Dust to Dust

FairWinds Partners —  March 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

Maybe it was the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance program. Perhaps it is Google’s Big Brother approach. Or it could have been one massive data breach too many.

shutterstock_135169079Most likely a combination of the three is bumping up against the trend of connecting more devices to the web in order to share more data. There appears instead to be a growing appetite for software, devices, and services to help consumers erase their digital footprints and keep their communications and information out of view – whether from governments, crooks, or history itself.

One of the benefits of new top-level domains is that brand applicants will have greater control over the security of their information. But what about the average consumer? A number of new products are being designed to protect their information, as well.

Everyone’s heard of Snapchat, the photo-messaging service that vaporizes pictures, videos, and taglines you send to friends within second of receipt.  Although it’s been around for about three years, the app burst into the public consciousness last year when its owner turned down a $3 billion buy-out offer from Facebook. That’s a company banking on serious future growth.

More recently, the evocatively named Cyber Dust– a Snapchat for texts – promises your messages will “disappear forever and cannot be traced.” Bitter experience inspired this product, developed by entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who described his inspiration to Jay Leno on the Tonight Show. Cuban said he was sued for inside trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2008, and the government’s case relied in part on his emails. He was acquitted last fall, apparently learned a lesson, and monetized that lesson into Cyber Dust. He may have even written the company’s slogan: “Every spoken word isn’t recorded. Why should your texts be?”

For serious privacy buffs, the Blackphone is now available. Yes, black phone, as in blackouts, black sites, black markets, and black boxes. But this is no longer cloak and dagger fare. “Keep the Internet from looking over your shoulder,” urge the phone’s creators, or at least its marketers, with “world class cryptology built into every Blackphone app.”

The Blackphone also comes with additional privacy programs, according to The Verge: SpiderOak, which provides 5GB of “zero-knowledge encrypted data backup,” and Disconnect, a VPN-based search provider “to anonymize internet queries through regular search engines like Google or Bing.”

Others are launching their own versions of a black phone. The Wall Street Journal reported that aerospace giant Boeing is developing Boeing Black for government defense and security workers only, not the general public. Harking back to the 70s TV series Mission Impossible, the Boeing Black will self-destruct if tampered with.

Privacy protecting search engines are also seeing an increase in use.  Duck Duck Go, for example, prides itself for not storing IP addresses or collecting personal information.

Of course, privacy and anti-hacking tools have been around for a while. Edward Snowden, deployed a number to hide his tracks as he prepared to leak millions of NSA documents exposing the extent of U.S. cyber spying.

The granddaddy of anonymity on the web may be the award-winning Tor, free software that provides layers of encryption not just for data but also for the destination IP and then routs the data through more than 5,000 relays, making it difficult to track. Tor receives 80 percent of its funding from the U.S. government, according to Wikipedia, which probably means the USG accounts for 80 percent of Tor’s usage. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine placed its founders among the Top 100 Global Thinkers “for making the web safe for whistleblowers.”

shutterstock_102346009On the other hand, The Economist described Tor as a “dark corner of the web” because it is used by criminals to commit identity theft, credit card fraud, copyright infringement, drug sales, illicit distribution of sexual content, and the like. Ironically, both crime networks and law enforcement use Tor at cross-purposes[FP1] , Wikipedia says, sometimes at the same time.

Despite these gadgets and gizmos, there is really no such thing as 100 percent security. So, if Big Brother hasn’t found you yet, don’t worry, he will. And we don’t necessarily mean the NSA.

Last month, Google paid $3.2 billion for Nest Labs, maker of a smart thermostat and a smart smoke and carbon monoxide detector, which will collect all sorts of information such as when you are home and when you aren’t. And don’t forget Google Glass, which will be able to tell where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with.

Who knew that when Google promised to “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” they were talking about your information?

Perhaps the privacy tool industry will eventually figure out a way to make you invisible to Google Glass.

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