possibly awful) tastes in music existed in my home?

I ask only because this afternoon there will be a House of Commons Debate taking place, unusually, in Westminster Hall, on the subject of "privacy and the Internet", and one of the likely questions raised will be something that the excellent Big Brother Watch is concerned about, that Google, whilst carrying out its street-view mapping, captured publicly transmitted wifi data streams.

Now some, like Big Brother Watch, consider that action by Google, a step to far, but they're unfortunately wrong in my view. The technomological reality is Google were just like the people walking past my house who looked at my family jewels or heard the latest Paramore album pumping through the speakers.

What they did was simply drive along a street and capture public broadcasts akin to walking along the street and hearing people...errrr.... talk to each other as they walk past.

Of course, what you get told is that Google were taking your passwords, email addresses and information about the porn you were browsing, which makes it sound... well quite bad actually without a bit of a reality check.

Firstly, standard email is not a secure communication method. Sending an email is like writing a postcard, anyone can read it because it designed that way. You want to secure it, encrypt it.

Likewise, with passwords, if you're logging into a website that is not encrypted then anyone on that long path between your computer and the server you're logging into can see that password winging its way around the world in plain text. There is a phrase for this in technology which goes "this is by design". You wouldn't walk along the street with a t-shirt on that said "my bank PIN is 1234" but that is what you're doing if you send a password over a non-encrypted channel.

Could the owner of such a t-shirt credibly complain about his privacy being invaded if his card was used after he publicly told the world how to use it?

I guess what I'm saying is this. The Internet is insecure by design and it is a very noisy place. Think of it like Cairo. A heaving mass of traffic going back and forward, most of it open and available for anyone that wants to have a look.

You cannot reinvent this wheel, but you can put locking wheel nuts on it to reduce the risk of someone stealing it.

Let's be clear, and some may not like this, but Google did nothing but tune their radio in to everything we were saying publicly. They were like a person walking through a market of Cairo and listening to the world around them.

As for the secondary issue about them storing search terms it's quite simple. They're a private company, if you don't like it, don't use it. Remember this too, whilst we all get concerned about Google, it's really just a distraction from the signals intelligence activities of AUSCANNZUKUS, because Echelon really is Big Brother.

One last thing though, if you're a little curious about what it actually is that Google "grabbed" then click the image below. Your computer sends and receives millions of these things when you log on each day, and it is buried within these millions of packets that you can find the emails, addresses and destinations people might be visiting.

It's a bit like finding a skip full of shredded documents and trying to piece them all back together for every network you may have heard, it's a colossal job.

Hopefully this might put some perspective into a subject from which you might get the impression that the information appears in a little window on one of those make believe computers you see on Spooks.

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