Spies, Privacy and Social Media

The internet and social media are twin inventions that have and will continue to shape human history. Almost every human has in one way or another utilised them to communicate, educate themselves or accelerate daily tasks. They have become so crucial that we would be in agony to live without them. We use them so much that we no longer question their safety and transparency. Many of us may never realise that our secrets and personal information may be being stored and accessed against our will. In this digital age, we have become so accustomed to entrusting third parties with our sensitive information, believing that they will live up to their promise of consumer privacy. However, it’s not all the time that these companies or third parties will respect our privacy. For example, in 2013, Edward Snowden revealed the existence of numerous surveillance programs headed by different intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency. Leaked reports and documents indicate that these surveillance programs, such as the Five Eyes network and PRISM, have been collecting consumer and personal data on a global scale for years. So, exactly how much freedom and privacy do we possess? How safe is our data?

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Social Media: A Data Collecting Net?

Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are just some social media platforms which may already be collecting your data.

As the internet advanced and mobile technology became widespread, the use of social media began to rise. Social media platforms such as Facebook, which was founded in 2004, offered us a space to share our lifestyles freely with others around the world. On such platforms, users can share and upload pictures, videos and recordings which are available to be viewed by everyone or a selected group of individuals, depending on the user’s privacy preferences. While people perceive social media to be a safe space to express their thoughts and feelings, many governments and their respective security services view the above services as a way to better monitor their citizens and thus enforce national security. The sudden influx of free-flowing data on such platforms offers governments an unprecedented view into the lives of their citizens, and those in other parts of the world. This has led to the creation of mass surveillance programs that record and analyse consumer data, often without the awareness of the consumer. While there are laws designed to protect personal information and privacy, the act of mass surveillance raises several pressing concerns. These include the reliability of such laws and in the event of absolute necessity, such as in the investigation of crimes, the extent to which relevant authorities may access consumer information. These concerns have only continued to worsen as technology and society advanced steadily. Most recently, an operation named “Trojan Shield” led by several federal enforcement agencies of the United States and its counterparts in many other countries, most prominently the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), has sparked controversy regarding consumer privacy. The operation, launched in 2018, was simple yet ingenious. As its name suggests, it entailed launching an app that offered its users an encrypted and secure messaging experience which in reality was a tool to identify and monitor criminals in real-time. Launched under the enigmatic name “ANOM”, the ersatz messaging app gave investigative authorities access to criminal communications and allowed them to learn more about existing criminal networks, which may have previously remained undetected. The operation ran for up to 3 years and concluded with more than 800 arrests, the seizure of 40 tons of drugs, 250 guns, 55 luxury cars and more than US$ 148 million in currencies and cryptocurrencies. Overall, the operation was considered a major success. But at what cost? ANOM’s users were not restricted to criminals alone. They were also used by normal citizens who became unknowingly implicated in the ongoing investigation, as their data was laid bare for authorities to see as well. This operation shows that there is a possibility that similar, supposedly secure messaging apps may already be in use for the mass surveillance of civilians.

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Edward Snowden: Intelligence, Secrets and Spies

Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor, leaked numerous documents revealing the existence of mass surveillance programs.

In 2014, Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor, leaked several documents which revealed the existence of numerous, previously unheard surveillance programs. These programs, controlled by several nations, most prominently members of the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance, ranged in capability from the tapping of fibre-optics to the interception of electronic communication. It is also notable that many of these programs have been undetected for years (PRISM launched in 2007 and remained hidden until 2013) and involved many telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Verizon. For his actions, Edward Snowden was charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act and theft of government property on 21 June 2013. Two days later, he made his way to Moscow to seek asylum, which was granted to him one month later. When questioned about his motives regarding the leak, Snowden expressed that he slowly became disillusioned with the programs he was involved in and was troubled by their ethical implications. He is currently living in Russia with his spouse Lindsay Mills and his son.


In this 21st Century, who should we entrust our information with? How much of our data is truly private? While we still lack clear answers to these questions, it is important to understand the importance of prudence when utilising the internet. Although the internet is a tool that we use almost daily, it is also littered with dangers. Yes, we can “delete” our social media posts, we can “remove” our comments, but how can we be certain that this information will truly be deleted on the other end? In other words, there is simply no substitute for being careful. Anything you post online can be dug up and used against you. This includes your search history too. 

So, will the world become the world as predicted by George Orwell in his best-selling novel 1984? One can only wonder how the future will be like.

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Here’s How You Can Ace Your Exams

Many of us fear exams and the risk of going “blank”. With so much to do in school, how do we deal with and prepare for exams? Is there any secret to acing your exams? Well, there isn’t a fixed formula, but this article will provide some tips which you can use for your exam preparation. Before you continue reading, do follow me and subscribe to my newsletter!

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#1: Start Revision Early

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Time is of the essence and procrastination is not an option. Starting revision early is one of the best ways to do well for your exam. The reason for this is that your mind requires time to process the knowledge which it has absorbed. Furthermore, many exams such as that of Biology and Geography have enormous amounts of content, which are impossible to memorise in short periods of time. By spreading your revision time out over a longer period of time (I’m talking months), you will feel less stressed and have more time for other activities. This also gives more room for potential procrastination lapses and allows for more flexible planning. Take my advise and don’t cram. Cramming never works as your mind is not able to take large amounts of information in a single sitting. Information will just end up overwriting other information and you will not be able to remember anything. In fact, the forgetting curve, founded by Hermann Ebbinghaus, estimates that 70% of learned information is forgotten the next day. You might be able to remember everything the day before the exam, but you won’t be able to recall anything the next day.

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#2: Don’t Memorise Blindly

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Of course, memory is important. However, memorising blindly can do more harm to your test scores than good. It’s like having the material to build a house, but not having the blueprints to do so. Likewise, before memorising any content, do ensure that you have a clear understanding of the concepts behind it. For example, you could first read your textbook one or two times and check if you are able to understand its concepts. In the event that you do not understand any part of the textbook or material, do seek help from your teacher or instructor as soon as possible. Only after you are able to understand the concepts should you start memorising the content. This helps to facilitate better memory and recall. As Warren Buffet once said, “Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing.” Memory and understanding go hand in hand. You cannot memorise without understanding what you are memorising

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#3: Use Flashcards

Source: https://www.chegg.com/play/life-hacks/productivity/flashcards-yay-nay/

Flashcards are a great tool for assessing how much you know and how much you don’t know. This helps you to identify your weaknesses and work on them. Using this strategy increases your efficiency manifold, as you spend less time working on what you already know and have memorised, and spend more time on what you don’t know and have forgotten. This is the exact reason why highlighting your notes and rereading your textbook is useless. This method, which uses passive recall, does none of the things flashcards can do. The danger of merely rereading your textbook lies in the illusion of understanding, where you might end up confusing fluency of the text with understanding. You simply have no idea of what you know and don’t know. Flashcards, on the other hand, use the concept of active recall, which prepares your mind for potential question-and-answer scenarios and strengthens retrieval pathways.

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Conclusion

This post is a short one, but I hope that the tips were of help to your exam preparation. The key to acing your exams is not intelligence, but rather your study strategy. To learn is not enough. We need to learn how to learn.

If you did enjoy this post, do consider giving it a like! Do follow me and subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t done so! Stay tuned for more articles!

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