Those of us who buy into the Apple religion recognize the value of security; iPhone, iPad, Mac, Watch, Apple Pay. We want it all to ‘just work’ and we’re willing to pay a little more for what appears to be extra layers of security and a well curated ecosystem of applications. Being an Apple customer is a bit like living and working at Disney World all the time.
OS X and iOS have far few security problems than customers who use Windows and Android. That’s a fact. Another fact is this. But our personal security and privacy is being undermined by an entity that we cannot track, an enemy we need but one which is stealing our very identities to sell to the highest bidder.
No, it’s not government spooks or Russian or Chinese hackers who are intent upon breaking into our Macs or rummaging through our cloud information like Google does every day. The real problem with security and privacy comes from advertising, advertisers, those seemingly innocuous but highly annoying ads which show up on nearly every website you visit.
Every moment you’re online you’re being following and in ways that are stunningly deceptive, slowly but surely striping you of personal information that ends up on an advertising market to be used by businesses against you. That’s how online advertising works.
What caught my eye recently was an article about Ghostery, a free Mac utility which tracks what and who tracks you; something of an ad blocker but with a conscience. In How To See Who Tracks You Online you’ll find a simple and easy way to see just who tracks you. It’s advertisers. And the amount of tracking going on is alarming.
Then, earlier this week I read about another way to track the tackers with an app called Little Snitch, itself something of a reverse firewall which tracks– and stops, if you so desire– apps on your Mac that connect to the internet and phone home, ostensibly to deliver tracked information to third parties. I’ve used Little Snitch in the past and it’s a great app but it requires some ongoing maintenance so I haven’t used it in awhile. Wow. Were my eyes opened. Sure, it tracks all the Mac’s background network processes, and there are plenty of those, but just using it to track your Mac’s browsers will surprise you.
Every webpage we visit these days has advertisements. That’s OK, because we all know that ads grease the wheels of commerce and make the world go round. But online, those ads don’t just deliver a message. They take personal data, private information about you, and send it to advertisers or ad networks to be used to send every point effective ads and messages to persuade you to buy this or that or try something new. That’s how advertising works, but online it works well while hiding in the shadows where most of us do not look.
Ghostery resides in Safari and gives you a quick, innocuous popup which identifies how ads and networks are tracking which websites you view. It’s scary to watch that little box grow as more and more ads phone home to their overlords to deliver information about you.
I’m worried about the government’s attempts to rummage– legally, or illegally– through a citizens private information simply to track down a crook or a terrorist. I’m worried about crooks and terrorists and hackers being able to do the same thing. That’s one of the reasons why I invest in the Apple ecosystem. It’s more secure and requires far less hands-on maintenance than either Windows or Android.
That focus may be misplaced. Advertisers are being allowed in and take whatever they can get back to their haunts to repackage and sell to the highest bidders; usually other advertisers. Last year I stopped using Google Analytics, a free tracking service for websites, and this year I plan to stop using Google AdSense because the tracking simply has become to much to bear and too offensive to allow.
The security and privacy issues of the 21st century are less about the government and hackers than it is about unscrupulous advertisers.