Is Your Garage Door Vulnerable?

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Great video on the safety of garage doors.

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Facial Recognition

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facial recognitionFacial recognition software that scans still pictures or surveillance video feeds has become a popular tool that is increasingly being used to track the movements of and identify individuals.

It was in 1939 that George Orwell first wrote the fictional story “1984” about a future where everyone was constantly monitored.
He may have been off on his date but most of us have become so used to video surveillance that we often don’t even think about it today when we see cameras in the bank, on street corners, in schools, or in nearly every business that we visit.
That is – even if we notice them at all.
These cameras then go hand in hand with facial recognition software that allows the massive amounts of video that is being captured to be processed and used to track and identify people.

But as the use this software continues to grow and its’ efficiency develop there are some real privacy concerns that should bother everyone.

Why Use Facial Recognition

It’s hard to find a modern cop or sci-fi show on television or in the movies that doesn’t rely on some version of this high tech tool to instantly identify and track criminals so they can be made to pay for their crimes.

In fact, in real life, 95% per cent of Scotland Yard murder cases in 2009 used at least some form of CCTV (Closed Circuit Television Camera) footage as evidence.

So it’s hard to argue with the use of this technology when it is used to protect and create an almost virtual big brother to keep and eye on us and keep  us safe.

And as this technology continues to develop it’s certainly not going to go away.  The Genie is out of the bottle on this and there aren’t a lot of people that want it to go back inside.

But the big question is where does this software cross the line and become an invasion of our privacy?

Or maybe the bigger question is how much of our privacy are we willing to give up for this added security?

More Cameras

Almost every time that a crime happens on television the gruff detective demands that all the video being taken at and around the crime scene be collected for examination of clues.

This is usually followed by all that video being run through some type of facial recognition software to identify the criminals or track suspicious people.

And in real life most, if not all, or the big urban areas use of cameras to record everything that they see has increased dramatically.

It’s not unusual to find them at every major intersection and busy downtown street corner.

I usually go out for a walk most nights and it keeps amazing me how many cameras that you can see once you start looking for them.

These include cameras that are used by both law enforcement and those that are used by businesses to try and protect their property.

They are often inconspicuous and tucked away at the top of utility poles or on the corners of buildings but if you look for them you’ll probably see them everywhere.

Since 9/11 the use of CCTV cameras to track and identify terrorists has exploded with more cameras being installed every day to monitor potential problem areas that could become targets.

Local law enforcement agencies and private businesses weren’t too far behind when they realized that they could use cameras to identify criminals or stop crime.

History of Video Surveillance

Video Cameras have been around since the late 1800’s but it wasn’t until 9/11 that the push came to develop a working facial recognition program.

Until then all those video recordings were pretty useless because you had to rely on someone going through all the recordings to try and track a person or vehicle.

So both being able to use facial recognition to identify people and then the ability to identify and track vehicles has become a focus for many law enforcement groups.

And indeed it’s hard to argue against this technology when it’s used to track terrorists and criminals.

Even though right now the technology may not be as advanced as these television shows picture it doesn’t mean that Facial Recognition isn’t something that we shouldn’t be concerned about.

As facial recognition software and cameras continue to improve how long is it before our lives can be completely tracked?

How Facial Recognition Works

We as humans have always had the ability to recognize and distinguish between different faces.

But it’s only recently that scientists and programmers have started to give computers this same ability.

The first crude attempts started around the mid 1960’s but as computers have become more advanced and faster the science of facial recognition has come a long way.

The First Steps

Every face has a number of distinct landmarks that are like peaks and valleys of the face.  Each of these landmarks are called nodal points.

The human face has about 80 of these nodal points and facial recognition software measures many of these to identify people against their databases

Some of these points that are measured by the software include:

  • Distance between a persons eyes
  • Width of the nose
  • Depth of the eye sockets
  • The shape of the cheekbones
  • The length of the jaw line

These nodal points are then used to create a faceprint.

Part of the difficulty that the software would run into was that it relied on creating a 2 dimensional image that it could compare to the 2 dimensional images that were in the data bases that it could access.

In order for the software to work the image had to be of a face looking almost directly at the camera.

Any variances of light or facial expression would cause problems so when the software was trying to match images that were not taken in a controlled environment it led to a high rate of failure.

Latest 3D Methods

Using this method the software captures a 3D image of a persons face and uses the distinctive features like eye sockets, nose and chin to identify the person.

Since depth and angle of the measurements are not affected by lighting this 3D facial recognition can even be used in the dark and at different angles – even in a profile.

How Well Does Facial Recognition Work

It’s hard to tell how well this technology actually works because no one in law enforcement really wants to admit to its success or failure.

But the fact that hundreds if not thousands of these cameras are being installed across the globe means that thousands of hours of recordings are being taken.

And these recordings would be nearly useless unless there was facial recognition software to scan them.

And if you hadn’t noticed, the last time that you uploaded pictures to Google Pictures, they scan your pictures to try and identify the people in those pictures.

facial recognition

So if a free service can do it then it’s more than likely that what the government has is far ahead.

How To Avoid Facial Recognition

There is a lot of information that gives ideas about how to avoid cameras and facial recognition.

They include a Japanese company that is coming out with a privacy visor that is supposed to block video surveillance by confusing any camera that is looking at your face with a light coming from eye glasses.

According to the team that is developing this software:

“Photos taken without people’s knowledge can violate privacy,” the team says. “For example, photos may be posted online together with metadata including the time and location. But by wearing this device, you can stop your privacy being infringed in these ways.”

But my concern would be that the more that you do to avoid or in the above case, use technology to avoid surveillance, the more you stick out as someone who should be watched.

Final Thoughts On Facial Recognition

The fact is that facial recognition is not something that is going to go away.

There are just too many people that are in the world today that mean to create harm to others for whatever their reason or goal is they are trying to accomplish for law enforcement agencies to ever want to give up this tool to track them.

And businesses are inevitably going to want to use this tool both for security from theft and for identifying their customers.

By identifying their customers businesses can create custom advertising for the things that they might be interested in buying.

I’m not sure whether facial recognition will ultimately be a good or a bad thing.  It probably is going to depend upon how it is used.

But I also agree with the people that think that this is just another example of our slowly eroding right to privacy.

I also think that privacy is really something that has long gone away.

We always hear the argument from proponents of this that if we aren’t doing anything wrong then we have no need to worry about this type of surveillance and facial recognition.

But what about those of us that still believe that we are innocent until proven guilty and don’t want big brother breathing over our shoulder watching our every move in case we do something wrong?

Only time will tell whether where this is going but as a survivalist that believes in personal freedom I find this a disturbing trend.

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Get Rid Of That Flashlight App

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Here is a recent interview with security expert Gary Miliefskynet about the reason that you should ditch that Flashlight App on your phone!

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Is There A Mini Ice Age In Our Future?

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There has been a lot of press lately about a report by Professor Valentina Zharkova stating that we are going to experience a Mini Ice Age within about 15 years and that it could ultimately last for around 10 years.

mini ice age

Reasons For A Mini Ice Age

It’s been known since around 1843 that the sun routinely goes through cycles of activity that last for about 11 years.

In a presentation at the National Astronomy meeting, Professor  Zharkova  outlined the results of a new model that he and his team have created to better understand the these cycles.

This new model suggests that the sun’s activities could fall by as much as 60 percent between the years of 2030 and 2040.

Since the energy from the sun’s activities is one of the things that keeps our world warm,  a lower level of these activities would also lower the temperatures around our globe.

Chance Of A Mini Ice Age

If this models conclusions hold up it seems that we have a good chance of seeing a mini ice age happen.

The last time that such a lull in solar activity was observed was in the 17th Century between 1645 and 1715.

This period is called the Maunder Minimum, named for the two astronomers,  Annie and E. Walter Maunder,  who studied sunspots and helped identify the sun’s strange activity during that period.

That time period saw only 30 sunspots or about one one-thousandth of what would normally be expected and coincided with a “Little Ice Age” in Europe.

It was during this period when the planet experienced heavier than normal snow falls and large bodies of water like the Thames River and the Baltic Sea froze over.

maunder minimum

The conclusion that Professor Zharkova and his team reached are still a matter of debate but even if they are partially true we could be in for a weather change in the near future.

The Counter Argument

But then again, maybe not.  It seems that there is also a lot of evidence that the Little Ice Age of the 17th Century may have been strongly influenced by a rash of volcanoes that were erupting at that time.

This caused more ash in the air that blocked the sun’s heat and might have caused the temperature drops.

Many feel that there is just not that much difference in the suns heat that reaches the earth whether there is a lot of solar activity or very little activity.

Or the Mini Ice Age that they experienced in the 17th century might have been caused by some combination of these two factors.

The bottom line is that no one seems to know for sure and we really won’t know until we get to 2030 and see what happens.

How A Mini Ice Age Would Affect Our Lives

If there was a new mini ice age, it would probably happen slowly and we would be able to adapt to the changes.

It’s much more likely that any weather changes that we see would be because of the rising impact of greenhouse gasses.

At the best, most scientists believe that a new Maunder Minimum would only reduce the total warming trend that we are currently experiencing only slightly and then only for a brief period.

Even though it sounds contrary to logic the global warming that is happening is already going to cause colder, harsher winters and more unpredictable weather so this new data isn’t going to be of a huge impact.

Conclusion to Mini Ice Age

There are a lot of times when the media gets ahold of some bit of scientific information and runs with it, looking for what seems like a new dooms day scenario.

This idea of a mini ice age seems like one of those times.  It shouldn’t distract us from the very real changes that are currently happening because of global warming.

Whether or not you believe that global warming is real or not isn’t the issue since we are seeing things happening that only the most stubborn person would deny.

Those are the weather changes that we should be worried about.  In fact, if there is a mini ice age it wouldn’t really be a bad thing.

It would give us a respite, no matter how small to get the things that we need to do to stop global warming from getting worse.

What we should really be worrying about is whether or not we have reached the tipping point where we can’t avoid global warming and its longer lasting and detrimental affects to our climate.

In fact, the researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research used a sophisticated computer model to predict the effects of a future “grand solar minimum” on our climate between 2020 to 2070.

Their model suggested the even though the solar minimum might  slow down global warming  by 20-30 percent during the solar lull within a couple of decades later the expected temperatures of global warming would return.

So, the bottom line is that this solar lull, even if it happens, probably isn’t going to get us out of the global warming problem.

This is certainly not the news that we want to hear but better than having a mini ice age with all the possible problems that would bring.

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Climate Change and Urban Disaster

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Climate change and urban disasterClimate Change and Urban Disaster are tightly linked together and something that anyone concerned with urban disaster survival should consider in their preparations.

Is Climate Change Real

Whether the predictions that warn man’s effect on our climate is ultimately going to cause an apocalypse are not is still a subject for debate.

How bad these changes could be may still not be known but with California going into it’s fifth year of drought, massive storms in the east, and high temperatures baking parts of the country it has to be accepted that things are changing.

How fast we will experience these changes and whether or not it’s because man is affecting the climate are subjects for another article.

This one looks at the potential for the climate changes that we are seeing to cause urban disasters.

Climate Change and Urban Disaster

Many people might ask why climate change and urban disaster were  connected.  And even if they are why we should really be worried about it since we are talking on the scale of centuries.

But the fact is that at least some of the changes won’t wait until the next century and then suddenly occur and be someone else’s problem.

A recent huge study by the UN concludes that many of the changes are going to happen a lot faster than we think.

In fact, they are happening right now and the savvy prepper needs to take these changes into consideration in their preps.

California’s Drought

One example is the drought that California is experiencing.  While some parts of the country are getting unusually large amounts of rain, places like California and Washington are experiencing drought conditions.

climate change and urban disasterOne climate change forecaster has stated that one major change  we are going to see that is going to happen right now is with the rain patterns.  When it rains we are going to get more than normal and when it doesn’t it could go longer between rains.

So California has been getting little or no rain for 5 years now.  The result is that the aquifers that are being used for water are being drained faster than they are being refilled by rain.

Why This Is A Problem

You might wonder why this is a problem if you don’t live in California. The answer is that California produces much of the produce that the rest of the Country eats.

More than 80% of the water used in California is for food production.  If the drought conditions continue it’s extremely likely that further restrictions will be placed on water usage that could dramatically raise the cost of produce.

Temperature Changes

Another forecast is weather extremes that we have experienced in the last few years will not only continue but get worse.

It will get colder with more winter storms and hotter in the summer with more heatwaves.

These storms and heat waves have a direct economic effect on our economy.

Winter Storms

Like the rain the snow fall is going to become more erratic.  There could be areas where snow is lower than normal and long lasting storms like we saw this last winter that drop unprecedented amounts of snow.

Since many parts of the country rely on snowfall in the mountains to fill their water reservoirs for summer less than normal snowpack can lead to summer droughts.

Climate change and urban disaster
(AP Photo/Peter M. Fredin)

During heavy winter storms stores and other businesses lose money because they can’t be accessed or they can’t get supplies.  People lose income because they can’t get to their jobs.

Roads become impassable and that stops or slows deliveries not only to the affected areas but also across the nation as manufactured goods stand in store rooms rather than being delivered across the Nation.

This may not seem to be a problem for you until the store shelves start to empty because food can’t be delivered or your power in your home suddenly goes off because power lines go down.

Summer Heat

This summer we are already seeing extreme high temperatures in parts of the country.

Not only can this lead to heat related deaths but further taxes our aging electrical infrastructure as people use more power for cooling their homes.

Food Production

Many of the crops that we rely on for food or that feed livestock depend upon certain weather conditions to grow.

climate change and urban disasterToo much heat or lack of water can cause crop failures that threatens our food supply.

Higher temperatures in the ocean are already affecting the supply of seafood and the jobs that are being lost as those changes affect the seafood industry.

Even a change of a degree or two in temperature can cause major changes in where or even if fish flourish and that affects not only what is available to eat but the jobs created by this industry.

Conclusion to Climate Change and Urban Disaster

The bottom line is that there are changes that are already happening.  And those changes aren’t going to be spread evenly.

The poor are going to be effected more than the rich and those areas of the world that already are having problems are going to get worse.

For the prepper that means that we should strive to be more self sufficient and not rely on others to solve this problem for us.

Solar panels are continuing to lower in price while becoming increasingly efficient.  This allows us to power our own home and not depend upon distant plants and fluctuating prices.

Many areas of the country are relaxing laws against or even encouraging rainwater collection for both drinking and watering gardens.  This gives us the chance to grow our own food.

It’s important to become more self reliant on food production.  Even a small garden can make a big difference in your food supplies.

What steps that you take depend upon what area of the country you live in and what problems you might face.

But climate change and urban disaster are a lot more closely linked than many of us would think.




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McDonald’s Using Robots

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In a further effort to trim it’s budget and stabilize it’s falling profits McDonald’s has come up with a new solution – Robots.

This is part of a growing trend that we see in businesses around the country as they try to get rid of pesky employees that seek living wages, McDonald’s using robots seems just another step towards some major problems.

In grocery stores you have self check-out that makes you do the work of scanning and bagging your groceries.   Where they would need to pay people before, now one person can run up to 6 checkouts.

I’m not liking where this is going.

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What is Your Private Information Worth?

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It is amazing, and sort of terrifying how much criminals and assorted hackers are willing to pay for your personal information.

Watch the following video to see what your private information is worth.

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California Water Shortage

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Water Apocalypse?

According to a new paper, Nature Climate Change by NASA water scientist James Famiglietti the California water shortage is severe and likely getting worse:

“California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins have lost roughly 15 cubic kilometers of total water per year since 2011,” he writes. That’s “more water than all 38 million Californians use for domestic and municipal supplies annually—over half of which is due to groundwater pumping in the Central Valley.”

Famiglietti collected this data from satellites to measures how much water people are pumping from aquifers around the globe.

He writes that more than 2 Billion people rely on the worlds aquifers as their primary source of water.  It is also the source for at least half the irrigation water that we use to grow food.

When a drought such as what has caused the California water shortage hits,  farmers need to rely on groundwater even more than usual. because less rain and snow means less water flowing above ground.

The conclusions that Famiglietti draws from the satellite data is pretty alarming:

“Groundwater is being pumped at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished, so that many of the largest aquifers on most continents are being mined, their precious contents never to be returned.”

California Water Shortage

The Central Valley of California has one of the worlds fastest-depleting aquifers—but it still isn’t the fastest depleting overall and there is another aquifer called Ogallala that is located in the northern high plains of the United States that is emptying almost as fast.

Nearly all of the aquifers are located under the worlds greatest agricultural areas and that water is responsible for those areas having high productivity.

The fact that these aquifers are responsible for much of the food grown around the globe should be alarming since their loss could cause food shortages.

Yet there is almost no regulation on how water pumped from aquifers can be used or how much can be pumped.

Even though there is very little thought or research about the water drawn from these aquifers we know that we are pumping the water out faster than it can be replaced by nature.

If this trend continues he adds that:

“groundwater supplies in some major aquifers will be depleted in a matter of decades.”

California Water Shortage Problems

California water shortageeIn most places around the world any property owner who can afford to drill a well has unlimited access to the aquifer groundwater.

The more that is pumped the worse the problem becomes.  As a aquifers water level drops wells have to go deeper to get to the water and that increases the costs.

This is already happening in the California water shortage as some low income residents that are unable to afford the costs of a deeper well are seeing their wells run dry.

When the wells go deeper there is also another problem that happens.

As the aquifers water tables drop the amount of salts that are found in the water increases, sometime to the point where the water need to be treated before it can be used.

This situation is already playing out in California’s Central Valley, where some people that rely on wells are starting to see shortages and tainted water.

How the California Water Shortage Could Affect You

These problems affect all of us no matter where we live.  Shortages of water in California could quickly translate into rising prices for the fruits and vegetables that are grown there.

This California water shortage could quickly cause a shortage of these items that would affect every person in our country.

The only solution when a growing population requires more water and the global warming could lead to more droughts is to treat water as the valuable resource that it is.

We need to find ways to stop wasting it and make sure that we are using it wisely.

Is The California Water Shortage A Real Crisis

dry resevoirsAlthough the above article also points out that the above ground reservoirs have only about 1 year of water left in them before they run dry leaving only the rapidly depleting ground water in aquifers it may not be as bad as it seems.

When you look at the actual numbers it turns out that most of California wastes a huge amount of water.

On average, the people in San Diego County for example, use over 150 gallons of water per day.   Compare this to Sydney, Australia which has a similar climate but uses less than half that amount.

But even if residents of California want to use water to have green lawns and pools in an arid climate, they use only a portion of the water used in the state.

The states agricultural industry uses 80% of the water and they are also one of the largest wasters of this resource.

Many farmers regularly flood the land to grow water thirsty crops like rice and alfalfa.  As recently as 2010 still had 43% of agricultural irrigation using a gravity method which is hugely wasteful but the least expensive way to water crops.

Conclusion To California Water Shortage

The bottom line is that this problem exists because water has been a cheap resource that we have wasted for years, and now it’s time to pay for it.

There are vastly more efficient ways to water crops in California that would dramatically decrease the water used by farmers.

gravity water systemThey are just not being used because they are more expensive than the old ways of flooding fields through gravity systems.

But this California water shortage is not as apocalyptic as it would seem at first glance.  We need to start conserving and protecting this important resource or the consequences could be severe.

Although California isn’t the only one facing this problem it could be one of the first to start to solve it.

The truth is that California has plenty of water…though maybe not enough to satisfy our wasteful use of this precious resource that we are doing today.

To make sure that this water shortage doesn’t become a larger problem we need to change how we use this resource and think of where we could be in the future if we don’t.



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Emergency Fire Starting Method

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This is a great video about an easy way to start a fire in an emergency using just a battery and gum wrapper.

An emergency fire starting method like this could save your life in case of an emergency where you needed to start a fire.


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Protecting Your Privacy

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For me – protecting your privacy and urban disaster survival go hand in hand.   I don’t think that when you are prepping you can ever forget the importance of maintaining your privacy.

It seems that one of the areas that we have lost the most privacy is our on-line Internet and mobile phone use.

Secret Phone Tapping Technology

cell phone securityIt was recently released that police are using a new gadget that police departments around the country are using to spy on cell phone usage.

The device – called a Stingray, can monitor the phone calls and messages that people make.  But no one seems to want to say too much about how the device works or how large an area it can monitor.

The device is reportedly designed to trick cell phones into believing that it is a legitimate cell phone tower.  When the device is turned on it can capture texts, emails, phone calls, and location data of suspects but also of anyone else that happens to be in the area where it is operating.

It then send the signals on to legitimate cell towers without the cell phone owner or the cell phone company being any the wiser about what is happening.

The device, small enough to fit in a suitcase, is so shrouded in secrecy, that in order to buy the device agencies must sign a non-disclosure agreement that requires them to avoid saying anything about the technology or how it works.

The reason for this, according to the FBI is that disclosure of how the device works could allow criminals and terrorists to circumvent the device.

Because the device is so secret there is also no known way to protect your privacy from it, unless you are willing to give up your cell phone.

The Washington Post

Yahoo Tech

Protecting Your Privacy In E-Mails/Texts/Searches

There was another recent article that cited a survey by the Pew Research Center where more than half the people that were questioned expressed concern about government spies prying into their private e-mails, texts, and searches.

But the survey also found that very few were actually taking any steps to protect themselves.

According to the survey the main reason that people don’t try to protect their on-line privacy is because they don’t know how.
In a quote to the Associated Press, Mary Madden, a senior researcher for the Pew stated: “It all boils down to people sort of feeling like they have lost control over their data and their personal information,  but at the same time, when we asked them if they would like to do more, folks expressed that as an aspirational goal.”

So, here are some steps you can take to protect your privacy when you are online.

Hide Your Searching

I’m sure that you have had the same experience that I have where you search for something and that product keeps popping up in ads where ever you go.

It’s well known that the big search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo all collect and study your queries so they can learn what kinds of products and services could appeal to you so they can sell advertising that is  targeted to your interests.

It a legitimate commercial use of the information and can be beneficial to both you and to the companies that advertise on-line.

But that doesn’t mean that this data is protected form the NSA or others that would want to use this information for other purposes.

The good news is that there is a small search engine upstart called DuckDuckGo that is gaining a lot of users with it’s pledge to never collect personal information or track its users.

Scramble Your E-Mail

You may not realize it but any e-mail that you send in plain text can be read by others.  E-mails travel from your computer to the recipient by going over various secure and unsecure networks and servers.

These servers can make a copy of your e-mail and pretty much anyone who has access to them can read your e-mail.

We tend to think that the e-mail we send our computers is private but in truth it’s not.  Everyone from the government to hackers, jealous exes, or the company that you work for could be reading your e-mail.

All you have to do is think about the revelations that the NSA is monitoring phones and e-mails and the fiasco at Sony when their e-mail system was hacked to see that encrypting your e-mail might be a good idea.

If you are like me there is a lot of information that goes in e-mails that I would not want to be public.

Whether it is proprietary business letters, account and banking information,  or just things that would be embarrassing personally, now more than ever you should be concerned about who might be reading your messages.

The good news is that there are encryption programs like Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) that you can use to encrypt your e-mails and make them look like gibberish to anyone not authorized to read them.

Yahoo is also supposed to have a new encryption program for it’s e-mail program within a year.  G-Mail currently has a Chrome extension app available for those that want to secure their e-mail.

Drop The Internet

Protect Your PrivacyThis might sound old school and it’s certainly not something that I would want to do myself, but you could always cut the cord and stop using the Internet.

Even though the Pew poll mentioned above shows that 14% of the people that were surveyed are meeting face to face more rather than using phone, text, or e-mail because of privacy concerns there are still a lot of situations where that one on one meeting is not practical or convenient.



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