Privacy Wars – Part 1: They know everything about you

Well, that didn’t take long. The recent revelation of the Cambridge Analytica data debacle has left Facebook firmly on the nose and may finally prove to be the catalyst for change when it comes to who we trust with our personal data.

It’s been a talking point among Equity.Guru staff this past week, with my colleague Braden Maccke pointing out “The sum total of the messages you send tell numerous stories about you that you don’t even know yourself. You ready to just hand that over?”

He has a point.

We (your scribe included) did though, didn’t we – without as much as a thought. We weren’t paying enough attention. Are we now?

I am. You should too.

Why? Because it has gone too far. The data is not just being used for marketing purposes. We can no longer rely on what we’re being told is the truth.

More importantly, we have the power to change things. It’s our data. We are ultimately in control of it.

Web developer Dylan Curran received his 15 minutes of fame this past week after divulging just how much data the tech behemoths store on us.

The story, detailed via his Twitter account, quickly went viral.

Are you worried?

Fear not.

Salvation is at hand.

Change your consciousness, change your reality.

Let the Hunger Games begin.


Facebook – All empires fall eventually

How did we become so addicted to Facebook? Easy – We’re all searching for that dopamine hit to escape the ugliness of life at times. The bottle, the pill, the pipe, the needle.

That and FOMO.

Says it all, really

Facebook (FB.NASDAQ) gave us our dopamine hits in small, repeatable doses. A like here, a share there.

And in return, it took far more than its pound of flesh.

At the tail end of 2017 we threw together a year-end piece. Here’s a snippet of what I said about Facebook three months ago, looking ahead to 2018:

“could face some serious headwinds in 2018” – we’re there already and only a quarter of the way through the year.

Things heated up in the Social Media space quicker than even I imagined they would. When investing, especially according to a theme, you often need to get set before the music starts.

I called FB a short back then at USD 180 (I know, we don’t short – it was a paper trade as I’m still waiting for someone to recognize my market smarts and set me up with a lazy 10MM so I can start a hedge fund and base myself in Singapore. Anyone?)

Source: stockcharts.com

The trendline on the weekly which has tracked a few years of growth has well and truly been broken to the downside now, and that short is nicely in the money.

What did I know that others were missing?

Myself, perhaps.

I’d given away FB that year and was much happier for it.

My productivity began to soar with the app removed from my phone, a trend which continues to this day. If you want to get shit done, it’s all about maintaining focus on the task at hand. No distractions. Zero.

Have I suffered? Not at all! In fact, I recently added WhatsApp & Line chat groups into the mix. Gone too

You can still find me if you know where to look 😉 That’s the way (aha, aha) I like it!

A liability in the hands of the unskilled

Add to the mix people shooting themselves in the head on Facebook live (and other depravity) and kids taking their own life after being bullied (a tragedy), the question needs to be asked – is this an app we really need in our lives?

Not forgetting:

  • Idoits who claim medical benefits while posting pics of their vacation to Los Cabos
  • People getting fired for publically dissing their bosses
  • Playing into the hands of identity thieves by handing over all your important identifiers including home address and date of birth
  • Posting all your children’s pictures which could easily fall into the wrong hands
  • Announcing warts and all details of a recent breakup
  • Crims taunting cops (ok, these can be funny!)

Oh, and when you posted you were feeling depressed the other day – there’s a chance you’ve just become ineligible for insurance coverage (or you may have to pay more to get it)

Jail time for sharing a Facebook post? Yes, it’s happened.

Not to mention the many scams which are part of the FB experience. Does this sound familiar?

“Help! I’m traveling outside the country right now, but my bag was stolen, along with all my cash, my phone and my passport. I’m stranded somewhere in South America. Please, please wire me $500 so I can get home!”

#deletefacebook

You’ll feel better for it, trust me.


Google – Don’t be evil?

It always struck me as a crazy line for defining their corporate conduct. Hiding in plain sight perhaps?

Google is everywhere. Could we survive without their apps? Probably, but it would take work. A lot of work.

They are watching you. Right now. Don’t believe me?


Google Timeline

Is it news to you that via your smartphone Google is tracking your every move?

I took a look at mine and will share some insights and offer up feeble explanations.

I spent the Xmas holiday period with friends down in Rayong, a few hours drive south of Bangkok.

On the way back, wife 2.0 sanctioned a 48 hour R&R stop in Pattaya (aka Sin City). She won’t let me go there alone now, and for good reason.

Here’s where Google says I was during those few days:

On the face of it – a married man spends 48 hours in Pattaya, Thailand. Stays in a cheap hotel, hits Hooters, a massage place, a few restaurants and a street full of go-go bars.

Joining the dots, what would you think?

But it wasn’t like that. Here are the feeble explanations I promised:

The sliders rock – the onion rings, not so much. Photo: Craig Amos
Hooters Pattaya – I have been, but not on that particular trip. Overpriced. One and done.

So why the ‘ping’?

Turns out we were staying at a guesthouse above an Indian restaurant which was next door to Hooters – prices were sky high, as we found out when we did a couple of ‘walk-ins’ at our preferred hotels. We were going to have to slum it for a few nights so I had enough beer money.

At USD 30 per night, it represented great value, as long as you didn’t mind the kitchen exhaust fan outside the window sounding like an FA-18 with its engines primed for take-off from the flight deck.

Or the flimsy lock on the door which could be opened with a piece of paper.

Oh and don’t bother trying to get any sleep before 2 AM – thank Hooters for that!

Tequila Reef Cantina, then on to Walking Street

Was I at Walking Street? Surely I just grabbed a chicken kebab and a quick beer (*cough*).

As it turns out I ran into an old schoolmate (let’s call him Dave) in the Starbucks that morning (serendipitous – didn’t need you Facebook!)

We made plans to meet up later that evening and sunk half a dozen coldies before deciding where to head for some grub.

Mexican won, as it often does. Even in Thailand.

After all dining at the Tequila Reef (I always head there if I can, the Margaritas are to die for!) the Mrs decided to head back to the crib while the lads jumped on the baht bus and headed to the strip to check out the action.

Oh, and Google knows we didn’t walk there, but instead ‘drove’. WTF? Seriously?


Click to enlarge

Scary as fuck.

If memory serves, we had a couple at Toos, a quick look at Soi Diamond and then stumbled around the back streets trying to find a bar called Secrets. Couldn’t, so it remained a secret, at least to us.

[Soi Diamond off Walking Street. See I wasn’t lying about the chicken kebab! Source: Pinterest]

After realizing we were both indeed drunk, we said our goodbyes and I pointed Dave in the direction of a late-night pharmacy, as I felt he might need some pharmacological assistance with his ‘date’.

As for the Mrs? She was fast asleep when I got back to the hotel in the early hours.

What time did I get back? (I know she’ll ask the next day) Not sure. Hang on, Google’s got me covered. Says I was at Walking St for 2 hours until about 1 AM.

I swear I did not slip her a mickey finn.

[One of my favorite bars in Thailand, Toos, is a typical Thai bar located on the appropriately named Soi BJ just off Walking Street. Not a chrome pole in sight, it’s where many of the local lasses tend to head to catch up on the latest gossip while drinking moonshine known as ‘Ya Dong’. They have a tattoo studio in the back where the proprietor does excellent handiwork. I can attest to that, as I am sporting some ink that he put down a few years back which is still looking good. Being able to knock back a few beers while getting inked – priceless (try that in Oz!] Photo: Craig Amos

VIP Sauna & Massage

This one looks bad, I know. But I can explain!

It’s one of the true gems in Patts, which will one day make way for another condo.

A haven away from the madness which often engulfs even the casual visitor to this place.

For the princely sum of THB 180 (~ 6 bucks), you can kill a few hours in the Sauna, Steam room and Whirlpool. They bring you a jug of cold water and a slice of watermelon to boot! Grab a half-decent book which you’ve been trying to finish for the best part of a year and you’ve got yourself a relaxing 3 hours.

Yes, they offer oil massages, but I don’t fancy your chances of a happy ending here. Don’t worry – there are hundreds of other places nearby which will accommodate you, if that’s your thing (hey it’s Pattaya after all)

Eastiny Seven and Das Berliner

Source: TripAdvisor

I have stayed at Eastiny Seven (a hotel) in the past but never again. Thai defamation laws prevent me from elaborating.

So another incorrect ‘ping’.

On this occasion, I was sitting at a bar opposite the hotel waiting for a mate who was staying there. Big Brother knows I stayed there in the past, a little scary (as I’ve deleted FB). They probably knew my mate was staying at the hotel and I was waiting for him (has anyone seen my tinfoil hat?)

A shout out to Das Berliner, one of the best places to knock back a perfectly cooked Pork Knuckle.

Yeah I was there, and Google didn’t miss it (it’s on the transit map above, sigh)

Postscript: The morning after the Walking St outing, I was in a complete panic as I was sure I had lost my wallet (which contained my passport – bugger the cash!). You know the feeling in the pit of your stomach when something like this happens, right? Terrible!


Had it fallen out of my jeans?

Had I left it on the counter of the 7/11?

Had a Ladyboy stolen it? (Don’t laugh)

None of the above.

Luckily I had thrown the wallet into one of the wife’s shopping bags upon my return to the hotel room, I guess in an attempt to hide it from strangers in the night.

Tequila always makes for interesting nights.


mail – the ultimate email killer

Have free email they said. It’ll be easy, they said.

Are you beginning to understand the true cost of free?

Back in the day, when email was kinda a new, new thing someone composed an email message using a program like Thunderbird or Outlook, then clicked Send.

The message was sent to a server using a protocol known as SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol).

Eventually, it reached your email server, before being downloaded onto your PC.

The message was deleted from the server. Only you and the sender had copies of the message.

No one else.

It was a little inconvenient, sure. To read your mail, you had to be on your PC. Starbucks was for drinking coffee.

If your PC died, so did your email archive. Unless you were a geek or knew one, in which case you might have had a backup lying around somewhere.

Then came the web.


Then came webmail – think Yahoo, Hotmail, Rocketmail and many others. Some free. Some not. A game changer, now you could access your email from anywhere you could find an internet connection.

Handy, right?

You didn’t need to worry about backups anymore. But the flipside was they could trash your entire email account in a flash without giving you any reason.

Then came Gmail.

Initially, you needed an invite. Then the unwashed were allowed in.

Once it became clear that Gmail was real, and not an April Fools’ joke, invitations became highly desired. Although the limited rollout was born of necessity, it created an aura of exclusivity which contributed to its publicity windfall. “Everyone wanted it even more. It was hailed as one of the best marketing decisions in tech history, but it was a little bit unintentional”

Game over.

We came in droves as the piper played. And stayed.

Think about the different types of data stored in your email.

Here are some of mine..

  • Correspondance with lawyers
  • Travel plans – flight confirmations, hotel bookings, frequent flyer statements
  • Financial transaction confirmations – Stocks, bank transfers and Amazon purchases
  • Credit reports
  • Rental agreements
  • T-Shirt Hell notifications (can’t wear them anymore outside the house)
  • Utility bills
  • Website newsletters [hey I don’t think they’ll worry about the Equity Guru subscription ;-)]

It’s all there just waiting for someone with malfeasance to strike.

Back in 2013, The Guardian reported:

People sending email to any of Google’s 425 million Gmail users have no “reasonable expectation” that their communications are confidential, the internet giant has said in a court filing.

Consumer Watchdog, the advocacy group that uncovered the filing, called the revelation a “stunning admission.” It comes as Google and its peers are under pressure to explain their role in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance of US citizens and foreign nationals.

“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy,” said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director. “People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy, don’t use Gmail.” (emphasis ours)


Google Search and Youtube

Do you remember AltaVista?

Exactly.

So how long have you been using Google then? If you’re anything like me, more than a decade. Easily.

Imagine how many searches you’ve racked up in that time? Probably 5-6 figures worth, I’d say.

And Youtube?

I’m guessing you’ve watched a few of their videos?

Some old music videos from the 80’s maybe, a few cat videos (natch!) and quite possibly some other stuff you don’t want to share with the group.

I understand. No, really.

It’s called privacy.

What does your search history say about you, and what would others infer were it to fall into the wrong hands?

I’ve decided to find out, to get the same insights Dylan Curran discovered.

It’s a process which takes a few days to complete and when ready you’ll receive an email with the following:

I’ll get back to you with some details of what those files contain in a later installment. Promise!

I dare say it will tell some of those ‘hidden stories’ Maccke was referring to.

In his 2005 study, the industry analyst John Battelle describes Google as a ‘database of intentions’, ‘a massive clickstream database of desires, needs, wants, and preferences that can be discovered, subpoenaed, archived, tracked, and exploited for all sorts of ends’. Exploring search queries from someone’s browsing history can give us some clues about this common relationship, probably the most personal one, between a person’s mind and this giant company.

Source: via https://labs.rs/en/browsing-histories/

You’re not an enemy of the state, right?

We owe Edward Snowden a debt of gratitude for the risks he took and the price he continues to pay for exposing the data collection practices of the NSA, where he worked as a contractor.

After copying a bunch of classified files onto a thumb drive, he hightailed it to Hong Kong where he met with a few trusted journalists and days later the world knew just what was going on inside the Chamber of Secrets.

How Snowden changed the world

Source: ExpressVPN

The story became a Hollywood movie directed by Oliver Stone, which wasn’t bad, but I’ll give you one better. This documentary, as told in Snowden’s own words, is compelling viewing.

Here’s the video you’re looking for:

The old if you’ve got nothing to hide argument just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Stay tuned for the next installment titled “They’re coming for your cash”

In the meantime you’d best get busy building a Faraday cage in your house.

–// Craig Amos (aka DBCooper)

FULL DISCLOSURE: The author holds no positions (long/short) in any stocks mentioned in this article.

Oh, and for anyone celebrating it, Happy Easter!


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Disclaimer: ALWAYS DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH and consult with a licensed investment professional before making an investment. This communication should not be used as a basis for making any investment.

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