3 Epic Consumer Privacy Fails

You have no security. None. It may seem like you are safe, either on your computer or phone, but you aren’t. Companies who claim to be protecting you are actually taking your data and using it to their advantage, and some have even allowed other firms to invade your privacy without you knowing and gather data about you, which is used for who knows what, but the thing is is that your privacy shouldn’t have been violated, regardless of the reason. Companies have taken your privacy and put it behind other priorities, mainly money. It all seems to come back to money doesn’t it? The world appears to work that way.

One company you may be familiar with is Verizon, and boy, are they familiar with you. “Verizon takes customer privacy seriously,” said Debra Lewis, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless. Why did she need to say that? Don’t they already value it? Well, Verizon couldn’t give less of a crap about your privacy, and they want to violate it so, so bad. This time around they are doing it through “super-cookies”, which track how people use the web on their phones. These are undeletable and detail your online activity, which is great data for Verizon and marketers, as they can use this data to sell you more stuff. The thing is, they shouldn’t even be collecting this information (what’s wrong with just using good ol’ marketing researchers?), and they don’t tell you they are collecting it. Recently, AT&T got caught doing this to their customers but they totally admitted to it and removed them. Verizon isn’t so nice (they’re actually kinda shitty over there) and don’t even give you an opt-out opportunity. When AT&T got caught, Verizon got some fingers pointed at them as well but they flipped everyone the bird and just kept doing it, thinking it was an issue that few people would understand. That was pretty much a fucking awful idea (kind of ironic that they thought no one would understand their reason for planting super cookies when it’s hard to reason why they would do such a thing when the consequences could be so disastrous).

If you don’t care about Verizon knowing a lot about you, fine. How about some hackers? Yup. Hackers. They can use the super-cookies to gather information critical to you, including banking and email account information. Shit you really want to keep between yourself and you. You don’t want to let a hacker have such a bevy of information, but Verizon doesn’t seem to mind all that much. They are “working on” creating an opt-out for the cookies, but that doesn’t cut it; it needs to be available right now. But really, the cookies never should have existed. Verizon has told customers that they can opt out by going to the MyVerizon site, but *facepalm* there is a cookie on the site that automatically “enrolls” you in a system that tracks everything you do online (either on your phone or computer, depending on what you used to visit the site). While Verizon tries to “help” you protect yourself, they are completely violating your privacy. I’m sure you’re already looking online for another cell provider, but be careful- Verizon is watching.

People who want to violate your privacy to score valuable information about you can’t catch a break these days, can they? I’m sure you have heard about Lenovo and Superfish and how both created a sneaky little way to watch you while you thought you were safe. If not, well, you might want to just chuck your laptop off the nearest cliff. Superfish used to be a relatively unknown company until it got a deal with Lenovo to preinstall its adware on 12 different Lenovo laptop models. How many of these laptops were purchased by regular people? Millions. Untold millions. What did they do, you ask? Well, this adware that was preinstalled completely violated your privacy, and in a way you would have never known. It tracked any and all online activity and “hijacked” the security system that is supposed to make all of your activity and communications safe from prying eyes. You know that little padlock you see in your address bar when you visit a site such as Google? That means the web page is safe for you to use without having anyone or anything learning a little too much about you. Well, with Superfish on your Lenovo laptop, this small padlock doesn’t mean jack shit. You might as well post your social security number on Facebook. How could Lenovo, a company that used to be in peoples’ good graces, do this to its customers? In a nutshell, Lenovo figured Superfish was behaving nicely and didn’t bother to peek over their shoulder and verify everything was a-okay. Superfish had been known to mess around with SSL connections prior to their Lenovo deal, and Lenovo went along with them anyway. They probably figured Superfish would play nice this time. Nah. This software was intended to show you ads specified for you based on your online activity, which it did, but by “hijacking” or really imitating the SSL connection, you become very prone to hackers’ attacks and could easily be screwed over just by shopping on Amazon, for example. Can I remove this from my laptop? No. Security specialists found that it is so deeply ingrained in your PC that antivirus software couldn’t find it at all.

Lenovo made a deal with a suspicious company knowing about their history, let it install privacy-murdering software, and then said “it wasn’t our fault,” pointing their finger at Superfish. A week or two later, they came around and admitted to their screw up, but the damage was already done. Sure, they created a program that would uninstall Superfish’s adware, but data about you could already have been stolen in large quantities by then. I think a scathing letter addressed to Lenovo would be in order (and I stress “letter,” since you might want to avoid using your PC now that you know all of this). Never mind Superfish, they were going to keep doing what they have been doing regardless of who they do business with; Lenovo, the grown adult in this situation, should have known not to deal with a company with such a malicious history (the bad kid in this metaphorical community) and let it provide privacy-violating software that would then affect millions of perfectly innocent customers (Lenovo’s poor little children).

It’s one thing for a company to do something really stupid; it’s another thing for them to take their damn time fixing the issue and still avoid admission of guilt. Superfish created the problem, but it was Lenovo who let it impact millions of people when they should have avoided any deal with a company with malicious intentions such as Superfish. The big guys can be so stupid, and the little guys can be so, so smart. Not a great mix for bystanders.

Before you hop into your space pod and leave this forsaken planet, you should also know about StingRays. Not that stingy fishy-thing that killed Steve Irwin (oh hush, it’s not too soon, it’s been nine years) but StingRays are devices used by Big Brother, among others, and they intercept cell signals for surveillance purposes, among other things. For example, police in California use them to tap phones (even yours, so watch out when you text your homie about the weed you just bought).

The Harris Corporation is the body behind this, and the technology they provide has been used for good, like when the government uses it for counter-terrorism purposes. Big Brother also uses it to look in on what you’re up to, and you never know when it is happening. Can anyone stay out of our business? But back to the StingRay- what does it do? Well, it does a whole lot, all of which violate your privacy without you having to know about it. It forces your phone to connect to it by telling your phone that it is cell tower, and a “cell tower” that is providing a signal stronger than the one you are connected to, and this lets the StingRay user knowexactly who is using the “cell tower” signal, which makes it easier for them to listen in on the call they want to tap. The end purpose is fine, but the way its done is a little sketchy and invasive. It can also record phone calls and block all cellular traffic in a certain geographic area. Even when you’re not on your phone, and I mean even when it is in your pocket, they can easily track your movements (Big Brother’s version of Find My iPhone), and they can jam your phone without disrupting any other cellphone users to collect data on you from your phone. Crazy shit.

There are numerous companies that gather information on you without you knowing, and many are companies we all know well. The thing is, they sell it to other companies who then use that data to either try to sell you more stuff or they use it to steal even more from you. So who can you trust? Google. They openly promote encryption (the HTTPS you see in the address bar) and sites that are encrypted rank higher on Google searches, which is good for everyone. You get to visit trusted sites to do whatever you’re doing online, and the companies/people behind the sites get a little bump up in Google’s rankings and then receive more traffic. Google is here to protect you, to make sure the Internet is a place where you can safely learn or shop or whatever you want to do. Google is a company that is prominent enough to make the web safe, and they have even started something called Project Zero, where they collaborate with hackers to locate bugs or malware. Google realizes that it isn’t cool to be on the web and have very private information taken from you without you knowing, let alone okaying it, and know that a lot of it isn’t used for good. They are a large company, but they are here to protect you; they want a safe web experience for everyone- its just up to you to believe them.

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