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Nothing to hide

People see the issue of telecommunications calmly, one should always ask oneself whether it is wise to expose oneself so deeply to the depths and shallows of the monopolists. The fact that this development is already very far advanced and continues to progress, a change or cut-off of course becomes more and more difficult and involves considerable costs and effort, from which many also understandably shy away. But you should at least wait with an assessment of the individual IT situation, until a possible transition has become even more difficult. If a start were made in educational institutions, it would be a step in a good direction.

“I have nothing to hide”, is the Argument that is often mentioned when one points out that in the digital space personal data is comprehensively skimmed off and processed and used in particular for advertising and profiling, but also for monitoring. A recent study has shown that the advertising industry skims data, and systematically unlawful acts.

It is hard to believe that people seriously believe that their personal email correspondence, health data, contract data or bank account credentials are not worthy of protection. If you point this out, you often get the answer that the data is already collected anyway and you can do nothing about it. If you handle your data negligently, that is quite true; but also no wonder.

What these people do not consider, however, is that the careless handling of your personal data also affects others. Simple examples are the use of the Google Email service Gmail, in which the content of all incoming e-Mails is collected by Google and the address is stored, or the reading of complete address books, for example, by WhatsApp.

What is surprising is that even people who actually need to know better deal with their data negligently! These are all people who take a critical attitude to the political System or are politically active and, for example, participate in demonstrations, publish on critical organs, are members of political parties or groups. The danger that these people arouse the interest of surveillance services is real. The monitoring possibilities described here particularly concern these people. Since the monitoring is concealed, it is only partly known how far they are already used in reality.

Do these people see no Problem in the fact that the address books can be used to determine who belongs to a political group and who participated in what activities, such as group meetings or demonstrations, and when? Isn’t it disturbing to know that the content of a group’s email correspondence can be intercepted; for example, the content of invitations?

Is it OK that there is a risk that the content of texts such as protocols, draft resolutions or political articles can be at least partially recorded and that the vast majority of activities on the computer are forwarded to Microsoft if Microsoft Office is used on a computer running under Microsoft Windows? The Cortana service running on Windows 10 computers is responsible. What is unfortunately hardly known, you can also disable this service.

The Smartphone is probably the digital device with which an exploration of the users is most comprehensively possible and, as the Snowden revelations have shown, happens. It is almost always there, often online, the location function is switched on and it is also used at events for sound, image or film recordings. Handling the Smartphone is therefore essential for the responsible handling of his personal, but also the data of a group or organization.

A smartphone contains a wealth of sensors that make various monitoring functions possible, for example, the detection of the location even without the switched-on location function. If you want to defend yourself against it, it is not enough to turn off the Smartphone, it also has to remove the battery, which is only possible with a few devices like the FairPhone, this is a scandal in itself. The essential wear part cannot be replaced!

However, the fact that switched-off Smartphones can also be located is only possible under certain conditions. For this purpose, certain Software must be installed on the Smartphone. This Software can be installed, for example, by the police or intelligence services. However, it is easier to put them through an App that pretends to be another feature, perhaps a game, and in the background, unnoticed, the monitoring software installs and runs. Substituting hidden functions such as locating or reading out address data is quite common practice, for example with flashlight Apps. By the way, there are a number of spy programs for Switched-on Smartphones that can also be used by private individuals.

A hardly avoidable part of the resulting data shadows of people, the address data. For a group, it is enough for some to use Apps on their Smartphone, such as WhatsApp, that require reading the address book on the device. If the address books of participants are compared, it is already quite close to the composition of the group. By the way, the address data at the research companies can go back decades, since data from airlines, travel agencies and orders from before the time of the internet were and will also be collected. If personal calendars and location data are also compared using Google Maps, for example, the composition of a political group and its activities can be developed very widely.

The picture of the composition of the group becomes more comprehensive when, for example, a Demonstration is photographed. If the images are uploaded promptly to a so-called social network, one must assume that there is an attempt to recognize the Person, also in connection with the already existing data, for example on Facebook of the alleged friends. If the recognition fails, the images are entered into Facebook’s huge image database for later use. It has been known since Snowden that Facebook and also Microsoft are working with the NSA. So it is not surprising if these images end up in the databases for surveillance by the police authorities.

Microsoft is also active in this field. When using an app designed for the visually impaired, it has become clear that Microsoft uses the images to build biometric databases for facial recognition. “When we tried the App with old photos, some people gave it the same name.“Facebook also offers a similar function.

That the danger is real has become visible in recent days. “According to a report in the New York Times, a US company that is little known has compiled around three billion images of people from the Internet in order to develop a comprehensive facial recognition database. Last year, access to it was offered to more than 600 authorities as a Service”, the newspaper wrote on January 18, 2020, citing Clearview AI. Piquant is that Peter Thiel is one of the sponsors of the company. He also has shares in Facebook, which prohibits the tapping of images in the terms of use.

But this is not perceived by everyone as a Problem. On Instagram Facebook, an Arm of the data octopus, there are plenty of photos of participants in the Fridays-for-Future demonstrations. Whether this is favourable or unfavourable for a later application will become clear.

Especially treacherous are the digital assistants, who wait for the input of a spoken activation command and therefore continuously listen to the conversations and, as we know for sure by now, also record and evaluate; so far by humans, but in the future also automatically. This danger has now crept into private households via research devices such as Alexa. One should always insist that such devices are switched off, otherwise one’s own voice ends up in a database, conversation contents are recorded and evaluated.

The picture of the contexts in which one moves thus becomes more and more comprehensive and with politically active people ever more dangerous. Of course, the voting data is merged with existing other data, so that an increasingly complex data shadow of the respective persons and, this is important, their relationships results. Since the content recognition of language such as facial recognition is also making rapid progress, it must be assumed that at least in the near future, if not already today, location, time, participants and conversation content will be recorded and evaluated at an event. Smartphones therefore usually have nothing to look for at political events.

There are still a number of areas where you need to handle your personal data carefully, such as the so-called social networks. For space reasons, only two of them are to be dealt with here: the handling of e-Mails and the use of Windows computers.

If you don’t want the contents of e-Mails, which can be quite interesting for the “services”, to be captured by Windows 10 Cortana, among other things, you have to encrypt your e-Mails; otherwise they are public like a postcard. Encryption is considered difficult to set up and use, neither of which applies. You can find simple instructions for almost all systems on Youtube. Use is easy after a short time. Trying to maintain the image of difficult use is intended to discourage people from using it. People who think and act politically behave recklessly if they allow themselves to be deterred. Partners for encrypted e-Mails can be found quickly when you start with encryption.

Careless action is also taken when, for example, people working in the media are required to submit texts that are to be published as a Microsoft Word file. The fact that the processing then usually takes place on computers with the operating system Microsoft Windows means that the data generated during the creation of texts can be comprehensively recorded. This does not only apply to the actual Text: The Associated searches, associated correspondence, contract data, everything can be recorded. This is particularly critical if the Text is based on concealed information and if necessary whistleblowers must be protected. Anything entered into the Windows machine in any Format is at risk.

Why is this possible? It has now been backed up by several investigations that the current Microsoft operating system Windows 10 cannot be completely secured against the fact that data generated during use is transferred to Microsoft.

The conference of the independent federal and state data protection authorities and the Dutch ‘Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens’ as well as the Federal Office for information security have investigated this problem and have come to the conclusion that a complete transfer with system-based remedial measures alone cannot be prevented. Also, network-based remedial measures seem to be only via the detour of a direct Internet connection from Windows 10 systems and Internet access (via Browser or specialized applications) through the virtualization or terminal solution, yet promising.

On Wikipedia you can find: Windows 10 transfers “a lot of data to Microsoft. For the voice assistant Cortana, Microsoft uses, for example, the communication history and the content of messages. In addition, the following information is used: location information and device history, contacts, language input, search history, calendar information. This information is stored on a Microsoft Server on the Internet. The transferred data also includes a cross-app advertising ID, which makes it possible to uniquely identify a user when using different Apps and to display personalized advertising to him as soon as he visits pages on the Internet. In addition, unspecified information on writing behavior and information on location determination (e.g. via WLANs in the environment) are transmitted. In addition, Windows 10 gives many Apps access to Webcam and microphone by default.“It is not necessary to check which data is forwarded to Microsoft and what happens to the data. This potentially puts at risk everything that is entered into the Windows machine in any Format. To reduce the risk, you have to deal very intensively with the telemetry settings of Windows 10 and turn off many functions. However, as the studies have shown, complete protection is not possible.

It also follows from an investigation for the federal administration that the dependence on Microsoft is too great. One of the pain points formulated in the examination (!) reads as follows: “Restricted information security: Due to the non-viewable source code, the Federal government has only limited possibilities to check the information security of Microsoft Software. For example, new product versions contain telemetry components that capture and collect metadata. This involves transferring and storing data on Microsoft servers that could subsequently reach U.S. authorities.”

Despite corresponding demands, very little has changed to date. As Microsoft lures users to the Cloud – where the Office package can be used online and the data stored-the Situation continues to deteriorate. It is neither known nor controllable which Software runs in the Microsoft Cloud and which tasks it performs. In addition, the US authorities have access to the data, which can also be lost at any time, as has happened to users of Adobe in Venezuela whose user accounts have been blocked without prior notice.

Is one helpless against it? No! On the Internet, there are a number of pages on so-called “digital self-defense” that explain ways of dealing more responsibly with your personal data, but also with the data of an organization or a publication organ.

To say goodbye to Windows and Word is unfortunately not easy, but possible. Instead of using the monitoring software from Microsoft, you can use the open-source, license-free Linux operating system and the included free Software.

This seems difficult, because new computers have been delivered with preinstalled Windows for a long time and are still being delivered. Almost all users have never installed a new operating system. The installation process for Linux has become easy, but most users feel overwhelmed without support. Information is plentiful on the net, there is certainly also a Linux Stammtisch near you where you get help and questions answered.

A second difficulty is that there is not “the” Linux. On the page” distrowatch” you can find almost 300 versions, so-called distributions. The advantage for the user is that he can make his choice from a large number and can also find versions for special needs such as Multimedia or graphics, education or science. Initially, this variety kills the normal users, but a request on the net limits the selection usually quickly. Another advantage is that the development of viruses for Linux is significantly impeded by the variety and Linux is therefore also significantly safer than Windows. The aspect of sustainability should be mentioned here: after an Installation of Linux, the computer is usually much faster than under Windows, so that it can be used much longer. A new purchase can usually be delayed for several years.

For the completion of the usual tasks (word processing, spreadsheet, e-Mail) there is powerful Software, which is continuously developed and is available free of charge. With this Software, at least partially the previous Workflow can be maintained. Help on many questions is usually found on the Internet. So why not take the step away from Windows and thus put a stop to the research of your own Person and the groups in which you work, and thus better live up to the responsibility you bear for them?