A Flood of Insecurity
Snowden says so. Public records say so. Government bills say so. Respected journalistic sources say so.
They are government agencies, places of employ, private firms collecting marketing data. The Internet is a virtual Cookie Monster, and there’s little to nothing we can do about it.
I express my anger and outrage with a sigh, a shrug and a “so nu?”
This isn’t news. This is olds. And my opinion matches that of a dozen of my friends who have been paying attention. My friends who haven’t are screaming and cursing and telling me how bad it is. And I’m angrily smirking and thanking them for finally noticing. But I don’t say that, cause that would be rude. Instead, I’ve been sitting idly, waiting for their anger to dissipate and their slightly-less-ignorant complacency to return. Because, really, what can we do?
We can’t march in protest. We can’t hide and remove ourselves from the Internet. We can’t delete what’s already out there thanks to the glory that is the Internet Archive. In essence, our information is out there, whether we want it to be or not.
Every time we turn around, another friend is linking to us, or trying to get us to join another network. Coworkers want to connect on LinkedIn. Classmates, current and former, want to connect on Facebook or Classmates.com. In order to read the New York Times or Boston Globe, half the time they require logging in with cookies enabled. Facebook actually tracks your general Internet usage if you leave yourself signed-in, a fact I know but fail to remember all too often.
It’s not as though solutions don’t exist. After all, even Google Chrome offers its incognito window to prevent tracking. But who’s stopping Google from “anonymously” tracking even that? Do you trust them enough to not collect that data? I certainly don’t.
But I’ve also reached a level of complacency and uncaring that’s almost inconceivable even to me. Between a general policy of controlled radical honesty and a history of letting my internet usage get me in trouble (a collection of three stories I should probably record for perpetuity at some point), I’ve already felt the damage an online presence can cause and learned how to prevent most of it. Still, it’s not simply following instructions like the 4-step process to getting Facebook not to track you or the dozen other techniques to do the same thing. Nor is it hiding your browsing through TOR or incognito.
The fact is that if you’re online, you can make yourself hard to snoop, hard to track, and hard to follow, but you can’t make it truly impossible.
Many people argue that if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide. In theory, I agree with this. The problem is that people don’t agree what constitutes wrong (see Russia’s take on homosexuality).
My solution, in addition to at least attempting to lock down important info and avoid posting possibly detrimental info that I’m uncomfortable being out there, is to flood the internet.
I’m lucky in that I have a generic name. On the downside, it’s hard for people to find me. When I meet new people and introduce myself and want to strike up a relationship, I have to use my customized facebook url. There are hundreds of Ben Robertses out there, several of them at least moderately famous with a strong web presence. Do a google search for me without corroborating information, and I’m so far down the list, even the deepest detective will tire of looking before stumbling on my information.
On the upside, when prospective employers, or kids I work with, go looking for me, I’m nearly impossible to find. Given the way jobs with kids are super protective, this is a really good thing.
In essence, my name has already flooded the Internet for me, but that doesn’t stop me from helping it along. I thoroughly enjoy trying to flood the Internet with the most basic information possible. Innocuous stuff I don’t care is out there. Combine that with innocuous misinformation and it becomes clear that I’ve actually made it hard to believe anything but that basic ubiquitous information.
In movies, when people want to escape or hide from watchful eyes, they do one of two things: create a sanctuary where prying eyes can’t see (usually using a lot of expensive equipment and some remote plot of land) or hide in plain sight, blending in with a crowd. The former is costly and difficult, the latter easily thwarted thanks to facial recognition and big brother-esque snooping.
Now imagine that not only was someone hiding in a crowd, but the crowd was a sea of identical faces, each with the most basic info, perhaps one or two obscure bits of info, and a bunch of misinformation to boot. Suddenly, picking out the real you becomes hard. It’s like your own personal collection of Guy Fawkes masks.
This isn’t something one can do overnight, as the Internet Archive once again makes finding time-sensitive information easier. If the powers that be check a date prior to the flood, only the minute information is out there. For me, I’m lucky, as my first forays online came on an experimental Mosaic browser on MIT’s campus before dialup was popular. That means my browsing history is nearly as old as the Internet itself.
For the rest of you, it’s not easy to change what’s already out there, but there’s always a chance to hide what comes next.