Data Driven Lives

We do many things throughout the day. Most of the time we don’t give these things much thought. Often they are repetitive tasks we do every day. Our “routine” we call it. It may be that bathroom break mid-day, or that coffee break. Or might be those n Google searches throughout the day. You might be able to name some of them and put a count to it, but stop and think for a second. How many things do you actually know how many times you performed them? How much time was spent? How much energy/expense?

Companies collect this information, but strangely individuals don’t. The companies who we deal with often know more about us than we do. Google knows how many times you searched in a given day. It may (depending on your privacy settings) be able to recall each search you ever made. A feat I bet you can’t perform. Your credit card company knows how many times you purchase coffee at a given store in a given year. You quite possibly have no idea.

Stephen Wolfram has been analyzing his life for years. Just tiny aspects of it. The data is stunning. It makes you wonder why we don’t have more products out there that give us access to and control of our own data. Everyone else has more access to it than we have.

Collusion is a Firefox extension that gives another little bit of insight. Who knows where you’ve been online. Try installing it and running it for a week. It’s fascinating to see. But still so much in the browser isn’t exposed to the user. Your search history knows what you searched for. Your browser history knows when you browse the web, where you’re going. There’s a mountain of data there. The authorities use it when a crime is committed for a reason. about:me is a great extension for getting a little bit more of this information out of Firefox. It’s a fascinating area where I hope we’ll see more people spend time on. The great thing about these is they are client side and private. You don’t need to give your data away to someone else if you want to learn about yourself.

However we’re still at the infancy in personal analytics. There’s very few products out there to let us know what we do all day. FitBit can tell you when you sleep, when you’re active and how active you are. But not terribly much else about you. Your computer has a wealth of info, but really doesn’t tell you much. To even get a little out of it you need to be fairly technically adept.

I propose it’s time to encourage people to start learning more about themselves. Data is amazing and can change our behavior for the better. Data is all around us yet somehow it eludes us. Big companies know things about us that even we don’t know. Perhaps it’s time to change that?

Firesheep Is Just The Messenger

I must say that I’m glad to see there are no plans to pull Firesheep. Add-ons have a lot of power since they run in a privileged space. Anything your browser can access, your add-ons can access. The point to being able to kill add-ons was to protect the user in situations where an add-on was either bundling malware or sending information without the users consent. Firesheep does none of that. It behaves exactly as advertised. It also causes no harm to the user or their computer.

Firesheep doesn’t do anything that couldn’t be done with a packet sniffer, it just makes it trivial enough that the average person can do it. It just makes a flaw in many websites more visible. The more technical folks have known this for years. Firesheep is just the messenger. These insecure bits of traffic have traveled across the wire for a decade or more. All traffic across Ethernet is visible to all devices. This is how Ethernet works. The network is a shared medium. It’s just a matter of looking at it. WiFi is a slightly different ballgame but at the end of the day if a wireless signal is unencrypted, it’s just a matter of listening.

I am not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV) but from a legal perspective I suspect Gregg Keizer is correct in suggesting that it’s likely legal under federal wiretapping statutes (ethics is another debate). However a company likely can still fire you for using it, and a school likely can still kick you out for using it on their network. Private networks have their own rules and policies.

That covers the detection of a session. If you were to actually session jack, that would likely be considered fraud, hacking, identity theft, etc. depending on what you do. Generally speaking, unauthorized access to a computer system is illegal. If you are using someone else’s credentials, that’s by definition unauthorized access.

Electronic communications law is hardly considered developed or mature but generally there isn’t an expectation of privacy when no encryption is used and transmission is done over a shared connection. It’s akin to speaking to someone on the street and being overheard. That said, if someone reads their credit card number while on a cell phone call and you use the credit card information you overheard, it’s still fraud regardless of the interception method.

Bottom line: It’s time to start securing connections.

Firefox Tip: Remove Addons

So you know about addons aka extensions/themes and tried them. You may have found one you no longer want or need. You can either disable or completely uninstall them easily. Just go to the “Tools” menu and select “Addons”. From there browse to the one you no longer want, click on it and press the “Disable” or “Uninstall” button.

I’ve seen complaints that it doesn’t appear in “Add Programs” on Windows. That’s because it’s not installed on Windows, but in Firefox. Uninstalls are still easy and painless.