"Our minds can be hijacked" - Living in a smartphone dystopia. [The Guardian]
We are living in the age of
- Technology that extracts personal information from the population is now the engine that powers the U.S. economy
- Entire businesses have been built around combining and packaging that infomation into psychological profiles and lists for sale to third parties
- Police departments and the U.S. government are among the consumers of this information
We are paying to carry location tracking devices (smart phones), and placing listening devices (smart speakers) and surveillance cameras (doorbell cameras) in our homes.
What is FANGSTORM?
FANGSTORM is an acronym of the key companies of the surveillance economy.
What do these companies do that I should be concerned about?
[N]etwork Providers - AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.
- Keeps copies of your Snapchat videos and messages after they disappear[Information Week]
Enables employees to access and monitor your Snapchat activity via internal tools like SnapLion.[Vice]
- Accesses your contacts and location without permission[Information Week]
- As may be the case with any app which accesses your contacts. Snap might use that information to build "shadow profiles" (and probably is)
- Tracks your location and sends it to Oath[Wired]
Merger of Verizon, Yahoo, AOL (Now rebranded as "Verizon Media Group")[NYTimes, NBC News]
Largest location tracking database, and reseller of location data[Fast Company]
- Monitors your location from Apple Maps, Tinder, Yelp, Uber, Lyft, weather apps, and more[Wired]
Scans all messages and attachments sent to/from Yahoo Mail and AOL mail, extracts data, sells to third parties[Kim Komando, Wall Street Journal]
- Extracts location information from EXIF tags in photos sent as attachments
- Runs facial recognition software on photos sent as attachments
[R]etail Point-of-Purchase Systems & Payment Processors
- These are middle-men processing financial transactions when you make a purchase, usually in the form of a credit card terminal.
- They capture and sell information about your credit/debit card purchases (including location and types of goods in the transaction) to third parties
[Sage Publishing, Fast Company]
- Use reward-systems (loyalty programs, etc) to de-anonymize cash transactions
- Reward systems provide better tracking of what items you purchase than what is usually captured in a credit/debit card transactions
- Provides transaction data (including location) to government agencies, including the NSA.
- Paypal, Square, and Stripe are payment processors that also handle online transactions. (Venmo is owned by Paypal. Cashapp is owned by Square). Paypal gives your data to over 600 third party companies.
[Scheier on Security, Paypal]
Why do they do this?
The Economist: “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”
CBC: “'Data is the new oil': Your personal information is now the world's most valuable commodity”
The FANGSTORM companies are the Exxon and Chevron of data extraction. Their software and services are designed to extract as much information from you as possible.
Spyware is defined as "software that surreptitiously monitors and reports the actions of a computer user".
By this definition, most of the products offered by these companies are spyware!
About the "third parties" (data brokers) that obtain data about you from FANGSTORM
Like refiners in the oil industry, who turn raw petroleum into refined products like gasoline, plastics, etc, an entire economy of companies (called data brokers) exists that combine and refine data from FANGSTORM into products that they can sell.
Some names of a few of these data brokers, and some of the products that they sell:
Source: CBS News: 60 Minutes
- Exact Data [link] - Database of people with STDs, people who subscribe to porn sites, and people who have purchased sex toys
- Response Solutions [link] - Maintains a database of people they believe have bipolar disorder
- Statlistics [link] - Maintains a database of people that they believe are probably homosexual
- Paramount Lists [link] - Sells lists of people who have problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling, or who are struggling with debt
How much do they know about me?
How can Facebook and other consumers of my activity on FANGSTORM sites/apps use that data to manipulate me?
Your social media activity, location history, search history, and web browsing history enable anyone with access to
that data to build a psychological profile about you.
You can try this out for yourself using this tool.
Imagine if someone you knew had a detailed psychological profile on you, without your knowledge.
How do you think they could use that to manipulate your emotions and actions?
Now, imagine the most powerful companies in the world building algorithms and AI to do that at a massive scale.
It isn't just the FANGSTORM companies that can do this, but any data broker, government, or other third party can use the data they
obtain about you from social media web sites, search engines, etc, to build psychological profiles about you.
How is this legal?
Federal legislation was passed March 28, 2017 that legalized selling of your internet activity:
How the U.S. government is making use of some of the information it obtains about your from FANGSTORM
What can I do about this?
Leave your phone at home!
- When you carry your phone with you, it operates as a tracking device
- People lived a long time without carrying their phone with them everywhere they went. Their phones were wired into their wall.
- This gives you the full usage of a smartphone, when you want it, without it tracking your physical movements
Stop using Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook.com, etc.
Consider these alternatives:
- Educate your friends and family about the dangers of Gmail, etc, and suggest alternatives
- Even if you switch to a safer email provider, your communications are still compromised if the other people you email are using Gmail etc
Stop using Google or Microsoft's search engines.
Consider these alternatives:
- Qwant - "The search engine that respects your privacy."
- Startpage - "Zero saving, sharing, or selling your search data."
Stop using social media, and start your own web site.
- Learn basic HTML/CSS
- Build your own web site for free at Neocities
- Don't add Google Analytics code, Google Fonts, Facebook/Twitter buttons, etc
- Add this tag to each page to block search engines from mapping your site:
<meta name="robots" content="nofollow,noindex">
Stop using insecure messaging platforms (like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Skype, or SMS texting).
Consider these alternatives:
Both of these will work on a PC/Mac as well as on mobile devices.
- Signal - Find/import contacts by phone number.
- Telegram - Uses usernames instead of phone numbers.
Switch to a browser that isn't spyware.
- PC/Mac: Brave with the Domain Blocker extension. Open the extension, click options, and copy/paste this into the block list
- Mobile: Firefox Focus
Or... If you want to go in the complete opposite direction...
We have another helpful acronym for you: CLIP
- [C]ash - Cash is anonymous. Don't participate in any "loyalty program", give a phone number or email, or show ID
- [L]ocal - Shop at local stores instead of shopping online. Pay cash! Buying will require more effort, so you'll probably spend less.
- [I]n Person - Talk to people face-to-face. Limit internet/phone conversations to arranging places to meet. Go out! Throw parties. Host game nights. Attend live music events. Invite people over for dinner. Meet in coffee shops, parks, etc. Your social life will be more real.
- [P]aper - Write letters. Read books. Keep a journal. Publish a zine or newsletter. Send postcards. Subscribe to a local newspaper. Pass secret notes.
Opt-out of social media. Learn basic HTML/CSS and build your own web site at Neocities.