TikTok: Maybe Some Useful Information?

September 19, 2020

US President Donald Trump banned Americans from using TikTok, because of potential information leaks to China. In an ironic twist, The Intercept explains “Leaked Documents Reveal What TikTok Shares With Authorities—In The U.S.” It is not a secret in the United States that social media platforms from TikTok to Facebook collect user data as ways to spy and sell products.

While the US monitors its citizens, it does not take the same censorship measures as China does with its people. It is alarming the amount of data TikTok gathers for the Chinese, but leaked documents show that the US also accesses that data. Data privacy has been a controversial topic for years within the United States and experts argue that TikTok collects the same type of information as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The documents reveal that ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, the FBI, and Department of Homeland Security monitored the platform.

Law enforcement officials use TikTok as a means to monitor social unrest related to the death of George Floyd. Floyd suffocated when a police officer cut off his oxygen attempting to restrain him during arrest. TikTok users post videos about Black Lives Matter, police protests, tips for disarming law enforcement, and even jokes about the US’s current upheaval. TikTok’s user agreement says it collects information and will share it with third parties. The third parties include law enforcement if TikTok feels there is an imminent danger.

TikTok, however, also censors videos, particularly those the Chinese government dislikes. These videos include political views, the Hong Kong protests, Uyghur internment camps, and people considered poor, disabled, or ugly.

Trump might try to make the US appear as the better country, but:

““The common concern, whether we’re talking about TikTok or Huawei, isn’t the intentions of that company necessarily but the framework within which it operates,” said Elsa Kania, an expert on Chinese technology at the Center for a New American Security. “You could criticize American companies for having an opaque relationship to the U.S. government, but there definitely is a different character to the ecosystem.” At the same time, she added, the Trump administration’s actions, including a handling of Portland protests that brought to mind the police crackdown in Hong Kong, have undercut official critiques of Chinese practices: “At a moment when we’re seeing attempts by the administration to draw a contrast in terms of values and ideology with China, these eerie parallels that keep recurring do really undermine that.”

The issue is contentious. Information does not have to be used at the time of collection. The actions of youth can be used to exert pressure at a future time. That may be the larger risk.

Whitney Grace, September 19, 2020

Apple, Google Make it Easier for States to Adopt Virus Tracing App

September 12, 2020

Google and Apple created an app that would, with the cooperation of state governments, aid in tracing the spread of the coronavirus and notify citizens if they spent time around someone known to have tested positive. It is nice to see these rivals working together for the common good. So far, though, only a few states have adopted the technology. In order to encourage more states to join in, AP News reveals, “Apple, Google Build Virus-Tracing Tech Directly into Phones.” Reporter Matt O’Brien writes:

“Apple and Google are trying to get more U.S. states to adopt their phone-based approach for tracing and curbing the spread of the coronavirus by building more of the necessary technology directly into phone software. That could make it much easier for people to get the tool on their phone even if their local public health agency hasn’t built its own compatible app. The tech giants on Tuesday launched the second phase of their ‘exposure notification’ system, designed to automatically alert people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus. Until now, only a handful of U.S. states have built pandemic apps using the tech companies’ framework, which has seen somewhat wider adoption in Europe and other parts of the world.”

In states that do adopt the system, iPhone users will be prompted for consent to run it on their phones. Android users will have to download the app, which Google will auto-generate for each public health agency that participates. Early adopters are expected to be Maryland, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington D.C. Virginia was the first to use the framework to launch a customized app in early August, followed by North Dakota, Wyoming, Alabama, and Nevada. O’Brien describes how it works:

“The technology relies on Bluetooth wireless signals to determine whether an individual has spent time near anyone else who has tested positive for the virus. Both people in this scenario must have signed up to use the Google-Apple technology. Instead of geographic location, the app relies on proximity. The companies say the app won’t reveal personal information either to them or public health officials.”

This all sounds helpful. However, the world being what it is today, we must ask: does this have surveillance applications? Perhaps. Note we’re promised the app won’t “reveal” personal data, but will it retain it? If it does, will agencies be able to resist this big, juicy pile of data? Promises about surveillance have a way of being broken, after all.

Cynthia Murrell, September 12, 2020

Surveillance Footage Has Value

September 10, 2020

It is not a secret that Google, Facebook, Apple, Instagram, and other large technology companies gather user data and sell it to the highest bidder. It is a easy way to pad their bottom line, especially when users freely give away this information. The Russian city of Moscow wants to ad more revenue to the city’s coffers, so they came up with an ingenious way to get more cash says Yahoo Finance, “Moscow May Sell Footage From Public Secret Camera: Report.”

According to the report, Moscow’s tech branch plans to broadcast videos captured on cameras in public areas. Technically, at least within the United States, if you are in a public place you are free to be filmed and whoever does the filming can do whatever they want with the footage. Russia must be acting on the same principle, so Moscow’s Department of Information Technologies purchased cameras to install outside of 539 hospitals. It might also be a way to increase security.

All of the footage will be stored on a central database and people will be able to purchase footage. The footage will also be shown on the Internet.

What is alarming is that MBK Media wrote in December 2019 that footage from Moscow’s street cameras was available for purchase on black markets with options to access individual or an entire system of cameras. This fact is scarier, however:

“The same department organized the blockchain-based electronic voting in Moscow and one more Russian region this summer when Russians voted to amend the country’s constitution. The voting process was criticized for the weak data protection.”

Moscow wants more ways to keep track of citizens in public areas and it wants to make some quick rubles off the process. Companies in the US do the same thing and the government as well.

Whitney Grace, September 10, 2020


Oh, Oh, Millennials Want Their Words and Services Enhanced. Okay, Done!

September 9, 2020

A couple of amusing items caught my attention this morning. The first is Amazon’s alleged demand that a Silicon Valley real news outlet modify its word choice.


The Bezos bulldozer affects the social environment. The trillion horsepower Prime machine wants to make sure that its low cost gizmos are not identified with surveillance. Why is that? Perhaps because their inclusion of microphones, arrays, and assorted software designed to deal with voices in far corners performs surveillance? DarkCyber does not know. The solution? Amazon = surveillance. Now any word will do, right?

The second item is mentioned in “Microsoft Confirms Why Windows Defender Can’t Be Disabled via Registry.” The idea is that Microsoft’s system is now becoming Bob’s mom. You remember Bob, don’t you. User controls? Ho ho ho.

The third item is a rib tickler. You worry about censorship for text and videos, don’t you. Now you can worry about Google’s new user centric ability to filter your phone calls. That’s a howler. What if the call is from a person taking Google to court? Filtered. This benefits everyone. You can get the allegedly full story in “Google New Verified Calls Feature Will Tell You Why a Business Is Calling You.” Helpful.

Each of these examples amuse me. Shall we complain about Chinese surveillance apps?

These outfits are extending their perimeters as far as possible before the ever vigilant, lobbyist influenced political animals begin the great monopoly game.

Stephen E Arnold, September 9, 2020

Consumer Control of Personal Data: Too Late, Chums

September 3, 2020

The Economics of Social Data” is an interesting write up by a Yale graduate student (how much time did you put into this work, Tan Gan?), a Yale professor (George Bush’s stomping grounds), and an MIT professor (yes, the outfit that accepted money from an alleged human trafficker and then stumbled through truth thickets).

What did these esteemed individuals discover? I like this sentence:

Platforms focuses on ensuring consumers’ control over their individual data. Regulators hope that ownership and control over one’s own data will result in appropriate compensation for the data one chooses to reveal. However, economists need to consider the social aspect of data collection. Because an individual user’s data is predictive of the behavior of others, individual data is in practice social data. The social nature of data leads to an externality: an individual’s purchase on Amazon, for example, will convey information about the likelihood of purchasing a certain product among other consumers with similar purchase histories.

Does this imply that a light bulb has flickered to life in the research cubbies of these influential scholars? Let’s grind forward:

While consumers can experience positive externalities, such as real-time traffic information, very little curbs the platform from trading data for profit in ways that harm consumers. Therefore, data ownership is insufficient to bring about the efficient use of information, since arbitrarily small levels of compensation can induce a consumer to relinquish her personal data.

Remember. I reside in rural Kentucky and most of my acquaintances go bare foot or wear work boots. It seems that after decades of non-regulation, governmental hand waving, and sitting on the porch watching monopolies thrive — a problem?

The fix? Here you go:

In terms of policy implications, our results on the aggregation of consumer information suggest that privacy regulation must move away from concerns over personalized prices at the individual level. Most often, firms do not set prices in response to individual-level characteristics. Instead, segmentation of consumers occurs at the group level (e.g. as in the case of Uber) or at the temporal and spatial levels (e.g. Staples, Amazon). Thus, our analysis points to the significant welfare effects of group-based price discrimination and of uniform prices that react in real time to changes in market-level demand.

Translation: Too late, chums.

Stephen E Arnold, September 3, 2020

Bad Actors Rejoice: Purrito Is Kitten with Claws

September 1, 2020

The Internet has taught us many things about people, particularly tech geeks. Technology geeks love challenging themselves with hacking tricks, possess off base senses of humor, and love their fur babies. They particularly love cats.

A “purrito” is a term coined by the animal rescue community for tiny kittens swaddled in tiny blankets, ergo like burritos. It goes without saying that burritos are adorable.

It is also not surprising that potential bad actors, who love cats, would purloin the Purrito for an “ultra fast, minimalistic, encrypted command line paste-bin.” Purrito Bin even uses characters to make a tabby kitten face: (=???=).

Reading through the instructions for Purrito, the developer made it even cuter by calling the standard client “meow” and a companion client “purr.” Purrito Bin is a simple way to encrypt files :

“In a encrypted storage setting, the paste is encrypted before sending it to the server.

Now the server will only be used as a storage bin and even in case of a non-https connection, you are guaranteed that no one else will be able to read the data that you have sent.

How does it work?

Steps automatically done by the provided clients, on the client side:

• Randomly generate an encryption key.

• Encrypt your data using said key, the encrypted data is called the cipher.

• Send the cipher to PurritoBin and get a standard paste url as above, which will be converted to the form”

The concept of Purrito Bin is itself genius, but is it a good idea for it to be posted publicly where bad actors can use it?

Whitney Grace, September 1, 2020

Another Data Marketplace: Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, or Other Provider for This Construct?

August 31, 2020

The European Union is making a sharp U-turn on data privacy, we learn from MIT Technology Review’s article, “The EU Is Launching a Market for Personal Data. Here’s What That Means for Privacy.” The EU has historically protected its citizens’ online privacy with vigor, fighting tooth and nail against the commercial exploitation of private information. As of February, though, the European Commission has decided on a completely different data strategy (PDF). Reporter Anna Artyushina writes:

The Trusts Project, the first initiative put forth by the new EU policies, will be implemented by 2022. With a €7 million [8.3 million USD] budget, it will set up a pan-European pool of personal and nonpersonal information that should become a one-stop shop for businesses and governments looking to access citizens’ information. Global technology companies will not be allowed to store or move Europeans’ data. Instead, they will be required to access it via the trusts. Citizens will collect ‘data dividends,’ which haven’t been clearly defined but could include monetary or nonmonetary payments from companies that use their personal data. With the EU’s roughly 500 million citizens poised to become data sources, the trusts will create the world’s largest data market. For citizens, this means the data created by them and about them will be held in public servers and managed by data trusts. The European Commission envisions the trusts as a way to help European businesses and governments reuse and extract value from the massive amounts of data produced across the region, and to help European citizens benefit from their information.”

It seems shifty they have yet to determine just how citizens will benefit from this data exploitation, I mean, value-extraction. There is no guarantee people will have any control over their information, and there is currently no way to opt out. This change is likely to ripple around the world, as the way EU approaches data regulation has long served as an example to other countries.

The concept of data trusts has been around since 2018, when Sir Tim Berners Lee proposed it. Such a trust could be for-profit, for a charitable cause, or simply for data storage and protection. As Artyushina notes, whether this particular trust actually protects citizens depends on the wording of its charter and the composition of its board of directors. See the article for examples of other trusts gone wrong, as well as possible solutions. Let us hope this project is set up and managed in a way that puts citizens first.

Cynthia Murrell, August 31, 2020

OnionFruit Revamps With New Browser Version

August 26, 2020

Remaining anonymous is impossible online, especially with all the cookies we “eat.” Instead of an all cookie diet, try using a browser made from onions and fruit! Major Geeks revealed their latest harvest with an update to their popular TOR browser: OnionFruit Connect 2020.730.0.

TOR browsers work, because they encrypt a user’s browsing data in many security layers like an onion. In order to identify the user, one has to peel back layers of encrypted data. It makes hacking someone with a Tor browser tedious and extremely difficult. TOR browsers also allow people to connect to the Dark Web that uses encrypted and random web addresses.

OnionFruit guarantees its users are protected:

“Having the ability to use a browser that you are already comfortable with makes using TOR more of a seamless process. OnionFruit Connect will initiate the TOR service and then configures your proxy settings allowing your apps to be routed through TOR’s tunnel. You will be notified that you’re protected, confirming that all your internet traffic is being passed through the TOR tunnel safely encrypted. This process ensures that every single site you visit gets routed through multiple servers to help mask your actions, making them difficult to track.”

OnionFruit is simple to set up on a computer and then access the TOR network. The best thing is that it works with favored browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Opera, and others without an extra configuration. OnionFruit updates itself, has custom landing pages, and a download speed monitor.

It is an easy way to encrypt Web browsing and also learn more about the TOR network.

Whitney Grace, August 26, 2020

Surprising Google Data

August 20, 2020

DarkCyber is not sure if these data are accurate. We have had some interesting interactions with NordVPN, and we are skeptical about this outfit. Nevertheless, let’s look beyond a dicey transaction with the NordVPN outfit and focus on the data in “When Looking for a VPN, Chinese Citizens Search for Google.”

The article asserts:

New research by NordVPN reveals that when looking for VPN services on Baidu, the local equivalent of Google, the Chinese are mostly trying to get access to Google – in fact, 40,35% of all VPN service-related searches have to do with Google. YouTube comes second on the list, accounting for 31,58% of all searches. Other research by NordVPN has shown that YouTube holds the most desired restricted content, with 82,7% of Internet users worldwide searching for how to unblock this video sharing platform.

If valid, these data suggest that Google’s market magnetism is powerful. Perhaps a type of quantum search entanglement?

Stephen E Arnold, August 20, 2020

Telegram: Friendly Outfit for Russia, Other Places, Not So Much

August 18, 2020

There’s nothing like encrypted communications for bad actors. Some law enforcement and regulatory professionals are less enthusiastic. Russia has worked a deal with Telegram. Details about what Telegram’s side of the bargain include are sparse. Russia’s side of the deal is equally fuzzy. One might surmise a mechanism for accessing encrypted content. Is this possible? The answer depends on whom one asks.

Telegram in its quest to remain in business has, according to “Telegram Launches One-on-One Video Calls with End-to-End Encryption,” is dimming the lights for some law enforcement and regulatory units. The write up reports:

The video calls on Telegram support picture-in-picture mode, so that people can check and reply to their messages while talking to a friend. The calls are also protected with end-to-end encryption, with the security confirmed by matching emojis on the screen on either end of the line. Telegram continues to work on more features and improvements for its video call offering, saying that it is working to launch group video calls in the coming months. The upcoming feature will allow the app to jump into the videoconferencing market, which has become more crucial as people stay at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s the big deal? Encrypted messaging poses a cost and time hurdle for government authorities. Bad actors find these encrypted services more useful than some other forms of information exchange. For example, the razzle dazzle of the Dark Web (despite its modest size in terms of sites and users) is losing ground to encrypted messaging services. And why not?

From a mobile device, encrypted messaging can replicate many of the more interesting facets of the Dark Web; for example:

  • Encryption and anonymity. Check
  • In app payment. Check
  • Private groups. Check
  • Social media functions. Semi check.

“Going dark” is no longer a bit of in-crowd jargon. It is a reality. And for Russian authorities, maybe not so dark.

Stephen E Arnold, August 18, 2020

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