When the rock group, The Eagles first penned their iconic top-forty hit, "New Kid in Town," with lyrics that spoke to: "talk on the street. . . everybody's watching you," the year was 1976, predating the Internet by almost two decades. While spot-on prescient as to what was to come, surely Don Henley, Glenn Frey or Joe Walsh couldn't have known the level of surveillance that's blanketed the world we NOW live in, this side of the 21st Century.
With Google tracking our every preference online, Facebook continuously tinkering with its privacy settings, and overt surveillance at the national level, inside and outside our country, the Brave New World that Aldous Huxley foreshadowed all the way back in 1931 -- has arrived big time!
Lord of the Spies is afoot on the island of Web 2.0, and we are all subject to its invasive Big Brother bullying. NY Times correspondent Nick Bilton notes that "anyone who can watch you will watch you," and as result it's "no wonder outfits like Snapshat have exploded on the scene," with its promise that those exhibitionistic selfies and text messages we send will simply vanish, seconds after they're sent.
Even playing something as innocuous as fantasy video games like World of Warcraft are being watched, according to documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden - resulting with him ironically seeking asylum in a country that's no friend to privacy!
“What’s clear is that tracking technologies have outpaced democratic controls,” said Ben Wizner, the director Ben Wiznerof the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the A.C.L.U. “What we’ve learned this year is that agencies are determined to conduct surveillance on us, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.”
But isn't there a way to counteract these intriusions on our private lives? Wizner underscores the obvious. If we can build technology to snoop, we can also create tools to prevent it. And this technology needs to go beyond Snapchat's disappearing messaging apps which in essence don't really solve the problem. So, here are 7 apps that are already in the market to prevent smartphone and online surveillance that you might want to download the next time you feel somebody peering over your shoulder:
1- Silent Circle
Silent Circle's "Silent Suite" for iPhone and Android encrypts phone calls, files, texts, emails and video recordings, and can be set to eliminate them all from a sender's device within minutes of sending. When the app hit the market in October of last year, Slate said the product "has governments nervous" -- and, may be the reason, it carries a $120 annual subscription price tag.
2- Gemini App Manager
Smartphone users can generally uninstall (or avoid altogether) apps that they believe compromise their privacy -- unless those apps are "bloatware," apps pre-installed by the phone's carrier and impossible to remove through the normal channels. The Gemini App Manager for Android allows users to circumvent the phone's restrictions and disable the bloatware, thus removing potentially privacy-invading apps.
3- InTheClear App
The InTheClear app permits you to delete all your personal data on your Android phone in an instant by pressing the app's red "Panic!" button. You can also use the app to send an emergency text message when the Panic! button is pressed, so that your compatriots know that you've wiped your cell and might be in serious trouble.
DuckDuckGo is a search engine available for Androids and iPhones which has built a reputation around privacy. It doesn't track or store searches, and those who use it are effectively anonymous. It's also been noted by users that while offering instant answers to one's search queries, there's also limited spam and clutter.
Cloudfogger is a free file encryption solution for all files on your computer, mobile devices and in the cloud. It encrypts all files before they are uploaded to the cloud. As en- and decryption is always handled on the client devices, using secure AES technology, you can be sure that nobody is able to access your data in the cloud, no matter which provider or servers you use to store your valuable information.
6- Orbot App
Orbot is a free proxy app that empowers other apps to use the Internet more securely. Orbot uses Tor to encrypt your Internet traffic and then hides it by bouncing through a series of computers around the world. Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis.
If Silent Circle's $120 annual subscription fee is too much, but you still want the option of encrypting your calls and texts, try the open source WhisperSystems' free security apps for iPhone and Android. Redphone allows users to encrypt their phone calls, while TextSecure allows them to do the same for texts.
So whether or not you think that Mr. Snowden is a traitor or a necessary whistleblower, facts are facts. You are being watched.
And during this holiday season, it's particularly concerning since even Santa is most likely under surveillance - particularly since there's no record of him ever filing a tax return for all those workshop transactions and also those wage law infractions could catch him on non-payment to his elves over the years. Oh, yeah, and what about that ever-growing databank as to who's naughty or nice - now, there's some meaty data, I'm sure the NSA would love to tap into.