The anti-terror bill introduced language that authorizes surveillance of individuals, and not just members of organizations declared by the courts as terrorist. This surveillance includes a way for law enforcement to compel ISPs to provide all the data and metadata they collect that can be attributed to you. We’ve seen how this plays out in dystopian science fiction novels, although I would argue it’s more Brave New World versus Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Given that context about the anti-terror bill, it is important that you know this: the data you send over the internet can be read by anyone. It doesn’t even have to be someone with criminal intent. If you’re working from the office, your office IT probably logs which sites you visit. If you’re working from home, your ISP has access to your data because you’re sending it over their servers.
Some people would argue that the anti-terror bill is okay “because they have nothing to hide.” I believe though that this argument stems from a mix of a lack of understanding on how information can be used and hopeful naivete.
How can information be misused: let’s say that you are bothered by the truly horrifying fact that sex crimes exist. With the intention to help, you search for known sex traffickers on the internet. You eventually stumble on to a site that purveys said illicit materials. Congratulations! Your ISP (or whoever is listening in, cue anti-terror bill) now has you on a list of people with searching behaviors consistent with sex criminals.
I also said hopeful naivete because the “I have nothing to hide” argument is based on the fact that you trust EVERYONE around you implicitly. As I said, your data can be read by anyone. If you believe that everyone on Earth has everyone else’s best interests at heart, then let me greet you a belated happy birthday – seems you were just born yesterday.
As I have said in the previous article, if you hand over all your information, you are simply enabling a power imbalance with you on the losing end. Why participate in creating such a power imbalance at all?
Anyone can see my data?
The internet is insecure by default. When the internet was starting out, only universities, the US military, and giant conglomerates had access to it. You needed room sized computers to communicate with other room sized computers.
Eventually, the prices and sizes of the components needed for computers shrank. Computers eventually became personal computers. Everyone and their (geeky) uncle had access to one. The internet grew not only in size, but also in functionality — new ideas were introduced that expanded on its original functionality. Instead of just sending someone a random greeting, I could now send instructions to my bank to transfer money from my account to another account. This lead to unscrupulous individuals who saw how they can make money off of that insecurity.
The simple design of how the internet worked led to its rapid growth but it also has innate vulnerabilities that you would now need to compensate for if you wanted to make sure you were secure.
In the previous article, Privacy Level 1: Know What You’re Sharing, I wanted to educate you on the data you inadvertently shared to social media companies and friends. In this article, I will now show you how to make sure your traffic is secure.
What you can do
Step 1: Install these extensions
SSL encrypts the traffic between your computer and the website, server, or computer you are talking to. Sites that have “https” automatically does this encryption for you so you can be fairly certain that your data is only visible to you and whoever your computer is talking to.
“https everywhere” is an extension that you install that changes the URL of the site you’re visiting to its “https” version (if supported).
Note that though your messages/data are encrypted, your ISP, your office, or whoever is watching your traffic still knows the website you visited. They just can’t read what you talked about.
When you visit websites, they usually include some code that helps them understand you more. An unfortunate side effect of this is that you are likely sending your data through big companies such as Google and Facebook.
uBlock Origin is a content blocker. It not only blocks ads, but it also disables any tracking software that may be on the websites. It also removes any content that comes from known malware domains — sometimes websites do get hacked and, because of that, they inadvertently serve malware sometimes.
Privacy Badger is usually described as “where uBlock Origin ends, Privacy Badger starts.”
So how the usual content blockers work (uBlock origin included) is that they have a list of blacklisted content providers/IPs. They would then block from content/traffic from these providers on the list. How about for ones not on those lists? Privacy Badger basically monitors your traffic and watches if there’s any source that provides content across different websites (think ads that follow you around after you added something to your shopping cart). If it sees anything like that, it automatically blocks that content for you.
Hmm… not a lot of options for iOS?
Noticed that too, huh? The app store’s walled garden has meant that a lot of innovative applications and extensions such as the above don’t get approved. Fortunately, there is still a recourse: install a new browser!
Step 2: Try a different browser
In this step, I’m going to list a couple of browsers. You don’t need to install all of them though, just choose one and you’re good to go.
Download it here: Brave Browser
Brave is an interesting new experiment. It’s built on top of the Chromium Engine, the same engine that Chrome uses. It’s developed completely in the open so anyone can inspect their code. Here’s Brave browser’s github repo (i.e. where they store their source code) if you want to inspect it. It also introduces a completely new way for publishers to earn. Publishers earn via BAT tokens – yup, cryptocurrency. You can read more about what BAT Tokens are here and you can see how much 1 BAT token is worth here.
So everytime you visit MommyGinger.com, for example, Brave browser (on your local device, not sent anywhere else) will tally how many times you visited her. The people at Brave don’t see this user-specific data, what they get instead is the total visits from all Brave browser users to MommyGinger.com. Ginger is then rewarded BAT tokens based on that number.
As a user, instead of being served ads without a choice, you OPT-IN to their rewards program. When you see the ads, you accumulate BAT tokens as well. From being just an eyeball looking at ads, you are now also earning from your views. Users receive 70% of the ad revenue share as a “reward for their attention.” The ads served are personalized BUT all the data lives on your local device only, your device “calls” for relevant ads but the server doesn’t see your individual data profile.
Aside from that you can also give tips to your favorite content creators. Similar to how it works on Twitch.
Personally, I’m excited about this truly innovative use of blockchain and crypto.
Disclosure: Brave browser was involved in some controversy a while back. If you visited binance.com, they would add their affiliate link. You can read more about it here. They’ve since said sorry and have removed this auto-affiliate thing.
The TOR Browser forces all your traffic over The Onion Router. Basically, it’s a series of servers that bounce your traffic around, each adding a layer of encryption. The main intent here is anonymity. You are bounced around with millions of other users on TOR so traffic that reaches a server can’t be traced back to your location. I’ll talk more about TOR in my next article.
Note that the TOR Browser for iOS, named Onion Browser, will show that it’s published by a guy named Mike Tigas. As per his bio: Mike Tigas is a software engineer and journalist. He works at ProPublica and is a core contributor to the Tor Project. Regardless, however, the browser is free and open-source. You can see Onion Browser’s source code here. The other main contributors are Benajmin Erhart and the Guardian Project, the latter known for creating apps used by, to quote their website “any person looking to protect their data from unjust intrusion, interception, and monitoring.” I would personally trust these developers but, of course, the ultimate decision is up to you.
The Anti-Terror Bill
The anti-terror bill was probably created with the best of intentions at heart. Best intentions, however, can’t stop unintended consequences from rearing its ugly head. For example – one can argue that Metro Manila traffic worsened BECAUSE of the color coding scheme. How? Let’s take my family as an anecdote. Before, we only had 1 car, my dad would bring us to school then drive my mom to work, then go to work himself. When the color coding scheme was implemented, my dad wanted another car for that one day because he wasn’t about to let his family take the woefully bad public transport system here. So now we have a car that was being used 4 workdays out of 5, and 1 for that 1 day. Now looking at that car — what a waste. A car used just once a week? So my mom learned how to drive. Now there were 2 of them on the road instead of just 1 car.
Now, I’m not saying that the anti-terror bill will actually cause terrorism, but I’m wary of the new behaviors particularly from law enforcement because of this. For this bill to work properly, we need to have an impartial watchdog that keeps track to see whether the anti-terror bill is truly being used for its intended purpose. Impartiality, unfortunately, seems to be in short supply nowadays, with dissenting opinion being characterized as either stupid or downright seditious.
MommyGinger.com and Privacy
Ginger earns mainly from the ads that she has on her blog — some of these ads are served by Google and Facebook. However, Ginger believes in your right to privacy and she respects your choice to turn on your content blocker. Understandably, it does leave her in a bit of a pickle. So instead, Ginger would like to request 3 things:
- Download a free copy of her book, Building a Business in the Philippines, by signing up when the pop up appears,
- Actively engage with her blog by leaving comments when you read her articles,
- Engage with her via her social media presence: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter.
Please do tell her what you think, what you like, what you don’t like, and what you’d want to see – she would love to hear from you as a person versus as an anonymous data point on her analytics platforms.
This is the second article in my series about Privacy. With the rise of social media and authoritarian governments, privacy has slowly changed from becoming a right to a privilege. This series aims to help people understand how to keep a more private profile online.
EJ Arboleda is a guest writer for MommyGinger.com. He is the CEO of Taxumo Inc, an avid fan of technology, a paranoid android user, an influencer’s chubby hubby, and proud dad to a whip-smart little girl. The opinions he shared in this article are not shared by Ginger Arboleda, MommyGinger.com, nor by Taxumo Inc.