The Current

'Technocreep' author says new technologies have been invading our privacy like never before

Technological innovations such as the smart phone are invading our lives like never before and with that... our privacy.
From the battlefield, to the shopping aisles ...from your home computer, to the smartphone in your pocket ...those who want to know who we are and how we live have an increasing number of ways to find out. Tom Keenan exposes 'Technocreep'.
I went to Afghanistan with the Canadian Military. First thing they did was take away all our technology. They said once the US military lost a helicopter cause a guy tweeted a picture of it ... with the location.Thomas Keenan, author of 'Technocreep'

All those Facebook 'likes', Twitter posts, Google searches and downloaded Apps improve our lives in so many ways. But they're watching us. A gold mine of personal information is returned to corporations and governments that shows what we buy, where we travel and even how healthy we are.

Technology's invasion of privacy deeply concerns Tom Keenan. He is a leading computer security expert. Tom Keenan is also an adjunct professor of Computer Science at the University of Calgary. His latest book is called Technocreep,The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy. He was in our Ottawa studio.

This segment was produced by Calgary Network Producer, Michael O'Halloran.


Throwing People off Your Digital Scent

Tips from author and researcher Tom Keenan for a safer life in a Technocreep-y world

1. Have lots of email addresses. You are asking for trouble if you use the same email address for your work, your hobbies, your online shopping, and, if applicable, your sketchier online activities. Services like Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail are more than happy to give you multiple accounts as long as you can come up with unique user names. As a bonus, you'll have less e-clutter to wade through. I use an account that ends with "subs" for all my digital magazine subscriptions and only go there when I feel like doing some reading.

2. Be info-stingy at the store. Why does that checkout clerk need your postal code? Say it's H0 H0 H0" (Mr and Mrs. Claus) and that you and the elves really need to get busy. If they laugh, it's a chance to have a little chat about privacy. As for phone numbers, in most North American cities, 555-0100 to 555-0199 have been set aside as fake numbers for movies and TV productions. Make like a fat cat producer -- give 555- 0123.

3. Yes, you should inhale. In researching Technocreep, I came across a surprising number of places where "scent marketing" is being used to alter your perceptions and create emotions; nightclubs, bakeries, sports arenas, Disney theme parks, even funeral homes. It's OK if your significant other wears that special scent, but should stores be allowed to pump Serenascent into the air to make you feel calm? It's a fun game to spot these tricks. Hint: sniff the Nike runners and childrens' toys.

4. Track the trackers. Privacy-aware magazine subscribers have been inventing fake middle initials for years, to learn how their name and address is being sold. Why stop there? When you sign up for Air Canada's Aeroplan, don't choose Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Show your creativity. You can be Captain, Monsignor, Judge, Père, Senator or Rabbi. In the online world, programs like Ghostery and Floodwatch allow you to track the ads you are being served. Why do you care? Your browsing habits are being used to shape your online experience and, amazingly, can even change the interest rate you're charged for a loan. A hot new obfuscation plug-in, AdNaseum, quietly clicks on every single ad that comes to you and then blocks it and adds it to a database. How's that for ruining a marketer's day?

5. Fight back, carefully. If you think your digital rights have been trampled, you should take action. We're fortunate in Canada to have a system of Privacy Commissioners who are paid to investigate your privacy problems. Then again, companies are starting to strike back when you diss them online. Ottawa student Olivia Parsons was threatened with legal action when she posted negative comments about her former landlord on Google and Yelp. California just passed a law protecting "your right to Yelp" but Canada has no such protection. If you know you're right, and you really care, go ahead and post. Just make sure if you say there were bedbugs in room 305 of a certain hotel that you have a photo of the critters to back you up.

6. Keep your medical records, drug habits and DNA to yourself. In two separate cases, women from Ontario reported being refused entry to the U.S. at Pearson Airport because U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents accessed their mental health records. A well-known B.C. psychotherapist, selected for a random search, found himself permanently banned from the U.S. because article he wrote a journal article in 2001 in which he admitted trying LSD, which made him a drug user. There's nothing these people could have done to prevent this use of their data. But you can. Think twice about sharing medical information, even in "anonymous" surveys. If you're so curious about your pedigree that you submit your DNA to a company like, make sure it's labeled with your pet's name and paid for with an anonymous prepaid credit card.

7. Use 2-Step verification. Then think about what you just did. Many online services give you the option to have a second line of defense against password thieves. With Google's Gmail, for example, you can arrange to have a text message sent to your phone whenever you log on from a new location. This is a great idea, since if the bad guys got into your email account they could send password reset requests and take over your other online accounts. But how does Google know when you're at a new location? Yes, they are tracking ever computer you've used for Gmail, so they can detect when a new one appears. And you gave them permission to do that - right in their Terms of Service agreement.

8. Set up a Google alert on your name. If people are saying things about you behind your back, you should know about it. This simple technique, which you should probably extend to all your family members, does a pretty good job of watching out for your online appearances. You will get some false positives. I hear a lot about a golfer who shares my name. There's a high school teacher in New York whose email address is very similar to mine. I get "the dog ate my homework, Mr. Keenan" emails all the time from his students. Once I even got acknowledgement from another school where he applied for a job. That Tom Keenan owes me a drink for handling it discreetly.

9. Make smart and privacy friendly choices. DuckDuckGo is a Google-like search engine that doesn't track your searches or sell information about you. Credit cards, while not private, give you better protection than debit cards in case something goes wrong. Oh, and your tech toys can rat you out. Clear the GPS records in your car (including rentals) if you don't want people to know where you've been. And check your phone. It's keeping a record of all the WiFi access points you've used. If you don't want someone to know that you used the Internet at Hooters, clear those entries!

10. For heaven's sake, think before posting photos. The recent celebrity photo breach was made even more Technocreepy because some of the images contained location data showing where they were taken. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram usually remove this, but those photos were never meant to be shared. Many any people have lived to regret putting a photo online, or sending it to that "one special friend". If you must share, the best advice is to hand it over physically rather than risking any online transmission.

Read more about ways to cover your digital tracks in Technocreep by Thomas P. Keenan. (Greystone Books, Vancouver and Berekely) and at


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