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Privacy

Google updates Location History language after tracking backlash

Four days after admitting that it continues to track users even after the Location History tracking has been disabled, Google has updated its website to more accurately reflect the nature of its location policy.  “This setting does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device,” the updated Google Account Help page now reads. “Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps. When you turn off Location History for your Google Account, it’s off for all devices associated with that Google Account.” The update was noted by the Associated Press, which first brought the tracking issue to light earlier this week in a report. Google initially denied its own inaccurate reporting, but later backtra...

Google keeps a history of your locations even when Location History is off

In a wonderfully clear example of “dark patterns” designed to mislead users and retain control over their data, Google continues tracking your location even when you turn off Location History and are told that “the places you go are no longer stored.” Google says it tells users, but its disclosure is the bare minimum and users are discouraged from further interference with data collection. A report from the AP lays out the details, but the information will come as no surprise to anyone who has tried to fully expunge their location data, or who read the “dark patterns” report from June. The problem is quite simple. When you turn off (technically “pause,” a choice of words in itself troubling) “Location History,” a major Google account-level setting, you are told: “With Location History off,...

Security researchers found a way to hack into the Amazon Echo

Hackers at DefCon have exposed new security concerns around smart speakers. Tencent’s Wu HuiYu and Qian Wenxiang spoke at the security conference with a presentation called Breaking Smart Speakers: We are Listening to You, explaining how they hacked into an Amazon Echo speaker and turned it into a spy bug. The hack involved a modified Amazon Echo, which had had parts swapped out, including some that had been soldered on. The modified Echo was then used to hack into other, non-modified Echos by connecting both the hackers’ Echo and a regular Echo to the same LAN. This allowed the hackers to turn their own, modified Echo into a listening bug, relaying audio from the other Echo speakers without those speakers indicating that they were transmitting. This method was very difficult to execute, b...

Openbook is the latest dream of a digital life beyond Facebook

As tech’s social giants wrestle with antisocial demons that appear to be both an emergent property of their platform power, and a consequence of specific leadership and values failures (evident as they publicly fail to enforce even the standards they claim to have), there are still people dreaming of a better way. Of social networking beyond outrage-fuelled adtech giants like Facebook and Twitter. There have been many such attempts to build a ‘better’ social network of course. Most have ended in the deadpool. A few are still around with varying degrees of success/usage (Snapchat, Ello and Mastodon are three that spring to mine). None has usurped Zuckerberg’s throne of course. This is principally because Facebook acquired Instagram and WhatsApp. It has also bought and closed down smaller po...

Facebook now requiring Pages with large US audiences to go through additional authorization

Facebook today announced it’s implementing a new measure to secure Facebook Pages with large U.S. followings in order to make it harder for people to administer a Page using a “fake or compromised account.” Beginning with those that have large U.S. followings, some Facebook Pages will now have to go through a “Page Publishing Authorization” process. This will require the Page managers to secure their accounts and verity their location. Facebook says the process only takes a few minutes to complete. If a Page requires this authorization, the Page admins will receive a notice at the top of their News Feed directing them to begin the process. If they choose not to submit to Authorization, they will no longer be able to post to their Pages, the company says. Enforcement will begin this month. ...

Apple’s response to Congressional privacy inquiry is mercifully free of horrifying revelations

It’s not infrequent these days if you’re a big tech company to receive a brusquely worded letter from a group of Senators or Representatives asking you to explain yourself on some topic or another. One recent such letter sent to Apple and Alphabet asks specifically about practices meant to track users or their interactions with the phone without their knowledge or consent. Luckily Apple has much to be proud of on that front. “Apple’s philosophy and approach to customer data differs from many other companies on these important issue,” preened Timothy Powderly, Apple’s director of federal government affairs, in the company’s response to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s questions. “We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and purposely design our products and services to minim...

Is it time to remove Zuckerberg from (his) office?

A colleague, who shall remain nameless (because privacy is not dead), gave a thumbs down to a recent column in the NYT. The complaint was that the writer had attacked tech companies (mostly but not exclusively Facebook) without offering any solutions for these all-powerful techbro CEOs’ orchestral failures to grasp the messy complexities of humanity at a worldwide scale. Challenge accepted. Here’s the thought experiment: Fixing Facebook  We’ll start with Facebook because, while it’s by no means the only tech company whose platform contains a bottomless cesspit of problems, it is the most used social platform in the West; the de facto global monopoly outside China. And, well, even Zuckerberg’ thinks it needs fixing. Or at least that its PR needs fixing — given he made “Fixing Facebook” his ...

Facebook launches a digital literacy library aimed at educators

Facebook this morning announced the launch of a new set of educational resources focused on helping young people think critically and behave thoughtfully online. The Digital Literacy Library, as the new site is being called, is aimed at educators of children aged 11 to 18, and address topics like privacy, reputation, identity exploration, security, safety, wellbeing and more. There are 830 million young people online, the company notes, which is why digital literacy is necessary. We’ve seen the results what can happen when people are lacking in digital literacy – they’re susceptible to believing hoaxes, propaganda and fake news is true; they risk their personal data by using insecure apps; they become addicted to social media and its feedback loop of likes; they bully and/or are bullied; a...

What can we learn from the Dixons data breach that blew up after disclosure

European consumer electronics retailer Dixons Carphone’s apologetic admission yesterday that a 2017 data breach was in fact considerably worse than it first reported suggests disclosures of major breaches could get a bit more messy — at least under the early reign of the region’s tough new data protection framework, GDPR — as organizations scramble to comply with requirements to communicate serious breaches “without undue delay”. Although, to be clear, it’s not the regulation that’s the problem. Dixons’ handling of this particular security incident has come in for sharp criticism — and is most certainly not a textbook example of how to proceed. Dixons Carphone disclosed a breach of 5.9M payment cards and 1.2M customer records in mid June, saying it had discovered the unauthorized access to...

Facebook really doesn’t want users to go to a fake Unite the Right counter-protest next week

According to COO Sheryl Sandberg, getting ahead of an event called “No Unite the Right 2, DC” is the reason behind Facebook’s decision to disclose new platform behavior that closely resembles previous Russian state-sponsored activity meant to sow political discord in the U.S. “We’re sharing this today because the connection between these actors and the event planned in Washington next week,” Sandberg said, calling the disclosure “early” and noting that the company still does not have all the facts. A Facebook Page called “Resisters” created the event, set to take place on August 10, as a protest against Unite the Right 2 — a follow-up event to last year’s deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va. that left peaceful counter-protester Heather Heyer dead. The Page, which Facebook identified as dis...

One more thing re: “privacy concerns” raised by the DCMS fake new report…

A meaty first report by the UK parliamentary committee that’s been running an inquiry into online disinformation since fall 2017, including scrutinizing how people’s personal information was harvested from social media services like Facebook and used for voter profiling and the targeting of campaign ads — and whose chair, Damian Collins — is a member of the UK’s governing Conservative Party, contains one curious omission. Among the many issues the report raises are privacy concerns related to a campaign app developed by a company called uCampaign — which, much like the scandal-hit (and now seemingly defunct) Cambridge Analytica, worked for both the Ted Cruz for President and the Donald J Trump for President campaigns — although in its case it developed apps for campaigns to distribute to s...

Verizon’s new ‘Safe Wi-Fi’ is a VPN that blocks ad tracking for $3.99 a month

Verizon has rolled out a new product called Safe Wi-Fi, a VPN that provides a security stop gap for its mobile customers logging onto a public network. It’s also being marketed as a way to block ads. So WTF is a VPN and why does it matter? A VPN is a virtual private network. It sits between a device in front of you and a server in a data center. Think of it as a tunnel that cloaks or hides your internet traffic from other folks on your local network. That open Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop can give advertisers and more nefarious types the ability to track your IP address. A VPN provides a secure connection between you and the server, and hides the IP address from prying eyes. Safe Wi-Fi (check out the video below) costs $3.99 a month per account and is available to Verizon customers on A...