Becoming Digitally Invisible

BY PAUL ELLIS

In today’s world it seems that our lives and everything we do are captured digitally. Nothing we do can escape ‘Big Brother’. You make a quick call to a friend, your service provider knows where you are as your phone connects to three mobile phone masts.  If you use Google they also know your exact location within 50 metres, something not known by many people.

“But if you’re not guilty of anything and have nothing to hide then what’s the problem?”, counter those not fully okay with today’s society; the threat of terrorist attacks is always looming in the background and in certain areas such as London acid attacks and moped muggings are ubiquitous.  So why wouldn’t you object to some anonymity? There are plenty of psychos out there.

How intrusive is ‘Big Brother’?

Take a simple everyday task such as buying a loaf of bread.  Your information is collected and harvested just like the crops that made the loaf of bread you have just purchased.  If you used a loyalty card, as most of us do these days, (Price Waterhouse Coopers reported in 2016 that 91% of global online shoppers reported that they are a member of a loyalty/reward program), the shop now knows that you bought a loaf of bread, the brand, and at what time you purchased it. In addition to this, the street you walked down has captured your image on CCTV cameras with a clear HD image of you buying that item.

As if this wasn’t enough, as you drive home you are still being “watched”.  You have your phone on you, so all the data it connects to can be harvested where you travel.  You pass an ANPR camera and it checks that you have insurance and an MOT in seconds and if you have forgotten that your MOT ran out yesterday then a prosecution letter is quickly sent out to you.

Once you’ve received this letter you go home and switch your laptop on to double check your MOT on a government website using the internet.  Now your service provider and the government have your machine access code (MAC) and this is something that you won’t usually see day to day. But every device has one and when you purchased your laptop with your credit/debit card this information is now stored digitally.

Now, should you not be home yet and decide to use local Wi-Fi, most city centres now have hotspots available for which you usually have to submit an email address, which is linked to your MAC on the device you sign in with and data is captured where you are as is any data you type into your device.

So how do you become digitally invisible in today’s world where information is key?

Well I have thought this through using many scenarios but it seems you would have to break a lot of laws to do so.  OK you could ask someone to buy you a smart phone on Pay As You Go and top it up for you using cash. But a phone can be traced as I mentioned before. Ordering anything online needs an account/address even if you pick it up from a locker. However, you can log in as a guest – even then card/PayPal details are required and can lead back to you.

The only option is to become homeless and beg for money in a town with no CCTV. Furthermore, don’t carry any technology. Only use cash in shops without CCTV.

There are some methods available to help you minimise your exposure to the digital world:

  • Hide your IP address. Essentially pretend to be someone else by routing your server so you aren’t easy to find.
  • Be careful which sites you use. Google is known for its ability to gather data, they are currently being sued by ‘Google You Owe Us’ which represents approximately 5 million Apple users.  ‘Duck Duck Go’ markets itself with the tagline: ‘The Internet privacy company that empowers you to seamlessly take control of your personal information online, without any tradeoffs.’ – they don’t have the same features and functions as Google do but they are efficient enough to carry out any search requests you may have on a day-to-day basis.
  • Try to spend less time on social media. Can you write to your long distance friends instead?  For those old enough to remember, this was a standard method of communication for years between friends and family – remember the newsletters, that couple you once met on a Cruise round the West Indies in 1973…every birth, death, marriage was described in eloquent detail to the point where your three paragraph response looked like you’d just written a school book report on the bus the day it was due to be handed in.
  • Buy in cash. Most locations will have a Saturday or Sunday market, they usually only take cash for the fruit and veg you’ve just bought or that £1.50 t-shirt that looked cute.  In addition to this you can feel good that you’re supporting your local businesses.
  • Limit you overall exposure. Instead of multiple email accounts and social media accounts, why not reduce them to just the ones you are using?  Do you need three Twitter accounts? So what if you’ve been blocked by your ex? There’s no need to keep tormenting yourself is there?
  • Recycle more. So that Prada bag might have a hole in it but is it noticeable? Do you need to buy another one? Darning socks appears to be a lost art as we quickly log onto the web and order another cheap pair, all to save a few minutes here and there in our busy lifestyles.

In this day and age even embracing the ‘Good Life’ as a way of life isn’t completely tech-free. Even for a few weeks at a time, you might find it therapeutic.

Paul Ellis BEng TMIET MBIFM is a Guest Writer for Country Squire Magazine. 

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