Are Smartphones the best surveillance devices?

Hi Internet!

Did you know that today there are more people on the planet who own a smartphone than a toothbrush? Sounds crazy, right? 😱

Odds are you’re reading this article on your mobile phone or have one in your pocket! 🔮

What’s sitting in your pocket is the most powerful tracking device ever made: localization, habits, communication. Everything could be monitored.

Mass Surveillance of Chat App Communication

Surveillance has been the subject of much controversy, especially after Edward Snowden’s expose. The idea that there are parties such as the government who are really interested in spying on you and collecting information on you is quite alarming.

In fact, you would not be blamed at all for deciding to quit all manner of communication over the internet in a bit, to ensure no one is keeping an eye on the kind of messages you send or the information you post across various internet platforms and messaging apps. Therefore, making sure that your messaging app is secure enough is important in order to ensure that your communication is protected from any third party’s snooping eyes.

Monitoring done by state, corporate and private parties to mine data to suit their purposes is quite a frequent occurrence when you are dealing with electronic online communication. This data mining, intelligence gathering process benefits these parties. In addition, there are data aggregators always present, always ready to form a profile of you based on the information you publish, and then sell that data to the government agencies, retailers, marketing agencies, technology and telecommunications companies, travel companies, health and insurance companies, financial services and analytical companies, and other interested parties.

Most people who are apologists of mass surveillance tend to think that it is only the criminals or suspected criminals who are targeted. They couldn’t be more wrong. Going by Snowden’s words:

“Even if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you are being watched and recorded.”

When you think about this, it means that the government and other parties have a wealth of information on its citizens. The only question is when an opportunity presents itself for them to use this information against you, to condemn you or to profile you for a whole host of interested parties to use as they may. Therefore, mass surveillance is synonymous with uncertainty.

While the information and communications that you send out over the internet may seem harmless now, who knows how that will change in the near and far future. For instance, a new government may come into place bent on exploiting or targeting people with particular profiles. Or this information may be used against you to the detriment of your social standing or career goals. These ways, among hundreds of other ways of data exploitation, in which information collected about you can not only be used against you now but also can be used against you in the future. It definitely makes mass surveillance something you want to avoid. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from the now mainstream mass surveillance when using messaging apps.

Use a Chat App with Secure Encryption
While there is no such thing as completely perfect security, using messaging apps that employ the best form of security-minded features and encryption such as end-to-end encryption, message deletion, and safety numbers to confirm identity, is a great way to ensure online privacy to the best extent.

Ensure your Password is Strong Enough
Passwords can be a weak point of entry if they are not strong enough. Some programs can even identify the manner in which you come up with your passwords, therefore, ensuring that you don’t use similar passwords for different chat apps and other logins, thus making them harder to crack.

What About Censorship?

Are you really sure that your messaging app is capable of protecting your privacy or bypassing government censorship? Yes, some governments tend to censor what you are able to see. Some messaging app companies may bow to the government’s pressure and conduct censorship in a bid to keep enjoying the government’s support. China, Cuba, and Oman are some of the countries whose governments are notorious for conducting censorship.

Even besides allowing the government to conduct censorship in their platforms, some messaging apps go a step further and commit the egregious act of failing to inform you that their messages are undergoing censorship, which is a grave slight against your privacy.

Keyword Blocking
Censorship in chat apps can be by way of keyword blocking, where messages that contain certain words deemed as sensitive are not received. Keyword filtering is not only done through messaging apps, search engines can also be censored to return limited results when some keywords are entered. Internet service providers and messaging app companies that are implicit in censoring of keywords use deep packet inspection to look for keywords deemed sensitive in communication flows and block such keywords. On a large scale keyword filtering, however, there are other methods, such as intrusion detection system, which disrupts connection when blacklisted content is discovered.

Of course, the excuse the government would use is that it is trying to curb you from spreading politically sensitive information or organize ‘riots’ among other ‘national security and wellbeing’ excuses. However, it is a violation of your right to privacy and free speech. Censorship also threatens the open communication and information access, in moves that undermine your civil liberties, such as the free speech that the internet advocates for.

IP Blocking
Since apps and websites have a unique IP address, the government can block access to them by instructing the ISP to block these IP addresses using a firewall, thus restricting your access to them. Since tech companies can often choose not to stand up for your rights, especially when their profits are under threat, then most carry out these orders, allowing censors access to certain messaging apps and restricting mass communication. Indeed, this method of censorship is often used in times when the public is dissenting or protesting against the government.

DNS Spoofing This is DNS (Domain Name System) tampering, which happens whenever traffic is diverted due to corrupt DNS data. Some DNS entries for messaging apps and websites can be poisoned, so that if you try to access them you will be redirected to the wrong IP address. This method of censorship used in tandem with keyword filtering can be very effective in censoring information if the tech companies and ISPs are implicit in the censorship of such information as the government requires.

To avoid censorship, using messaging apps that have found a way to circumvent it is a great move. Use chat apps that employ tight effective encryption and anonymity tools. You can also make use of encryption and anonymity software yourself by using a VPN or Tor, among other methods.

Cheers Internet, see you next time 🤫

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