Saturday, 17 March 2012

Should we be keeping the Internet Free and Private?

I’ve been taking a look at some ways to hide your Internet identity lately.
Why you ask? 
What have you been up to? 
Well, nothing really. And that’s the thing most information gathering trolls rely on, people assuming they don’t have anything worth hiding. Because of this most Internet users have no idea just how much information is being built up about them.
You may not care, but you may also be shocked to find out just how much the Internet knows about you and your family.

Most security applications are based on hiding your IP (Internet Protocol) address, the number (or address) that identifies where you are connecting to the internet from, your ‘provider.’ From this the provider (the company you use to access the internet) can then find out who you are by backtracking who this IP number was assigned to.
Now first off all I want to reassure people that all those ‘I know your IP address’ threats you may have gotten from scare-ware sites trying to sell you ‘protection’ or ‘security’ software don’t amount to anything. You can’t be directly attacked by anyone knowing your IP address; if a site didn’t know this the internet couldn’t work...

But there are a lot of valid reasons for ‘hiding’ this address, and there are programs and services out there that can do this. Programs like the  TOR project provide you with a secure browser interface that uses something called 'onion routing.' This bounces your access through a peer-network of machines which hides your origonal  IP address; the one your internet provide gave you when you connected to the internet through their service. This type of program gives you anonymity at the basic connection level, and can stop advertisers and other marketers/information gatherers  from learning your browsing habits and home location (where you are in the world, not your actual house number!).
But remember as soon as you log into any service that holds your detailes you are known anyway.
Services like TOR may also be of use to get around geographic restrictions placed upon your connection, as well as providinga certain degree of anonymity when downloading software etc... This doesn’t mean it will necessarily give you free range to illegally download copywriter material or ‘warez’ though.
I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it isn’t the point of this type of program. And it won’t hide your IP when using peer-to-peer ‘torrent’ type sites.
On the other hand, some alternative peer-to-peer networks are all about protecting your identity. The FreeNet network requires you to download a client/server program that allows you browser-based access to their network. It’s a bit old and slow now, but it is still operational and has a wide range of resources available, it isn’t remotely as extensive as the internet though, and it’s more of a ‘dark-web’ curio than any real alternative browsing tool.

What does the internet know about you?
Well, probably a lot more than you think. And it may not all be 100% true!
If you have a Google (or Gmail) account you should definitely have a look at your Google dashboard. (
Are you paranoid yet? No, well let’s have a look at just one of the very many information directory sites. So go to, and type in your name. How about now?
And the acid test is the simple, but effective, ‘Type your name into the Google Search bar’ test.
How much of those hits refer directly to information about you?
I regularly show up is sites I’ve never even heard of, as well as in places I’ve long ago forgotten about. Both Google and 123people have frequently known more about me than I do...
If you are still in the small, under the radar, anonymous minority you must ether; not use the internet all that much, be very careful, very lucky; or all of these.

The anonymous internet...
Anonymity used to be the norm on the internet, you could visit and interact with sites of all types without your identity being asked for or otherwise captured. But now people are used to ‘logging in’ and generally seem to think you have something to hide by being anonymous. It’s a commercial-led attitude designed to aide in the marketability of the net, not necessarily to aide the average user. In many cases this following-net-identity can be seen as a good thing or at worst a benign marketing troll. But it can also be used to limit your exposure to resources. We all know how despicable the Korean censoring of the Internet is right? We’ve seen the news stories. But this is probably happening to the very internet connection you are using now, albeit on a lesser extent. To give a very benign example, say I wanted to look at the US version of Amazon, but I’m in the UK. So I go to and look at the Kindle story prices. It says it’s the US site. But what I’m seeing are still the UK prices. A story could be free in America but if it isn’t free in the UK I wouldn’t see this. Web based proxy sites (like are useful for letting you see the web from the perspective of the country they are hosted in. So if I go through an American based proxy site I would see the ‘proper’ American version of the site.

These sites generally consist of a front page that has a text box in which you type the address of the site you want to look at. These typically default to the appropriate Google site for the country of their origin. Go ahead and try one. You may be surprised how different the net looks from alternate countries. These types of site are completely above-board and generally free to use, relying on advertising on their mane page (or sometimes the odd pop-up or banner) for revenue. But don’t let that put you off, advertising is generally kept to a minimum and doesn’t interfere with your browsing.

I don’t do anything illegal s why should I be worried about my on-line presence?
It’s something I’ve been asked time and time again when talking about Internet anonymity. And of course the answer will always be subjective. Some people are paranoid about personal attacks or stalkers based on information obtained through the Web. Others just don’t think it is right that all this information can be gathered about someone without their express consent. But generally most people still blindly click past all those ‘terms and conditions’ pop-up screens without paying any heed to what they are actually agreeing to.
At the end of the day, if you don’t mind this information being out there that’s fine, but if you do mind it could be virtually impossible to get rid of, so be careful what information you are giving out and of what terms you are agreeing to.
The Internet is a consumers-led place of big business now, and big business wants to know all about you so they can better sell their wares.
No matter how inane or innate the information is, if you see it as an invasion of privacy then it is an invasion of privacy, and you shouldn’t need to put up with it. But in many cases you do need to agree to this in order to use many of today’s web services and that can include the big sites like face-book and Google.

People are generally very free with their personal information nowadays, especially the younger generations.
I remember the old free-to-access’ web, and I’m not sure I like where the new ‘identify-to-access’ web is heading. What do you think?

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