Category Archives: Privacy

How Your Phone is Tracked and How to Hide Your Location

Ever get stunned by an ad that seems to know more about your life than it should?

At times it can seem like tech companies are listening to our conversions. However, the reality is nobody has time for that. There are much more efficient ways to gather data.

It’s true that businesses are very interested in your preferences and habits. By pinpointing the places you visit, learning the products you buy and opinions you have, advertisers can tailor their message just for people like you.

Often their goal is to build profiles of their typical customers. And to do that they gather information from many sources.

They leverage the tech built into your phone, sophisticated software, and the power of the internet. Websites use tracking codes, browser fingerprinting, and cookies that are stored on your laptop or phone. Some companies even purchase personal information from other businesses that specialize in gathering data.

How Apps and Websites Determine Your Location

Smartphones offer us amazing utility and convenience, but with that comes potential doorways to our private information.

Phones have GPS technology built-in and software developers use this to determine where you are. When you launch an app, it may ask for permission to access your photos or your location. You may have to agree for the app to function correctly, but in other cases it’s optional.

Websites often don’t need to ask for permission to determine your IP address and the country you’re based in.

You may have noticed websites sometimes ask to access your location data and you can accept or deny the request in your browser. A good example is when you’re searching for a retail store location that’s near you. Many people go for it as it’s more convenient to grant access to your location data than to enter your zip code or postal code.

Bluetooth Beacons Are Watching

Advertisers use hidden Bluetooth beacons in supermarket shelves, advertising posters, and malls to track you. It’s a simple device that transmits a continuous signal that phone apps can detect.

It notifies them when you have walked into a store or gone past an advertisement so it can be counted as a visit or ad impression. Beacons are also used to determine how effective an ad is.

Recommendation: Make it a habit to turn off Bluetooth when you aren’t using it.

IP Targeting: An Invasion of Privacy?

Ad tech is extremely sophisticated in terms of delivering a tailored message to the right geographic area or even household.

Geotargeting serves ads to wide location such as the United States or the city of Toronto.

IP targeting is much more specific to the point it may be perceived as intrusive. Advertisers can deliver specific ads to a list of households that fit criteria they have set, such as age, education, income, or even interests.

Recommendation: Use a VPN service whenever possible to hide your IP address. For more info about VPNs as well as best providers, go here.

Mobile Towers Can Determine Your Whereabouts

If you think turning off your phone’s GPS will effectively hide your location from all parties, think again. To receive service, smartphones transmit personal identifiers to cell towers owned by major network operators.

In other words, the technology your phone provider uses needs to track your location and verify that you’re a paying customer.

Thus, by simply owning a smartphone people have accepted tracking devices in disguise into their life. That’s because there’s currently no way to decouple the customer authentication process from the connectivity process.

The good news is there are startup companies such as Invisv working on solutions which may give smartphone users true location privacy in the future.

Recommendation: To keep your location data private and prevent it from being transmitted to cell phone and Wi-Fi towers enable the “Airplane Mode” feature on your phone.

Ad Trackers Build Profiles Associated with Your Devices

High-tech businesses sometimes use methods such as cookies, tracking URLs and tracking pixels to monitor consumer behavior. If their tech is sophisticated enough, they can piece together the data that is harvested and automatically build a profile that outlines your buying habits, interests, etc.

If you’ve ever wondered how websites and apps show you ads that are a little too relevant for comfort, this is how they do it. It’s called ad personalization.

Luckily Apple and Google have included settings on their phones that allows you to turn off ad personalization. It’s just a matter of drilling down into the settings.

Recommendation: Disable personalized services and ads in the settings on your iOS or Android phone. Additionally, you may want to disable cookies in your internet browser. To learn the steps required to do it, have a look at this page.

Conclusion

Although being tracked is part of modern life, there are plenty of ways to regain your privacy and hide your location. More often than not it comes down to turning off your phone’s features when you don’t need them, such as Bluetooth and its GPS.

For trackers that can’t be avoided so easily, VPN services allow you to choose a VPN server location that differs from your actual location. Any solid VPN provider has apps you can install on your phone, devices, and laptop so your privacy is fully protected.

Better personal privacy requires mindfulness and set up, but decoupling your technology from your location is a liberating pursuit. Enjoy your life and travels knowing third parties can’t pinpoint exactly where you are!

How to Unblock Facebook in China

Yes, Facebook is blocked in China, along with the other major English-language social media sites like Twitter and Instagram.

And yes, it’s a frustrating inconvenience for visitors from overseas. After all, you’re likely accustomed to an open internet. This is especially true for the multitude that use Facebook as a glorified address book and don’t have all their contacts elsewhere. If you rely on it and other online services for business, it’s a real problem.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of maneuvering around the great firewall of China, let’s examine the facts behind this limitation.

No Facebook: The Why, When and Where

Censorship of Facebook started in July 2009 after the Ürümqi riots occurred in China. Xinjiang independence activists used Facebook as a part of their communications network. Thus, officials concluded that the social media site was a threat and have been blocking it ever since.

Before proceeding it should be noted that Facebook can be accessed in Hong Kong and Macau. Additionally, there’s been reports that after 2013 the social media site is available to some in China.

1. Accessing the Web in China: How-to

Luckily there’s a number of strategies you can use to get your Facebook fix in China.

But first, you’ll need to consider how to obtain access to the internet in general. Here’s a list of possible solutions:

Wi-Fi: Major urban centers in China have Wi-Fi access everywhere. The Wi-Fi gets incrementally scarcer as you go further inland. As you need to be able to receive a text with a PIN to gain a connection, this option will be out for some.

Rented Phone: If taken care of before departing for China, service providers will ship a ready-to-use phone to you which is a convenient option. Also, you can opt to pick it up upon arrival. Unlike roaming, rates are fixed, reasonable and the service is guaranteed to have extensive coverage.

China SIM Card: If you’ve got the time and would rather approach this as a local would, get a SIM card. You’ll need an unlocked phone and a passport to make it happen. Either locate a kiosk that offers China SIM cards (often found at major airports in Beijing, Shanghai, etc.). Or, visit to a telecom company such as China Unicom or China Mobile store to buy one.

International Roaming: Your local carrier probably offers international roaming that includes a set number of minutes and data. This route can be costly. So, as a rule of thumb it should be the last resort.

2. Get on Facebook in China: How-to

It’s best to plan ahead and get your VPN account set up before traveling to China. If you don’t, it will be either be a real pain or an impossible task.

Decision-makers in Chinese government are well aware that people use VPNs to get around their restrictions. Thus, websites belonging to major VPN services are typically blocked in China.

Now, you may be wondering: what’s a VPN?

A virtual private network provides a buffer in-between your internet connection and the web.

So, your real IP address is replaced with another IP associated with a different location of your choosing. This means the ISP and websites you visit can’t tell you’re in China. All you need to do is select a city in the US with VPN software.

1. Sign up with a VPN service provider.
2. Download VPN software supplied by the service on each device you plan to use in China.
3. Launch the app, configure the settings, and test it by choosing a server location.
4. Once you’re in China you should be good to go. Click on “connect” and browse the free internet!

Best VPNs for China

LetMeBy’s recommended VPNs are a little different for China. VyprVPN has been vigilant about working around China’s roadblocks and deserves a spot here. Now, the top three:

PureVPN
NordVPN
VyprVPN

To read full reviews of the VPNs that are recommended here you can also visit this page.

Here’s the Catch

It’s necessary to consider that a VPN might fail you. China is continually trying to block these services. And the VPNs keep finding new tactics to get around it. Thus, there’s a clash going on here to be aware of.

If reliable Facebook access is absolutely necessary, you may want to beef up your offense. Some seasoned travelers recommend obtaining memberships with two VPNs. That way, if one doesn’t work you’ve got a backup.

To Conclude…

Internet access limitations can be a drag for foreigners visiting China.

Apps like Facebook Messenger provide channels of communication millions use every day. Being blocked from accessing Facebook can be also mean being unable to see important messages from friends, family, or colleagues.

The best way to approach this situation is to make the necessary arrangements before traveling to China. Start by ensuring your important contacts have an alternative way to reach you in case you can’t access Facebook. Secondly, sign up with VPN services that are known to work in China before the trip, and not after.

Should Facebook Integration Be a Deal-Breaker for Potential Oculus Users?

The Oculus Quest 2 is a groundbreaking device in terms on its price point and its impressive capabilities. However, for some the fact Oculus is owned by Meta aka Facebook makes it an unnerving proposition in terms of privacy.

Is Facebook integration a valid deal-breaker for users that value privacy, or is its significance being overestimated online? Let’s take a look at the facts and then approach the conclusion that works for you. Privacy is rarely a one-size-fits-all matter, and Oculus headsets are no different.

Beef with the Facebook Login Requirement

Not long ago, pretty much everyone and their mother had a Facebook account. These days, generation Z doesn’t see it as a must-have app. Others have opted to delete their Facebook account to pull the plug on their social media presence or focus on other platforms.

In 2020 Meta decided to make a Facebook account a requirement to use Oculus headsets, and the internet went a bit mad. There were reports of people that got locked out of using their Quest VR hardware, and others simply got vocal about not wanting to use Facebook.

To Meta’s credit they recognized the backlash and started working on adding a native Oculus login option so Facebook would no longer be a necessity.

During his Connect keynote in October 2021, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that the restriction would soon be ending:

“As we’ve focused more on work, and frankly as we’ve heard your feedback more broadly, we’re working on making it so you can log into Quest with an account other than your personal Facebook account. We’re starting to test support for Work Accounts soon, and we’re working on making a broader shift here within the next year. I know this is a big deal for a lot of people. Not everyone wants their social media profile linked to all these other experiences, and I get that, especially as the metaverse expands. And I’ll share more about that later.”

And they’ve made good on that promise. When you go to the Oculus website you can choose to login with your Facebook account or Oculus account.

Does Facebook Share Personal Data with Oculus?

If you do choose to login to Oculus with Facebook, you’re likely wondering what the privacy implications are.

Indeed, some information gets shared across services. There is evidence of this when you see Facebook social options in VR. Depending on your perspective it can be seen as a way to provide useful features pulled from Facebook or an annoyance if you want to move away from the social media app.

Oculus also gives you the option to add multiple users to a headset. Thus, you can create a new user and maintain a different friend list for your VR experiences.

In December 2019, Facebook said that Oculus VR data would be used to show users the most relevant content (including ads) on Facebook if the two accounts are linked.

So, if you’re uncomfortable about giving Facebook another means to track your activity and aren’t interested in the social integrations on the Oculus platform, you’ll likely want to use a separate login for Meta whether you use Facebook or not.

This means there’s no longer a concrete reason to pass on an Oculus headset due to Facebook integration alone. If you don’t use your Facebook login with Oculus there’s no link between the apps, and your data won’t be used outside the Oculus ecosystem.

Meta’s Quest to Regain Trust

Facebook has certainly received its fair share of scrutiny over the years for its approach to privacy.

A recent poll by the Washington Post found that 72 percent of Internet users trust Facebook “not much” or “not at all” to responsibly handle their personal information and their Internet activity data.

It’s reached a point where anything that has Facebook associated with it gets a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to privacy matters.

Rebranding Facebook as Meta was an attempt to create a new start. Their founder Mark Zuckerberg has said Meta is now a metaverse company.

This puts them in a tricky position because its social media and advertising revenue that has created their success. Thus, Oculus can’t divorce itself from the Facebook name quite yet.

Is the Metaverse the Privacy Hole?

Are Oculus users that don’t trust the Facebook app ignoring the elephant in the room?

A VR headset tracks a person’s body movements, eye movements, and can even detect emotions though facial tracking. Thus, one can argue the tech from social media apps is the least of one’s worries when experiencing the metaverse.

Marcus Carter, a senior lecturer in digital cultures at the University of Sydney think it’s VR tech that people should be wary about. In fact, he went so far to say “Facebook’s VR push is about data, not gaming.”

“Metaverse technologies like VR and AR are perhaps the most data-extractive digital sensors we’re likely to invite into our homes in the next decade,” Carter said.

Meta has stated that they’ve dramatically improved their approach to user data privacy with their move into VR. They plan to put their users in the driver’s seat by giving them the necessary tools to manage their data.

Still, it leads back to the trust issue. With such extensive capabilities at tracking our every movement, there’s great temptation for Meta or third-party developers to find ways to benefit from the data it generates.

The Verdict

Right now, it’s fashionable to bash Facebook. Despite their less than perfect track record with how they’ve handled user data, the company continues to evolve. There’s no doubt that what they’re building with Oculus and the metaverse has gone well beyond showing promise.

Many decision makers at Meta want to move on from Facebook just as much the growing number of Internet users that have had their fill of the platform. But the reality is true independence from Facebook will only be possible when Oculus and the metaverse truly becomes their bread and butter.

Metaverse Brings Privacy Risks with Its Startling Possibilities

The great power of the approaching metaverse comes with great responsibility. Facebook has released its plans to responsibly build the metaverse with its partners.

They’re considering ways they can minimize the amount of user data that is needed to accomplish founder Mark Zuckerberg’s vision. Their aim is to build tech to “enable privacy-protective data uses.” In theory, users will be able to see how their data is used, and they’ll be able to control it.

However, what sounds good on paper and the real-world implementation are two very different things.

Facts are facts: Facebook is the least trusted social media app in terms of privacy. Nearly one-third of US Facebook users have some reservations about how the platform protects their privacy and data.

Trust is very hard to gain, and it can be lost in an instant. Facebook’s journey to reassure users that their metaverse is safe will be met with healthy skepticism.

The inherent risks of the metaverse could prove to be just as vast as it’s infinite possibilities. Before we tackle that issue, let’s look at what the metaverse is.

Wait, What’s the Metaverse?

The metaverse is the vision of virtual reality you’ve seen in movies for decades.

Imagine walking down a bustling street in Tokyo from the comfort of your condo in Miami. You look up and see a soaring building covered with brightly lit signs.

As you lower your gaze you notice a small souvenir shop with a large toy robot displayed by the window. You walk right in, and purchase the toy.

Now, this isn’t a video game. You used real digital currency to get it. Soon after you see a confirmation message that tells you they’ve received your order. The shop is now preparing it for shipment to your physical address in Miami.

This is just one example of how the metaverse will allow virtual worlds and reality to collide.

Biometric Data and Brainwaves

Tech companies can tell us what they will and won’t do, but to really understand the privacy implications of the metaverse it’s best to know what the hardware is capable of.

Virtual reality headsets are able to make use of biometric data. The user’s environment, physical movement, and dimensions can all be tracked.

Naturally, headsets and eyeglasses are ideal for tracking eye movements. Moreover, it’s possible to track the physiological reaction to experiences found within the metaverse, such as heart rate.

This is where it gets just as astonishing and it is alarming. Soon, brain-computer interfaces (BCI) will allows us to access the metaverse through smart wearables such as headphones, watches, and glasses.

BCIs collect brain signals, analyses them, and then translates them into commands smart devices can understand and execute on.

These BCIs will have access to one’s very thoughts, so malicious users in the metaverse may be able to crack the code and gain access to our brain activity if robust security measures aren’t in place.

Additionally, users will have to trust that all parties that have access to BCI data will use it solely to control the functions of their software, and not to harvest our thoughts.

Metaverse Privacy by Design

Software developers responsible for building the metaverse are aware of the threats, and they’ll act accordingly. Privacy by design is to be standard practice.

In other words, software will be built with user privacy in mind from the start, rather than adding it later to appease users and lawmakers.

Existing laws such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have driven app makers to be transparent about when private data is being accessed. For example, Google Glass displays icons and outputs audio to let users know when they’re being recorded.

Advertisers Want Your Data

Sometimes we forget that much of the technology we use every day is ad supported. It makes social media, freemium mobile games, and access to professional journalism all possible.

Consequently, user data is needed to show us ads with products we’re actually interested in.

The desires of users and advertisers clash when it comes to privacy and data. Of course, users want strong privacy. And advertisers need access to information about consumers to run their ad campaigns efficiently.

Realistically, the needs of advertisers often edge out the wants of users. Whoever pays the bills for the metaverse to run holds the real power.

Consumers have their wins too, such as Google’s decision to phase out third party cookies that track user activity.

However, historically advertisers have always been granted tools to benefit from user data. The methods of collecting and sharing that data simply change. Thus, it’s difficult to believe that a company like Facebook will take user privacy to such an extreme that it turns off advertisers.

Implications of Surveillance and AI

“The company that builds the metaverse will actually listen in on every conversation and watch every person,” said former Google and Apple exec Kai-Fu Lee.

“That on the one hand can make the experience very exciting because it can see what makes you happy and give you more of that,” he adds. “But then what is the notion of privacy in a metaverse?”

Whether a company like Facebook collects user data or not, the fact they must literally capture your every movement for the VR experience to work, is alarming.

AI will also play a huge role in making immersive worlds possible.

You’ve seen this concept in video games, when you interact with NPCs (non-player characters) that have a mind of their own. Since reality and virtual reality come together in the metaverse, the stakes are much higher.

U.N. leaders have warned that AI could pose a threat to human rights.

“AI technologies can have negative, even catastrophic effects,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Conclusion

The metaverse is a brave new world, full of amazing possibilities and dangers.

It could be Facebook, but there’s no telling which corporation will succeed at bringing the metaverse to our homes.

Every time we’re in the metaverse we’ll partially check-out of reality. Yet everything we do and say will be monitored, and some of our actions will affect our life in the physical world.

Ultimately creators of the metaverse need to design a world that serves people, rather than making us serve the metaverse.

How to Unblock Telegram Securely

Telegram is a growing instant messaging app, but not every country is feeling the love.

It’s banned in Iran, China, India, and Pakistan. It was also previously blocked in Russia before the restriction was lifted in 2020.

Why Telegram Was Blocked

After Edward Snowden alleged the NSA was spying on Americans, the public’s perception of institutions would never be the same.

With distrust of institutions and tech giants at an all-time-high, many people began to look into alternative apps like Telegram. They started using the app because they were concerned that they were being surveilled.

In fact, Telegram was born out of distrust for governments, server authorities, and the big players in social media.

When governments found out about the type of users Telegram was attracting, some clearly weren’t impressed.

Several countries labeled it as a political tool or as a threat to national security. Iran and Russia have specified that the Islamic State used it to organize terrorism plots, spread propaganda, and communicate with foreign governments.

How to Unblock Telegram

Do you live in a country that has blocked Telegram? Did you try to use the app at school or work only to find it’s blocked by the administrator?

The easiest, most reliable way to unblock Telegram is to use a VPN. A virtual private server allows you to hide your current location and replace it with another location of your choice. For example, people in Iran can change their IP address to one that is associated with the United States. Thus, you’ll be able to bypass the restriction and access the app.

There are a lot of solid VPN services out there, plus they’re all more affordable than ever. At LetMeBy we aim to only recommend the best to our visitors.

These are our go-to fast, secure VPNs:

Telegram’s Privacy and Security: Strong Enough?

According to the software developer themselves Telegram messages are always securely encrypted. Secret Chat messages use client-client encryption. Cloud Chats use client-server/server-client encryption and data is safely stored in the Telegram Cloud.

Critics have noted that while Telegram messages are encrypted, the method used to achieve this is suspect. It uses closed source encryption which is considered inferior by many leading security experts.

Additionally, Telegram messages are not encrypted by default. You have to enable this feature. Founder Pavel Durov wrote about why it’s a myth that messengers like WhatsApp are better because they use “end-to-end encrypted by default”, while Telegram does not.

Tensions Lead to Durov’s Creation

Telegram founder Pavel Durov, was once dubbed “Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg” for creating a widely used website similar to Facebook for Russian citizens.

He fled Russia with $300 million due to clashes with Putin’s government. It was during this time in self-exile that Durov started programming Telegram. He created it specifically to give users better privacy and security when messaging.

The Yarovaya law, which requires Russian telecom operators to keep all voice and messaging traffic of their customers for half a year went into effect in July of 2018.

Management at Telegram couldn’t comply with the new law. They stated it was technically impracticable to provide transcripts of secret chats since they weren’t stored on the user’s devices or on Telegram’s servers.

Consequently, later in 2018 the Russian government began blocking Telegram. The ban was lifted in 2020 after Telegram agreed to help with extremism investigations.

Conclusion

Many users swear by Telegram and think it’s much safer-to-use than competitors like Facebook Messenger. Ultimately this camp prefers to trust Telegram founders Nikolai and Pavel Durov than to trust Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

Others have pointed out that Telegram’s closed source encryption method is not as strong as their competitors. So, if you’re a fan of the app but want to be extra safe you may want to enable a VPN to add an additional layer of encryption.