Monday, January 21, 2013

Surveillance State: Who's Spying on You?

Every move we make is subject to digital prying eyes, and once your data has been collected, there's no telling where it might end up. Here's who's looking at you, kid.

Read more: Surveillance State: Who's Spying on You? - Popular Mechanics 


State-sponsored computer spies, hacker collectives, criminals, and random trolls all mine the Internet for personal data. Some hackers trick users into giving up personal info; others steal it from government and business databases.

Online Services

Searches and online email accounts provide rich sources of data for advertisers; weak password protection can also make personal online accounts prime targets for hackers.

Social Networks

Even if you are restrictive with your privacy settings, social services such as Facebook, Google+, and Twitter follow you beyond their own websites—everywhere there is a Like, Tweet, or other recommendation button, the sites can track you.

Personal Computers

The nexus for most online snooping, PCs can be watched to monitor your browsing habits or taken over outright by spyware, enabling remote access to all of your personal files and control of the device itself.

Law Enforcement

In the past 12 years, law enforcement agencies have been granted vast surveillance powers through changes in both the law and the technology available to them. Local, state, and federal authorities routinely access records about customers from private industry as well.


Both the quantity and capability of surveillance cameras have increased dramatically in the past decade. Modern license plate readers can process 1800 plates per minute, and facial recognition systems such as the one used by the Pennsylvania Justice Network can automatically match faces from surveillance footage to mug shots in criminal databases.

Cell Towers

Cell companies collect data every time a mobile phone accesses a tower, whether or not a call is made. That leaves a time-coded trail of user movement accessible to law enforcement.


The gold standard of personal tracking devices, smartphones have embedded GPS, are Internet-connected, and can run software. They allow location and behavior to be tracked through your cellular provider, by the device manufacturer, and by the developers of the apps you install.


Customer data is big business—for targeted advertising, sales leads, and behavioral analysis. Some firms collect data directly from customers; others use data aggregators, which amass bigger, richer databases from multiple sources. That information is sometimes hacked due to substandard security, and much of it is subject to subpoena by law enforcement.


Online Stores

Retailers such as Amazon and Apple's iTunes have made customer profiling part of their business strategy. Many stores use cookies, pixel tags, and Web beacons to track you to other sites as well—so the product you browsed at one site shows up as an ad at another.

Credit Cards

Banks and credit card companies routinely sell your shopping data to marketers. Even the feds can sniff your purchases in real time via a warrantless "hotwatch" request.

Read more: Surveillance State: Who's Spying on You? - Popular Mechanics 

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