Privacy online

Privacy online

Privacy online for authors (and ordinary entities)

Online privacy sometimes seems a bit like the Fountain of Youth: everyone wants a piece, and no-one really knows how to get there because it’s at least partly alchemy.

Not so.

We’re coming up on Data Privacy Day, so here are a few really-to-relatively simple things you can do, as an absolutely standard-model human being, optionally one who writes, to improve your online privacy without doing anything drastic, like trying to delete your online footprint. No mermaid tears required.

Disclosure: Who died and elected me privacy god? I work in data privacy and compliance, BUT nothing I say here represents the company I work for.

The concept of TANSTAAFL, first

For them as haven’t read their Heinlein, I’m going to introduce you to a really key concept around ‘free’ services (online or anywhere else).

That concept is TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). Facebook is not free. Facebook is suctioning up your data and selling to anyone who’ll pay. That airport ‘free’ WiFi is not free for broadly similar reasons.

‘Free’ apps that promise to give you marvelous selfie filters and want access to your location, your contacts, and everything else? Nope! They’re not free either. You’re just paying them in data – yours, and if you give them access to that coveted Contacts list, your friends’ data, as well.

Get a VPN

Yes, really. A VPN (virtual private network) basically gives data moving to and from your device Star Trek shields as far as the unauthorised are concerned. It’s the go-to for some additional privacy online.

In slightly more technical terms, it encrypts your data. It slows data transmission down slightly, which is why people with slow Internet to begin with aren’t huge converts to VPN, but it means that no one can see what you’re up to. This is especially worth it in situations like mobile phones and those oh-so-tempting ‘free’ WiFis in cafes and airports. Put a VPN from a reputable provider on your cell phone. Put it on your home computer. Put it on your tablet.

Techradar’s Top 10 VPN services (I personally disagree with the inclusion of NordVPN, which had a breach a few months back, but I guess there’s nothing like publicly-bitten, really paranoid thereafter…)

You don’t have to give up Netflix or Fitbit. Better VPNs work with Netflix, and if you don’t want to shell out but do want Netflix, you can take the dumb-but-practical route and switch the thing off while you binge on The Witcher. Fitbit throws the occasional shit-fit about VPNs, but switching regions is a simple fix that takes all of a few seconds.

Use Multi-factor Authentication

Also known as two-factor authentication, 2FA, MFA…just for the love of all the squishy, squirmy deities, DO NOT use the text message option for 2FA unless there really is nothing else. (Reason: SIM card jacking, among others.)

Basically, humans are fallible. If you can remember a password, someone else can break it. If you happen to be dumb enough to use login: admin, password: admin, you end up shelling out billions in ‘we fucked up’ money. Multi-factor auth means that someone needs your login, your password, AND something else (that’s where that ‘multi’ comes in).

MFA comes in many forms. You can use an app on your phone, like Google Authenticator. You can buy a physical key, like a Yubikey. Your fingerprint can form a part of MFA. It can, gods help us all, be a text message with a code in it.

Because MFA is an extra step in the login process, a lot of people moan about it. Feel free to moan all you want, just use it. Use the method that makes the most sense for you, that takes the least time and effort (for me, that’s my phone and Google Auth. For you, it may be a Yubikey on your keyring. Whatever blows your skirt up).

Get a password manager

You remember how, just up above, I said humans are fallible, and if you can remember it, someone else can break it? Yeah, that. Well, newsflash, that 123qwerty password isn’t secure. Keeping your super-hard-to-remember password on a Post-It under your keyboard isn’t secure. Keeping an Excel sheet on your desktop with your logins and passwords isn’t secure. Setting all your favourite shopping sites to keep you logged in until the world ends, no, is not secure.

But remembering all those symbols and numbers and upper and lower case passwords is hard! Yes, it is. Sometimes adulting sucks. Sometimes, you can find a really easy easy way around the suckage. Password managers are suck-avoidance. A lot also offer a ‘free’ option. (Yes, I do remember what I said about TANSTAAFL.)

PC Mag’s Top 10 Password managers for 2020

A semi-decent variant, like LastPass, will plug into your browser of choice, have an app, let you add logins and passwords, auto-launch sites for you, generate secure passwords, and auto-update your settings when you change a password.

A password manager, effectively, means you need one decent password that you put the brain sweat into remembering, and use MFA with it, and the password manager manages all the rest of them. Awesome, right?

Don’t auto-accept cookies

…most places in the first world, with the exception of the USA, have laws that say you aren’t obliged to. Large companies, for the most part, aren’t big fans of those laws, which is why when you go hunting in ‘select options’ in cookie banners (assuming there even is an option to select or decline), you’ll often have to dig down to find the options, or decline with each third party site individually. (Hint: a lot of those companies will have hidden any options they offer equally thoroughly.)

WTF are cookies anyway? Cookies are tiny files (we’re talking bytes here, not MB), that a site drops on your device. Some of them are harmless, the equivalent of ‘we want to remember you prefer the French-language site so you don’t have to tell us every time’. Some of them sit there and do nasty things like tell every other site you land on where you’ve been, what you did, what you’re interested in buying today (ever wondered how you can look at a new kitchen whisk on Amazon and get hit with adverts for domestic appliances everywhere for the next six months? That ain’t alchemy either).

So now we’ve covered why companies aren’t keen on laws that say they shouldn’t track you and market shit to you without your actual consent…how do you exercise those anti-cookie rights? Well, unfortunately, cookies are such an established part of the internet that in a lot of cases, and especially if you deal with a lot of US sites outside California, the answer is ‘you can’t’. In the EEA, companies are obliged to provide you specific information about what cookies they want to place and get your active, specific, and informed consent to any marketing cookies. A lot of them don’t, either because they’re trying to figure out how, can’t afford a good solution, or just don’t want to and hope they don’t get a DPA land on them before they get set up.

Three simple things you can do that will help:

  1. Use incognito browsing. You’ll encounter a lot of shrieking from sites that can’t identify you on sight, but that can be educational too.
  2. Delete your cookies periodically (say, at least once a week, if you can’t be bothered to do it after each online session. There’s security consciousness and there’s masochism…)
  3. There’s a browser app called Consent-O-Matic developed by a team of privacy researchers in Denmark (after they found out all about the shadier cookie practices out there), where you install it, tell it you want to let people see which pages you spend time on and don’t want to be tracked by online advertisers for the rest of your life, (for example) and when it comes across a cookie tool it can handshake with, it sets those options for you. I recommend it.

That’s all, folks…

So, hopefully I’ve now scared the shit out of you and you’re off to investigate the wonderful options for trying to keep people from peering through your online windows. It’s a brave new world.

The good news is, 107 of the world’s 210(ish) officially recognised countries already have some form of privacy law in place as of 2019, and more are looking into one, so things are improving. We’re just in that lovely Twilight Zone where legislators take a couple of years to consult, draft, and pass laws protecting you, and a good hacker team can get into a system in under 18 minutes (yes, that’s minutes, with an ‘m’.)

In case after reading all that you feel in need a good, solid dose of escapism (here’s the TANSTAAFL in action part) – my sci-fi box set is on Kindle Unlimited, featuring interstellar mercenary cults, pretzel politics, and enough dirty fighting to bring a tear to your eye. Fund a starving author to write more escapism.

What we can learn from myths and legends

What we can learn from myths and legends

Myths and legends

Hercules and the Aegean. Persephone and Hades. Midas. Myths and legends are often seen as cautionary tales, like the precursor to Aesop’s fables, but I put it to you that in many cases, this may simply be bad publicity, or even that they were ideas whose time had not yet come.

Let’s take a serious look at Hercules and the Aegean stable legend, for example. I mean, you have one seriously over-muscled demi-god with an atonement complex, and a lot of mucking out to get done. In ancient Greece, you’d usually have people for that kind of thing, and so employing a demi-god for it was seen rather as bringing in a ringer, especially as he expected to get paid for it. However, in this day and age, the idea of hiring a cleaning service has clearly come – whether by sheer dumb luck or stereotyping, I can hardly move online without falling over someone telling me my house needs cleaning and they’re the girls and boys for the job. Hercules’s idea of domestic labour for the highest bidder is clearly sound: he was simply unfortunate in being born about 3,000 years before online advertising.

Or what about Persephone and Hades? Persephone, daughter of Demeter, wound up married to Hades, lord of the underworld, but Mommy threw a fit, and Persephone ended up spending six months in Hades and six months with her mother (we all know those mothers-in-law…). However, shocking as this concept was at the time, when the female role in society was basically that of a rather underprivileged servant, of which Hades was essentially deprived, in this day and age couples living apart is increasingly common. The involvement of the mother-in-law I can’t speak to, but fairly clearly, another revolutionary idea that was simply several thousand years ahead of its time.

I find myself wondering what we’re looking at today that’s seen as dangerously revolutionary, that will seem like a good idea in another few thousand years. Both genders getting paid the same for doing the same job, maybe. Or maybe looking after the environment (although, thinking about it, if we don’t grow a collective brain about that sooner than several thousand years out, we’re unlikely to be around in several thousand years…)

Heading into 2020

Heading into 2020

Heading into 2020

There’s a terrible, terrible joke that can be trotted out for the next little while when people ask me what my plans are for 2020 – the answer being that I don’t know, I don’t have 20/20 vision. (Groan.)

All right, anyone who’s still reading after that one…2019 was a year in which I changed almost everything about my life it’s possible to change. New day job, separation, getting my own place…2019 pretty much destruct-tested the saying that ‘the magic starts outside your comfort zone’. I’m happy to say that sitting here on the cusp of 2020, I’m healthier, happier, and more relaxed than I’ve been in a decade or more. I spent a lot of time thinking before, after, and during about the Benjamin Franklin quote that ‘Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ I’m not about to get it tattooed on my ass (well, get back to me on that after New Year’s Eve…), but I gave up being miserable in a familiar rut, took a leap, and so far I have got to say the water’s been warm.

Partly because of all the upheaval, I got precisely one novella published, and because I’m honest, I’ll admit I had no plans to write or publish a novella in the Cortii Mercenaries series, in 2019 or any other time. Irin Seviki, who shows up as a secondary character in Fighting Shadows, had other ideas. One of the dubious joys of being a complete pantser is that sometimes, shit just happens. That said, I’m working my way through edits on Cortii #5, which was the book I actually did plan to publish in 2019. That probably is going to happen closer to Midsummer 2020. It’s currently confessed to the title of Rebel’s Bargain, which may or may not be what it goes to print under. 

Numbers 6, 7, and part of 8 in the Cortii series are in various stages between my diseased brain and publication as well, and in case that wasn’t enough, I’m also getting intermittently hi-jacked by a half-siren, half-asshole (her description, not mine) acquisitions specialist on the trail of the Peaches of Immortality. It is almost certainly not going to publish under its current working title of ‘Peaches’, not least because the characters give me snark about it every time I open the file. If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you’ve seen a snippet from her already – if you aren’t, go sign up, I tell people where to find free books in pretty much every newsletter. There’s no way to go wrong with free books.

In part due to getting my own place, I’ve also been reading to the point where Goodreads whines pitifully every time I make it show me all the books I read this year (as opposed to, say, those I read in the past two weeks). Particular favourites, old and new, included When Demons Walk, by Patricia Briggs; The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein; Missee Lee, by Arthur Ransome; Warrior, by Marie Brennan; and The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff. I have every intention of making GR beg for mercy next year, too. Among other things, I live with a pair of domineering Siamese cats, who approve of reading because it involves me sitting still and providing heat to my feline overlords.

As my local liquor store stocks a favourite treat I’m rarely able to get my claws on here, I’m going to be celebrating the incoming year with ginger wine. Yes, it’s a grannie drink. No, I really don’t care. More for me. Mmmm, ginger.

What’s your 2020 looking like? 

Wishing you all good things and many good books!

Indie author: it means we do all the hard shit as well

Indie author: it means we do all the hard shit as well

Indie author versus traditional publishing

I’m honestly not certain which annoys me more some days: the traditional publishing industry, busily running down indie authors and anything they produce and making noise about how they’re the gatekeepers of publishing (otherwise pronounced those that ensure that very little that’s actually new gets published), or on the other side of the coin the (fortunately rare) indie author stating loudly that just because they can’t edit and drew their cover art in MS Paint, it’s still, to nick a Pinocchio line, ‘a real book!’

Yes, I annoy really easily. 

So here’s the thing, publishing princesses and buttercups: suck it right the duck up. (Dear auto-correct: it really never is ‘duck’.)

Trad publishing is a great way to go if you have the time and stamina to send out fifty to hundreds of letters, teasers, synopses, and pitches to agents, publishers, and every stripe in between, and then let someone tell you how to write your story and all future stories (and when to stop writing them) for what adds up to about 5% of the actual profits on the book while you still mostly end up doing your own marketing.

Indie publishing is a great way to go if you happen to be able to write a story, edit the shit out of it (and please, get that part right, or pay someone competent to), figure out either how to make a professional-looking cover or research how to get a reliable and affordable professional to do it for you, and then figure out how to get the whole written, edited, and covered shebang out in front of the public – because you are still going to have to market that shit. Oh yes.

The hard truths

Trad publishing is not a free ride once you sign on the dotted line. A lot more regimented and much better connections, but at the same time your agency in your own book goes way down, and what’s more, if your Precious doesn’t sell sufficiently well, your publisher can choose to yeet that thing off shelves so fast your head will spin.

Indie publishing, and once more REALLY LOUDLY for those in the back – indie publishing is not a great excuse for putting a shit product out there because you didn’t pay attention to where the commas went in school. Indie publishing is where you get all the agency in your own book – and that means if you put a shoddily-edited, badly-covered, indifferently-paced compost heap up on Amazon, you have no one else to point the finger at. That brown smear down your ass was all, completely, start to finish, you.

So, trad people – congratulations, I look forwards to seeing your stuff when I get time to do something I enjoy and browse through a bookstore. If it’s badly paced, the tenth take on the same story I’ve read this year, or there are still editing mistakes in there, after pro dev, copy, and line editing, I am going to call that out come review time.

Indies, being an indie author is not a free ride. Independence, which is what the ‘indie’ in our name comes from, doesn’t mean you get to put a stinking pile out there and then stand on your soapbox and wail about how editing is hard and your book is still just as good as those where people put the actual brain sweat in. Independence means that your end product will reflect exactly how much effort you, and only you, were willing to put into it.

I’ve read some excellent trad books. But, and here’s the but, folks of both stripes – I have read equally well-written, equally well-edited, equally well-presented indie books. It’s possible. And from me, at least, the latter case gets more respect, because that indie author didn’t have a full publishing company corralling their plot holes, trimming their dialogue tags, and making sure they had a cover that might attract eyes-on. That indie author had to do all the legwork themselves, and either learn how to do everything themselves or do research and hoard money to pay other people to do that good a job on their work.

Do I think I’m perfect? Hell no, I do not. I read stuff I think is better than mine from both indie and trad folks on a regular basis. However, I also read much worse from both. I don’t think I’m some kind of ‘artiste, darling!’ because I didn’t jump on the trad wagon when I had the chance. I don’t think choosing to go indie gives me a good excuse not to hold my books to the highest standard I can. 

Witches and Werewolves and Vampires, oh my

Witches and Werewolves and Vampires, oh my

All right, I’ve been scarily (ah-hah) bad about blogging recently. However, no way was I going to miss out on Hallowe’en, which is a feast that appeals to my sweet tooth and gives me costumes to look at (and photos for future blackmail to take). 

Of witches, werewolves, and vampires, dare I say, I don’t have a firm favourite when it comes to reading (or movies). (Yes, all right, calm down, there’s still plenty of Hallowe’en left to find me and feed me to a wandering hungry spirit…)

Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are pretty much unequaled for me when it comes to witches. They’re the traditional pointy-hatted type, but like almost anything the late Sir Terry had a quill in, they take the stereotypes and twist them into a pretzel, and provide a lot of awesome one-liners while they do it. 

Werewolves (and most other types of were-creature) are a fantasy and urban fantasy staple, and there are a lot of stories out there to pick from. I do rather regret the over-muscled “Alpha” stereotype, which always feels to me like the human author projecting pretty much the downside of a human mentality onto a character and using the “animal instincts” as the excuse, but I do have about three-quarters of my own were story saved on a thumb drive somewhere. The werewolf Alpha continually gets his come-uppance from a were-cat, in case you were wondering.

As someone’s about to point out, I do actually have a vampire novel out, Death is for the Living. It’s true. It also does bad, bad things to the traditional vampire tropes (vampire hunters on a yacht, in the Caribbean, anyone?), but I had a lot of fun writing it. I’m personally in favour of the slightly nastier vampire type – the type that has all the strength and magical or other abilities and lost any moral compass they started out with in a bar centuries ago.

So, without further ado, which mythical creature are you?

Available for pre-order: The Gaia Solution

Available for pre-order: The Gaia Solution

The Gaia Solution releases 8th November!

I’m always happy to have a friend’s book to boost, and today I’m excited to find out more about the next and final book in Claire Buss’s dystopian trilogy, The Gaia Solution, which is coming out as e-book and paperback on Amazon next month. This series has already proven to be solidly popular with readers, up to and including a Raven Award for the first book, The Gaia Effect, in 2017, and The Gaia Solution looks set to continue the trend.

So, without further ado…

The Blurb

Kira, Jed and their friends have fled New Corporation and joined the Resistance, but their relief is short-lived as they discover how decimated the human race has become and learn of an environmental crisis that threatens to destroy their existence. Kira and Jed must travel up the mountain to the New Corporation stronghold, City 50, to bargain for sanctuary while Martha and Dina risk everything to return to City 42 and save those who are left. With the last of her reserves Gaia, the fading spirit of the Earth, uses her remaining influence to guide Kira and her friends but ultimately, it’s up to humanity to make the right choice.

More about The Gaia Collection series

The Gaia Collection is Claire’s hopeful dystopian trilogy, set 200 years in the future after much of the planet and the human race have been decimated during The Event, when the world went to war with high-energy radiation weapons. In The Gaia Effect, Kira and Jed Jenkins – a young couple who were recently allocated a child – together with their closest friends, discover Corporation have been deliberately lying to them and forcing them to remain sterile. With help from Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, the group of friends begin to fight back against Corporation eventually winning and taking over the governance of City 42.

In The Gaia Project, Corporation fight back under a new, more terrifying organization called New Corp and Kira, Jed and their friends end up fleeing for their lives trying to find a safe place to live. They travel to City 36 and City 9 in vain and must go further afield.

In the final book, The Gaia Solution, the main characters have ended up with the Resistance and not only do they have to deal with surviving against New Corp but an extinction environmental event is looming on the horizon and they’re running out of time to save what’s left of the human race.

About the Author

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. She continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.

I was also lucky enough to have Claire over for an interview a little while ago, and she confessed to me that she usually has multiple writing projects on the go, so fans shouldn’t be concerned about the series finale: I’m pretty sure there’s lots more coming soon from this author.

You can confirm that with Claire in person wherever you like to hang out online:

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