With the blog I decided to make a Twitter account as a neat way of trying to gain a bit more visibility. It’s a technique that millions of people worldwide use for their businesses, blogs, art and basically anything they do online. It’s simple, easy, quick and taps you straight into a world of people, who essentially have nothing better to do than read blogs about sexist advertising. Perfect, right?
Not really. My experience with Twitter has been super challenging to say the least. Most recently I’ve been locked out of my account three times as a result of “automated behaviour”, ie advertising this very blog.
To unlock the blog, a message simply tells me to confirm I’m the valid owner, but kind of worrying is the way it wants me to confirm this. My mobile phone number. Twitter wants my personal information, a way to link my online identity to my real life identity. This isn’t okay, and is an issue that has somewhat been added to the scale of the Gamergate controversy. The second you put your information online, you make it accessible to anyone who wants it; for whatever intent they may have.
The problem comes when companies fail to secure your information. This has been quite a loud controversy with Sony and hackers. Who took the network down citing Sony’s failure to encrypt user data as the reason. Sony aren’t the only company being irresponsible with user data, the Ashley Madison hack and the TalkTalk hacks of recent years are just two more of the notable failures. There are scarily many many more, and with far more compromising data being released.
The true danger isn’t immediately obvious, so what? They got my email address and my password, but I changed those. It’s not a big deal right? Absolutely wrong. Hackers create databases, which links data to data, creating a profile of users. Each hack can give hackers another jigsaw piece towards building a full picture of users, in a sort of mirror image to how intelligence agencies profile threats.
Of course, most of the data hackers obtain is useless. You’re not a public figure or celebrity with scandal in your email inbox that could ruin your career. So you change your information and move on, hackers are typically interested in making money and without valid and up to date information, they can’t. Email addresses, names, usernames etc can all be useful for identity fraud, but not really in any hugely profitable way. So is a lot less likely to happen. Although Credit Card numbers are often sold on the dark web.
However when we take this exact same skill set out of the dark underworld of cyber attacks, and move it to the much more publicly visible and still dark world of cyber bullying and harassment. Data links to data, and builds a bigger picture of who a person is, making it easy to track people down to their home address and terrorise them, as we saw with the Gamergate controversy.
How do we combat both of these problems with the internet? Simple. Own your data. Don’t give it up for free, restrict what you post online and be rightfully cautious. I refused to give my mobile phone number to Twitter, and instead, three times, I went through the support channels to email Twitter and have my account unlocked. The email I use is again, totally anonymous and purposely for that Twitter account and this blog. It uses false names, and a password I don’t usually use.
By controlling what data we put online we can control what other people can find of ours. We stop leaving the keys under the doormat for burglars to use to break in with. With cautiousness, we also become more aware of what we’re sharing and with who. Meaning its a lot easier to track down where online trolling and abuse are coming from – making it easier to shut out. Online trolls already practice these methods to evade detection and consequence. More often than not they take it one step further using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. It’s sort of like going on the internet’s round your friends house so your partner/parents can’t see what you’ve been looking at. They can come as browser addons, and most will not collect your data, always read before you install.
This will essentially hide your internet activity from anyone who isn’t looking at your screen. Which is how trolls online manage to operate without being caught. So why not utilise the same methods to protect ourselves? We can create content for the internet without having to sacrifice our privacy and safety that brings. In my opinion this is only possible if we take control of our data, rather than throwing it out there for anyone to take and use against us.