I can read your mind. (Everybody can)

A mind reader was working his magic in Brussels, and people were asked if they wanted to be on his television show. He then proceeded to tell them some of the most intimate secrets of their lives.

Yeah, that’s right. It was a scam with a higher purpose. You don’t need to go to a mind reader, because everything about you is on a computer somewhere. You give up a lot of information if you have a Facebook profile. But other things are accessible. Anyone with a Nexis connection can track down where you live (and where you’ve lived), your birth date and other goodies, like your social security number and your criminal record. Even a mediocre hacker can get your bank information.

When you carry your phone, you’re actually carrying a homing device that can tell people where you are at any given moment. There are apps that can show where and how you’re traveling. You have no secrets.

This post isn’t intended to make you feel paranoid. It’s just an acknowledgement of life in the digital world.

Now, this video was taken in Brussels. Since I used to live there, I thought I knew where it was in the city, but I had to make sure.

It’s across from the church in Place Ste. Catherine, not far from the Bourse. Why do I know that?

Because I went to Google Maps and pulled up this picture:

Now, go back to the video and pay attention at the 12 second mark.

Look familiar? That little bit of sleuthing took me about two minutes.

Here’s the thing though.

The European Union is far more strict about privacy matters than we are in the United States. When Google Maps was going through Europe taking street level photos, an official in Germany asked if they were collecting information on people. (Germans are pretty picky about having the state collect information on them. Think about their history.) Google said no. The official asked to check out the technology they were using.

It turns out Google was collecting information from people’s wireless connections throughout Europe. The Europeans went nuts.

We haven’t heard anything about it here, though. But if they collected data in Europe, you know they collected data here.

The point of this Belgian ad campaign can’t be understated. Everything about you is on the Internet. People are looking at your data, and you don’t know who they are or what they’re going to do with it. In fact, when you go to a web site, other Web sites are tracking you. Mozilla, which runs the Firefox browser, has an app called Collusion that will show you how other sites tracking your Internet behavior.

And there’s no turning back.

So here are a few tips on protecting your money:

  • Make sure your PC is sufficiently secured (for instance by installing an up-to-date version of a virus scanner)
  • If someone calls you up on behalf of your bank and asks you to provide personal data and/or to sign electronically, refrain from taking any action at all, for your bank will never ask you to provide this kind of information.
  • Put your electronic signature only for orders you expect or have initiated yourself.
  • In case of doubt, immediately abort the transaction and take contact with your bank, especially when the procedure for signing differs from the usual procedure. All banks have a help desk where you can find the answer to your questions about internet banking. Access to this help desk can be found on the bank’s website.
  • Check your statements of account at regular intervals.

And that’s my public-service announcement for the day.

You’re being tracked, but by whom?

Remember: There is no privacy on the web.

Gary Kovacs of Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser, explains in this TED talk: