[This is the text of the book review from episode 44.]
The book this episode is The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy by Violet Blue.
Shortest version possible: The internet is out to steal your information and sell it to the highest bidder. Or everyone. It doesn’t even have to be the correct information.
You can lock down as much of your online life as possible using the tips in this book, which is good to know, because I was holding my phone in one hand to read and packing to move to a cave with the other hand.
Walter the Intern(also known as Walter my husband) put together a resource page of the apps, extensions, browsers, data back ups and other things Blue suggests.
The reason this book is aimed at women (I admit ‘girls’ raises my hackles and it’s the word for women used throughout the book) is because women are targets online merely for existing. A man and a woman can make the same controversial statement on the internet and the guy may receive a ‘fuck off’ but the woman will receive gendered insults, rape threats and death threats.
These tips can be used by any person who wants to have control over who receives their information.
There’s a long section where the author explains exactly what a malicious person could do with only a phone number and email address that’s more terrifying than any horror film.
What I learned is—never use your phone number for two-step verification. Facebook doesn’t need it. Facebook just wants all of your information because the more info it has on you the more your information is worth when they sell it.
If this sounds like paranoid fabrications—warnings about the evils of the internets! Everyone’s out to get you! Then have some background on Violet Blue. This is from the end of the book.
Violet Blue is an investigative tech reporter at CNET, Zero Day, ZDNet, and CBS New, as well as an award-winning sex author and columnist.
She also broke the story of Anonymous hacking the U.S. Federal Reserve, when Snapchat was hacked and its user database was exploited and when Comcast was hacked, amongst other stories about large companies like Apple being hacked. Do you remember that video of hackers showing how to hack an iPhone in 60 seconds? That was her story.
This isn’t some random person in a tinfoil hat in a shack in Nebrahoma, ranting about the Government trying to steal your memories through your phone.
Some companies want your information so they can target ads to you. But some of the things people can do (or actually do) is malicious. If you want to shut these evil bastards out of your online life as much as possible—start with this book.
The first section is called Get Smart and covers several things you should do right now like covering your webcam, since they can be turned on remotely and in such a way you won’t know it’s on. I bought this book bundled with a set of stickers made for this purpose on Violet’s site—they’re easy to remove and won’t leave a residue. You can also get the stickers on their own. Or just use a post it note.
The second section is about why your phone number is not ‘just’ a phone number. It also has a list of information that’s safe to give out, information you should be wary about giving out and information you should never give out when signing up for an account. These are labeled with traffic light (or consent colours) green, yellow and red. If a site is asking for Red information—that’s no good. That’s information that leads directly to you.
The third section covers what to do if you’ve been hacked. Just having that information laid out where I can reach it easily made me feel better, somehow. I’ll do my best to keep it from happening, but if it does, at least I have a guide to something other than ‘have nervous breakdown, rinse, repeat’.
The section after that is about a special kind of miscreant—it’s how to deal with revenge porn. Any woman this has happened to—more power to you for getting through it. If you’re dealing with it right now, we’re with you, okay. Whatever scum on the bottom of the dreg of humanity did this… This is not on you, okay. There were some excellent resources and ideas in this book for how to deal with the situation. None involved breaking kneecaps, unfortunately.
Section five is Identity Theft—what to do if it happens and how to do it and how to avoid it happening in the first place.
Then we’re on to Social Media. The section that made me want to set Facebook on fire. It seems to exist to get personal data out of you so it can sell it to other people. This section also includes information on setting up a new phone for minimal tracking and stalking from all the companies who want to do so right out of the gate and how to dispose of phones and computers in ways that keep your information private.
Section seven is the one that gives me the screaming jeebies. People Search Websites. You may have seen the sites that claim they’ll help you find your high school classmates or long-lost family members or whatever. Go to one of those and type in your own name.
I did one of these (and cannot recall the name now) and it returned my name before I got married—the first name I was given at birth (which I changed in my early twenties), every address I’d ever lived at, several phone numbers I’d been connected with and most of my relative’s names. As well as my husband’s name.
Nnnnnooooooope. That site had an easyish opt-out form, but many don’t. Some require you to sign up—giving them all of your information—in order to ask them to remove you from the database.
Where do they get all of that info from? Facebook. Anywhere and everywhere you’ve put in your details. They purchase it, combine it (it doesn’t matter if it’s correct—some of mine wasn’t) and charge people who use the site to make their money back.
I nearly had a damn heart attack. If you’ve ever known a person who has looked you in the eyes and said, ‘I know you. I love you. And you would love me back if you’d stop being such a bitch.’ And you know that they genuinely believe what they are saying and you also know they ‘know’ a fantasy version of you and they have a temper and a gun—you don’t want your information out there. The idea that people you don’t consent to having your address having it… god. And they know all your relative’s names so they can find them on Facebook, too? They’re are some crazy people out there.
Many of those sites not only make it really hard to find a place to even ask to have your information removed, but you need to check back every 90 days. If you don’t lock down your data, they’ll keep buying it, scraping it or getting it from somewhere else in order to sell it to the people who access the site. This book has a sample letter to send to various sites so you can type it up, fill it in with what you need to add and send it off—probably while swearing.
Section eight—online dating and sexytimes. How to do it without ending up in an array of garbage bags along with countryside. Also—how to tell if someone was on your computer.
Then there’s a section called Ninja Tricks and Advanced-Fu, which has some pretty interesting things in it—the sort of things that sound like something a television writer made up on a TV show—except it’s real, which is cool. Ways to encrypt communication, stealth your mailing address and phone number and other things that would have me humming the Mission Impossible theme whilst setting them up.
The final section is called I Hate Passwords. Preach it. It’s how to deal with password hatred and not have a series of passwords that are some variation on 123456stealeverythingiown789.
Actually, that wouldn’t be too bad.
Within all of the tips, tricks, hacks and information about how these companies work are some insightful observations about being a woman online and how safety is perceived so differently between the sexes. For the men reading this—which they should because, guys, you don’t want companies having all this info, either, I’m guessing, seeing the nonsense women have to deal with for simply being a woman and going online will be enlightening. Don’t worry, though, most of the book is how to keep your info to yourself. The feminazis aren’t going to keep you from your MRA meetings.
This book is U.S. based, to a large extent. The privacy information for Facebook and other apps is useful globally and learning how everything is connected was fascinating/terrifying, but how to handle fraud alerts and some other things were for Americans only. In the U.K. it would be illegal to have some of this information on people—privacy is muy importante here, let me tell you.
Meanwhile, the US has a ‘no means no and we’re not going to tell you you’re allowed to say no’ policy. Selling personal data is an entire industry. Capitalism!
I would still recommend this book to people outside the United States, but how private data is handled where you are will vary wildly so you may need to do some research in your own country. Learn how to handle identity theft in your country.
Of course, being that right now, the U.K. and the U.S. governments are both being increasingly nosy about what their citizens are up to (in the U.K. is just our porn habits they want to know about—we can have all the other privacy we’d like) The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy is incredibly useful.