Categories
News

Trust Me, It’s Free

(…and if there’s a problem, you did agree to the Terms of Service!)

You’ll notice every wi-fi hotspot you use asks you to agree to terms of service. These always include the caveat that the network may allow others to see the traffic you’re sending across it. No one hesitates to accept.

My lifestyle has me using public wi-fi to access the internet, always. I’ve long had an interest in computers, networks, and how they function. Network access is something I’ve done troubleshooting on with regularity. Not so much recently. I mention it by way of establishing a little credibility. At any rate that brings me to the point of this post.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a reliable, well-established way to keep your web browsing secure from outside observers. Back in 2010 or so VPNs were becoming increasingly prevalent as free and subscription services. Wanting to preserve my personal information while using wide-open public networks, I began making use of these services. They were great, initially. It wasn’t long before they became unusable. This followed a pattern.

At first, arriving at my regular wi-fi hotspots, I’d log in, join my VPN service, and it’d work. Everything went smoothly. It’d function perfectly, for a day or so. Soon enough, they’d fail to connect, making the network unusable. Without the VPN, access worked perfectly. Free or paid VPN, it made no difference.

This pattern spread to every public wi-fi spot. From Starbuck’s to Wendy’s, McDonald’s to A&W, before long every ‘free’ wi-fi offered to the public was unusable as soon as a VPN was engaged.

Every company offering publicly available internet was blocking access to the basic tools available to mitigate the very threat they were warning their users of.

The implications are clear enough. While there has yet to be a scandal (fingers crossed!), the business model offering free services to the public in exchange for rights to profit from their data is widespread, commonplace. Companies offering public wi-fi are collecting all network traffic, for profit. Without getting into the far flung regions of this subject, I’d point out what that entails. Your email address. Your banking details. All of your passwords. Your secret, flirty messages to your online fantasy affair. It’s all being collected and sorted, stored and used as data to model your behaviour.

Frighteningly, everything you’re using in the cloud, including any truly private, legally protected information you might access while working from your local coffee shop is also potentially being stored. All information you send and receive across one of these networks is being collected, recorded, collated and sold. Your personality, interests, economic status, sexuality, and private life are becoming the intellectual property of strangers, organizations who will use that information to extract maximum value from you, for the duration of your life.

Modern-day standards have been implemented to protect internet users from the threat of unauthorized traffic monitoring. Providers are side-stepping those standards, illegally accessing, collecting and profiting from your activity while denying you the power of self-protection. In a nearly Kafkaesque turn, any counter argument can be slapped down with reference to the terms of the agreement you entered into. In a world which increasingly demands access to networks as precondition to everyday living, this is a dangerous foundation to build upon.

Many aspects of this are troubling, though it is when looking at projected social futures the current state of affairs seem most ominous. Imagine your value being estimated at birth, the statistically probable limits of your economic value being projected based on generations of data and models — tried, tested, and deployed for profit and harmony in our technological future. ‘Dystopian’ hasn’t enough room in it to carry all of the hell that world would be.


The impetus for my posting this was the recent experience I had at my local library branch. My computer was hacked.

As part of my tech routine I format and reinstall my OS multiple times a year. I recently did just this. More than 24 hours passed between the format and my next sign-on at the library. Completely fresh install.

I’m familiar with the moods of the TPL network, including how often it requires a new sign-on — multiple times per day, no matter what.

When I connected to the library hotspot, it hit the internet, right away. No sign-in page, no terms of service. This was unusual. Based on evidence, I believe my laptop was being compromised, hacked.

After verifying I was indeed on the internet, I went about looking at the volume of traffic to and from my computer. That effort proved unnecessary. Next thing that happened was a segmentation fault in a privileged part of my OS. A segmentation fault is a form of program crash. Hackers will often use a specific sort of attack which results in a segmentation fault. The attack causes the system to execute code the attacker has crafted to gain privileges, breaking security so they can install software allowing them reliable access in future. In terms of seriousness, it’s many levels above monitoring traffic and collecting information.

What I am alleging here is that the administrators managing that network not only collect and sell user data, but, as with my example, have no qualms about installing software to illegally monitor patrons computer-based activity.

If you need help putting this kind of attack into context, I refer you to the Pegasus revelations. Pegasus is a formalized system of mobile phone hacking which has been connected to assassinations and kidnappings enacted around the world targeting journalists, activists, and uncooperative royals. Kidnapped, harassed, killed — phones compromised using commercially available Pegasus technology figure prominently in facilitating surveillance leading to violence and disappearances. Traces of Pegasus have been found on mobile phones all over the planet, indicating the widespread use of monitoring as a norm.

The power to illegally access private communications devices is not limited to those perceived as a threat to authoritarian governments. Identifiable data linked to an individual is key to profits for a broad range of businesses operating today. What purpose the Toronto Public Library would have for infiltrating and monitoring a patron’s laptop is something I couldn’t speculate on. Nor would I point to the close cooperation in harassment, gaslighting, and psychological abuse between GARDA Security (employed here in the library) and the City of Toronto as a possible basis for this specific incident.

Remember, the library is a public service institution. It’s a not-for-profit operation. It’s not a cog in the machine of a multi-national corporation. It’s an institution dedicated to public service. What part of that, I ask you, is represented by hacking the computers and personal data of the public? Next they’ll be finding security cameras hidden in public bathrooms. Uhhmmmm… they wouldn’t, would they?

Categories
News

3/21/2022

Highlights first, then some detail.

Fundraiser is active and I need your help. All donors are welcome.

My fundraising goal, when I started this process, was about $35,000. That figure represented one year’s security, housed, off the street. The dollar amount now, due to factors related to global events, is higher. For that reason, I’ll describe my fundraising goals more loosely. First, a note on why I’ve chosen the cost of one full year as the bare minimum for success.

One year is not a long time to build a life. Yet it might be just long enough to get started rebuilding one.

In that time I plan to apply to university, work, generate income, and make a return to life and living.

Today, my fundraising goal is the figure that will keep me housed for one year, regardless the specific number – $40,000 or $400,000, whatever it takes to get me housed for one year, that is the fundraising goal. Key to success in this endeavour is that it happen quickly. Otherwise, I’m only some kind of bizarre character whose ongoing misery is being sponsored by people viewing from the sidelines, for a one-time fee.

While my needs are primarily financial I also have a need for therapy. My physical health is good. Mentally, I am not well. Bitter and frustrated, I need to heal the damage caused by grinding long-term traumatic stress, sleep deprivation, social isolation, and the destruction of my sense of self. It’s a complex picture, wholistically, yet achievable with help.

Those are the highlights, in brief.

Thank you for your time, and your donations.

Donations can be made via my GoFundMe, or through my Ko-Fi page.

Instagram: @thiswholethingislame / @homeless_daily

For your convenience, here is an excerpt form my GFM:

I’ve stayed in shelters. I’ve rented a bed. I’ve applied for housing. I went door to door, mowing lawns. I’ve worked with the system, and with case workers. I’ve appealed to family. I’ve stayed with friends. I’ve been sleeping on the street for many years.

A return to housing starts with funding. Re-building a life is impossible without resources. The ground-level reality is there is no way out of homelessness without money.

Chris Leach / Homeless Since 2007

You’re already familiar with some of my story, I expect. You’ll already be aware I have a meandering, long-winded, and often absurdly convoluted way of communicating. That can be a lot of work. Clearly, you’re up to it. Good.

Time is a resource all of us possess. Our power to utilize time in ways we choose is determined by our status. As a homeless person, my time is spent, primarily, on basic survival. Conditions don’t allow for a lot of learning, goal-setting, or meaningful time management.

This reality makes any shift in living or circumstance a serious undertaking. Hence the long delay in returning to this blog.

The next post I expect to make will go into some of the factors around the re-imagining of this project. I’ll be writing about my plans around fundraising, re-housing and education and my ultimate goal of applying my experience of homelessness to making deep change to the systems destroying lives for the sin of economic failure.


Categories
News

News

In dire need of your donations. Please visit the GoFundMe to help. You may also donate via Ko-Fi.

Updates will be slow in coming, but they will be shared here and on Instagram, @thiswholethingislame

Please check back again soon.

Categories
News

Quizás, Quizás, Quizás

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps — the refrain of homelessness, marginalization, and futility

(This really should be two or three separate posts. I have the opportunity to work here and now, so I’m going ahead and posting what I’ve written, as is.)

Updates have been slow in coming, I’m aware. A post regarding my budget and how I’ve arrived at the figures I am trying to raise is an important step towards the future. It’s coming. Feels like a boundary I need to cross.

Been a hard couple of days. Not entirely sure why. Loneliness. A deepening sense of futility. If it’s not the rain interfering with my writing and work on the fundraiser, it’s eye strain. If it’s not eye strain, it’s interference from security guards.

The municipality, private security, and Police work in coordination to corral and move the homeless around the city. Why? Any number of reasons. Mainly in service of the public perception of homelessness. More about this subject in a later post.

The security company, Garda, and the city have decided to move me on from the place I’ve been prepping my meals and using the internet. They’ve cut power to the socket I’ve been using. Based on events I’ll not go into here, I have reason to believe it was a cooperative effort. It’s frustrating mainly because it’s meant to frustrate. Ah well. I’ve eaten elsewhere.

It’s important to remember security guards have only the authority provided by property rights. In Canada, that amounts to very little. Not to say they cannot take steps, including unprompted violence. They usually prefer not to.

They will, however, go to lengths to orchestrate events which exploit the vulnerable, manifest anger, and create problems where there were none.

I’ve not yet gone into specifics about my experiences at this location, but it includes a security guard trying to destroy my belongings. If it wasn’t so offensive, it’d be funny. That kind of thing, happening in the dark, unseen, is a commonplace interaction for homeless people.

I’m working, slowly, on a piece about the way private security use low-level, quiet harassment against marginalized people, and the broad application of such tactics in urban environments. We’re persistently targeted.

Orchestrated aggression and harassment events are routinely used as a pretext for violence and the criminalization of a target. Furthermore, you may not be aware that even you, a regular, normal, law-abiding member of the public are on file with the security companies operating the commercial spaces you pass through. Who controls that data? What do they do with it? Yes.

The homeless and marginalized are subjected to a high level of profiling, are frequently interfered with, and routinely provoked. Why? Because we are easy targets.

When — or more honestly, if — we stand up for ourselves, witnesses assume we are mentally ill, or we are in the wrong.

This is a broad and important subject I take a serious interest in. Undecided as to whether I should gamble my credibility on writing more deeply about it though.

Returning to the main point… People have offered advice, unsolicited, about what I ought to post, what kind of stories they’d like to see. The problem there is not that they have input, feedback, or advice to offer. I welcome input. I’ve sought it at every step this past year. I need help. Communicating with people means common ground, shared context and experience. I’ve been homeless so long I have no idea what a normal person’s life is like.

No, it’s not that some people have offered feedback. It’s that some have taken the attitude my homelessness is an entertainment, a reality TV show for them to enjoy. Updates about my life on the street is something they want not as a way to understand, or to help them offer the sort of help I’ve spent thirteen years fighting for. Instead, it’s ‘Survivor: Homeless Edition.’

Is it because I’m not a raving lunatic, writhing around, wearing my own filth? Is it because I’ve demonstrated a base level of rationality? I’m not actually dying in front of your eyes, far as you can tell? Must it always come down to perception and timescale? Either way, I am not shifting blame or pointing fingers.

It’s not an uncommon turn of events, people putting their deep-felt pain out into the public. Mourning, challenges, problems, struggles — human suffering often involves a performance today, and it’s an imperfect and nuanced thing. It’s interactive, to a degree, and, importantly, consensual. Not so with my homelessness, my appeal for your help. Sharing is the deal. I have no way to opt out.

Crowd-sourcing a fundraiser means I’m always thinking about my homelessness in relation to others’ experiences and how they filter my life and identity. It’s uncomfortable. It’s necessary. That doesn’t mean my suffering is entertainment. It feels like people have passed that over.

It’s disheartening. I know no other word for it.

(Lol, maybe I should’ve titled this one, ‘Insecurity and Finger Wagging.’ Nah. I like the title I gave it. Never mind it’s from a romantic ballad. It fits. If you want to hear some great versions of the song, try each from Trini Lopez, Ibrahim Ferrer, or Trío Los Panchos.)