Posts tagged & Privacy

Bing iPhone App Gets A Refresh With New Privacy Controls, Image Search Results & More Emojis

Updates make it possible to launch apps from the search results page, enable a “Privacy Search” mode, view video snippets inline and more.

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Google Agrees To Change Privacy Policy In UK by @mattsouthern

Google has agreed to change its privacy policy in the UK with respect to how it gathers personal data, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office announced today. The changes to Google’s privacy policy will reflect the requirements of UK’s Data Protection Act, a document that outlines the ways in which data must be collected in order to not compromise the privacy of users. UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has taken issue with Google’s privacy policy since the update in 2012 that combined the privacy policies across all of Google’s services into one. The commissioner’s office argues that this policy was too vague […]

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White House Privacy Bill Would Reportedly Crimp Data Harvesting

The White House’s forthcoming online-privacy bill will would place restrictions on the handling of consumer data while giving more power to the Federal Trade Commission to enforce those restrictions, Politico reported.

The current draft would require Internet companies like Google and Facebook—as well as online advertisers and mobile app developers—to get user permission before collecting or sharing personal information. The report also says the FTC would gain the power to levy fines against companies that violate online privacy laws. 

Earlier this month, the White House said it will introduce a version of its Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights by February 26:

Online interactions should be governed by clear principles … that look at the context in which data is collected and ensure that users’ expectations are not abused.

Related online-privacy legislation the Obama administration intends to propose includes the Student Digital Privacy Act, a measure based on California legislation that would prevent companies from selling student data for non-educational purposes.

But critics said the bill, which will face a hostile reception in the Republican Congress, will need to stake out some serious enforcement powers.

“It’s encouraging that the Obama administration is proposing more privacy reforms,” Mark. M Jaycox, legislative analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in an email interview. “But they can’t be hollow bills.”

For instance, he noted:

EFF supported the California bill that the administration is basing its student privacy proposal on. But just this morning, Education Week reported the administration bill does not contain an explicit prohibition on vendors amassing profiles of K-12 students for non-educational uses.

Jaycox added that the student-privacy bill also won’t prohibit companies from collecting information in an educational context and then using it to target advertising to students elsewhere.

Critics like Jaycox argue that weaknesses in the student privacy bills could foreshadow similar problems with the consumer privacy bill. Outsiders, however, haven’t yet seen the language of either bill firsthand. Politico attributed its reporting to sources that offered a limited reading of the draft legislation.

Photo courtesy of the White House

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Browsing In Privacy Mode Isn’t As Secure As You Think

Your browser’s incognito mode might not be a secure as you think. A researcher has come up with a proof of concept for Super Cookies, a type of data retention that could turn one of your browser’s biggest security features into its biggest privacy hazard.

See also: The Real Lesson From Recent Cyberattacks: Let’s Break Up The NSA

Cookies are messages between a web server and web browser that get exchanged when a user requests an Internet site. Then, when the user returns to the same site, the website will recognize the user from the cookie it has stored. Essentially, cookies allow websites to fingerprint users and keep tabs on them—when they’re not in incognito mode. Presumably, the difference in incognito mode is that cookies are never exchanged.

Now Sam Greenhalgh, a technology and software consultant, has developed a proof of concept for HSTS Super Cookies, which can fingerprint users even in incognito mode. In order to show he has this capability, his site sets a tracking ID for each visitor. Visit the site as many times as you like in as many browsers and browser settings as you want; you’re still vulnerable to Super Cookies if the tracking ID remains the same.

HSTS stands for HTTP Strict Transport Security, a security protocol that ensures users only interact with a website via a secure HTTPS connection. For a more detailed explanation, check out Ars Technica’s thorough description.

Greenhalgh noted that he is aware of only one browser version that is invulnerable to HSTS Super Cookies: the latest version of Firefox, 34.0.5. Internet Explorer isn’t vulnerable for a different reason—it doesn’t support HSTS security in the first place.

Photo by Jeramey Jannene

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Google Faces $18.7M Fine in Netherlands for Privacy Violations

The search giant has been ordered to change the way it collects data to target advertising, or face a significantly large fine.

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Google Faces Potential $19M Privacy Fine In The Netherlands

Google continues to face potential fines for failing to change its privacy policy in Europe. Since the company introduced its “simplified privacy policy” in 2012 it has faced Europe-wide criticism and the threat of fines for violating local data protection laws. Multiple government data…

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Senator Al Franken Grills Uber Over Privacy Policies

Uber’s bad behavior has earned it a stern letter from Senator Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, questioning the ride-sharing company’s tracking of users’ personal data.

Franken sent a letter Wednesday to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick with ten tough questions regarding reports of “troubling disregard for customers’ privacy, including the need to protect their sensitive geolocation data.”

Emil Michael, senior vice president of business for Uber, is no doubt regretting some remarks he made at a party in New York this weekend, during which he reportedly  threatened to “expose” PandoDaily editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy in retaliation for her criticism of the company. BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, to whom Michael made the remarks, broke the story, reporting that Uber suggested spending “a million dollars” to dredge up dirt on critical journalists.

See also: An Uber Error In Judgment: When Tech Execs Behave Badly

Since then, Uber has been doing damage control, even as new details arise indicating just how much access the company has to users’ location and trip data. BuzzFeed also reported that Uber employees have access to a tool called “God View,” which allows them to track the locations of drivers and customers in real time.

Uber spokesperson Nairi Hourdajian outlined a number of reasons why employees might use “God View” and claimed the company monitored their access.

“Data security specialists monitor and audit that access on an ongoing basis,” Hourdajian wrote. “Violations of this policy do result in disciplinary action, including the possibility of termination and legal action.”

Franken is not convinced. His letter demands answers on the use of “God View,” Uber’s internal data sharing, Uber’s external data sharing with third parties, and other privacy concerns. Most concerning is the observation that Uber may maintain customers’ information long after they delete the app. Franken wants to know why.

Franken signed off with a request that Kalanick respond to his queries by December 15. Read the entire letter below:

Photo by John Taylor

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Facebook Displays Unprecedented Transparency In Update To Privacy Polices by @mattsouthern

Facebook has been making strides to change the public’s perception towards how transparent and open they are about the data collected on its users, and what the company does with that data. Over the past year they have released new features that give users more control over how much of their information is public, and how much information third party services can gather about them. For a complete overview about these features and privacy settings, Facebook just released a new section on privacy basics which is full of interactive guides answering the most pressing questions about how to better control the […]

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DuckDuckGo Added To Firefox As Part Of Enhanced Privacy Options

Firefox is celebrating its 10th anniversary. A new version of the browser includes two new privacy features. The first is the availability of DuckDuckGo as a new pre-installed search engine choice. The second is a “forget” feature that allows users to delete recent history. Forget…

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Dropbox Responds To Snowden Privacy Criticisms

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been anything but subtle about his aversion toward Dropbox. Now the storage service’s CEO had a few words to say in reply.

Snowden has repeatedly told consumers that if they want to protect their privacy, they ought to avoid Dropbox which he has called a “targeted, wannabe PRISM partner” that is “very hostile to privacy.” Snowden recommended a competitor called SpiderOak.

See also: Dropbox For Business Gives Control Freaks What They Want

On Wednesday, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston used his platform at the Dublin Web Summit to indirectly respond to Snowden’s remarks, emphasizing a priority on user experience.

“If you offer zero knowledge encryption we understand the motivation for that, but there are downsides to it,” he said. “Third-party tools are offered to do that, but of course that [affects making] all my stuff searchable and indexed and rendered well in previews. People have different tradeoffs.”

In other words, Dropbox offers limited privacy in exchange for seamless integration between desktop and mobile versions, Dropbox and third party apps, and other features.

When asked at the summit whether or not Snowden’s remarks had affected Dropbox usage, Houston noted that 1.2 billion users continue to use the service.

“It’s never fun when people throw rocks,” he says. “But how many [negative] articles were there about Facebook and Zuck? There are a lot of happy things but we go from the company who can do no wrong to the one who can do no right…. You are never quite as good as people say you are but also never quite as bad.”

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