Online Privacy Just Got a Lot Less Private

December 15, 2017

Forget for a moment political hacks from other countries and think about yourself. We are far more vulnerable online than you might think. A scary new report was discovered in a University of Washington News story, “For $1,000 Anyone Can Purchase Online Ads to Track Your Location and App Use.”

According to the story:

The researchers discovered that an individual ad purchaser can, under certain circumstances, see when a person visits a predetermined sensitive location — a suspected rendezvous spot for an affair, the office of a company that a venture capitalist might be interested in or a hospital where someone might be receiving treatment — within 10 minutes of that person’s arrival. They were also able to track a person’s movements across the city during a morning commute by serving location-based ads to the target’s phone.

 

Importantly, the target does not have to click on or engage with the ad — the purchaser can see where ads are being served and use that information to track the target through space. In the team’s experiments, they were able to pinpoint a person’s location within about 8 meters.

The scariest part of this story is that, while there are many techniques for hiding your online browsing and consumption, there is not much you can do from being spied on by software like this. However, the ebb and flow of the internet tell us that as soon as this becomes a public concern some programmer with dollar signs in their eyes will invent a solution. We just hope it’s not too late by then.

Patrick Roland, December 15, 2017

Nothing New as UK Continues to Spy on Citizens

November 27, 2017

People in the United States appear to always be up in arms about their civil liberties.  While it can be annoying, this is a good thing because it shows that citizens are trying to keep their government in check. The United States pales in comparison to the United Kingdom when it comes to defying civil liberties and spying on citizens.  TechCrunch shares the article, “UK Spies Using Social Media Data For Das Surveillance.”

Why does it come as a surprise that governments are using social media to collect information on their citizens? Many social media users do not have filters, including the US President Trump, and post everything online.  Governments take advantage of this, so it only makes sense when Privacy International says they have evidence that UK spy agencies use social media to gather information on suspects.

What does come as interesting is that the evidence shows that UK agencies shared their information databases with foreign governments and law enforcement?  On the other hand, given that the UK has been a target for terrorist attacks, this makes sense. Privacy International is challenging UK’s intelligence use of the of the personal data as an investigation tool.  This is the biggest concern and rightly so:

A key concern of the committee at the time was that rules governing use of the datasets had not been defined in legislation (although the UK government has since passed a new investigatory powers framework that enshrines various state surveillance bulk powers in law).  But at the time of the report, privacy issues and other safeguards pertaining to BPDs had not been considered in public or parliament.

There are not any legal ramifications if the data is misused.  This is a big deal and there need to be penalties if the data is used in harmful ways.  It begs the question, however, what about financial and retail industries that collect data on customers to sell more products?  Is that akin to this?  Also, people need to put less of their lives online and they would have less to worry about.

Whitney Grace, November 27, 2017

Facebook Unapologetic About Spy Tool

September 6, 2017

At what point does a company or industry hold too much power? That is exactly what a recent TNW article examined. According to the site, Facebook has unleashed an early spying tool to identify and then eradicate competition. Many examples of how Facebook has done this in the past, stealing such features as Stories or upcoming Bonfire, from start-ups, are listed as proof of the growing power the social media giant possesses.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and others all wield the same sort of power over smaller competitors. While the power shift isn’t revolutionary at its surface — offline businesses held the same sort of power for decades, and some still do — it’s the speed at which online companies grow, becoming ever-more-powerful, that makes it worth taking notice of.

With just a handful of companies (Google, Facebook, Apple primarily) holding so much revenue power in the global economy, it is important for us not to just gloss over these practices. What the future will hold for new companies with bold, new ideas is daunting, at the very least.

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 6, 2017

Is China the New Los Angeles Trend Machine?

August 28, 2017

I was last in China in 2007 and then in Hong Kong in 2010. My information is, therefore, out of date. That’s no big whoop for me, since I am ready to tally 74 years in our thrilling world.

I read “In China You Now Have to Provide Your Real Identity If You Want to Comment Online.” The main point of the write up is that the free and open Internet is going the way of the dodo. The goal of “real name registration” is to make it easy for certain official to track down individuals without the expensive, time consuming, and sometimes messy “traditional” identity investigations.

I noted this passage:

So what exactly constitutes forbidden topics on the Chinese internet? An unnamed CAC official told a journalist the following when asked about the new rules (first translated by The Diplomat):

  1. opposing the principles of the constitution of China
  2. endangering national security, revealing state secrets, subverting state power, and undermining national reunification
  3. damaging national honor and interests
  4. inciting national hatred, ethnic discrimination, and undermining national unity
  5. undermining the state’s policies on religion or promoting cults and feudal superstitions
  6. spreading rumors or disrupting social order
  7. spreading obscenity, pornography, violence, or terror, or abetting a crime
  8. insulting or slandering others and infringing upon the lawful rights and interests of others
  9. violating any other laws and regulations

My reaction to the write up is that censorship, China-style, may be the latest trend to emerge from the Middle Kingdom. Once Los Angeles on the left coast generated the “in” fads which would then roll toward Harrod’s Creek.

My thought is that censorship may be the new black or whatever the hot color is for fall fashion. I am not particularly surprised because similar governmental actions seem to have emerged from the deliberative bodies in Russia, Turkey, and other countries. One African nation state just turned off the Internet, an Iran-style touch.

One idea struck me. Is now the time for individuals to generate an alternative or optional Internet identity. Creating a “legend” or an alternate Internet identity is important. Just ask the person who ran the illegal Dark Web site AlphaBay. The mistake that individual made was to use an identity which was not “clean.

The procedure for setting up a legend or clean Internet identity is not easy. There are a number of steps. Human mistakes can render a clean identity traceable; that is, dirty. If you are able to verify that you are working for a recognized law enforcement or intelligence entity, you can obtain a legend from the Beyond Search Overflight team. This is our WITSEC Light bundle. More comprehensive legends are also available to qualified LE and intel professionals.

To explore this package which contains an alias, matching email address, and other necessary elements like a Walmart pay as you go phone, just write darkwebnotebook at yandex dot com. Remember. We verify that you have a legitimate LE or intel role prior to providing the legend, a workable biography, and summary of what one has to do to build out the legend.

Those who do not qualify will have to look elsewhere for a way to deal with censorship constraints in countries other than the US. If the China censorship trend moves outward from that country, more than one online identity may be needed for some operations.

Stephen E Arnold, August 28, 2017

Bannon Threatens Antitrust on Google and Facebook

August 15, 2017

During a time when the left and right seem further apart than ever before an odd, unexpected leak from within the white house has emerged. According to The Atlantic,

Steve Bannon, the chief strategist to President Donald Trump, believes Facebook and Google should be regulated as public utilities, according to an anonymously sourced report in The Intercept. This means they would get treated less like a book publisher and more like a telephone company. The government would shorten their leash, treating them as privately owned firms that provide an important public service.

Previously, only the far left has voiced such opinions making this questionable. Are the motives altruistic or monetary in nature? If such a move actually were to happen the way business is done at Google and Facebook would drastically change.

The article goes on to point out why and how Bannon’s musings on tech giants will never happen under the current administration, but regardless of one’s political ways, the fact that antitrust and online giants are being discussed together might signal the end of an era.

Catherine Lamsfuss, August 15, 2017

Big Data Can Reveal Darkest Secrets

August 8, 2017

Surveys for long have been used by social and commercial organizations for collecting data. However, with easy access to Big Data, it seems people while responding to surveys, lie more than thought about earlier.

In an article by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz published by The Guardian and titled Everybody Lies: How Google Search Reveals Our Darkest Secrets, the author says:

The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else. Google was invented so that people could learn about the world, not so researchers could learn about people, but it turns out the trails we leave as we seek knowledge on the internet are tremendously revealing.

As per the author, impersonal and anonymity of Internet and ease of access is one of the primary reasons why Internet users reveal their darkest secrets to Google (in form of queries).

Big Data which is a form of data scourged from various sources can be a reliable source of information. For instance, surveys say that around 10% of American men are gay. Big Data, however, reveals that only 2-3% of men are actually gay. To know more about interesting insights on Big Data, courtesy Google, read the article here.

Vishal Ingole, August 8, 2017

Study: Social Media and Young People

July 19, 2017

Some of us elders have been saying it for years, but now research seems to confirm it—social media can be bad for mental health.  The Next Web reports, “Study: Snapchat and Instagram Are the Worst for Young People.” The study is from the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), and the “young people” sampled are 1,479 Brits aged 14-24. An explanatory three-minute video from the RSPH accompanies the article. Writer Rachel Kaser reports:

The researchers surveyed 1,479 British youths ages 14-24, asking them how they felt the different social media networks effected their mental health. They took in several factors such as body image, sleep deprivation, bullying, and self-identity. The results suggest the two worst social media networks for kids are Instagram and Snapchat, as they had terrible scores for body image, bullying, and anxiety. Twitter and Facebook weren’t much better, though. YouTube was the only one that apparently inspired more positive feelings than negative ones. It could be because Snapchat and Instagram are image-based apps, meaning it’s not easy for users to avoid visual comparisons. Both apps ranked high on ‘Fear of Missing Out,’ and the researchers suggested this was likely to foster anxiety in fellow users.

I recommend the video for interested readers. It shows some respondents’ answers to certain questions, and clearly summarizes the pros and cons of each platform examined. It helpfully concludes with a list of concrete suggestions: Implement pop-up notifications that tell users when they’ve been online for a certain amount of time; require watermarks on photos that have been digitally altered; educate folks on the healthy use of social media; and incorporate analysis tools to identify users at risk for poor mental health and “discreetly” steer them toward help. It does seem such measures could help; will social-media companies cooperate?

Cynthia Murrell, July 19, 2017

Google Abandons Email Ads; Stops Reading User Emails

July 11, 2017

Gmail, the largest email provider, has stopped the email ads program after enterprise customers raised concerns over privacy and enterprise data.

As reported by Bloomberg in an article titled Google Will Stop Reading Your Emails for Gmail Ads, the author of the article says:

Google is stopping one of the most controversial advertising formats: ads inside Gmail that scan users’ email contents. The decision didn’t come from Google’s ad team, but from its cloud unit, which is angling to sign up more corporate customers.

Launched on in April 2004, Gmail initially was an invitation only email service. As the user base increased, the then parent company Google decided to sell ad space within the mailbox to advertisers based on email contents.

Gmail now will abandon this practice as many corporate clients have enrolled for the paid version of the email named G Suites. The decision came from Diane Greene, who heads the Cloud division of Alphabet, Inc. Alphabet’s dominance over search engine business continues. The next bastion might be Cloud services, as indicated by this move. Right, Google?

Vishal Ingole, July  11, 2017

Deleting Yourself from the Internet Too Good to Be True

July 4, 2017

Most people find themselves saddled with online accounts going back decades and would gladly delete them if they could. Some people even wish they could delete all their accounts and cease to exist online. A new service, Deseat, promises just that. According to The Next Web,

Every account it finds gets paired with an easy delete link pointing to the unsubscribe page for that service. Within in a few clicks you’re freed from it, and depending on how long you need to work through the entire list, you can be unwanted-account-free within the hour.

Theoretically, one could completely erase all trace of themselves from the all-knowing cyber web in the sky. But can it really be this easy?

Yes, eliminating outdated and unused accounts is a much-needed step in cleaning up one’s cyber identity, but we must question the validity of total elimination of one’s cyber identify in just a few clicks. Despite the website’s claim to “wipe your entire existence off the internet in a few clicks” ridding the internet of one’s cyber footprints is probably not that easy.

Catherine Lamsfuss, July 4, 2017

Facebook May Be Exploiting Emotions of Young Audiences

June 26, 2017

Open Rights Group, a privacy advocacy group is demanding details of a study Facebook conducted on teens and sold its results to marketing companies. This might be a blatant invasion of privacy and attempt to capitalize on emotional distress of teens.

In a press release sent out by the Open Rights Group and titled Rights Groups Demand More Transparency over Facebook’s ‘Insights’ into Young Users, the spokesperson says:

It is incumbent upon Facebook as a cultural leader to protect, not exploit, the privacy of young people, especially when their vulnerable emotions are involved.

This is not the first time technology companies have come under heavy criticism from privacy rights groups. Facebook through its social media platform collects information and metrics from users, analyzes it and sells the results to marketing companies. However, Facebook never explicitly tells the user that they are being watched. Open Rights Group is demanding that this information is made public. Though there is no hope, will Facebook concede?

Vishal Ingole, June 26, 2017

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