The epidemic of phone number harvesting


Thursday, July 23, 2020

Part I: Sounding off on the current economy

This week has been busy not just for news but also personally. It’s been a few weeks since some of us have been able to work partially. Some others have not been able to do so. There’s a record number of people in the U.S. that are drawing unemployment. But while the U.S. is not the world it does draw some concern that so many people are out of work in a nation that’s supposed to be great and championing the virtues of capitalism. Although there is talk about a second round of subsidization to prop up the economy and also extension of certain unemployment for many Americans it doesn’t seem certain. So many people are dependent and reliant on their daily checks, and health care plans and living day to day that when something pulls their plans off track it really derails them completely and they can’t take it.

[Do you really need everything you have?]

  • Now would be a good time to do a reality check on your house, your bills, what you have in stock at the house etc.

The interesting is to note that even with many people complaining of their situation they are still making it, but not making it. We might not really know what is going down in the trenches because we don’t have a full sampling. The local media for example featured a family talking about the $600 check that they receive but in the back it was set against a nice backdrop and family and table and books with family. One may think that perhaps this family is still doing well, although may be shy to question because there’s a certain standard of living in the Western world that one still maintains and it varies from family to family. When interviewed a family may explain that they aren’t having any cashflow but various families and friends still pool together often depending on culture and demographic. This may also contrast against Eastern cultures that still have family and are very resourceful on what they have with their frugal means. For example they may not have big electronic items and plush couches but they still have a certain level of comfort and which many in the Western world may not be so readily to mention or give up. Also the quality of food and healthcare is often better still than many places.

We take things at face value for what is safe and comfortable for one family is catastrophic for others. During the gov shutdowns in previous years for instance, many fed families were hit disporportionately with finanacial burdens but some fed families make higher income than others. And some families were able to have family assist and others were in the lower incomes and struggled immensely because they either didn’t have family to assist or had not budgeted for a downturn in the economy of a financial disaster.

[Contingency plans]

  • It is never too late to plan for a disaster. Your family, organization or business needs to put in place an emergency contingency plan for all types of disasters: financial, health, or environmental emergency. Many businesses simply could not last for two months and were “struggling” after two weeks but this actually has dragged on realistically with the Covid-19 crisis much longer. Whether it be hurricanes, flood, auto, or other acts of nature, one simply must build in a backup plan for anything nowadays. That’s the smart thing to do. We can’t all afford expensive financial planners, but we can save and be our own bank. Speaking of which, it appears metals like gold and silver seem to be doing quite well in this downturn and people are delving heavily into these metals as quantitive easing version “infinity” is happening. Basically the wheels have come off and we’re printing currently money with no caps and people are afraid that they are going to have money worth less. People are flocking to some historic safe havens in hope that their fiat cash won’t be worth less than the price of Kleenex… although you could argue that toilet paper has become a truly valuable commodity these days.

In essence, society and especially Western culture has gotten likely too readily set in its ways with its creature comforts, but woe to the person that questions this living standards lest the person draw wrath from the person enjoying “mah freedoms” and their stack of food and electronic gadgetry. Perhaps going all Marie Kondo is something worth exploring, but perhaps heartless to someone trying to make rent. The news reports that eviction levels are set to be at dangerous levels in the next months. But perhaps it’s because too many are entrenched in a system set to encourage perpetuation of debt and set to make them fail. Rigged?

Many years ago, I remember hearing a gentleman say soon as he could he wanted to get a credit card and establish good credit as soon as possible and get a job. But it made me think: why is he putting himself voluntarily into debt and getting this “social credit score” so he can work and labor for someone else and have hours of when to eat and go to the bathroom dictated to him?

Part II: Social media and its dangers
[Disconnected]
Perhaps that’s why many of the people are drawn to the conspiracy theory phenomenon that seems to have become drawn even into mainstream media light. The other day I was suprised that some “gamer based” forum channel internet based group that delves in memes and double speak got semi mainstream coverage on CNBC and NPR. The social media giant Twitter aka “The (blue) Bird” had previously had what appeared to be targeted hack or breach or compromise on its platform.
We don’t need to mention the group by name, but you’ve likely seen mentions across the platforms and its trending algorithms etc. It seems to use:

  • themes around religion
  • patriotism
  • what looked like myth and lore from games like Bioshock or books
  • and other various cobbled together conspiracy theories and digital groups.

Unfortunately or fortunately the cognitive disconnect was too great and it was nice to see the rest of the news reporting world still was reporting and functioning as normal versus this niche based group. The social media giant decided to take action to stop some of the uses and deplatform or restrict users especially in an election year and also because of methods know as “swarming” other accounts. You can’t harrass others that don’t agree with your beliefs and spam or gang up on them and post images etc because then you cyberbully etc without expecting the platform not to protect itself. CEO @jack had been the subject of ire for some of his posts etc and also recently due to the debate on censorship.

Throughout history there have been many groups that are “deniers” of certain things such as truth or facts known at the time. There have been disinformation campaigns and 2016 and 2020 has had a lot of that too. Memes, and photoshopped pictures, and accounts no less as mentioned in previous articles. Some people commented in groups that it was censorship, but really it just appears that it was “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” as the platform that has given voice to many is protecting its platform after some of the users have taken the platform to extreme positions or have been preyed upon with these theories that may or may not be providing false hope. At least that’s what I can surmise. Basically, talk, post pictures, but don’t cyberbully and harrass other users with things. After all at the end of the day the social media giant is a business and protecting its quality of content and messaging boards.

[Tik goes the clock, Tik – Tok]
Speaking of social media, TikTok made the news. It wasn’t really a platform we’ve tested much but seems to be popular with a certain generation and has viral videos, however it has come under fire for two reasons:

  • privacy issues as mentioned by many security researchers
  • it was mentioned as a possible spying app and making national headlines regarding the possible eventual banning of the app and doing business with it due to these privacy issues.

We have not tested the veracity of these claims (since the U.S. is currently in a trade and political war… see Huawei for an example) although you may be able to do testing using programs like Exodus to check the permission settings or check for trackers. And on that note we transition to the focus of this article which is that:

Too many apps now use phone numbers or ask for FB accounts.

  • If you’re a software or app developer now is the time to get away from this.
    FB doesn’t need access to our dating sites and our logins. More and more apps use this in order to pin it to a real person but really it’s an invasion of your privacy.

Examples of this include the buzzing dating app that you swipe and it seems to want your location to base on matches, but you have absolutely no control other than exact GPS coordinates. Teens don’t realize that the geolocation is locked on where you are and it really doesn’t let you change it. And apparently once it’s set up you can’t change that or even modify some of the settings even if you make a mistake. There are trackers in the app, and permissions, but it wasn’t quite as invasive as…

The hot sparking fiery dating app that you swipe left and right. This one which emphasizes relationships, hookups and other hangouts was notorious for geolocation permissions. It was hardcoded into the program that it wanted your exact position. But back in the day we only needed to put zipcodes into our dating websites etc. The other factor is that it asks you for phone and FB access which is another gross privacy violation. Remember when we discussed at the beginning of the article about being entrenched in a system? These apps are addictive with the swiping action that’s easy but they harvest your data, profile have blatant ads and could be a potential privacy hazard.

  • Plea to programmers, stop asking for unnecessary location data. We need an internet bill of rights and the least permissive settings should always be the default.
  • Next don’t ask for our phone numbers in the apps. I know it’s convenient but simjacking is a thing meaning identity theft and that’s why we all get weird spammy calls to our phones from traveling ads to social security calls to fake phishing callers. We’re too entrenched in using our numbers to identify people. I thought people would have realized this when they blew the lid off of mass phone surveillance, but people are still perpetuating by using products with these features and also programmers are none the wiser. We also get that 2FA is sometimes useful for getting text messages security codes but perhaps we need to start moving to the next better thing.
  • The next point of contention is useless updates or upgrades. It’s come to our knowledge that some apps purposely push out updates that are resource hogs or cosmetic or simply to patch things that make things worse. We won’t name any particular ones here but we had to debate this one. Yes, security experts say you should update always to the latest secure updates, but you should check to make sure a WANTED FEATURE is not removed. Many apps do this and purposely remove good features or make them pay versions etc. And yes businesses do that but that just makes it hard for regular joes like us. Makes you want to be your own programmer doesn’t it?
  • An example that we encountered was that after an upgrade an app no longer allowed you to text from its interface.
  • Another example is that a different app forced all users to give out phone numbers “in the name of security” (sure). In fairness these were dating apps that had a lot of scammers and fake profiles. But then the end up forcing privacy concerns on legit users. As a user what if the person has no phone or doesn’t want to give it to a third party app in the year 2020 when the “Analytical” fiasco happened and also phone surveillance scandals and social media breaches are still fresh in our minds? Again it means basically hand over privacy or go to some other alternative that may not exist or create your own platform. And that’s not a luxury everyone has and we shouldn’t have to choose like that.

A quick comment again. Platforms have a right to regulate themselves and protect themselves. Twitter was getting flak about censorship concerns before it got hacked or breached and likely this was due to influenced thought from some groups on the platform so Twitter had to stop this from happening: “You were expecting it wouldn’t protect itself?”

Second commentary is that questioning things is good and healthy. The fact that people are questioning masks, and also looking into conspiracy theories is only natural. It’s a way to understand the world better. When we’re in school some get the impression that it’s embarrassing to ask questions because it might make you look dumb or as Mark Twain said that it’s better to remain silent than speak up and remove all doubt. Yet some people like military and others realize that sometimes you have to speak up and confront and take up a question or debate in order to 1) understand all sides of something and completely know the subject 2) explore all possibilites and outcomes of something 3) be able to digest it enough that you can show someone else since you often know something better if you can teach someone else and gain mastery that way. So the fact that many people are checking out these conspiracy groups is actually that people want to find the way and sometimes also to find hope or belonging that they don’t see others. But the problem is often some things become cultish or gangish which can cause problems with indoctrination and other false missives. It is important to be mindful and aware of that as well as what we’re being programmed daily with. There are many people that question things on social media such as: the shape of earth and even moon landings. But at some point in time you need to be careful because you can’t go forward if stuck in the past rehashing the same point over and over.

Part III Quantum computing and beyond
Technology is a great thing and has been a marvel to humanity. We’ve gained whole CD’s and encyclopedia troves of information at the swipe and click of a finger. However we have to be mindful and smart about how we use the information.

The internet in its infancy was promising and fun and innocent and look at what it gradually became for a while: a place for distributed malware, javascript popups, ransomware.

One could spend days looking for articles on Wikipedia, or addicted to videos and memes, or click through to pornography or create How-To videos for others. It has become a source of incredible information but also frustration and disinformation and influenced businesses financially and caused heartache for others. For example cyberbullying, getting doxed, and also other online threats can happen. But it can also be used for donations, campaign raising, and also keeping us connected with our family especially during this Covid-19 age of social distancing.

The future will be more entrenched in computers but perhaps the comment about Marie Kondo above isn’t just a bit of humor but a thing to consider. We need to occassionally extract ourselves from this Matrix and stop giving up privacy, our metadata, our geolocation, and all our information. We feed into this cycle of dependency of cable bills, televisions, Netflix subscriptions and Amazon Prime memberships and keep giving more to Google and Alexa and those electronic companies. Just like we keep subscribing to magazines and insurance and other services. We’re too comfortable with all of these services and end up further part of the system and then wonder why we can’t get ahead. And then when we’re behind in bills or can’t pay rent or have gotten hacked we wonder what happened. And then lose hope and think the system is against us or rigged. Maybe that’s why the conspiracy crowd. Because they realize that there’s another path other than the go to college, get a job, get married and work till you die… There’s other paths.

People are brought up and fed common education and common formal learning and rules and ways of hierarchy repeatedly through religious education, military education, camp / scout hierarchy, gender education through toys we play with and ads, and even the news we read. Perhaps the benefit of the Internet is that it has allowed us to escape partly from the identity we’ve been assigned or told we have to be, the life sentence and destiny that we’re meant to become. And that there are opportunities, and there’s hope out there. There are jobs and businesses and opportunities around the world. Perhaps the conspiracies just give us a way to plant the seed to realize we’re not chained to fulfill a mindless hopeless destiny like in the movie Shanghai Noon / Knights we can choose our paths and perhaps the danger is that people would be shocked if they knew that they had all the power in their hands to make their life successful and not live life as if it was a lotto.

Lastly, there was a recent news article about quantum computing machines and how the U.S. is heavily investing in these. These will be useful in the future for predictive planning, cryptographic cracking (perhaps even digital currency) and other fields. The digital computing world is just beginning and information war is being waged. Don’t be left behind, but don’t lose your head or your personal information over it. Learn about computers, cellphones, and cybersecurity and how to protect yourself as best as you can.

[With the current climate and worry over health and finances around the world, now is a good time to help donate and give back to the community. Consider helping people somehow or educate them or donate to help our your local groups.]

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Author: savvywealthmedia

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