Alexa, we need to talk

Credits: Voice Day Campaign | NYT & Amazon Alexa T.S Abe

From bluetooth headphones to home assistants to activity trackers to pet feeders, today’s devices are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and portable. Created in close relation to the internet or entirely dependent on it, these sets of devices make up what we today call the internet of things. Based on an intricate system of interrelated computing devices, the internet of things operates (oh, well) in the all encompassing internet. Every such gadget in the chain, inside this ecosystem of devices is provided with an unique identifier (UID) and has the ability to transfer data over a network.

However plain and straightforward these facts are, we tend to dismiss or disregard them completely when it comes to our online privacy.

Take AI voice assistants like Alexa. Basically, a household consumer electronic that can make phone calls, read the news or tell you jokes. Apart from the mundane, Alexa can turn on lights or the heat, if connected to a wifi smart plug or the thermostat and can even lock the door. All through bluetooth.

Credits: Voice Day Campaign | NYT & Amazon Alexa T.S Abe

Voice requests to Alexa are feeding it’s speech recognition system and we’re not saying it shouldn’t. All that we ask here is caution and a proper understanding of how devices like Alexa work inside the broader topic of IoT( Internet of Things). And perhaps a VPN connection to encrypt your data.

The so-called Disappearing computer phenomenon, a historical time aiming to replace the actual interaction trough screens and keyboards with seamless, sensed interaction, unfolds before our very eyes. But as the Internet of Things evolves, so should our privacy awareness.

Recent DDoS attacks nowadays use household consumer electronic devices to access a wide variety of data. Hence, the liability.

What  today feels like an open, uncensored internet, may in a not so distant future evolve into a far-reaching, sensing, predictable internet. And it’s not just browsing histories, passwords or financial information that’s at stake, it’s planes, cars, homes and even pacemakers, that are now connected to the internet.

Apart from potential security breaches, understanding that algorithms curate the news we read or in severe cases decide what someone of our age/gender/status may be interested in or should be is just as important, when in comes to data security.

 

Road to Zion

As we arrive to a new age kicking and screaming all the way, we might even find our way to Zion. I somehow, take solace in that.

Until Zion, let’s take it each step at a time and see how the 2019 digital world looks like.

In the sharing, internet economy, data is the currency and sometimes even a political weapon to be reckoned with. In other words, data is today an informational, political and economic asset capable of traveling the speed of light in a vacuum, when going through state of the art optical fibers. Able to operate at 99.7% the speed of light according to researchers at the University of Southampton in England (source: Extreme Tech).

The digital world is now creating tangible value from big data so expect internet privacy to take an even more prominent route in the future (Ain’t no going back).

Nowadays, security must come in layers, not only in the corporate environment, but on a personal level also.

The number one thing you need to get in line with is having a VPN connection. It’s really simple to use and just like that poof! your data travels through an encrypted tunnel, safe from prying eyes and encrypted all the while.

It won’t save you from all the threats out there, but it will make you less vulnerable.

If all else fails, get a pigeon. Until then, stay smart.

VPN Server Count: Quantity Doesn’t Really Matter

Credits:Data Structures by Dimitris Ladopoulos

Most VPN providers will advertise the number of servers they have available starting with their homepage and will wear those figures like a badge of honor throughout their websites. In the following, I’ll show you why the server count might all be just a gas and why you should not let it influence your buying decision.

Not all servers were created equal

So, let’s talk about servers. They come in all shapes and sizes, while some are serving emails, others do videos or host web sites. In other words, they vary depending on the job they were designed to fulfill and naturally, so do their processors, memory or storage options. Having more servers doesn’t necessarily translate into having better speed, having the right kind of servers though, catering to the right kind of job, does.
For example, some servers were made for high performance applications, serving ever increasing numbers of users (scalability) and highly available or continuous applications, which in plain english means – applications that do not go down.  Other servers are serving web content or were made to VPN servers. Each has its own kind of processor, memory and storage.
Servers can also vary on location and age. A new generation server can be a completely different piece of machinery than an old one and when it comes to VPNs that can go both ways. Good and bad, the whole nine yards. And of course new doesn’t always equal better.  In fact, for VPN servers, more often than not older servers usually offer multiple CPUs and have more cores, a relative rare commodity in new generation servers.

 Uplinks 

Now that we know that internet connection is far more important than the server count, that’s when uplinks come into play.
Good connectivity is today an imperative and that’s why most servers ship 1Gb/s connections. To get the best of each server however, a VPN provider needs to have a pretty good uplink to the ISP.

What you can take away from this

A large server portfolio is usually perceived as better connectivity and an overall higher speed, when it comes to a VPN service. While the inclination to follow the above logic makes sense, connectivity and speed, particularly, doesn’t have much to do with the actual numbers of servers.

 

There’s a far more intricate story that dictates connectivity, going behind the scenes that can determine wether or not a VPN provider deserves the hype it gets, or more importantly, has the expected level of  performance. Server types, processors, memory, storage options and bandwidth are the actual forces that go into play.

 

Your every buying intent can and will be predicted. Stay out of the loop. The future is private

Credits: Dangers of the Internet — Unpublished by Kati Szilagyi

In the words of Mark Zuckerberg “the future is private”. A bold statement, you might say, considering it comes from the man under scrutiny over inappropriate sharing of user data (in one of the biggest scandals in social media, thus far).

I know, I know. And I agree, but still, don’t let the hype cloud your judgement, the man is still the most relevant voice in the social media phenomenon, with or without $5 bn in fines. It makes no difference.

What’s even more interesting here is that not just the future of Facebook-that’s not of the essence, but the digital world as a whole might be relying on the same principle in the coming digital era.

here is why:

When news about Facebook — Cambridge Analytics broke, the digital world as a whole was going largely unregulated, in a time when social media was gaining a lot of influence and started playing a major role in protests, riots and social movements, influencing elections.

A year later, the digital environment entered a new phase that demanded better security and created a new wave of shifts and changes in which a few strong players had each a personal stake in.

A. There were the users, wanting a change in how their personal data is handled, migrating to instagram, which truth be told was not such a smart move, as instagram also owned by Facebook, did not offer better security at the time (nor in present). But the migration is not important, in the sense that whether is facebook or instagram, we are talking about the same entity owning both larger than life platforms.

B. There were the electoral interests fighting to close the new found “Pandora’s box” that social media was threatening to become.

C. And then, in an oversimplified scenario (let’s keep things simple for a while) there was Facebook. Maybe not the de facto creator of social media, but most certainly it’s first, biggest, most successful promoter, to say the least.

Now, a year later, the platform is taking a privacy-focused approach saying it wants to “unify its messaging products around concepts like ephemerality and encryption”(The Verge).

But why is this relevant?

It the light of today’s digital environment events, counting what’s app security breach as the most recent, the privacy-focused approach is now a trend and one that’s going stay, evolve and diversify, going far beyond just social media.

The Data Mining Issue

When it comes to data mining, government is not the only one invested in making sense of your personal data, nor is it the biggest beneficiary. The advertising industry is. And no, this is not just a black mirror scenario. It’s already happening.

Your credit card history can be bought from your bank, monitoring tools can be built-in a lot of devices you are already using on a daily, trackers can be embedded in any web page and are actively extracting data to better understand and adapt to your buying preferences and behavior.

Not saying all trackers are cunningly mining data for obscure reasons. Some of them are simply trying to make your online experience better, faster or more pleasing. Not everybody out there is selling your data to 3rd party advertising agencies banking on your consumption behavior.

We all have a price. A reservation price, at least.

However, in a not so distant future, a lot of what you’re putting out there, your online footprint can and will be used to predict your “reservation price”.

Simply put, the reservation price is the value you are willing to pay in exchange of a good or service. According to Wikipedia, on the demand side the reservation price is the highest price that a buyer is willing to pay; on the supply side, it is the lowest price at which a seller is willing to sell a good or service.

Naturally this value can change constantly and can vary a lot depending on context. Say you just finished your morning pilates, you will naturally be inclined to pay more for the same bottle of water that you can buy at the corner shop later. If enough about your daily routine is known and accessible, you could be faced with customized offerings based on your reservation price for a particular good or service.

If data mining goes at the same rate as today, merchants can and will identify customers before even making the purchase. This tactic is already in use and no longer a secret for flight fares, that may vary depending on your IP geolocation.

Best place to hide is in plain sight. A few strategies to keep yourself out of the loop.

  1. Get a VPN service for all your devices:

MyIP.io

The number one thing you need to get in line with is having a VPN connection. It’s really simple to use and just like that poof! your data travels through an encrypted tunnel, safe from prying eyes and encrypted all the while. You basically need to pay a monthly subscription and rock on. It’s important that you don’t chose a free VPN as free VPN services are sure to get their profits elsewhere and it’s usually on your broadband expense. So avoid using unreliable free services that offer protection, but are in fact jeopardizing it.

Taking hold of your own digital footprint requires savvy, educated users, that know their rights and are not willing to compromise when it comes to their own privacy.

It’s easy to understand why more and more people resort to using a VPN service, rather than letting their information “fly” to unknown servers where they can be stored indefinitely.

2. Clear Cookies

You can look at cookies as clutter, piling up your desk, constantly demanding more and more of your attention or space.

To get around this kind of clutter you can install a cookie cleaner software or use your browser’s incognito mode. it won’t make you untraceable, but it will open a cookie free window.

3. Get an Ad Blocker

1Blocker

a native Safari content blocker entirely supported by its users. You’ll be able to block ads, ad networks, scripts designed to track your activity and many more. Just give it a spin!

4. Go with encrypted messaging Apps

Signal

encrypted messaging and voice-calling similar with Telegraph or Wire, as advertising agencies are already using keyword alerts to serve particular ads.

Credits: Watching Me, Watching You by Taalia Nadeem