Data Privacy.

My brother-in-law owns a company that maintains gas pumps and associated equipment at service stations in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey area. During a recent visit he noticed a station down the street that had “canopy pumps”, where the mechanics of the fuel pump is incorporated into the supports that hold the canopy over the area, presumably to shelter customers from the elements while they’re filling their vehicles with explosive liquid. While here he didn’t get a chance to snap a photo of the pumps, but I told him I would stop by and do so. He’d use the information to research where the pumps were from and if his company could get access to them for his customers.

The easiest way for me to share the photos I snapped this morning was to send him a message on Facebook Messenger. As I mentioned earlier this week, I no longer have “infinity pools of information” apps on my iPhone, and I’ve pretty much disengaged from Twitter permanently, but I still have a Facebook account that I can access on my iPad. I sent him the photos and he sent me a note of thanks. I like my brother-in-law, he’s a really good guy and I’m always happy to help out. Generally speaking I’d say I’m a pretty lucky man in the “in-law” department.

I decided to do a quick scan of Facebook to see what’s been happening with family and friends and immediately I was peppered with all sorts of service station related ads: Exxon Mobil, Shell, Gulf, the virtues of the environmental work of BP, etc. Prior to the three photos I had sent via Facebook Messenger, I had never seen an ad on Facebook for a gas station.

Anyone that believes their communication over Facebook Messenger, or any of their other associated applications, in out of their minds. I know family and friends that completely rely on What’s App. The company is owned by Facebook and the data is mined by Facebook. Instagram? Same deal. And Mark Zuckerberg has said on multiple occasions that Facebook’s intent is to tie the messaging mechanisms of all their apps into one database, one point of control, and one platform.

Earl remarked yesterday that he mentioned something while visiting with his brother the other night and now he had ads popping up on Facebook. He insists the only way Facebook could know about these things was to hear the conversation. The topic was so out of the norm, so off the wall, that there was no way he had searched for anything remotely related to what they were discussing so theoretically there should be no digital trail. That would mean Facebook had to be listening to him through the app on his iPhone.

There’s a reason I don’t have the Facebook app on my phone. How I wish there was something around the disrupt Instagram, but the likes of Flickr really screwed that up.

Please be cognizant that nothing you do online is safe, and nothing you do on your phone is completely private. I have lived by this rule for 30+ years and it still holds true today: If you don’t want it appearing on the front page of the New York Times, do not type it into a computer.

I guess that applies to innocent conversations as well.

Chromed.

I’ve never really been a fan of Google’s Chrome browser. There’s just something odd of trusting all of your browsing activity to a browser made by a company that relies on user data and ad revenue as its primary revenue source. Here’s an excellent article that recently appeared in The Washington Post that explains many of my concerns without getting too lost in the technobabble.

What was a little surprising to me was that organizations like health insurance companies and school loan facilitators are also in on the tracking business.

My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality.

Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s log-in pages

That’s just creepy.

Commitment to Privacy.

A recent Macworld article highlights Apple’s commitment to user privacy in this digital day and age. An interesting read for all, but especially for the geek minded. The article also highlights the importance of “Sign In with Apple”, the new sign-in initiative from Apple I mentioned in yesterday’s post.

But convenience is only part of what makes Sign In with Apple such an excellent feature. Apple has baked privacy and security so deep into Sign In with Apple that it won’t work unless your account is protected with two-factor authentication. It uses Face ID or Touch ID on the iPhone and iPad. The coolest feature of all: you can opt to use a fake email address that forwards to your real one so the service you’re signing into won’t have access to your contact info.

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Sign In With Apple.

Image courtesy of CNET

So Apple’s Developers Conference, called “WWDC”, which stands for “Worldwide Developers Conference” is underway in San Jose, California. The event is kicked off with their annual WWDC Keynote, which outlines the plans Apple has for their Operating Systems for the foreseeable future. This year Apple announced updates to all of their operating systems, including bringing iPad its own operating system called iPadOS. This will help separate the iPad from the iPhone experience a little bit.

In recent years Apple has doubled down and gone the extra step with their privacy efforts. Their built-in web browser, Safari, has plenty of privacy options. When shared with an application, location information is anonymized by default. Photo processing is done locally on the device and iCloud data is encrypted by default, without scanning for advertising opportunities.

One of the way ad-based Internet companies track you is by having you use your sign-in information with their service across third party apps. Most Internet users are familiar with message boards with “Sign in with Facebook” or third party apps like Dropbox with “Sign in with Google”. These services are convenient for the user; you don’t have to remember multiple passwords. However, it’s a tracking opportunity for the company providing the sign on service, plus it often forms a two-way information sharing opportunity for the sign on service and the third party application. Things like your name, nickname, email address, birthday, etc. could be shared across this connection. Plus, how many times have you received an email with advertising after using these credentials for a service that is at best vaguely related to the third party offering?

“Sign in with Apple” is a new way of signing in on your Apple devices. Tied with FaceID or TouchID (or other authentication methods, depending on the device), Apple will authenticate your identity and that’s it. If the third party service requires an email address, Apple will generate a random email address that forwards to your address. And that random address is used only for that service. Sick of emails from them? Delete the random address. You don’t need to change your real email address.

This is awesome.

One of my biggest pet peeves of today’s Internet is the amount of tracking and advertising. “Sign in with Apple” will be a great way to help combat that issue.

It’s just another reason I call myself a “Crazy One”.

No Privacy.

Image from techcrunch.com

A recent article in The Daily Dot outlined Facebook’s true stance on privacy: there is no privacy on Facebook.

A lawyer for Facebook argued in court Wednesday that the social media site’s users “have no expectation of privacy.”

According to Law360, Facebook attorney Orin Snyder made the comment while defending the company against a class-action lawsuit over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy,” Snyder said

I look forward to the day when a disrupter can truly disrupt Facebook. Until then, proceed with caution.