Category Archives: The Panopticon

Ad-blocking is essential for your privacy and security on the web.

Adblocking software has been in the news quite a bit recently due to their increasing popularity.

Guillermo Beltrà spends a lot of time surfing the web.

Yet like many avid Internet users, Mr. Beltrà hates the annoying pop-up advertisements that litter many websites. “It’s just very cumbersome,” he said.

So like a growing number of people, Mr. Beltrà, a Spaniard who works for a consumer protection organization in Brussels, decided to block them by downloading software for his desktop browser that removed any online advertising from his daily Internet activity.

While he acknowledged that advertising was often the primary source of income for many websites, Mr. Beltrà said he remained wary of how much data companies were collecting on his online activities. Mark Scott, New York Times, Blog

I have long advocated the blocking of advertising network because while many user find advertisements “Annoying” there is a far more sinister side to advertising that marketers would rather you didn’t know about.

Unknown to many users is the fact that many advertising networks embed spyware that is designed to track you across the Internet with every website you visit. They do this by embedding trackers into the advertisement that your browser then loads whenever you vist Website X using Advertising Network Z. Now when you visit Website Y who just happens to be using Advertising Network Z you are instantly identified as the person who visited Website X earlier.

But the thing that surprises most people is just how many trackers an otherwise innocent website may harbour. Let’s take a quick sample; I am using the browser extension Ghostery to show detected trackers in the purple box bottom right. (Click Images to Enlarge them.)

So CNN has 18 Trackers and The Daily Telegraph has 26 Trackers setup to betray their readers privacy, and these are only the trackers that Ghostery is able to detect.

Let’s check the last site again with both trackers and advertisements blocked:

Now we can see that AdBlockPlus has removed 23 of the 26 trackers and all the advertisments. Ghostery has detected and blocked the three remaining trackers.

These are only two websites on the Internet that I have chosen to demo for no particular reason. There is nothing abnormal about the behaviour of these sites, it is now a common practice for website operators to install malware (spyware) into websites for commercial gain because there is a lot of money to be made in violating your privacy.

It wasn’t always like this. Advertising didn’t used to involve malicious action towards the end user. Although advertisements have always been annoying it is only over the course of the past decade that they have become a specific threat that users need to block by default.

Fortunately there is a way to block most of these trackers. I highly recommend everybody install AdBlock Plus and Ghostery into their browser. Both programs are free and both will block trackers. Ghostery in particular will give you an alarming insight into just how many trackers are being used to invade your privacy. I have been using both programs for years and would not consider browsing the Internet without either of them.

Google owes you nothing; get over it.

Pseudonyms on Social Networks

Today it seems that bitching about Google is a fashionable trend. Last year we had the so called ‘Nym Wars‘ where people complained about having to use their real name instead of a pseudonym on Google Plus a new social networking site operated by Google.

Given that Google Plus is a social networking site the idea of being anonymous is an oxymoron because a name does not equal an identity. Names alone mean nothing, it is the information attached to that name that make up the identity. A pseudonym offers no privacy in the context of a social network because if you’re going to maintain a friends list and communicate with people on that list in a forum that allows other to observe your discussion, then you’re are very quickly building a profile of yourself for the world to see. Combine that profile with photographs and information shared by your friends and suddenly any privacy you thought your pseudonym offered is gone; and it’s not coming back.

Keeping your eggs in one basket.

When Google began to suspend users for non-compliance of their real names policy some users found themselves locked out of not only Google Plus but also Gmail, Calendar etc, because Google links accounts across it’s multiple services. Therefore if you get banned from one service, you get banned from all services. I don’t know if Google has a means in place to only terminate individual services linked to an account rather than ban the whole account, but I hope users would learn a lesson from this.

It’s never a good idea to put all or even a significant amount of data into any one company. I know plenty of people who use Google services for everything Documents, Email, Calendar, Address Book, it’s insane how much data people are trusting to Google. Not because Google are bad (they aren’t) but because Google is a single entity. If you find yourself cut-off for any reason then you’re screwed. Especially if you use a Gmail address in which case you lose your email address aswell. (This is why I use my own domains)

You can opt-out.

Google has just announced that it will begin sharing user data amongst the multiple services that it offers.

Google announced on Monday that it would be enacting a new privacy policy that, when customers agree to it, will allow the company to collect and store information across all of its services. Not only that, but Google will share information gathered across those services in order to “maintain, protect and improve” the services, but also to target search results and ads for each user. There is no way to opt out of the information-sharing aside from deleting your entire account and saying goodbye to your Gmail, YouTube videos, and Calendar, among other things.


Privacy groups such as Common Sense Media are concerned about users’ inability to opt out of the information collection and sharing. “Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out,” 


This is just common sense, Google are going to collaborate their records to make statistical analysis more efficient. This is for data that Google already collects from their own users, people who choose to use their service. The concern is that users “Can’t opt-out” which is not true. Users have to option of not using Google services. I should point out that most of Google’s services are provided for free, and no one is “required” to use them.

Google is a private company offering services to the public; they don’t owe the world. If you don’t like the terms of service them your opt-out is to simply not opt-in by putting all your information into Google. I’m a Google user myself but there is some information I choose not to put into Google, while other information I am happy for them to have.

You have a way to opt-out of Google, by not using their (free) services if you don’t like the terms that come as part of the deal. You will only become Google’s bitch if you let it happen. The same applies to Facebook and Twitter. Take control of your data and realise that Google don’t owe you anything.

Australian Labor: stepping back to 1984

I think Labor’s proposed National Broadband Network is bullshit. Not because we don’t need faster broadband but because Labor is offering it as bait to try and win back the voters. Having seen how fast Highspeed Broadband in mainland China is I am happy to say ‘no thanks’ to Labor’s National Broadband Network. Because while a faster Internet may seem tempting the idea of being restricted to government approved sites and services via Internet Censorship makes it a pretty raw deal.

Yes, Australia needs faster Internet but I believe there are better ways to achieve it. One of the reasons Conroy wants the ability to censor at the ISP level is because content providers; including Australian Citizens and Businesses often place their websites on United States based servers in order to avoid take down notices from Australian Authorities.

I believe the key to upgrading our infrastructure is to encourage more companies to set-up their data centres over here and the only viable way to do this is to abolish the regime of censorship that our nanny-state of a country has embraced for so long. (We don’t even have R18 for games.) Nobody is going to place servers in Australia if they think there is even the slightest change of being ordered to shut it down. I am not talking about the proposed ISP level censor here but rather the existing censorship that comes from ACMA in the form of take-down notices and $11,000 per day fines. This type of censorship has been around for many years but fortunately the Internet has help liberate the Australian people by giving them a means to speak out. The Internet has given the people a voice and freedom of speech like never before and the Australian Labor party wishes to silence it by implementing mandatory service provider level censorship. This combined with the plan to monitor the Internet usage of all Australian Citizens is destroying our digital economy and moving us towards George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty Four.

Labor will chase any would be investors away with even more draconian Censorship. In order to move forward we need to become a safe haven for freedom of speech and freedom of information. That combined with our own investments into the infrastructure will provide an incentive for overseas and Australian companies to run servers in Australian data centres which ultimately means they will be investing in Australia’s communication infrastructure and economy.

The Rise of Australia's Panopticon

The Panopticon is a concept in prison design where by every cell and inmate can be monitored from a central tower; the all seeing eye. However this concept now extends beyond the design of prisons. In the 21st century the Panopticon is creeping into mainstream society where the everyday lives of ordinary citizen are increasingly under the surveillance of government authorities. While there may be no observation tower planted at the centre, our society is increasingly reliant on technology that improves many aspects of our lives but unfortunately this technology can also be used against us and often without our knowledge or consent.

In our modern technology driven lives we are seeing an increasing intrusion into our private lives, everything from Surveillance Cameras to Biometrics to Phone Tracking is being used to track and identify us as we go about our daily lives.

It is important that we take the time to consider the ramifications of our governments increasing obsession to watch over us. Especially when it comes to our use of technology as a primary form of communication; in particular the Internet. As many of you will be aware the government is currently launching an all out assault on the Freedom of Speech that our society has always valued and taken for granted in the form of Internet Censorship. As if this undemocratic attack on our most basic human rights was not appalling enough the Department of the Attorney General is launching a fresh blow against Australian Citizens by announcing plans to force ISPs to track all internet users by keeping a log of activity for up to 2 years. This gross invasion of privacy comes just days after Attorney General: Robert McClelland demanded that the federal police investigate Google for daring to collect publicly broadcast information from Wireless (WiFi) networks. 

It is not yet time for the tin-foil hats however this alarming trend of increased government surveillance and attempted suppression of speech needs to be watched very closely. Because freedom has a price as Thomas Jefferson once said:

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  

-Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)


So Conroy is it ok for the government to invade our privacy?

It seems that Conroy may be ok with privacy invasion so long as it’s the Government and not Google. Last week he accused both Google and Facebook of violating users privacy.

Speaking before a Senate committee hearing late on Monday evening, Conroy described Google as having committed the “single greatest breach in the history of privacy” by deliberately collecting private wireless data while taking pictures for its “Street View” mapping service.

He also had sharp words for Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, claiming that the latter had a “complete disregard” for users’ privacy. The Registrer

However Conroy has raised no such concerns regarding the Governments intrusion into citizens private lives.

Australian customs officers have been given new powers to search incoming travellers’ laptops and mobile phones for pornography, a spokeswoman for the Australian sex industry says.

Fiona Patten, president of the Australian Sex Party, is demanding an inquiry into why a new question appears on Incoming Passenger Cards asking people if they are carrying “pornography”.

Patten said officials now had an unfettered right to examine travellers’ electronic devices, marking the beginning of a new era of official investigation into people’s private lives. The Age

To be fair perhaps Conroy just hasn’t gotten around to commenting yet. But there seems to be a worrying trend that the government can “Do no harm” while the rest of us require constant control.