5 APR 2017 – Sparks-31 Down Grid Communications Update

Hi everyone,

If you haven’t signed up for the June 3-4 Sparks-31 class here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, you’ve missed early bird pricing.  That’s OK, though – we still have room for some of you for only $250.  Tom recently posted a preview of the class he’s holding in Wyoming here: http://sparks-31.blogspot.com/2017/03/preview-of-wyoming-down-grid.html.

Sparks-31 is the preeminent thought leader in communications in the preparedness-minded community today.  With 30 years of communications and electronics experience and a practical view of the communications requirements community defense organizations may have in times of trouble, Tom is uniquely qualified to instruct this class.

To sign up for the class, contact us at TOWR@hushmail.com.  Payments must be received by 31 May or “at-the-door” pricing of $350 will be assessed.


Update on Sparks31 Comms Class

New Update: There are a few spots remaining. We are expecting a full class, and the longer you wait to register the more expensive it will be. If you register today you will have a full 30 days to send in payment; we will hold your spot for that time.

DATE: June 3-4, 2017
LOCATION: Seattle area
EARLY BIRD: Now until March 31: $200
April 1 – May 31: $250
After June 1 and at the door: $350

Email us at towr@hushmail.com to reserve your spot. You WILL receive an answer within 24 hours; the email issue has been rectified.

See below for original post.


There’s no easy way for us to say this, but we screwed up. With the move to Montana, things got left in the dust for a bit in favor of ‘real’ life — and unfortunately, that meant the TOWR email didn’t get answered for a while.

I am personally answering them all today; if you’ve requested information or a registration for the Sparks31 class, you’ll get that today (Sunday). All registrations will be honored for the date of original email, not today.  That means if you emailed us to register two weeks ago, you’ll get the early bird rate as expected.

I will post remaining spots available — if there are any — once I finish answering the existing reservations. First come, first served.

Again, I’m sorry.  We dropped the ball.

How to Run an Anonymous Twitter Account

The Intercept has a fantastic write-up from front to back on how to create and maintain an anonymous Twitter account. Take special note of the warnings about leaking your identity.

A lot of folks prefer not to use social media at all, and that’s fine.  For those staying completely under radar (as in, not posting anywhere), that’s no big deal. For those who understand the principles of propaganda and information operations, however, this is excellent information. Run several of them.

Social media like Facebook and Twitter, for agitators and activists, can be one of the more productive battlespaces — not for the standard chest-beating and trash-talking, but for more underhanded tactics of thread takeovers, topic steering, and other fun activities. Learn how to do it right, then go do it. Just make sure you’re covering your rear end.

Hint: The other side has been doing it effectively for decades. Take a page from their playbook. Just because they hate you doesn’t mean they have nothing to teach you.

This piece was first published on Patrick Henry Society.

Your Anonymous Browsing May Still Identify You

A disturbing study reported on the The Atlantic highlights something we already know: Human nature will screw us every single time; in short, you screw yourself.

If you’re on Twitter, chances are that even if you are browsing anonymously, your history will identify you. Why? Because of how you — and all other humans — behave in a normal setting.

Here’s how the de-anonymization system works: The researchers figured that a person is more likely to click a link that was shared on social media by a friend—or a friend of a friend—than any other random link on the internet. (Their model controls for the baseline popularity of each website.) With that in mind, and the details of an anonymous person’s browser history in hand, the researchers can compute the probability that any one Twitter user created that browsing history. People’s basic tendency to follow links they come across on Twitter unmasks them—and it usually takes less than a minute.

Granted, this was in a test environment. But notice something very critical about the statement the researchers make:

Ultimately, if you want to use Twitter under your own name, there’s little you can do to thwart this de-anonymization technique. “Our deanonymization attack didn’t use any easily-fixed flaw in the Twitter service,” said Ansh Shukla, a graduate student at Stanford and one of the paper’s authors. “Users behaving normally revealed everything we need to know. As such, the research strongly implies that open social networks, detailed logging, and privacy are at odds; you can simultaneously have only two.”

Pay attention. If you tweet (or use Facebook) under your own name, there is no such thing as privacy. While he states you can have two out of the three, note that there are very few ways to stop the detailed logging and still use social media sites because they are designed from the ground up to log and track everything you do. In other words, your only other option is to create a separate everything. Get a throwaway refurbished laptop, run Linux on it, get a VPN, use TAILS, and use that particular laptop away from your home for reading your various stuff, buying your sensitive items, whatever. Save the Windows laptop in your recliner for puppy pics, paper towel orders on Amazon, and answering your grandmother’s messages about whether you’re going to the family campout.

While you’re at it, go to MyShadow.org and take a look at what traces you are leaving.

Are Your Kids’ Toys Spying on Your Family?

Just when you think the surveillance state has reached the apex of creepiness, this happens. Consumer groups say that two toys made by Genesis Toys are spying on your kids–and that’s not all.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), along with the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy and Consumers Union have filed a complaint (PDF) with the Federal Trade Commission over the My Friend Cayla doll and the i-Que robot. EPIC and the other consumer watchdogs claim the “toys subject young children to ongoing surveillance” and violate privacy and consumer protection laws.

As if that’s not enough, it gets worse.

…the watchdogs allege that they upload the recordings to Nuance Communications, a voice technology company that has military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies as clients.

Remember Nuance? They were responsible for Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the speech-to-text engine that quickly became the gold standard. What would they possibly want with a voiceprint of your kids? You guessed it.

The consumer groups allege that Nuance uses the recordings to improve the products it sells to military, government and law enforcement agencies. One particular product, Nuance Identifier, helps security officials search millions of recordings and identify criminals by the sound of their voices.

It always goes back to this, doesn’t it? Now watch the dancing by Nuance.

Richard Mack, Nuance’s vice president of corporate marketing and communications, said his company doesn’t sell or use the voice data it collects for marketing or advertising purposes.
“Upon learning of the consumer advocacy groups’ concerns through media, we validated that we have adhered to our policy with respect to the voice data collected through the toys referred to in the complaint,” Mack wrote in a blog post on the company’s website. “Nuance does not share voice data collected from or on behalf of any of our customers with any of our other customers.

Let’s parse that out.

“Doesn’t sell or use the voice data it collects for marketing or advertising purposes.”

Well, that’s a true statement. The government clients of Nuance have no interest in marketing or advertising, and Nuance never says they aren’t using the data for surveillance purposes. Keep in mind that one tactic of deception is to deny something that has not been accused, while not answering the actual accusation. That’s what they’re doing here. They do not address the actual thing they are accused of doing–namely, using the voice data of your kids (and you) to improve products they’re selling to the government, such as a database of voiceprints for ‘identifying criminals.’ They do not address the surveillance actions. They create a wholly new accusation (marketing and advertising) and deny that.

“Upon learning of the consumer advocacy groups’ concerns through media, we validated that we have adhered to our policy with respect to the voice data collected through the toys referred to in the complaint.”

They claim they learned about consumer advocacy groups’ concerns “through media,” and that they “validated that we have adhered to our policy” but take note: They have already told you, through omission, that they do use the voice data collected to improve surveillance products for the government and military. Therefore, we already know what their “policy” is, because they have told us. Now they clarify that further:

“with respect to the voice data collected through the toys referred to in the complaint.”

As opposed to…? The other voice data collected in other products (such as Dragon personal assistant for Android)? Such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking? This sentence is another omission. Let’s look at it in context again. They’re also by default admitting that there are other places where they do NOT adhere to their ‘policy.’

“we validated that we have adhered to our policy with respect to the voice data collected through the toys referred to in the complaint.” The word “with” signifies distance. The shortest sentence is generally the least sensitive and most likely to be true. He takes an incredibly large number of words to say, “No, we did not use the voice data for surveillance,” or “No, we did not give our voice data to the government.” In fact, look again. He never says that at all. He does say that they “share voice data collected from or on behalf of any of our customers with any of our other customers.” Before you look at that as a solid denial, let me point out one thing. What’s the definition of sharing? Even in a digital technology context, it means “to give specific users access to (online content), as by posting it on a social-media website or sending it as an email attachment.” He’s not sharing the content, he’s selling the content. Two different words, two different concepts. Again, he’s using very specific words and then trusting that the listener will interpret them to mean what he wants them to mean, instead of what the truth is.

As further proof of this, take a look at his previous statement. They do not use the voice data for marketing or advertising purposes. Now take a look at one of the dolls’ features:

“My Friend Cayla is pre-programmed with dozens of phrases that reference Disneyworld and Disney movies,” the complaint reads. “For example, Cayla tells children that her favorite movie is Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ and her favorite song is ‘Let it Go,’ from Disney’s ‘Frozen.’ Cayla also tells children she loves going to Disneyland and wants to go to Epcot in Disneyworld.”

Is he lying? Not at all. The doll is absolutely a marketing and advertising tool, but they are not using the voice data for that particular function. Therefore, he is giving a truthful statement—but he is not telling the whole truth. He is still being deceptive, and the loser in this game is always, will always, be you and your family’s privacy.

The surveillance state is real. It is in your home, it is in your kids’ toys. If you buy your kids Christmas presents, think before purchasing something that interacts with your child. You may be buying way more than you bargained for.