Join us for our Halloween Social

Banner image combining the Open Rights Group logo, the words Halloween Social and two icons of a pumpkin and a black cat. The banner is promoting ORG Birmingham's Halloween Social on Monday 30 October 2017.

With our digital rights under threat by governments and corporations, the world can seem a pretty scary place for people who care about ensuring our rights come with us when we go online. Give yourself the night off worrying by joining us for our first-ever ORG Birmingham Halloween Social on Monday 30 October.

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Cybersecurity for ‘real people’: useful resources

Portrait of Home Secretary Amber Rudd with the words, Cybersecurity for 'real people'

Thank you to everyone who joined us on Monday evening at BOM for our cybersecurity for ‘real people’ workshop. It was clear from the sizeable turnout and lively discussion that plenty of real people in Birmingham do care about online security, contrary to what the Home Secretary Amber Rudd might like to believe. Special thanks also go to Mari (@bouncinglime on Twitter), who stepped in at short notice and shared with us her experience of using Tor.

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Practical ways to De-Google-ify your search footprint

Google UK logo adapted to read De-Google-ify

Thank you to everyone who took part in our meetup last month at Birmingham Open Media. This post aims to capture the main points of advice we gave about alternatives to using Google for search. We’ll be sharing more tips about alternatives to other everyday Google services in future posts.

An organiser for Open Rights Group Birmingham showing giving tech advice to three men

Why De-Google-ify?

Most of us recognise the power Google, Facebook, and other internet giants have over our daily lives. Chances are, you’ve been freaked out by just how much Google knows about you (and everyone else for that matter) and what this means for our society as a whole.

For a more detailed look at the issue Google poses for competition, privacy, security, and freedom of expression, please check out our recent post on why you should De-Google-ify your life.

Alternatives to Google search

Google has become synonymous with search, so much so that don’t search for something, we “Google it”. Google is the market leader when it comes to search, but there are good reasons to be concerned about how much you’ve come to rely on the services.

While most Google services are ‘free’, we pay with them through the sensitive data we divulge. Even in Incognito mode, Google’s own Your Data web page acknowledges it records and stores everything you’ve searched for and visited, and ties this back to you.

It’s unclear how long Google keeps hold of your search history for but, given the lack of clarity over this in Google’s current privacy policy, it’s probably safe to assume they hold onto your data basically forever.

Given all of this, what can you do if you don’t want Google to know everything about you?

DuckDuckGo

Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in DuckDuckGo
Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo markets itself as “The search engine that doesn’t track you”. Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo’s privacy policy is refreshingly straightforward, stating plainly:

“DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information”

Unlike Google, which stores your search history to create a detailed picture about you, when you use DuckDuckGo the company has no way of knowing who you are and linking your searches together.

DuckDuckGo’s privacy credentials haved been given a boost by the Tor project, which in 2016 made it the default search engine for the Tor browser. For more information about what Tor is and how it works, watch the video below.

The downside to DuckDuckGo not ruthlessly harvesting your personal data is sometimes the search results you get aren’t quite as immediately helpful as Google and you’ll need to further refine your search in order to find what you’re looking for.

Luckily, DuckDuckGo does still allow you to search Google when you need to. Bangs, named after the American term for exclamation marks(!), allow you to directly search thousands of websites from DuckDuckGo, including Google. Typing in !googleuk followed by your search term will take you directly to the search results. Bangs can also be used to search Wikipedia, Reddit and thousands of other websites.

StartPage

Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in StartPage
Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in StartPage

While DuckDuckGo is improving all the time, what can you do if you really can’t bring yourself to give up on the convenience of Google search results? StartPage web search just might be for you.

Like DuckDuckGo (and unlike Google), StartPage aims to avoid collecting or storing any personal information when you use the service. Its privacy policy states: “StartPage does not collect or share personal information. We don’t track or profile you.”

StartPage acts as an intermediary, anonymously submitting your search query to Google and returns the familiar Google results, minus the tracking. StartPage still makes its money through advertising, but the targeting is limited to the topics you are searching for and the company is not building a gigantic trove of personal information.

While StartPage offers real privacy benefits over regular Google, by using the service you are still supporting the Google beast. Depending on how you feel about that, you may prefer to back upstarts like DuckDuckGo, which represent a cleaner break from the internet giant.

Why you should De-Google-ify your life

Google UK logo adapted to read De-Google-ify

Thank you to everyone who joined us at Birmingham Open Media last week for our meetup on how to De-Google-ify your life. It was fantastic to know so many people are concerned about our collective reliance on Google services and are interested in discovering viable alternatives.

Over the next week, we plan to share examples of high quality alternatives to everyday Google services. In the meantime, here’s an overview of why you should De-Google-ify in the first place.

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New ORG Birmingham video and putting digital rights on the General Election agenda

Screenshot from Open Rights Group Birmingham video profile featuring interview with Local Organiser Francis Clarke

Those of you who attended last month’s meetup at BOM might remember that we had a special guest in the form of multimedia journalist, Chevening Scholar (FCO) and MA Social Media student Thomaz Pirez (@Thomaz_pirez). Thomaz had asked if he could make a short video about ORG Birmingham as part of a project he’s doing on social media.

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Email the W3C today to stop DRM becoming a web standard

Padlock with a face on it. To the right of the padlock are the letters DRM, which stand for Digital Rights Management

This coming Thursday (13 April 2017), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international body responsible for developing web standards, is set to recommend Digital Rights Management in the form of Encrypted Media Standards, become an official part of HTML5. Here’s a quick run-down of why this matters and what you can do to stop it happening.

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West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner refuses mobile surveillance Freedom of Information request

Reasons the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner gave for refusing the Freedom of Information Act request for information about oversight arrangements for covert mobile surveillance

The office of the West Midlands Police and Crime and Commissioner has used national security and law enforcement exemptions found within the Freedom of Information Act legislation to refuse our request for more information on the oversight arrangements in place to safeguard the West Midlands Police’s use of covert mobile surveillance capabilities.

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Reminder: Espionage Act meetup this Tuesday (21 March)

Open Rights Group illustration for the Espionage Act campaign showing Prime Mininster Theresa May lowering a cage over a journalist and whistleblower. Next to the cage is text which reads 'freedom of the press charges' with the words 'freedom of the' crossed out.

If you follow us on Twitter (@OpenRightsBrum), you’ve probably picked up on the fact that we’re rather excited about our next meetup on Tuesday (21 March), where we’ll be looking at how the proposed Espionage Act threatens journalism and public interest whistleblowers.

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West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner not publishing key transparency information which previously revealed covert mobile surveillance

Screenshot of West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner monthly expenditure report web page

At last week’s meetup on how mobile phone users are spied on in Birmingham we drew heavily on the great job The Bristol Cable did of revealing police purchases of covert surveillance devices, known as IMSI catchers. Interestingly, just yesterday (1 March) The Bristol Cable published a follow-up story, revealing how in the months since a majority of Police and Crime Commissioners they had featured in their story, including the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner have stopped publishing the monthly expenditure information which was central to their investigation.

Continue reading West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner not publishing key transparency information which previously revealed covert mobile surveillance