Saturday Night Science: Tools for Online Privacy

Spy vs. SpyThis will be a somewhat different installment of Saturday Night Science.  Rather than discussing a book or news related to science and technology, this time, motivated by having recently read and reviewed Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record, I’m going to survey some of the tools individuals can use to attempt to reclaim a bit of their privacy in the face of ubiquitous mass surveillance by governments and technology companies.  This is not intended to be an encyclopedic survey of the field, which is vast, complicated, and constantly changing.  Instead, this is an introduction intended to point readers toward tools and approaches, many of which I have used myself, discuss trade-offs between security and convenience, and provide links for further research.  The various topics are largely independent of one another, and are discussed in no particular order.

Private Web Browsing

At this writing, the most widely used Web browser is Google’s Chrome, with a market share around 65% which is expected to grow to more than 70% by the end of 2019.  Chrome is famous for “phoning home”: every site you visit, link you follow, search you perform, and choice you make from the suggestions it so helpfully provides you is potentially reported back to Google headquarters.   This is stored in a dossier maintained about you, especially if you have, as you’re encouraged to, signed the browser in to your Google Account.  That’s how they manage to show you advertisements so exquisitely (or sometimes humorously) targeted based upon your online activity.  But you don’t have to be paranoid to worry about the consequences of, dare I say, such a permanent record being used against you should you come to the attention of the enforcers of good-think who abound in Silicon Valley.... [Read More]

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Code Is Speech

Liberator pistol (produced by additive manufacturing)There is a fundamental principle at stake in the current controversy, ignorantly reported and heavily spun, over the recent U.S. State Department settlement with Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation in which Defense Distributed essentially won the case it had been pursuing since 2015, clearing it to distribute design files for the manufacture of firearms and components which can be used to produce them via additive manufacturing (“3D printing”).

This principle is much simpler and more fundamental than the cloud of confusion and ignorance spread like squid ink by the slavers who prefer a disarmed and dependent population at their mercy.  It goes to the heart of free speech, and we’ve been here before.... [Read More]

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