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How to Be Invisible on the Internet

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Everywhere you look, concerns are mounting about internet privacy.

Although giving up your data was once an afterthought when gaining access to the newest internet services such as Facebook and Uber, many people have had their perspective altered by various recent scandals, billions of dollars of cybertheft, and a growing discomfort around how their personal data may be used in the future.

More people want to opt out of this data collection, but aside from disconnecting entirely or taking ludicrous measures to safeguard information, there aren’t many great options available to limit what is seen and known about you online.

The Next Best Thing

It may not be realistic to use Tor for all online browsing, so why not instead look at taking more practical steps to reducing your internet footprint?

Today’s infographic comes to us from CashNetUSA, and it gives a step-by-step guide – that anyone can follow – to limit the amount of personal data that gets collected on the internet.

How to Be Invisible on the Internet

As you can see, you can take simple steps to limit the amount of personal information you give up online.

To be absolutely clear, these actions will not reduce your footprint to nothing – but they will make many important categories of data invisible for all intents and purposes.

Basic Building Blocks

The simple actions that can be taken fall into three major realms: internet browsers, social networks, and mobile phones.

1. Internet Browsers:
Whether you are using Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer, there are easy things you can do to increase privacy. These include using private browsing, blocking third-party cookies, and tailoring the permissions for websites that you access.

2. Social Media Platforms
Major social networks have options built-in for users seeking privacy – it’s just many people don’t know they are there. On Facebook, for example, you can prevent your name being linked to ads – and on Twitter, you can prevent Twitter from tracking you.

3. Mobile Phones
We live more and more on our smartphones, but thankfully there are options here as well. You can block ad tracking on Safari, or opt out of ad personalization on Android. There is even a simple setting on Android that allows you to encrypt your phone.

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Privacy

Why Biometric Security is the Future

Buoyed by innovation and user-friendly experiences, biometric security measures will soon be a mainstream method of keeping your online accounts safe.

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The Future of Security is Biometric

With nearly eight billion people on the planet — and more than half of them on internet — verifying who’s who is one of the great technological challenges of our time. To meet this challenge, Biometric security is rising to the occasion, buoyed by technological advancements and user-friendly experiences.

Modern biometrics can seem like science fiction, but the concept is far from new. Sir Francis Galton, cousin of the famous Charles Darwin, used an analysis of over 8,000 fingerprint samples to publish what would become the first fingerprint classification system in history.

sir francis galton fingerprints

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Building on the work of Sir Francis Galton, the Metropolitan Police of London used shapes like whorls and loops identify individuals based on fingerprint patterns at the beginning of the 20th century. The resulting Henry Classification System is so effective, it’s still the foundation for the most common form of biometrics used around the world today – the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).

Today’s infographic, from Computer Science Zone, covers biometric security from a number of angles, from current use cases to the ways people are outsmarting existing security measures.

Biometric Security 101

There are three possible ways of proving one’s identity:

  • Using something you possess (e.g. keys, badge, documentation)
  • Using something you know (e.g. password, code, security question)
  • Using an intrinsic identifying feature (e.g. fingerprint, face)

Biometrics are an example of the third type, using biological measurements to identify individuals. Typically, these measurements are derived from physical characteristics, such as irises, fingerprints, facial features, or even a person’s voice.

When used in a security application, biometrics are theoretically more secure than traditional passwords since detailed physical characteristics are unique to each person.

Augmenting Passwords

By now, we’re all well aware that solely using text passwords leaves our information at risk. Even in 2019, the top passwords are still “123456” and “password”.

Passwords are still the default method of accessing accounts though, so a process called two-factor authentication was introduced to add a new layer of security. The most common type of two-factor authentication involves sending an email or text message to help ensure that only the rightful owner of an account can log in.

Increasingly though, biometric security measures are replacing one or both of those steps. Apple’s introduction of a fingerprint scanner in the iPhone 5S was a high-profile example of biometrics moving into widely available consumer products. Today, every new smartphone on the market has some sort of biometric feature.

The Internet of Faces

Today, the majority of consumers are now comfortable with using fingerprint recognition to access their device, but they’re still skeptical about facial recognition — only 14% of people prefer using that method to access their device.

Soon, however, they may not have a choice. Consumer technology is bullish on facial recognition, and government entities are happy to come along for the ride. Correctly and efficiently identifying citizens has always proved a struggle for law enforcement, border control, airport security, and other highly regulated systems, so facial recognition is a very appealing option to quickly and cheaply identify people at scale.

One real world example is the Schengen Entry-Exit System, which will use a mix of fingerprint and facial recognition to alleviate security bottlenecks at European airports.

In China, a new rule that went into effect across the country making the submission of facial recognition scans a prerequisite for registering a new SIM card — just one of the ways China is populating its biometric database.

Of course, the trade-off is a loss of privacy as that technology spills over from airport security into public spaces.

According to a recent study, facial recognition accuracy jumped 20x between 2013 and 2018. Just 0.2% of searches, in a database of of over 26 million photos, failed to match the correct image.

Peering into the Digital Reflection

Another aspect of biometric security looks beyond physical features, and instead relies on changes in behavioral patterns to detect fraud or unauthorized access.

Money laundering and fraud cost the global economy upwards of $2 trillion per year, so financial institutions in particular have a big incentive to invest in early fraud detection. To this end, behavioral biometrics is proving to be an effective way of detecting suspicious login attempts earlier and flagging transfers that deviate from expected patterns.

Growing Pains

Biometric security in consumer products is still in its early stages, so the technology is far from bulletproof. There have been several examples of fooling systems, from fingerprint cloning to using masks to unlock devices. As with any security measure, there will continue to an arms race between companies and hackers looking to slip past defenses.

Another issue raised by increasing biometric use is in the realm of privacy. Critics of biometrics point out that iris scans and FaceID don’t enjoy the same protection from law enforcement as a traditional password. Because a defendant would have to say something, text passwords fall under the protection of the Fifth Amendment, while biometric locks do not. This is a debate that will continue to rage on as consumer products continue to implement biometrics.

In the meantime, our physical attributes will increasingly become our key to the digital world.

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Data Visualization

Visualizing Internet Suppression Around the World

Freedom of speech on the internet has been on decline for eight consecutive years. We visualize the death spiral to show who limits speech the most.

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Visualizing Internet Suppression Around the World

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here

When people think of freedom, they often think it in the physical sense, such as the ability to act and behave in certain ways without fear of punishment, or freedom of movement within one’s country.

When a nation chooses to restrict freedom in the physical world, the results are often hard to ignore. Protests are met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Road checks pop up along transportation routes. Journalists are detained.

In the digital world, creeping control often appears in more subtle ways. Personal data is accessed without us knowing, and swarms of suspiciously like-minded accounts begin to overwhelm meaningful conversations on social media platforms.

The Freedom on the Net Report, by Freedom House, breaks internet suppression down into a number of elements, from content filtering to detention of online publishers. Here’s how a number of countries around the world stack up:

internet freedom by country

According to the report, internet freedom around the world has been falling steadily for eight consecutive years. Today’s graphic is an international look at the state of internet freedom.

First World Problems

At its best, the internet allows us to seek out information and make choices free from coercion or hidden manipulation. Even in countries with relatively open access to information this is becoming increasingly difficult.

In Western countries, internet suppression often rears its head in the form of misinformation and excessive data collection. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was a potent example of how the vast amounts of data collected by platforms and third parties can be used to manipulate public opinion.

The backlash to this data collection by tech companies also produced one of the most promising developments in the past year – the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While the regulations are not applicable to government and military entities, it does create a pathway to increased transparency and accountability for companies collecting user data.

Control Creep

Around one-third of the people in the world live in countries that are considered “partly free”.

For most users, access to online information may not look too different from the internet experience in Iceland or Estonia, but there are creeping controls in specific areas.

In Turkey, Wikipedia was blocked and social media companies were compelled to censor political commentary. The country had one of the largest declines in internet freedom in recent years.

In Nigeria, data localization requirements have been enacted. This follows the lead of places like China and Vietnam, where servers must be located within the country for “the inspection, storage, and provision of information at the request of competent state management agencies.”

Access Denied

For many people around the world – particularly in Asia – accessing information online is a fundamentally different experience. Content published by an individual can be monitored and censored, and online activity that would be considered benign in Western countries can result in severe real-world consequences such as imprisonment or death.

As today’s data visualization vividly illustrates, China has by far the most restricted internet of the 65 countries covered in the report.

Network operators in the country are obligated to store all user data within the country (which can be accessed by governmental bodies), and are required to immediately stop the transmission of “banned content”. The country is also further cracking down the use of VPNs, which are used to circumvent China’s Great Firewall.

Of course, China is not alone in the desire to implement tight controls over online access. Many places, from Vietnam to Ethiopia, are eager to embrace the “China Model”. The country, which is aggressively ramping up its influence around globe, is more than happy expand its influence through exporting models of governance to new technologies, such as facial recognition.

Meanwhile, in Russia, the popular messaging app, Telegram, was blocked due to its refusal to allow the country’s security service access to encrypted data. This example highlights a growing dilemma faced by tech companies operating internationally – acquiesce to government demands, or lose access to huge markets.

A Tale of Two Internets

Today, there are two prodominant flavors of internet on the menu – the Silicon Valley offering dominated by major tech companies, and the top-down, state-controlled version being spread in earnest by Beijing. It would be a mistake to believe that the former is the clear choice for jurisdictions around the world.

In many countries in Africa, communications infrastructure is still being built out, so assistance from Chinese companies is accepted with open arms.

Our Chinese friends have managed to block such media in their country and replaced them with their homegrown sites that are safe, constructive, and popular.

– Edwin Ngonyani, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister of Works, Transport and Communication

Even though the internet is now three decades old, its form is still evolving. It remains to be seen whether the divergence between free and not free jurisdictions continues to grow.

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