The 5G Conspiracy Theorists Making Money Out of Covid-19!

If you have been following social media during this pandemic, and it’s hard to avoid it, you may have noticed that conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus are multiplying like weeds.

The general consensus is that it leapt to humans from a bat, or a pangolin, but even the leading scientists have questioned what was initially assumed about Wuhan’s wet market as being the source.

But the conspiracy theorists aren’t content with that. It’s not exciting enough for them presumably, plus was there ever a better opportunity for them to jump on all the social media channels and announce the ‘truth’!

One of the most prevalent theories is that the virus is related to the rollout of 5G Internet technology. Apparently, while we are all in lockdown, new 5G towers are being installed while we’re not looking. That’s just one aspect of it. The other is that the 5G technology is responsible for spreading the virus worldwide?

How could technology do this? Well, according to the conspiracy, there is no virus. The images you have seen of people dying in hospital beds is part of one big hoax. Instead it is 5G technology that is causing the symptoms.

Another variation of the conspiracy theory asserts that radiation from 5G can weaken your immune system to the point that you are more easily infected by COVID-19. After all, the same people have been saying for months that 5G will basically fry your brain.

It’s hard to imagine, is it not, that all the medics, nurses and scientists have been colluding in an elaborate illusion, just to ensure that we think people are ill or dying from the virus?

The conspiracy theorists work from the rather basic principle that since Covid-19 started in China, and so did the 5G rollout, which apparently means 5G is the real source of the worst pandemic any of us have seen. Some have even tried to create timelines connecting the emergence of radio waves in 1916 as the precursor of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, and to connect the introduction of 3G with SARS and 4G with swine flu, before we get to 5G.

Even some news broadcasters have pandered to the idea, showing maps of %G tower installations and claiming there are more Covid cases in these areas. However, this doesn’t support 5G as being the cause. There may be many other factors in those areas contributing to the number of infections, primary among them socio-economics and population density.

And in other fake news, somebody tried to claim that the new Bank of England £20 note features a 5G tower and a symbol for Covid-19. Apart form the Queen, it features the artist J.M.W. Turner. The ‘5G tower’ is actually Margate Lighthouse, a favourite place of the artist, and the so-called Covid symbol represents a staircase at Tate Britain, which houses many of Turner’s works. Just so we’ve cleared that one up.

That hasn’t stopped people from vandalising 5G towers and attacking telecoms workers in the UK and elsewhere. As Forbes contributor Bruce Y. Lee says, “In fact, these 5G-COVID-19 conspiracy theories has gotten so rampant that U.K. government officials actually have had to take time to discredit such theories, which is a wonderful use of time during a public health emergency.”

Making money from the 5G conspiracy

Of course, somebody is benefitting from the 5G conspiracy: Ryan Broderick at Buzzfeed says people are paying $350 for a USB stick that is a ‘bioshield’ against 5G. The vendor, Jacques Bauer, “falsely claims protects people from 5G radiation by converting it into beneficial radiation.” And there are others who have jumped on the same bandwagon, as Broderick rightly names and shames them.

It’s consumer abuse at any time, but while people are dying in the hundreds of thousands worldwide, it is utterly disgraceful to capitalise on people’s fear in this way. In the months to come, people will want answers about how this pandemic truly unfolded, and I’m willing to bet that the experts won’t say, “It was 5G.” However, like the anti-vaxxers (a lot of the 5G conspiracists belong in that camp as well), those who are convinced 5G caused Covid-19 will probably not go away. The best thing we can do is to ignore them.

Free phones – but NO privacy!

Image result for Free phones – but NO privacy!

When I spotted an article in Forbes by Thomas Brewster, I was immediately intrigued. The headline is U.S. Funds Program With Free Android Phones For The Poor — But With Permanent Chinese Malware. It surely must strike anyone reading it as a giving with one hand and taking away with the other gesture. So, I had to check out what it was about.

As I live outside the USA, I was not aware that low income households in the States have been able to get cheap cell service and even free smartphones via the U.S. government-funded Lifeline Assistance program. And there is one provider of this service called Assurance Wireless that offers a free Android device along with free data, texts and minutes. It sounds good on the face of it.

But according to security researchers at Malware Bytes there is a significant drawback to the distribution of this largesse. The Android phones come with preinstalled Chinese malware, which effectively opens up a backdoor onto the device and endangers the users’ private data. And, the researchers say that one of the types of malware is impossible to remove.

Malware Bytes informed Assurance Wireless about the issue. Assurance is a Virgin Mobile company, just as a matter of interest. So far Malware Bytes have not received a response from the service provider. So, users should be aware that their devices are vulnerable. Interestingly, after Forbes published the article a spokesperson for Sprint, which owns Virgin Mobile and Assurance Wireless, said: “We are aware of this issue and are in touch with the device manufacturer Unimax to understand the root cause. However, after our initial testing we do not believe the applications described in the media are malware.”

The FCC, which runs Lifeline Assistance, confirmed to Forbes that the law requires “its fund not be used by partner carriers for spending on devices.”

As a result questions are being asked. Senator Ron Wyden asked the FCC why these phones are being distributed to low-income citizens: “It is outrageous that taxpayer money may be going to companies providing insecure, malware-ridden phones to low-income families. I’ll be asking the FCC to ensure Americans that depend on Lifeline Assistance aren’t paying the price with their privacy and security.”

According to the Forbes article, the affected device is a UMX phone shipped by Assurance Wireless, and one of the bits of malware is the creation of a Chinese entity known as Adups. It basically auto-installs apps and the user has no way of controlling that. Furthermore Adups tools have been caught siphoning off private data in the past. This included the full-body of text messages, contact lists and call histories with full telephone numbers.

All this begs the question that Thomas Brewster asks – is privacy only for the rich?

We are all victims of Facebook manipulation

Facebook has taken a battering recently, and what many users have spotted is that there is a massive gap between how the company operates and the PR messages it sends to the world.

Look at some of the messages that Mark Zuckerberg sent out in 2012, the year it acquired Instagram and brought Sheryl Sandberg to its boardroom table:

“Helping a billion people connect is amazing, humbling and by far the thing I am most proud of in my life.”

“I am committed to working every day to make Facebook better for you, and hopefully together we will be able to connect the rest of the world too.”

“At Facebook we believe that the need to open up and connect is what makes us human. It’s what brings us together. It’s what brings meaning to our lives.”

It all sounds very warm and worthy. Yet there were other things going on behind the scenes that were not so ethical, as revealed in a collection of internal Facebook emails published online by Damian Collins, a UK Member of Parliament. As Motherboard points out, the content includes exchanges between Zuckerberg and Sandberg discussing the company’s business model and how it leverages our data to make money.

Collins wrote in his summary of the documents, “Facebook knew that the changes to its policies on the Android mobile phone system, which enabled the Facebook app to collect a record of calls and texts sent by the user would be controversial,” adding, “To mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard of possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app.”

He then tweeted: “I believe there is considerable public interest in releasing these documents. They raise important questions about how Facebook treats users data, their policies for working with app developers, and how they exercise their dominant position in the social media market.”

Essentially, the internal emails include details on the distribution of Facebook’s various apps. They reveal how the company worked very closely with some app developers to give them access to user data, and how the company specifically incentivizes sharing on the platform in order to feed that data back to advertisers. The emails also include information about how the company tried to hide and downplay the amount of data that it collected from the Android version of the Facebook app.

Needless to say, Facebook has responded by saying that the emails “are only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context.”

Of course, we can’t blame Facebook for wanting to make a profit, but as Colin Horgan writes, “These emails, however, reveal a core dissonance between the idea Facebook sought to market to its billion-plus users for years, and how those users were leveraged in a business sense.”

Facebook users thought they were part of an idealistic project, when in fact they were being used for much darker purposes, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed. The fact that the UK’s parliament is exposing the media giant on its website indicates the extent of the distaste for how Facebook conducts its affairs.

One thing is for sure, as Facebook users we do not have an equal relationship with the company, as it has promoted; instead it is entirely based on inequality, because, ultimately, Facebook has benefited a lot more than its users have.

Every search you make…is being watched

That moment when we all went out and bought smartphones was a game changer for our personal privacy as Tyler Elliott Bettilyon discusses on Medium.

We never imagined at the time how these expensive gadgets would impact on our lives; all we could see that they made our lives easier, but at what cost?

In China, surveillance apparatus is increasingly sophisticated. There is facial recognition technology connected to CCTV cameras and police officers will soon have cameras inside their sunglasses. There may also be drones disguised as birds. Worse still, Chinese citizens are being asked (demanded) to install software in their phones that tracks their downloads and if you’re Chinese and visit a site banned by the government, you lose points from your “social credit score.”

But that’s China, you’re probably thinking. This is a Communist regime that has always controlled how people act and think. It isn’t like that in more democratic countries. Unfortunately the response to that is, “Don’t be so sure.”

Take a look at the surveillance tools the USA has. The NSA’s PRISMprogramme collects masses of data about internet traffic — including yours! That’s why Edward Snowdon blew the whistle on it and revealed how the NSA might be breaking the rules of privacy.

And Europe is no more private. It also has an array of online surveillance tools that it uses in the name of ‘security’. And if you keep sending out the message that we are all in danger, then the citizens of Europe give governments a free pass to collect whatever data they want. They don’t consciously allow it; they passively accept it.

And, online censorship is on the rise as the world becomes more authoritarian. A 2017 report Freedom on the Net details how our freedoms are being curbed year after year. It says: “Nearly half of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net 2017 experienced declines during the coverage period, while just 13 made gains, most of them minor. Less than one-quarter of users reside in countries where the internet is designated Free, meaning there are no major obstacles to access, onerous restrictions on content, or serious violations of user rights in the form of unchecked surveillance or unjust repercussions for legitimate speech.”

But it isn’t just governments that are watching you; it’s Facebook, Google and the like who are analysing your every move in order to push adverts at you. The Cambridge Analytica scandal showed us how the data they collect can be ‘weaponised’ for political ends.

Perhaps you are very security conscious about your personal data and take all the recommended steps (and more) to protect yourself. But, the web has many vulnerable points you may pass through without your knowledge and that leaves you exposed. These include your friends keeping texts from you, photos of you taken by friends stored on Facebook and Google keeping track of your search history. Yes, you can turn Google tracking off — if you can actually find where to do that. However, ultimately the only way to stay secure is never to send your data via the internet. Or, get yourself a Tor browser. This is a system that attempts to hide source and destination IP addresses by using several proxies. And even then there are still vulnerabilities.

Finally, personal actions to protect our personal data will never be enough: it will require collective action to overcome the Big Brother machinations of the large agencies like the NSA. Bringing the issues to the attention of more internet users is vital to achieve this, then perhaps we can start to solve the problem and pack up our paranoia.