How to live with Big Brother

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Understanding why privacy matters

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formally published in The Other Press. February 17, 2016

While it isn’t necessarily the government that is tracking all your activity, the combination of all the data accumulated in day-to-day life is enough for them to know you better than your parents do. We can almost be certain that, although there is nobody watching us on a screen, our every action is recorded, filed away, and capable of being pulled out and evaluated by those with the credentials to do so. Most often those people aren’t people at all, they are just marketing algorithms designed to match your queries and daily behaviours with advertisements.

Now, Google isn’t out to embarrass you by exposing your search queries. TransLink will not send a message to your girlfriend if you decide to make a mysterious trip out to Surrey. Bell is not going to let your boss know that you’ve been trash talking him with your friends. These things don’t benefit the company, so don’t be paranoid.

It’s hard to trust the motives of big corporations, but I always bring it back to one question: Does such and such action cause them to lose or gain money? If your behaviour continues to benefit the business you get the service from, you can keep going merrily by—as long as you are not committing any heinous crimes.

There is no way around it; we need to trust companies to use our information ethically. However, we need to also be conscious of what information we are haphazardly giving away. See, privacy matters. Without privacy, you’ll lose control of your own life. The companies will own it.

Any sort of meaningful self-development does not happen in a group, or with Sauron’s eye watching you. It happens independently, not on Facebook and not while Googling. I’m not talking about education or improving your business skills or finding online romance, I’m talking about the growth that occurs when you are allowed room to breathe. This is the type of growth that has no deadlines and no guidance. This in essence is the life you’ll live.

We have become so obsessed with sharing our experiences on social media, telling everything we do to Big Brother, that we are forgetting the real point of our pursuits: to create memories that aren’t saved on any hard drive, except the one between our ears. We are scared of people listening in on us, but we have stopped listening to ourselves.

The season is changing. It’ll be a warm summer, I predict. This is an opportunity to get away from the information highway and do something nobody on the Internet will know. Big companies are constantly collecting data, and so should you. The good thing is, you get to decide what information you want to store: what’s spat out to you by those online or what you discover yourself. It’s up to you.

The great book of pseudonyms

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Should Facebook users be allowed to have fake names?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. January 6, 2016

Before we get into the debate of whether or not having a fake name on Facebook is justified, we must first understand why people would want to use an alias to begin with. The Internet is a public place, and like all public places, once we choose to be there, we cannot control what other people will do around us. The way we dress, the things we say, and pretty much all our actions can be visible. Visibility is sometimes seen as a vulnerability. Some people want fake names so they can conceal their account from stalkers, exes, co-workers, family members, etc. Other people just want to be funny, and use joke names to do so.

Facebook’s policy is not heavily enforced, so if you do want to use a fake name, you can do so and probably never get caught for it. However, I don’t believe you should. Facebook is equipped with numerous security features that enable you to block certain people from viewing your account, in addition to a privacy setting that cloaks all your activities until you give permission not to.

If you have a public persona, like a stage name or pseudonym, you can create a Facebook Page—which pretty much acts the same as a profile—with some limited functionalities. This is great for interacting with those who don’t know you personally. You can monitor and moderate it as you please.

Some worry about the security on Facebook. The fear of Big Brother is one that lingers on their skin every time they enter their real name into a computer system, but believe me, there is more data locked in your credit card and smartphone than there is on your Facebook account. Who cares if the government sees what you are posting? As long as you aren’t plotting a terrorist attack, you’ll be fine. On top of that, if someone wants to find out your real identity, they can do it; a fake name is the crappiest form of security. You don’t need a front door to break into a house; there are many ways to get in.

For the other point, joke names are funny, sure. But as far as comedy goes, it doesn’t have strong sustaining power. After a while, even the friends who found your joke name humourous will become a little annoyed, having to think twice when trying to invite you to an event because they are used to thinking of you by your real name. If you have a nickname that everybody uses to refer to you, that is a different story.

Our names are a part of our identity. While I believe there should be a certain amount of freedom on the Internet, I also believe that we should be visible in a space with so many dark corners. We can add locks, but we shouldn’t add to the shadows. If you don’t want people to see pictures of your vacation, don’t post it. If you are getting harassed, inform the authorities. If you are having an identity crisis, seek help. Remember that on Facebook nobody knows you are a dog—but they should if you are, shouldn’t they?

Cash and burn

Image via Thinkstock

Welcoming a world without cold hard cash

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 23, 2015

With the ubiquity of credit cards and mobile payment, fewer and fewer people are carrying cash with them on a daily basis. I barely ever carry cash around, just a couple of bills in case of an emergency—like if a hot dog stand doesn’t accept debit. Aside from that, I rely mostly on my cards and mobile device to pay for my purchases. If suddenly cash ceased to exist, I don’t believe it would affect me much.

In a way, I believe cash will inevitably become obsolete, the same way gold coins at a market can only get you odd looks. Cash, after all, costs money to make, which is a paradox worth some time pondering. In a 2014 poll conducted by Leger Marketing, 56 per cent of Canadians reported that they would be happy to never touch money again and only use digital wallets. If you are currently relying predominantly on cash, it’s a probably a good time to start implementing a more modern way of payment. After all, the new way is more organized, it’s more accessible, and it’s even cleaner.

Relying on another form of payment aside from cash is a reliable way of keeping track of funds. Payment and banking innovations have changed the way people handle money. Instead of having a roll of fat cash in your pocket or a stack of bills in your wallet, you’ll just have a number. No more miscounting or miscalculations. There will come a day when we will never have to fumble with change to tip our server or board the bus. It’ll simply be taken off your credit, tab, or account.

Security is a still a prime concern for those engaging in digital payment. In a cashless world, frauds, privacy infringements, and identity theft will be ever-present crimes. There is no reason to be afraid of such an incident as long as we are responsible. Muggings and robbery have been happening for ages, in every form of currency from coins to chickens. Crime is a natural part of the system, and the security infrastructure currently in place is as dependable as any infrastructure to protect a person’s valuables.

We are approaching the world without cash. Maybe it won’t happen this decade, but if trends are to continue we will be relying on the dollar bills less and less. We will be buying stuff with cards, tokens, codes, and whatever else our smartphone utilizes. Our money will always be in our control, but how we interact with it is changing. Social media is a now a payment transaction vehicle. I’m ready for it. It’s going to make spending easier, and for those who hate shopping, like me, I’m eager to get what I want without thumbing through my hard-earned money.

Anti-Theft Devices: Are They Worth the Money?

Posted by  | October 09, 2014 |
Originally Published on Unhaggle.com 
Anti-Theft Devices: Are They Worth the Money?

Anti-theft devices exist in many forms to combat the variety of car thieves out there. From high-tech GPS-based tracking systems to low-tech steering-wheel locking mechanisms, anti-theft devices are car owner’s last line of defence in unfamiliar parkades and dimly-lit streets.

Here are some good news and bad news. Bad news: according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Canadians spend approximately $1 billion each year due to stolen automobiles. Good news: from 2011 to 2012, 4,500 fewer vehicles were stolen, which adds up to a vehicle theft decrease of 57% in the past decade.

What does this all mean for car owners? It seems that although there is a clear decline in car theft, there is still a lucrative market out there that thrives on stolen car parts, which is why anti-theft devices are still needed. But, are they worth the price and inconvenience?

Here are some pros and cons to help you decide whether your vehicle requires any anti-theft devices:

Pro: Technology Has Improved

Car alarms used to have this spastic siren that both alerts and annoys the user. A gentle bump can be misconstrued as a code-red breach and everyone in the neighbourhood would know about it. That is no longer the case. The latest car alarm innovations include multistage electronics that work with shock sensors to gage whether the nudge was accidental or intentional.

In addition, new inaudible alert applications can be downloaded to car owners’ smartphones. If someone is breaking into your vehicle or a shopping cart crashed into it at the store, you’ll know right away via Push Notification.

Con: Thieves Have Improved As Well

Hoodlums are afraid of car alarms, professional thieves aren’t. Many anti-theft devices are built to stump the amateur, but present little resistance against the experienced.

Alarms alert and immobilizers slow down the thief, but other than that, they really don’t do much. It goes to show that devices are just the most basic form of prevention.

Pro: It Only Needs To Work Once

Although anti-theft devices can cost thousands of dollars, they only need to work once to pay off. If you only have liability coverage with your insurance company, the most you can get is the vehicle’s reimbursed market value if it is not found or cost of repairs if the vehicle is found, but in poor condition and under a certain amount of days.

In a quick comparison, you’ll see that a security device is a cheaper solution than a long-term comprehensive auto insurance plan.

Con: Nothing Beats Common Sense

Often you don’t need security at all, because common sense might do just fine. Some car owners can’t even tell you what anti-theft features are out on the market, because they don’t need to. Instead, they use their best judgement when they park their car.

Car theft is most common in urban areas, and older vehicles are much easier to be broken into and disassembled for parts. By being aware of your surroundings and concealing valuable items within, you are already doing a part in preventing theft.

Pro: Security Features May Lower Your Premium

That said, having additional anti-theft features may qualify your vehicle for a discount when purchasing insurance. Statistically speaking, cars with security features are less likely to be broken into and stolen, so many insurance companies will offer a lower premium for that very reason.

Most Common Anti-Theft Devices

Additional devices for your vehicle may be a costly endeavor, but in my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons, and I believe that it is better to have one than not. What is that old childhood adage? Better safe than sorry.

Here are a few common security features you should consider:

Steering-wheel lock ($25 – $100): Commonly known as clubs, steering-wheel locks are very common and do a decent job immobilizing the vehicle, while also limiting its manoeuvrability. However, it is not foolproof, and professional car thieves will not be foiled by it.

Alarm system ($40 – $1,400): Always useful in getting attention, but not always useful in getting help. If a car alarm doesn’t scare away the thieves immediately, there is little struggle presented after.

Kill switch ($10 – $125): Although some cars don’t allow for a kill switch, it is still an effective system for shutting down the engine, which leaves thieves stranded in a stolen vehicle. In order for the kill switch to work, it must be concealed or the thief might disable it.

GPS-based vehicle tracking system ($500-$1000): Tracking systems don’t exactly stop criminals from stealing your vehicle, but they do offer a 90-per-cent return rate by working with your local law enforcers.

NuData Security Reduces the Risk of Account Takeover Frauds by Detecting Criminals Earlier

Vancouver firm NuData Security is challenging how the online security industry deals with web fraud.

“The earlier you can detect fraud or criminal activity the sooner you can put a stop to it,” Jules Campeau, CMO of NuData Security, explained to Techvibes, “whereas a lot of our competition are looking at it after the fact—analyzing it in a forensic manner we are able to give accurate intelligence before it happens.”

A website is not a house: you can’t lock the doors, bar the windows and sound the alarms every time someone browses. You want those who visit to feel welcome, after all that is the whole purpose of a website. But how do you prevent those unsavory characters from entering your home page and soiling your cushions, tracking dirt onto your carpet and taking all your belongings?

In 2009, NuData Security became the solution for a struggling and publicly disliked CAPTCHA market. They created a behavioural analytics engine to understand and profile users before any critical events on the site occur enabling them to show a countermeasure that matched the threat profile of the user.

The behaviour technology developed and now NuDetect, NuData Security’s premiere web-fraud protection software, is protecting the world’s top e-commerce sites and gaining recognition from Gartner Inc., the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company, in the Magic Quadrant for Web Fraud Detection.

“NuDetect profiles the user and provides a score based upon not who the user is, but what the intent of the user is,” said Campeau. “It can look at every single interaction event. That can be as simple as a mouse click, a stroke across your smart phone or as complex as filling out a form or entering a password.”

“We look at all events on the website as it leads up to a critical decision point, where you might be authenticating or making a financial transaction,” he continued. “We then compile a profile score on that user and then compare that to what is considered good and bad behaviour on your particular website and in the NuData Cloud to determine if the user is a potential threat.”

NuDetect customizes their scoring algorithm for each unique client, whether they are an e-commerce or a government site. What might seem like loyal customer behaviour on one may be incriminating on another. If NuDetect spots a suspicious user trying to purchase a product or alter information on the website, it would send a risk score to the client. From there, the client assesses the situation and determines the best action going forward, whether it is flagging the transaction for later review or blocking it completely.

“What our clients won’t tolerate,” said Campeau, “is if we’re blocking good customers from transactions. That is called a ‘false positive’ or a ‘customer insult.’ Our clients take that issue  as seriously as they do blocking the actual fraud transactions.”

The technology for NuDetect, behaviour analytics and online security are all continuously innovating. There is a lot to anticipate for the future, but NuData Security is developing features that will help companies determine if someone is pretending to be you. By recognizing biometrics, how you swipe your phone or the speed of your typing, the technology can decide whether there is abnormal behaviour on your device or on your account.

“Recently, the game maker Ubisoft had a data leak,” said Matthew Reeves, Marketing Associate of NuData, “they reported that someone internally had their password stolen. What we hope is that in the future even if the password and username is correct, you could tell they are using the site differently. Like a secondary check.”

“It’s not to say we are going to block you,” Campeau added, “but we might not instantly give you access to sensitive information. We might give you access to your email or the Internet, but we are going to check out some things before we do that. What we are is an enabler for companies to take action on those behaviours.”

NuDetect protects the world’s most successful e-commerce sites, odds are NuData Security is currently protecting websites you frequently use. That is why they are now standing face to face with some of the world’s online security industry leaders, competing with such names as RSA, American Express and etc. A great achievement for a Gastown company that only three years ago rebranded themselves, adapted to the a new technology and changed the game of online security.