A Partial Look: Data Discovery Service for Anyone

July 18, 2019

F-Secure has made available a Data Discovery Portal. The idea is that a curious person (not anyone on the DarkCyber team but one of our contractors will be beavering away today) can “find out what information you have given to the tech giants over the years.” Pick a social media service — for example, Apple — and this is what you see:


A curious person plugs in the Apple ID information and F-Secure obtains and displays the “data.” If one works through the services for which F-Secure offers this data discovery service, the curious user will have provided some interesting data to F-Secure.

Sound like a good idea? You can try it yourself at this F-Secure link.

F-Secure operates from Finland and was founded in 1988.

Do you trust the Finnish anti virus wizards with your user names and passwords to your social media accounts?

Are the data displayed by F-Secure comprehensive? Filtered? Accurate?

Stephen E Arnold, July 18, 2019

Qwant Pitches Map Privacy

July 14, 2019

Digital maps are an indispensable tool, especially if you ceaselessly use a GPS.  While digital maps are accurate, fast, and reliable, the also track and store user information.  One semi-logical argument is that if you have nothing to hide, what is the big deal about information being stored.  On the other hand, you should have the right to protect your privacy whether or not you have anything to hide.  Qwant Maps believes in preserving user privacy, so it is an open source and privacy-preserving map tool.  Qwant Maps was created so users have exclusive control over their geolocated data.

Qwant Maps built its tool on OpenStreetMap, a free and collaborative geographical database supported by more than one million voluntary contributors.  OpenStreetMap is not an out-of-the box solution and requires some tech savviness to use it.  Qwant Maps’s team developed a geoparsing engine to make OpenStreetMap more user friendly.

“To overcome these shortcomings and to meet the needs of most of people, Qwant Maps has developed — or participated to the development — its own software components. The will of Qwant Maps is to create a virtuous synergy between Qwant Maps and OpenStreetMap. Thus Qwant Maps uses OpenStreetMap data to generate its own vector tiles, its own base map, its own web APIs. Also Qwant Maps feeds its geoparsing web service as well as its online applications thanks to OpenStreetMap data.”

All of the code for both the Qwant Maps geosparsing tool and OpenStreetMap are open source.  Qwant Maps also uses Mimirsbrunn as its search engine, Kartotherian as a visual rendering tool based on vector tiles, and Idunn is used to highlight all information on the tiles.

Whitney Grace, July 5, 2019

Facebook: Fine and a Reminder of Ozymandius?

July 13, 2019

I just wanted to document that Facebook will have to pay a fine. Well. allegedly. On the other hand, the rumored penalty evokes the trunkless legs of stone. Ozymandius time in Silicon Valley. For details, navigate to “Facebook Reportedly Fined $5B over Cambridge Analytica Fiasco.” No high flier wants to wear a t shirt with the word “fiasco” stenciled in red. Perhaps if it were paired with the Nike Betsy Ross shoes and “fiasco” spelled “phiasco”, the label could be trendy. The t shirt would collect likes like a hamburger gathers flies at a picnic on a 90 degree day in Mountain View. I noted this statement in the write up:

The FTC approved the settlement in a 3-to-2 vote with Republican commissioners in favor and Democrats opposing, according to Wall Street Journal sources. The arrangement and further details have yet to be confirmed publicly, and any agreement will still have to be reviewed by the Department of Justice.

Yep, some money, just a bit tardy.

Stephen E Arnold, July 13, 2019

Targeting 101: Disabling Google and Finding Software Alternatives

June 30, 2019

I read “Completely Block Google and Its Services.” If you are concerned about Google’s data policies, you may want to read the article and follow the instructions in the pihole-google.txt file. It appears that there are more than 7,000 services which Google uses to obtain one’s personal information.

a target

Is this a surprise? No, what’s interesting is that disabling items one by one in an Android device is not going to do the job. I particularly liked the listing of DoubleClick add ons. Here’s a sampling of the more than two dozen items:






Some readers of DarkCyber may find the DoubleClick patents interesting. An overview of the cookie method appears in “Method and Apparatus for Transaction Tracking Over a Computer Network.” You can locate the document at this link. DoubleClick has other interesting inventions as well. I covered more of these in my 2003 The Google Legacy and the follow-up monograph, Google Version 2. I am not returning to the Museum of Googzilla.

Once Google has been removed from your Android device, you may want to find replacement for the Google Play and Google provided apps. You can find a useful list in “The Complete List of Alternatives to All Google Products.” The “all” makes me nervous because DarkCyber has heard rumors than not even Google has a list which is comprehensive. Like the personnel data the US government once requested, that’s just too difficult. Creating such a list is impossible because once the list has been whipped up, it might leak. Google still tries to be as secretive as possible, but its track record has changed as the firm has aged.

Stephen E Arnold, June 30, 2019

Alexa: Big Brother and Big Sister

June 2, 2019

The younger generations live their lives online, so it is surprising when one shows concern about privacy. The Guardian’s Comedic journalist Tim Dowling wrote about his son’s total dislike for Amazon’s Alexa in, “Tim Dowling: Two Alexas Have Moved In, And They’re Terrifying.” Smart speakers are Big Brother’s newest tool, because it is always listening.

Dowling was sent two free Alexa’s to review for his column and coerced his son into setting them up in his home. What is even funnier is that they are used Alexas and one of them had googly eyes, so one is “always watching.” The son in question is nineteen years old, but is scared of Alexa. Dowling and his offspring do not like Alexa, because she is listening. At first, it is charming to have questions answered instantaneously, but it quickly turns when they nearly avoid buying an expensive laptop. They do ask Alexa, how many people are spying on them right then, but the speaker did not known the answer. Dowling’s eldest child, however, was quite keen on the speakers and had one tell him the latest football scores (that is soccer for the US).

It got worse for the youngest one when Dowling had to leave him alone in the house with the two Alexas:

“ ‘Walk the dog, feed the cat, don’t say ‘Alexa’, and you’ll be fine,’ I say.

‘Great,’ he says.

Some hours later, I receive an email informing me that I will not be required to write about Alexa after all. A few minutes after that, I receive an apology from the youngest one, telling me he had to unplug both Alexas: they had started talking to each other.”

What do Alexas discuss? They probably ceaselessly ask one another to keep repeating, because they could not quite get what the other is saying. Sure, smart speakers are fun. They are a voice activated Google and radio, but they are always listening. Listening to hear the next command or reporting it to the government.

Whitney Grace, June 2, 2019

Facebook Says Privacy. Tim Cook Explains Privacy

May 5, 2019

Apple continues to build out its privacy platform. “Apple CEO Tim Cook Slams Peeping Tom Websites for Intruding onto Users’ Privacy, Insists He Doesn’t Want Customers Looking at Their iPhones Too Much and Addresses Concerns That Kids Are Addicted to Devices” presents some of the suggestions and observations likely to find their way into Apple’s marketing of its products and services. (There was no mention of the nagging to sign into Apple’s messaging service or the annoyance of pleading with customers to use the Apple cloud storage service. Intrusive. You betcha.)

In an interview with a US television “real news” reporter, Mr. Cook offered one quite interesting observations; to wit:

Companies that collection people’s data know a lot more about you than someone looking in the window of your home. (Peeping Toms are bad, very bad.)

The article in the Daily Mail linked Mr. Cook’s comments about privacy to one of his previous statements:

Cook previously denounced Facebook and other tech companies for hoarding ‘industrial’ amounts of users’ private data during a privacy conference at the European Parliament in Brussels in October [2018].

How does Mr. Cook some companies’ “hoarding” of data? The answer:

Industrial scale.

One may want to recall that Facebook’s privacy woes have not had a significant impact on the firm’s financial performance. Mr. Cook may be talking privacy, but the reality is that in America, financial performance may be more important in some circles.

Oracle once asserted that in search and retrieval security matters. Oracle’s bet on enterprise search security did not cause competitors much, if any, friction. Apple’s “bet” on privacy will be interesting to observe.

Stephen E Arnold, May 5, 2019

Google and Kiddie Data Allegations

April 15, 2019

I read a compelling essay published in TribLive. The title? “Protect Kids from Google Predators.” The short write up does a good job of identifying the basic mechanism for collecting information about students. Here’s a passage I noted:

Google now has 80 million educators and students around the world using G Suite for Education, 40 million students and teachers in Google Classroom and 30 million more using Google Chromebooks inside and outside the classroom.

The data collection is ubiquitous, just like other Google functions. These intercept and logging functions are baked into the system. As Google staff turns over, the specifics of some of these fundamental plumbing and utility services are like services buried in Windows 10 and Word. Fish don’t understand water; users don’t understand a non-Google environment.

The write up adds:

K-12 children in tens of thousands of schools began the academic year by lining up at the library to create Gmail accounts and Google Classroom logins without parental notification or permission. There’s no escape: No Google, no access. No access, no education. “Hell, some of the teachers don’t even teach the kids,” one parent complained to me. Instead, they “watch videos on Canvas or on their Chromebooks. Canvas (by Instructure) is one of myriad “learning management systems” that stores students’ grades, homework assignments, videos, quizzes and tests — all integrated with almighty, all-powerful, omniscient Google. Google apps such as ClassDojo collect intimate behavioral data and long-term psychological profiles encompassing family information, personal messages, photographs and voice notes. The collection of such data is a nanny state nightmare in the making, as a new Pioneer Institute report on “social, emotional learning” software and assessments outlined this month. Meanwhile, preschoolers are being trained to flash “Clever Badges” with QR codes in front of their Google Chromebook webcams. These badges “seamlessly” log them into Google World and all its apps without all the “stress” of remembering passwords. Addicted toddlers are being indoctrinated into the screen time culture without learning how to exercise autonomy over their own data.

DarkCyber believes that more attention to this Google “feature” may be warranted. I know an apology from Google may be forthcoming, but perhaps parents are tiring of apologies and having their children tracked and their privacy compromised?

Stephen E Arnold, April 15, 2019

Virtual Private Networks: Is Free Good?

April 10, 2019

VPNs are the new wonder tool in Internet security and privacy. Want one? Download Opera.

DarkCyber has noted that Vladimir Putin is not a fan of digital tunneling. In our weekly news program, we have mentioned that some VPNs are not providing the security the user wants. In some enforcement circles, use of a VPN is a red flag.

It seems logical to assume that anything free on the Internet comes with a catch. Free VPNs come with with a special extra. Tech Radar explores free VPNs in, “Four Ways That A Free VPN Can Profit From Its Users.”

Paid VPNs manage to stay on top of their game by having their users pay a monthly subscription fee. Free VPNS do offer comparable services, but in order to do that they have to make money somehow. There are four ways free VPNs can make a profit from their users. The first one is called a “gateway” VPN, because it is a free trial or tier associated with a paid VPN The hope is that the trial users will become monthly subscribers when they discover the free version’s limitations, such as low bandwidth.

Another alternative involves free VPN selling information about your Internet habits. This information would usually be collected by ISPs, but the VPN blocks them. ISPs sell the information to the highest bidder, but the VPNs do that instead. Free VPNs can also share and reroute bandwidth amongst its various users:

“Yet with one free VPN provider, HolaVPN, this is exactly what happened. HolaVPN doesn’t have its own network of servers, but effectively crowd sources, with everyone using the service providing them bandwidth – not only for the free HolaVPN offering, but also for a related paid product known as Luminati. In addition, your device could become the exit node for another user’s activity, making you potentially liable for their actions.”

Then there is the tried and true method of selling advertising on the VPN network, including targeted ads. The VPN might block the ISPs from collection information, but the VPN collects it and makes a profit from the user’s information.

Yep, free.

Whitney Grace, April 10, 2019

Google: Forgetting or Selective Remembering?

March 27, 2019

Google created many useful and brilliant projects from its trademark search to Gmail and its free office suite. Google also has its share of failures, most notably Google+ and now the admission that they “forgot” about a microphone in its Nest Secure security system. BGR reports that, “Congress Wants Google To Explain How It Forgot About The Nest Secure Microphone.”

Google says they entirely “forgot” about a microphone inside their Nest Secure security system. Smart home security systems, such as the Nest Secure, are popular among homeowners, because it allows them to monitor their homes remotely, maintain a constant camera feed, and more. Smart security systems are supposed to protect individuals and their privacy, but some US senators are concerned about citizens’ privacy and Google’s “forgotten” microphone.

Senators and their constituents are worried that large tech companies are taking advantage of their end users and are not being transparent. Google maintains its commitment to transparency and its chief privacy officer said so during a Us Senate Committee hearing. Google will respond further to the issue in mid to late March 2019 with answers about the Nest Secure’s technical specifications, how they communicated with consumers, and what stage it was forgotten.

Google is taking the full blame:

“As we mentioned last week, Google has already released a pretty bare-bones mea culpa about this, sharing a statement with Business Insider that says the mike was never meant to be a secret and should have been included in the tech specs. ‘That was an error on our part.’ The company went on to explain that ‘the microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option.’ The long and short of this is that if you bought Nest’s $500 home security system, which is only a year old, you’re just now learning that you’ve inadvertently had a microphone in your home for a year or more that you didn’t know was there. The ball is now in Google’s court to respond to the questions raised in the Senators’ letter…”

Perhaps someone at Google should read Surveillance Capitalism. No, forget that.

Whitney Grace, March 27, 2019

First, Encryption, Now DNA: Annoying, Marketing, or Taunting?

March 14, 2019

I read “Home DNA-Testing Firm Will Let Users Block FBI Access to Their Data.” I came away asking myself, “Is this outfit just annoying government authorities or taunting them? Or, maybe the company wants to look good from a PR point of view?”

Australia introduced regulations which require that companies doing business in the country cooperated with law enforcement when it comes to accessing data on encrypted services. That initiative is likely to be watched closely by those in the Five Eyes. In fact, DarkCyber thinks that the Australian move is a trial balloon. Decryption is a contentious issues, and Facebook has suggested that it will embrace privacy. Some in the enforcement sector rely on Facebook data, and if those data become unreadable, that will spark some discussion. The key point is that Australia took regulatory action.

When the no DNA for the FBI story crossed my desk, I thought about the implications. China has addressed the DNA sampling issue directly. In once geographic area, people have to show up and provide a sample. Fail to cooperate? That action will not generate positive points on the individual’s social credit score.

DNA information is available or obtainable. I want to add “in one way or another.”

The issue is control and access. The use of DNA data is fairly straightforward. DNA may answer the question, “Whom should be investigate?”

The write up states:

The combination of genetic data from home DNA-testing kits and family tree databases has allowed individuals to find relatives by matching DNA, but has also opened a new way for police to solve crimes. Police used the technique last year to identify the man thought to be behind a series of murders in California during the 1970s.

But the company was cooperating. Now a “procedure” must be followed.

Mixed signals, push back, a concern for customer privacy, or PR? The more interesting question is, “Is the company poking pointy sticks into the backs of government authorities.” Will compliance regulations emerge from one of the Five Eyes?

Stephen E Arnold, March 14, 2019

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