Monthly Archives: March 2014

Yahoo Finance’s “The Daily Ticker”

I was on Yahoo Finance’s “The Daily Ticker” to talk about Obama’s call to curtail the mass collection of phone record data by the NSA, and how tech companies have begun taking a more aggressive stance to protect their data. Read a summary, or watch below:

Privacy Tools: Mask Your Location

In the course of writing my book, Dragnet Nation, I tried various strategies to protect my privacy. In this series of book excerpts and adaptations, I distill the lessons from my privacy experiments into tips for readers.

“Where R U?” There’s a reason that is among the most common text messages of the modern age.

Location is one of the most revealing pieces of information about us. In 2013, researchers found that four instances of a person’s location at a given point in time were enough to uniquely identify 95 percent of the individuals they examined. “Human mobility traces are highly unique,” the researchers wrote. “Mobility data is among the most sensitive data currently being collected.”

Location is also predictive. In another study, researchers at Microsoft were able to use location data to predict where people would be in the future. Wednesdays were the easiest to predict, and weekends the hardest. “While your location in the distant future is in general highly independent of your recent location,” the researchers wrote, “it is likely to be a good predictor of your location exactly one week from now.”

To mask my location I took several steps:

1)   When browsing the Web, I tried to use  the Tor Browser as often as possible.  Tor anonymizes the location – known as the IP Address — that you computer transmits automatically to every website you visit. It’s amazing to see how revealing your IP address can be –this site pinpoints my location exactly.

Tor bounces your Internet traffic around the world so that your computer’s location is masked. However, because your traffic is bouncing around the world, using Tor can slow down your Web browsing. Click the Tor button on this graphic to see how Tor protects your location from potential eavesdroppers.

2)   Masking my location when using my cellphone was more difficult. I turned off ‘location services’ for my apps. And I tried to opt out from companies that track cellphone users via the Wi-Fi signal emitted by their phone.

I identified 58 companies that appeared to be in the mobile location tracking business—ranging from advertisers to wireless carriers. Of those, only 11 offered opt-outs—which I attempted to complete. Here is the chart of the folks I found that offered opt outs.

ServiceTypePrivacy PolicyOpt Out LinkInformation Required
Sense NetworksAdvertisingClickClickDevice ID
Euclid AnalyticsAnalyticsClickClickMAC address
FlurryAnalyticsClickClickDevice ID and UDID
NomiAnalyticsClickClickMAC address
AT&TWirelessClickClickvia your AT&T account
SprintWirelessClickClickVia your Sprint account
Verizon WirlessWirelessClickClickvia your Verizon account

The Future of Privacy Forum has also built a location opt-out site, which as of today, offers opt-outs from 11 location tracking companies.

Ultimately, I decided that turning off my Wi-Fi signal was a more effective opt-out.

3)   When I really do not want my location to be tracked, I throw my phone into a Faraday cage – a bag that blocks it from transmitting signals to Wi-Fi or the cellphone tower. I use this one from OffPocket, but any Faraday cage will do.

Of course, this also means that I can’t use my phone. So, like most of my privacy fixes, it is a highly imperfect solution.






Interview on PandoDaily

I spoke with James Robinson of about lessons learned while writing Dragnet Nation. Read the interview here.

Interview With Bill Moyers

Catch me on Moyers & Company, where I sat down with Bill Moyers for a discussion about why mass data collection has not made us safer, how journalists are the “canaries in the coal mine” in our era of surveillance, and more.

Read a transcript here, or watch the full interview below.

The Five Biggest Threats to Kids’ Privacy

I spoke with’s Dan Tynan about the five biggest threats to your kids’ privacy:

Remember back in school, when your teachers warned that everything you did would go on your permanent record? It turns out your teachers have become right. That permanent record is the Internet.

It’s hard to be a fully functioning adult in 2014 and not leave behind a digital trail. Now imagine how hard it is for your kids, who have never known a world where the net did not exist.

From the moment they emerge from the womb, they’re generating data, which is then eagerly absorbed and stored by Internet companies, government agencies and some evil no-goodniks.

Read the full article here.

Roundtable on Democracy Now!

I joined former FBI agent Mike German and former CIA agent Ray McGovern to discuss recent allegations that the CIA spied on Senate staffers. Watch the roundtable (beginning at 42:00, and part two below), or read a transcript here.

Part two:

Bat Segundo Show Appearance

On March 11, I appeared on the Bat Segundo Show, where I talked about the ethics of assuming a false identity, keeping my phone in a Farraday cage, and more. Read an excerpt or listen to the full interview here.

USA Today Picks Up Privacy Tips From Dragnet Nation

USA Today‘s Elizabeth Weise has published a compendium of privacy tips from Dragnet Nation.

SAN FRANCISCO — Fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden told attendees at South By Southwest this week that we need better computer privacy. But keeping prying eyes away from our digital lives is “something like being a vegan,” says writer Julia Angwin.

Her new book, Dragnet Nation, talks about the difficulties involved in avoiding today’s relentless surveillance — not just from the government, but also hackers and corporate collectors of information.

“Every day it’s a hassle for me to protect my and my family’s privacy. Some days you’re just a vegetarian; some days you you’re all vegan,” she said.

Still, there are simple privacy tools available. They’re not NSA-proof, but they go a long way toward erasing the digital breadcrumbs we all leave behind us.

Read the full article at

Constitution Center in Philadelphia

On March 10, I sat down with Jeffrey Rosen at a town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. )

60 Minutes Overtime

I appeared on a segment of “60 Minutes Overtime,” where I shared some of my experiences trying to evade data brokers while researching Dragnet Nation. Read a summary, or watch the full segment below.