The Covid Dystopia

Pandemics have a funny way of changing things. From well-meant knee-jerk reactions in the name of public safety to It’s-About-Time fine-tuning, security systems are tightening up.

Understanding how and why these measures work can help people evaluate personal risks to health (both digital and corporeal) and privacy.

Work

Remote-monitoring software is officially a thing. This means that your boss can see what’s happening on your screen, even after quitting time, and even the personal stuff on your computer. Tor won’t help if your screen is viewable. Employers clearly have a need to protect sensitive material, but what about yours?

Fix: Use dedicated work-only devices. Yes, this could mean carrying two phones, but the work phone doesn’t need – and shouldn’t have- all the personal stuff you’ve got on your personal smartphone. This is not such a terrible thing. With dedicated devices, you don’t have to worry about a potential company-wide security breach due to something you clicked on in the wee hours. Or the embarrassment of sending a very detailed personal email to Boss Jeff, instead of Flamin’ Hot Jeff.

Contact-tracing apps

Originally thought to be the better mousetrap, contact-tracing apps have some serious flaws. From the Honest Mistake category- inaccurate or lost information- to potential Comic Book Villain stuff- malicious false positives, Covid-shaming, data hacking for nefarious deeds- contact-tracing apps have a long way to go before they get the balance of life-saving info with personal privacy right.

Fix: Research the contact-tracing app in your region. Is it compulsory? How secure is it? Can you delete the app? Does your private health-monitoring app share data with the contact-tracing app? Would government monitoring of your movements jeopardise your human rights and/or safety?

If you don’t think the app is right for you, don’t download it.

If opting out isn’t an option, consider getting a cheapo burner just for the app, and link it to a junk email address, not anything that connects to important personal accounts and/or devices that handle sensitive info. (ok, now we’re up to three phones)

Public monitoring

Many countries are enhancing camera surveillance to ensure curfews and lockdown rules. If the idea of being monitored by cameras makes you nervous, welcome to the 21st Century, pal. But this surveillance gives some law-abiding citizens the jitters, as it could be the thin edge of the wedge, and used for illegal monitoring.

Note: battleface does not condone breaking laws of any kind.

Fix: This is where your mask is your friend. Go old school Spy vs Spy: pair it with some dark glasses and a hat (trench coat optional) to stump the facial recognition software as you go about your law-abiding business.

QR codes

Ah, the QR code. A fantastic idea, but so easy for scurrilous evildoers to replace the Fish of the Day with the Phish of the Day. Underfunded local councils often publish essential information on outdated, insecure websites. (password: Password)

Fix: Don’t scan the QR code!

Desperate for business, restaurants are scrambling to provide information in as many ways possible. Chances are if the joint has a QR menu, they probably have a web presence. Read the menu online. If that isn’t current, they probably have a paper-based menu for old farts, written in words. Don’t touch! Take a picture. If all else fails, go with ‘I’ll have what that guy’s having.’

If the information is really important, plenty of people will be talking about it. For essential local news, check social media. For the absolute latest, consult the neighbourhood oracle: that curtain-twitcher next door.

Public health doesn’t mean that you have to surrender personal privacy. Using well-informed precautions is similar to the idea behind wearing face masks: if everyone does it, it helps ensure privacy protection for all.