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Northern Illinois University’s terrible net policy censors political Wikipedia … – Boing Boing

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The university’s new head of technology has instituted blocks for torrents, “obscene,” and “unethical” pages, “misrepresenting identity,” “political activities such as surveying, polling, material distribution, vote solicitation and organization or participation in meetings, rallies and demonstrations, among other activities” — and any attempts to access blocked pages are logged and are grounds for disciplinary investigation by the school administration.

Included in the censorship regime are Wikipedia pages that deal with political issues — for example, the Wikipedia page on the Westboro Baptist Church. Students and faculty are also prohibited from accessing social media from school computers.

When I teach university courses, my assignments require access to much of the material blocked by these rules, including anonymity tools. It’s easy to see how totally unacceptable this is by substituting “head of technology’s policy” with “head of the library’s policy” and imagining a purge of all titles in the library that don’t fit these narrow, absurd criteria. These kinds of rules have no place in an academic institution, and are an affront to scholarship.

Perhaps one of the most controversial of the terms is the restriction on political activities such as surveying, polling, material distribution, vote solicitation and organization or participation in meetings, rallies and demonstrations, among other activities. According to the policy, social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Foursquare are also unacceptable “unless associated with professional responsibilities.” However, students have reportedly been able to access social media.

To top it off, illicit activity discovered during “routine monitoring” is grounds for an investigation. The policy is loaded with phrases like “but not limited to” and “etc.” to make it all as vague as possible. What exactly each bullet point means is unclear, but the idea of such censorship is concerning students and Redditors alike.

“Explain to them that in the interest of advancing education you might need to access certain websites that may seem controversial or unethical/”illegal,” commented one logical Redditor.

University Bans Social Media, Political Content and Wikipedia Pages on Dorm Wifi [Sage Lazzaro/Betabeat]

(via /.)

(Image: big brother…, M.a.r.c., CC-BY-SA)

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How Big Brother companies secretly spy on you online – and how to stop it – Yahoo News UK

Former American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations of the scale of electronic spying awakened the world to the idea that browsing was not as lonely as it seemed. You have plenty of company on the internet,, in the form of companies and governments watching every click, and reading every email.

But you don’t have to be James Bond, or Edward Snowden, to be watched closely by shadowy groups. Even big companies such as Facebook can act in a murky fashion – and deliberately ignore people’s requests not to be tracked.

Facebook also buys data.from companies which some politicians have begun to call to be investigated as being potentially criminal – the mysterious world of data brokers, who sell profiles of people around the world. The profiles are supposed to be anonymous – but some doubt whether they are.

Privacy pressure group the Electronic Frontier Foundation says, “Data brokers are companies that trade in information on people – names, addresses, phone numbers, details of shopping habits, and personal data such as whether someone owns cats or is divorced.” America’s Federal Trade Commission has begun to investigate the industry.

                                        [The smartphone mistakes we all make]

 The FTC says, “Just one of the data brokers studied holds information on more than 1.4 billion consumer transactions and 700 billion data elements and another adds more than 3 billion new data points to its database each month.”

Almost all internet publishers (including Yahoo) use some form of user tracking – scripts and cookies track on sites help designers see how users move between pages, and target advertising, which keeps sites free.

But some companies want more. Facebook in particular is not content with the trove of data provided by its own users – it deals with third-party data companies, who provide the company with encrypted lists of email addresses (for instance, of users who have bought a car or a pet), which Facebook then matches against its own encrypted list.

 While this is, in theory, anonymous, it can be, as one privacy activist describes it, “eerie”.

Facebook’s use of other companies mean that the network “knows” things you may not wish it to. Medical conditions. Marital status. Financial status. For Facebook, it’s simply a way to target adverts.

This year, the social site added hidden tracking pixels in its ubiquitous Like button to track users everywhere across the web; even outside of Facebook pages This year, the social site added hidden tracking pixels in its ubiquitous Like button to track users everywhere …

For most of us, the result of this collection of billions of pieces of data, and the fact that companies sell it around the world is barely visible – changes to the adverts served alongside the pages we visit.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation say that such companies vary in scale, from small outfits who perform background checks, to large international companies who combine on- and offline data to sell to e-commerce companies.
 
“Opting out” of being watched is hard  when many third-party data brokers are  unknown to the public, and invisible to consumers. But there are steps you can take – if you want one browsing session to be less visible, for instance, or need to keep a business conversation secret.

 Can I see who is watching me?

 Mozilla offers a free tool called Lightbeam for the Firefox browser which offers a visual representation of companies “watching you” as you browse the web. Visiting merely one or two sites attracts the attention of third-party advertising services, such as DoubleClick. A browsing session rapidly becomes a network of circles (visited sites) and triangles (other companies monitoring you.)

The tool allows users to block any site or tracker service. Mozilla says the software, still under development, is “a Wizard of Oz moment for the Web, where users can collectively pull back the curtain to see its inner workings.”

Privacy pressure group the Electronic Frontier Foundation says, 'Data brokers are companies that trade in information on people: names, addresses, phone numbers, details of shopping habits, and personal data such as whether someone owns cats or is divorced'Privacy pressure group the Electronic Frontier Foundation says, ‘Data brokers are companies …What’s the easiest way to “be invisible”?

The quickest and easiest fix is to use Incognito or Private browsing. You will still be followed by trackers as you browse, but the profile that’s built up disappears the moment the window is closed. This does not mean that you are truly private, of course  – cookies used to identify you will have gone, and your browsing history will have vanished, but your IP address can still be traced as having visited a particular website. Setting your browser to delete cookies on closing also helps – but it is not a silver bullet.

 What if I need to be REALLY private?

There are a huge variety of browser plug-ins built to warn of tracking, or increase your control over scripts and cookies – the tools sites use to track browsing history and purchases. NoScript, Ghostery and Do Not Track Plus are all effective, and free. The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers its own – Privacy Badger, which integrates the functions of several of these add-ons.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers a ten-minute guide to hardening browsers against ad-tracking tools via their website.

The Tor Browser Bundle allows users to use the internet anonymously and access banned or blocked websitesThe Tor Browser Bundle allows users to use the internet anonymously and access banned …What if I want to make sure no one – governments, companies, anyone – can see what I do?

The Tor browser, available free, is the choice of the truly paranoid – but it’s much slower than normal ones. Designed in part by U.S. government agents, it ‘bounces’ data around 5,000 computer relays as it goes both from and to your PC, so (in theory) you are untraceable. It also allows users to access “hidden” sites, with the .onion suffix, which cannot be accessed via other browsers. It’s used by political activists – but also plays host to some of the internet’s most unpleasant content such as child pornography and drug markets.

Can I tell if a website is using large amounts of tracker technology?

Even without using browser tools such as Lightbeam, you can sometimes tell when a site is tracking you. On so-called ‘click bait’ news sites, the pages often link to so many third-party advertising services that they take far longer to load. This is a sign tracker software is being employed. In Britain, sites are obliged to warn browsers, for instance, that cookies are used to store information on visitors.

 How can I control the use of my data?

 Browsers usually have a “Do Not Track” button built in – and you should ensure it’s set to instruct sites not to track you. Sadly not all websites and services comply – Facebook, for example, ignores it, as it claims the phrase is not fully defined.  It will often prevent honest businesses from harvesting data – but those are not the businesses most users worry about.

Some claim that information sold by data brokers is not truly anonymous - so that the 'profiles' sold by the companies may in fact be identifiableSome claim that information sold by data brokers is not truly anonymous – so that the …What can I do to limit the amount people know about me?

Data brokers also use freely available information to “top up” profiles – so it pays to control what you share online, on social sites, or on blogs, as a first line of defense. This can even save you money. For instance, if a profile showed an interest in motorcycling – perhaps information available in a Facebook ‘Like’ –  it could lead to a rise in your health insurance premiums.

What can I do about Facebook?

The only way to control Facebook is to use its own privacy protections – a Yahoo guide can be found here. Facebook already owns a fantastic amount of data on its users – but it is an advertising business, so the more data it has, the better it can target users. This year, the social site added hidden tracking pixels in its ubiquitous ‘Like’ button to track users everywhere across the web – even outside of Facebook pages – in order to re-target ads.

The new tracking method actually ignores users’ Do Not Track preference settings (the browser setting where users can choose “ask websites to not track me”), and can even track users’ browsing and activities after they have logged out of Facebook.

Should I use Facebook on my phone instead?

 No – most tracking software will work equally well on smartphone browsers as it will on PC ones. If you use apps where you sign in via a Facebook login, this allows the social network to use information from the app. In general, PCs offer more ways to control who is watching you – and what they see.

What if I really, really don’t want to be watched?

 If you are determined not to be watched, Tails is a very, very private solution to keeping snoops out- although it should be noted that it is not “spy proof”. It also requires you to know computers quite well.

It is an operating system (like Windows), but loads into your machine from a DVD or USB stick, and forces internet traffic through the anonymizing service Tor (all non-Tor connections are rejected). When you’ve finished, Tails deletes all data from the session. It can be used on any computer, and leaves no trace once the session ends.

What if I need to use the net for business, and keep details secret?

If you need to hold a private conversation – a business video call, for example – use a VPN. This function is built into Windows and allows you to connect PCs to one another, or to corporate networks, privately.  Like most data on the internet, tracker data does not go away. If you are using the internet for sensitive business emails or documents, use VPN software.

 Is this technology evolving?

Yes. As more consumers use privacy tools such as Lightbeam, new techniques appear. ‘Canvas fingerprinting’ is a new technique, invisible to users, which became widespread before anyone was even aware of it. It asks your browser to render text in a font which doesn’t exist – the response from each PC is unique. The Princeton researchers who discovered it say it “shatters” current privacy tools, Princeton researchers say.

One provider which uses the ‘fingerprinting’ technique,  touted as a replacement for cookies for advertisers keen to track users across the web, uses its scripts in thousands of sites – and reaches 97.2% of the internet population in America, according to Comscore.

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