Africa be wary of this; paid & free are just the same

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K! I am going to sound a little paranoid here folks, but remember what they say,”It’s not paranoia if they are really out to get you.”

Whenever I am presented with free services especially on the web these days where so many free things abound: with free servers, free domains, free emails, free cloud data storage, free downloads, free search engines, free web-hosting and every other free thing that is available over the web either, I do not just leap and grab it anymore. Reminded of the Snowden revelations I am forced to ask myself: What it’s in it for the person offering the service? Why are they doing this?

While most people never stop to think about why services like Google and Facebook are “free”, I do. Most users are only concerned with access to the service without considering the fact that they are essentially entrusting the most private parts of their lives to a stranger in a distant city or town they have never even heard of.

Most people do not even know where Palo Alto is and most do not know its connection to Google, Facebook, Pinterest and PayPal. Why, most have never even heard of this little town and we do not even know how to pronounce it. Not that it matters much anyway since the location of the actual servers used by these companies are a top secret.

Yet between the two giants above, we have entrusted them with most of our personal data including interests: Google knows your likes and hates via our translations, Google Plus posts, emails and searches. It knows you have been gossiping about how Sarah’s new weave makes her look silly even though you told her otherwise.

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Even if you use Bing to do your searches it does not matter because almost every sensible web admin out there still uses Google Analytics to track their websites. So yeah Google knows all about you and your love for Taylor Swift songs even though you know little about Google. As if that’s not enough, it now wants us to upload our photos for “free” so that it knows us better I guess. Apparently the 1 trillion images we uploaded last year alone are not enough.

Then there is Facebook, where we have been dishing out not just our photos but our innermost our thoughts about everything without giving it a thought. Just to show you how dangerous it is: Facebook might be the best “free” stalking tool out there because for all their talk about privacy they never turn it on by default, not really, and most people never bother.

I am forced to wonder: would we be so trusting in the physical world? Would we hand over our most secret thoughts and photos to some random guy in the streets for safe keep even if they promised us they would keep our secrets safe? For free? Wouldn’t we wonder what use he had for them?

Oh sure, Google and Facebook use them for advertising but what else do they use it for? Do they sell it to some pervy marketers somewhere? Of course they say they don’t, but do we really trust them enough to take their word for it?

Because while it is the opinion of most African people, governments and individuals alike that we (Africans) do not really have anything of value to hide, I believe we do. We might not be the most industrialized continent on the planet, but I believe our data should be treated with the same respect that the European and American data is getting. I believe we should be accorded the same rights.

While people like Senator Rand Paul have made headlines in the media about how it is important for the NSA not to spy on Americans and the Europeans have exerted considerable pressure that saw Google possibly change its privacy settings, African leaders have been deafening in their silence on the matter. They have not made even passing comments on the matter while everyone including the usually docile South Americans have shared their thoughts.

Those who do not ask do not receive and we will not earn the respect of these companies if we continue to be either silent or divided. The only united voice we have is the AU and most people in charge there probably have never touched a computer in their lives. Handing it over during public donation ceremony most certainly does not count.

It might be true that we do not have anything of strategic value to the Americans or the GHCQ but who is to say that will be the case down the road. What if some bright African young lady/fella in 2030 discovers the cure for AIDS or discovers some viable way to make car engines that run on water and stores his/her data on the AWS? Are we really to believe that the NSA will not pass on that information to some big pharmaceutical company or General Motors if it comes to their attention during one of their huge data sweeps as they look for these “terrorists.”

And speaking of these terrorists, I am not especially enthused by the idea that only a select few people get to choose how to define a terrorist. After all, the most famous terrorist to come from Southern Africa was Nelson Mandela. Who is to say after my son or daughter visits the wrong Jihad website, I will not be stopped at LAX on my way with my family, a gazillion years later, during a once in a lifetime visit to see Disney, and get rough treated and turned around for being a terrorist because my name is on a “list?”

I mean if the Americans can do it to Tokyo Sexwale, a diplomat for the most developed and respected country on the continent, what chance do I have? He is still on the list and Mandela was only removed from this list in 2008!

There are those, like Tim Cook who would have us believe that paid services are better. Of course, he would say that to market his fancy iThis and iEverything products but I am not convinced they are better. He might tell us he cares about security and privacy but we should not forget that the Fappening did not happen to Google or any of those “free” services, it happened to Apple’s iCloud paid service. So if some silly hacker living in some dingy basement could get in, what chance do they have against the might of the formidable Five Eyes?

Cook, posits his company as being better because they offer paid services and do not want to know everything about us. He is trying to present himself to us as some sort of privacy evangelist but herein lies the problem; as with the free services we just have his word that they are not pawning off our data to the NSA and other goons out there. As far as I am concerned he is just jealous that Google and Facebook thought of their business models first and maybe if Apple did gobble up our personal data maybe Siri would be half as smart as Google Now.

The truth is, free services and paid services are no different when it comes to privacy, not at the moment. Unless there is an independent public body (representing all nations including Africa) that audits the security policies of these giants and what they do with our data we can never be really sure where it ends up. Paid or Free, it’s just all the same.

Africa though needs to seriously start thinking about its cloud strategy. I think that ever since we built the pyramids and invented hieroglyphics we have not made any serious contributions towards civilization. We have opted instead to continue to rely on the West and East for basic tools like needles and razor blades (from China), footballs,vehicles, electrical gadgets and now computers,silly smart watches and Data Centers much to the detriment our economies as a result of trade imbalances.

Unless we shake off our allegiances to our various tribes and countries and become united in our common causes we are always going to rely on foreign Data Centers who may or may not share our values. Some do not even respect us or our authority. For example big companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft habitually ignore legally issued African warrants and court orders and because we have no leverage, we have no recourse. Do you think Facebook or Google cares what some magistrate said at Rotten Row?

We need our own champions like the European Commission and Senator Rand Paul. People who are not afraid to stand up against giants and demand reform on our behalf or else we shall like we did during the Berlin Conference of so long ago, have our fate determined on our behalf and like always it won’t be in our favour.

Only after these thoughts do I leap in and use the free service anyway, no doubt to my peril.



6 Comments

  1. SoTypMe says:

    Just updated to the new Google Photos app which does awesome things with my snapshots that I never knew a computer can do. I was loving it.
    Now thanks to you, am feeling a little paranoid.

  2. Kuks says:

    You are very right on the seemingly free services. Challenge now is because of our lack of capacity as Africans, we are forced to use these free things to our own peril.

    If we could have just one African country standing up and putting technological first strategy, I am sure this will motivate other countries to push for it as well. I think this comes from corporate, if they push technology first, it will force policies to be changed and align to their goals- but our situation is difficult, as we have CEOs who do not even want to learn how to use a computer and does not value IT in their businesses. We also have our Computer Society of Zim which is busy training ICDL rather than pushing real technological stuff.

    How can the policies / strategies be changed nationally?

    1. Tapiwa✓ says:

      Dear author,

      Here’s a list of ways GCHQ can get to your data that I know:
      1. Hack Google/free service provider
      2. Tap an internet backbone that you use
      3. Tap EASSy / SEACOM
      4. Pwn your ISP
      5. Pwn routers on the local internet exchange (ZINX)
      6. Pwn you directly by implanting malware (if you’re interesting enough. see QUANTUM INSERT)
      7. Ride the coattails of pre-existing malware on your system

      If all you’ve done is get rid of 1, there are plenty of ways they can get you. My assumption is that 2-5 have been done already, 6 & 7 can be readily done. Good luck with your national policies!

  3. Guys, i want Africans to own their own information, and to encourage use of technology, its only that capital is lacking i need support, can you try to login at http://skychatzim.tk

  4. i created and controls http://www.theskychat.tk and ready for launch.

  5. let africa do its own things.

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