Clearly, you only need to write sensational articles – facts are a minor inconvenience that can be worked around! If you wrote sensational rants, your popularity will increase and ranking algorithms will increase your visibility and your popularity will increase further!
So, Lifehacker is at it again – this time on how to maintain email privacy! Just to clarify, I don’t actually seek and read Lifehacker articles. But, apparently, Pulse’s ranking and rating mechanisms allow these articles to be part of “Best in Technology” category. I get enough value from this category to keep it, but that means that every now and then, I read the hideous reports on Lifehacker and rant about it!
This time around, they’ve put in enough disclaimers and given themselves enough outs (which alone should make this a useless article), so, good CYA efforts there! But, that article has some fundamental issues. First, we are talking about a case involving a senior CIA member where personal information was revealed with FBI help. And the article talks about how to stop that from happening to you. Who is this “you” they are referring to? Presumably the common user? And, are we talking with or without help from the FBI?
The article goes on to make so many assertions about using VPNs or separate email providers to do various things. Including using a VPN provider that won’t give up your IP address as easily as Google would. Is this because different Federal requirements apply to VPN providers? Or because some providers are willing to take the risk on behalf of their users?
Anonymity, privacy and security are all related but different aspects. Reality shows that there is no perfect solution that scales to the common user. And more importantly, it is one thing to protect against a casual observer who is really not interested in your data anyway; a totally different thing to protect against a funded, motivated attacker (or protector, as the case may be) who is dedicated to cracking through the mechanisms in place.
The problem is that most common readers will miss the different types of users and attackers. Unlike the peer rating mechanism popularized by eBay like companies that has found a way to sustain itself due to sufficient incentives and distribution of responsibilities (although not perfect), the current ‘likes’ mechanism popularized by Facebook is simply ridden with challenges. In other words, it cannot be as easily used as a measure of authenticity of any sort. For some definition of “popularity”, it serves a purpose, but when articles like this bubble up to the “Best of Technology” categories of highly popular news aggregators, you are sending a message to millions of readers vouching the credibility of these sources.
But then, whose responsibility is it to balance the sensation with the facts? No one has claimed it yet…