Can Anonymity Exist Online?

Plus, Mark Cuban talks disrupting in the face of regulation.

Anonymity does not exist online.

So says Liz Kintzele, vice president of sales and director of marketing for Golden Frog, an online services provider based in Switzerland. For most, that’s neither a concern nor a problem unless, of course, you buy into a solution sellingit to you.

I see some companies making the promise that you can be anonymous online, Kintzele said during an early morning session at the 2017 SXSW Conference.People are being fooled.

Instead, companies such as Onavo, App Annie, and Hotspot Shield among others that promise anonymity are taking user information and selling it for profit. Legally, too, Kintzele says. You’d just have to read the fine print. That’show these companies get away with what might otherwise be considered deceptive advertising, she says.

But even if anonymity doesn’t exist, that’s no reason for those concerned with privacy to give up the fight. Kintzele quoted Edward Snowden, who advocates for greater privacy of information: Basic steps will encrypt your hardware and your network communications [making] you far, far more hardened than the average user, he says.

Being a hardened user will make one’s online life less accessible to the inquiring eye, although not outright invisible. Kintzelefurther quoted Snowden: You will still be vulnerable to targeted surveillance. If there is a warrant againstyou, if the NSA is after you, they are still going to get you.

Often while advocating users to practice greater privacy measures, Kintzele is met with apathy and groans of I’ve got nothing to hide.

This is the wrong reaction, she says, especially considering just how much of ones data is being tracked and sold on the open market. Consider two large trackers: Google and Facebook.

Google tracks:

  • Things you search for
  • Websites you visit
  • Videos you watch
  • Ads you click on/tap
  • Location
  • Where you go
  • When you go
  • How long you stay there
  • Device information
  • IP address and cookie data

Google also tracks and stores things that users create, including emails, contacts, calendar events, photos and videos, and documents. As for Facebook, according to Kintzele, the company tracks:

  • On-site activity
  • Device and location settings
  • All the sites you visit (when logged into Facebook)
  • Advertising tracking

Thanks to this information, Facebook knows quite a bit about its user-base. Including:

  • Where you live
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Level of education
  • Language spoken
  • Device used
  • Income level
  • Relationship status
  • Life events
  • Political engagement
  • Shopping and buying behavior
  • Car owned
  • Bank used
  • Entertainment interests

When you start to think about how much information these companies know about you, it’s pretty insane, she says.

Privacy rules from the FCC implemented were set to go into place in March 2017, but in late February, those rules were put on hold including the mandate that internet service providers must notify customers on what information is collected on them and how it’s used or shared with other companies.

So what can consumers do to increase their personal privacy online? Kintzele advocates for being more aware of the companies we trust with our data and why they might want it.

But also there are tools out there today that she considers secure. Things like SpiderOak’s encrypted cloud storage or Tutanota’s encryptedemail. Using them won’t make one anonymous online; just a little more private.

It’s like pulling the shades in your house, she says. People can still find out what’s going on inside, but it’s not as easy.

Mark Cuban On Government Disrupting Disruption

As a self-described libertarian, the tech billionaire Mark Cuban is a loud and firm believer in freedom of choice and political autonomy. Thus, he holds strong views on the necessity and usefulness of government regulation especially how thoseregulations can affect disruption and innovation.

In a late afternoon panel session at the SXSW Conference, Cuban spoke openly about the future of disruption amid an administration that maybe isn’t tech literate.

Disruptors are everything, he says. I think the world is going to change more in the next 10 years than it did in the past 30.

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Cuban’s panel member, Adam Lyons, founder and CEO of The Zebra, a car insurance market place that simplifies the shopping process, says the idea for his company of which Cubanwas an early investor was born out of regulation.

Namely, the established state and nationwide regulatory framework for securing coverage was large, complex, and confusing for customers. The Zebra found a simpler way to list options and pricing, resulting in what Lyons calls insurance in blackand white (hence the company name).

The Zebra’s ability to operate simply in a complex regulatory environment is one aspect that drew Cuban to the company. On the panel, Cuban talked about one of his most high profile misses as an investor: Uber.

Cuban had worked with Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick in the past and when the young entrepreneur approached the Dallas Maverick’s owner with his idea for a ride-sharing company (UberCabs at the time), Cuban balked. He saw toomuch regulation in the cab industry. He didn’t understand how this ride-sharing service would survive in that environment. So, he passed. And passing taught him a lesson in disruption in the face of regulation he’ll never forget.

Travis was trying to disrupt, Cuban says. Where I saw regulation, he ignored it. When you are trying to disrupt something you’ve got to be ready, fire, aim, and bust through doors and deal with regulatory issues later.

More from SXSW

  • Social Media And Stress At SXSW

  • How To Close The IT Skills Gap

March 12, 2017

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