Thursday, 16 January 2014

Avoiding the NSA, MI6, The man from U.N.C.L.E – Part 1 (Introduction)

Ahh, the internet… probably the greatest invention since sliced bread. Which in my opinion, wasn’t that great of an invention anyway. For god sake... slicing bread… big deal. Sorry Otto, uniform thickness is so almost-100-years-ago. With the internet I’ve got email, YouTube, Spotify, Cloud Storage, Twitter, Skype, Forums, Pizza delivery… the list goes on! (No Facebook for me…Of course with this I also get PRISM (1) and Tempora (2) and the other initiatives for spying on my privacy.

This series of posts isn’t so much about the craft of software testing. It’s a series of posts about the technology we interact with as testers and as people in the connected world, the data we bring to the table, who might be interested in it and what we might do about that, by thinking like testers applying our technology understanding.

There are so many spy and privacy busting initiatives, it’s hard to believe any internet and phone activity gets away without being spied on in some way. Add to that, the likes of Facebook, Google and Microsoft are practically set-up to assist with. If not them, then the ISPs and phone companies are in on it, providing access to your activity at source.

Because we care...

Now, just to get two things out of the way before I focus on the title of this post;

1. ‘I’ don’t like being casually / arbitrarily spied on
I want and demand some level of internet and phone privacy, both from the ‘authorities’ and the public. I have separate phone numbers and ‘internet identities’ for a reason. Because I want separation between the various versions of ‘me’. My family life isn’t a topic for the testing community and testing usualy isn’t a topic my family are interested in! It wouldn’t take much for you to find my mobile number ending in 17 or my (main) gmail address. How about my number ending in 6? What about the email ending in .eu? Didn’t think so, all of the above probably have them though. Now most people have multiple email addresses, some multiple numbers and there’s no security-through-obscurity. However, I can say my entire life isn’t all conveniently packaged up and stuck in/on one place, unlike some people.

2. The old adage of not doing anything dodgy, so not having anything to fear, is complete crap
As any good tester will already have thought, define ‘dodgy’. At any point in history and in very short spaces of time, acceptable and of no concern can rapidly become the definition of dodgy. Something that’ll get you noticed, arrested and perhaps punished in some way. The populace should never be monitored just to make sure they don’t do anything ‘wrong’… this isn’t ‘1984’, Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany or Obama’s America… oh wait. Of course I’m not against the idea of individuals being checked out in the event there is some court agreed reason to do so, that isn’t ‘arbitrary’. Well, not unless the law is changed to redefine acceptable and suspicious behaviour… ah hang on. Jefferson had it right about who should fear who in the Government-People relationship.

Against that background, let’s take a man-or-woman-on-the-street look at how we can protect our privacy, hey maybe even hide, at least to some degree. Because unless you do a Paul Miller (3) vanishing act and go off-grid, I don’t think you can stay completely invisible to the world of electronic snooping. Maybe I’ll change my view about that as I dig into it more.  Along the way, I’d like to have some fun with this digging and have a nebulous idea of smattering these posts with a few tests and trials, let’s see what I can think of. Just to make it interesting, I’ve lined up a small but notable prize at the end of it for a lucky someone or two, but I’ll just hide that here as a first test of who’s reading on. This is not Cicada, so don’t panic about insurmountable challenges, the post isn’t about that, it’s about internet privacy and playing with tech. Let’s crack on by first defining the problem, before we look for a solution.
Links for the studious


Once in America, 5 eagles swooped over Obsidian Wolf, (Dave) to his friends