Privacy Web Tools Grow In Popularity Following NSA Revelations
Revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance of both phone and Internet communications has resulted in a dramatic increase in the usage of search engines that are not a part of the "big nine."
- The big nine are a group of search engines that funnel data through a program called "Prism."
- Prism has been a secret program to combat foreign threats that gathers data for the NSA.
Nine search engines contribute data to Prism, including well-known entities like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Bing.
Prism participants typically store data about users' search queries for anywhere from 9-18 months.
In response, many individuals now want a more anonymous online presence, and they want it now.
Search History Privacy
A lesser known search engine, DuckDuckGo, does not store personal search histories at all.
On June 6, 2013, Google was identified as a contributor to Prism. In less than a month following that date, DuckDuckGo saw its search inquiries almost double in number. Gabriel Weinburg, CEO, agrees that his site's privacy parameters are grabbing more and more attention.
With DuckDuckGo, no personally identifiable information about users' search histories is ever stored on the company's servers. Subpoenas to acquire such information would prove to be fruitless.
Now, because DuckDuckGo does not have a history of personal preferences on its servers, it cannot as quickly suggest relevant search inquiries when one commences a search.
Not surprisingly, lists of privacy-oriented alternatives that promote more anonymity are being compiled. One is logically called "Prism Break."
Nadim Kobiessi heads up Cryptocat, a chat program that fully encrypts all messages before they are transmitted.
Law enforcement could theoretically attempt to subpoena a conversation from Cryptcat, but it would be pointless, because no one at his company can ever see an unencrypted message, given the manner in which the concept is structured.
Cyrptocat's limitation is that users at both ends have to download the software. This means letting go of the convenience of messaging through, for example, Facebook.
TextSecure is a mobile app that offers the same encryption services.
Cloud Storage Privacy
For those wanting to enjoy anonymity when using cloud storage, there is Spider Oak.
It functions a lot like Google Drive and Dropbox, but Spider Oak staff can never see the content of your user files. That's because such files are automatically encrypted. Privacy comes at a price, however. If you forget your password, Spider Oak cannot help you.
IP Address Privacy
Those wanting to prevent identification of their IP address can look to an open-source program called Tor.
This software routes your web traffic through multiple computers worldwide before it arrives at the URL that you've selected. Ironically, this technology was initially developed by the U.S. Navy, and it is still the beneficiary of government funding. Tor downloads spiked after the NSA revelations.
In the past year, the program has been downloaded over 35 million times. Current active users are estimated to exceed half-a-million in number.
The concern with Tor is that hiding an IP address by high levels of re-routing could possible result in one's IP address getting linked to another's illicit activity.
Of course, Bitcoin has brought a level of anonymity to financial transactions that heretofore did not exist. This electronic "money" is decentralized, but it is also volatile. That is, Bitcoin values can gyrate both up and down.
Acceptance of this digital currency is anything but universal, although there are even bars in NYC that now accept Bitcoin.
Although the pursuit of online anonymity can serve up a fresh set of challenges, such efforts are likely to increase, and to increase dramatically going forward. The growing awareness of what search engines have been doing with data is only likely to accelerate interest in enterprises such as DuckDuckGo.
Ralf Skirr's comment: Interesting Trend! The US press is pretty nice to those in power by not talking too much about the issue, compared to the press, for example, in my home country, Germany.
Still, as this article shows, privacy concerns are increasing.
What's the implication for business?
The implication is that businesses need to work on gaining and maintaining customer trust!
Yes, the hightened sensitivity of consumers for privacy protection is raising trust issues. A few years back consumers were scared to buy online because they didn't want to give their credit card data away. This is not a big problem anymore, but the current NSA topic is just one of many privacy topics that frequently pop up.
- Think Facebook tracking you all over the web,
- think Google combining data across all services,
- think LinkedIn account data getting hacked.
Consumers are more aware of privacy problems than ever.
Businesses can use consumer privacy concerns to their advantage if they take extra care
- to protect their customers privacy,
- and to make customers feel save.
How to do this might be subject of a future post!
Category: Cyber-Crime |