All Things Techie With Huge, Unstructured, Intuitive Leaps

Thrilled and Not Thrilled With Gmail -- The Anonymous Internet is Dead

For starters, I like a web based email and I use Google's gmail. At first it was a little weird because you can't make folders and do stuff like Outlook. However, I came to see that web-based email was the cat's meow, especially since I travel a lot. Gmail is a lot more resistant to viruses, and after I went to Gmail, Chrome and Avira, I have never had a virus in spite of accidentally visiting some dodgey sites.

I have been asked to try a tool written in the Ukraine that consolidates all of my email accounts, twitter, Facebook and everything into one tool. It sounds good, but the paranoid me would never trust my communications to some code written in a land where one cannot get satisfaction through the courts if my bank password credentials were ever reported back to the coder and sold to various nefarious entities operating from behind the Old Iron Curtain.

So that got me thinking about data privacy, anonymity and such, and I came to the conclusion that it is now impossible to be totally anonymous on the Internet. With the FBI running programs like the old Predator, where every single email sent is archived and trolled through for words that are "threats to the United States of America", it is impossible to be totally anonymous. Osama bin Laden knew that, and that is why he never had internet or phone service in his hideaway.

Back to Gmail. I was reading my gmail, and was absolutely fascinated how the ads were relevant to the content of my email. Once the email is opened in the browser, an AJAX widget would report back the keywords of the content of the email and offered me ads. This is a lot like the movie Minority Report where as Tom Cruise is walking, the advertising kiosks recognize him and tail ads to his tastes.

This isn't as harmless as it sounds. Picture this. Google already knows who I am. They hold my emails for me. Then, a Google widget reads my emails when I open them and sends back the key words. How much do you want to bet that Google saves those keywords and data-mines them. Remember, they know who I am. They have asked me for a backup email address and a bunch of personal information. They hold my emails, and they save the keywords of the content of my emails. They are just one small step over a thin gray line of being Big Brother.

I remember reading a book about the Allied intelligence effort in World War II. They perfected the art of content analysis. Agents would collect the newspapers from small towns around Germany. From the aggregate, they learned the entire picture of the war effort.

From the death notices, they learned the casualty rates of the war. The social columns would print up who went off to war, and they could determine troop build-ups. Other stories and public notices about rations would give them an idea what commodities were in short supply. In other words, content analysis can reveal a lot about you -- especially if you have a software widget reading the mail.

So what's the answer. I just fashioned one - a data privacy tool where one uses an encrypted tunnel to a server, and then encrypts the traffic as well. There are all sorts of crypto keys and authentications and then comes the fun part. All of the communications, such as the email, the instant messenger and such, as well as the data storage, is never broadcast over the internet. The email is non-SMTP. The instant messaging is non-IRC, and the data storage is anti-cloud. It is not somewhere over the internet -- it is in a bunker that you can visit, and the only access is through the tunnel, plus your USB key containing all of the magic. And of course, you never trust the GUI (Graphics User Interface) to a browser. It is all rich client for security.

The last piece of the puzzle, is that you buy your own server as well to host this system. Total anonymity.

Most people don't have the luxury of their own private system, so I guess that we have to get used to the idea that Big Brother is watching, and we hope that he is a benevolent Big Brother.

I have seen Big Brother, and his name is Google.

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