Google in favor of a more private search engine

While the U.S. government is working to tighten its grip over citizens’ personal privacy, Europe’s new policy regulations are hoping to do the opposite.

Last month, the French National Assembly announced that they would no longer use Google. Instead, all French government devices will soon adopt the privacy-focused Qwant as their default search engine.

Worried that they were opening themselves to too much outside surveillance, the French government is making the switch in an effort to protect their privacy (and devices) from Google’s—and, inevitably the U.S. government’s—comprehensive data-retention policies.

Florian Bachelier, a member of France’s cybersecurity and digital sovereignty task-force, urged members of his party to take a stance. “We have to set the example,” Bachelier said. “Security and digital sovereignty are at stake here, which is anything but an issue only for geeks.”

What is Qwant?

Founded in 2013, Qwant is an encrypted search engine that functions the same way as Google but doesn’t keep logs. The independent search engine puts a heavy emphasis on user privacy, and in turn has grown exponentially.

In fact, with an estimated average of 21 million monthly searches, Qwant has more than doubled its traffic in a single year. Keep in mind, though, that Google averages roughly 3.5

An open source of data since 2014

Have you traveled for work or pleasure at any point in the past four years? If yes, you could be one of a staggering number of people who have had their information stolen in a data breach affecting a slew of popular hotel chains.

Up to 500 million people have had their personal data stolen from the Marriott International hotel group, which includes the W, Westin, Le Méridien, Sheraton, and Marriott chains. The breach compromised the data of guest information such as names, credit card details, passport numbers, and dates of birth.

An open source of data since 2014

Marriott first spotted the breach in a guest reservation database on September 8, 2018. An investigation into the matter revealed that unauthorized access to the network had been occurring since 2014.

Furthermore, although the hotel chain’s system encrypted all credit card information by default, Marriott cannot confirm if hackers also managed to steal the keys required to crack the encryption.

The scale of the data breach, combined with the fact it remained unresolved for four years, is likely to attract the attention of the EU and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will result in a hefty fine for Marriott.

Another day, another data breach

This is not the first time that a company has lost customer data, and it won’t be the last. In recent years, giants like Yahoo!, Google, and Equifax have all been victim to hacks and huge data losses.

 

Pigeonholed by behavior patterns of VPN

Unfortunately, we have reached a point where the internet doesn’t work correctly unless we sacrifice some of our privacy. Everything from Twitter to cell phones wants access to our personal information, GPS location, and more.

To most of us, how companies store and use our information is mostly a mystery. There are constant stories about stolen consumer information, yet we still, willingly, give out ours because the alternative is cloud services and social networks locking us out.

If internet privacy has already eroded so much in the present day, what will things be like in the future?

The Internet of Things could put your whole life online

The answer depends on how the internet evolves in the future. One trend that’s expected to change the landscape is the increase in non-computer devices using the internet to connect to cloud services.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to bring everything from washing machines to medical implants online. One advantage of these smart objects is that we’ll be able to control them remotely. Soon, we’ll be able to control everything in our homes with an app.

But smart objects like these rely on sending information about our activities to service providers. Once the majority of devices are online, our whole life will be too.

The age of big data

Personal data collected by companies like Facebook and Google, as well as many others, has already led to the creation of massive and structured databases about customers’ habits. This big data is already used to influence how companies target customers and the design of new products.

The amount of data in the world is growing at an incredible pace—90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years. Currently, 2.5 exabytes (2.5 billion GB) of data is generated every day.

The majority of this data is about us, and what we do online. With data growing at this rate, imagine how much there’ll be in ten years!

Pigeonholed by behavior patterns

One significant way companies already use big data is to find patterns in our behavior. These patterns are used to predict our future behavior, make assumptions about who we are, and sell to us more effectively.

The New York Times has reported that retailers and lenders are already using data on past purchases to predict which customers are likely to make repayments on time. One Canadian retailer found that customers who bought premium birdseed were very likely to make payments on time. Customers who bought skull-shaped car accessories were more likely to miss payments.

Scarily, all customers who fit the latter pattern were rejected for store credit—even if they were new applicants who had not missed payments in the past.

Predicting the future

The trend is that we are sharing more data about ourselves, through more devices. The Internet of Things will increase that further and methods for organizing and analyzing big data are evolving too.

 

 

most dangerous technologies of the surveillance

Technology such as encryption, VPNs, and Tor can help us maintain and defend our privacy online.

But technology can also work in the opposite direction, helping the spooks learn about our private lives and behavior, which makes it difficult for individuals to develop personalities freely from fear and control.

But which technologies should we be afraid about most, and why? And what can help us protect ourselves from these trends?

1. Facial recognition systems

There are already cameras everywhere, and while it’s undeniably entertaining to watch bloopers from everyday life on youtube, it is creepy to know everything we do in public life is potentially made available to the world to consume.

With advanced technology, it will soon be possible to not only record all our public life but also analyze it in almost real time. While facial recognition is far from perfect, it already allows a computer to match a person even if glasses or hats obscure parts of their face.

Quite likely, facial recognition software will become more accurate than humans—especially when scaled to databases the size of a city’s voters registry, national passports, or even that of Facebook.

With advanced face recognition software, a state might be able to find out with high accuracy where a person is at all times, who they are with, and what they are currently doing.

It’s pretty hard to protect against facial recognition. The most effective tools stand out considerably to the human eye, and they only really work if a large number of people use them. If only a few people use tricks to deceive cameras, it will be quite easy to work out who they are.

For now, items that fool the cameras are mainly a sign of (much needed) protest and objection to the automatization of the police state.

2. Ride-sharing apps

Your car is your property, and there are limits to what governments can do with it. They cannot deny you access to it, seize it, or search it without good reason.

In your car, you also decide where to go, and what hardware and software to install.

However, when you rent a car or hop into somebody’s rideshare, you are not protected by these same provisions. On top of that, the app you use to hail the ride knows where you are at all times and will record this data.

The app even knows where you are going before you get there and, in some cases, can even predict your commuting behavior (this risk is also endemic to navigation systems). All of this data is available to advertisers and governments.

At present, it’s still relatively easy to avoid ride-sharing if your hometown has decent public transportation or you can afford a car.

3. Electronic money

Carrying change in our pockets is inconvenient. Finding an ATM nearby can cost money and take time. Most of us have access to electronic payment methods like credit cards, Google Pay, Wechat Pay or Venmo.

But relying on these systems can be dangerous. Not only are all your transactions analyzed and sold to advertisers, but they are also available to your government. Tourists crossing the U.S. border from the north can be refused entry, and possibly even face jail time, because they purchased marijuana legally in Canada.

Electronic money can not only be used to surveil and prosecute you, but also to deny you access to services only available with credit cards, such as online purchases or card-only shops.

If we do end up eradicating cash, as we already have for expensive goods, we are making it easy to marginalize people without access further.