Posts tagged & Privacy

“Surveillance Self-Defense” Is A How-To Guide For Every Level Of Online Privacy

Whether you’re a journalism student wanting to learn security tips not taught in college classrooms, or a pro at keeping communications secure, the Electronic Frontier Foundation wants to make your activities online even safer from prying eyes.

The EFF’s new project called Surveillance Self-Defense is a collection of tools and resources broken down into specific resource “playlists” for both computer types and the people using them. These include: Mac user, human rights defender, student journalist, online security veteran, and a security starter pack for newbies.

Each playlist includes a step-by-step guide for protecting and securing your private communications. Most start with a introduction to threat modeling, or understanding what information you want to protect and from whom. From there, the guides cover various other tools and services for particular situations, like “Things To Consider When Crossing The U.S. Border,” in the human rights defender playlist.

The EFF’s SSD project also features a collection of tutorials to help people encrypt their phones, use PGP for different operating systems, and how to pick the best virtual private network. 

See also: NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden: Keep Their Hands Off Our Data

The organization’s guide doesn’t claim to protect people from every credible threat, but it does a good job of delineating what technologies and services are the most helpful and necessary to protect data from hackers or adversaries.

After the Edward Snowden revelations, ongoing data breaches and personal information leaks, people are increasingly conscious of how and what they share online. Privacy hardware tools that aim to make data protection safe and simple have sprung up on the scene, just as quickly as their usefulness is debunked.

With EFF’s suite of tools and resources, even the most novice user can begin to take steps to secure their data, and begin communicating with friends and colleagues in a safer, more indestructible way.

Lead photo by JD Hancock on Flickr

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China Blocks DuckDuckGo, The Privacy Search Engine

China has blocked DuckDuckGo, the privacy search engine, that recently made big news when Apple added them as a default search option to iOS and their upcoming desktop operating system. The Founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, Gabriel Weinberg, confirmed that his search engine was blocked by Chinese…



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EFF Urges Congress To Protect Privacy In The Cloud

Despite its misleading name, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 made it legal for the U.S. government to obtain citizens’ email without a warrant or probable cause.

Now the Electronic Frontier Foundation and 70 other civil liberties organizations, public interest groups, and companies are trying to get it revised. This week they sent two letters to the House and Senate urging lawmakers to reconsider the “archaic” act. The first promotes HR 1852, the bipartisan Email Privacy Act, and the other its Senate companion bill S. 607, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013.

See also: Online Privacy: The Opt-Out Revolution Is Almost Here

There are more than 260 cosponsors in the House for the Email Privacy Act, and the Senate’s counterpart is due for its final vote, the EFF wrote.

Thanks to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, it is far easier for the government to obtain private digital information stored online than on a computer’s hard drive, something that the many digital rights organizations believe is outdated and needs to change. Significantly more of Americans’ personal data is stored in “the cloud,” than it was in 1986.

See also: How To Protect Yourself In The Cloud

“Updating ECPA would respond to the deeply held concerns of Americans about their privacy. S. 607 would make it clear that the warrant standard of the U.S. Constitution applies to private digital information just as it applies to physical property,” both letters read.

Lead image by StockMonkeys

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President Obama To Kick Off Drone Privacy Guidelines

The Federal Aviation Administration no longer be able to stall on privacy guidelines for private drone operation in the United States.

President Barack Obama is set to issue an executive order to create privacy guidelines for private drones operating in U.S. airspace, according to Politico. If executed, this order would put the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department, in charge of developing these guidelines.

Until now, privacy guidelines for drones were considered to be under the domain of the FAA, which is currently embroiled in the lengthy process of crafting regulations for operating commercial drones in U.S. airspace. However, the FAA has yet to address photos and other personal information potentially collected by private drones, a move that’s been criticized by both lawmakers and consumer groups.

See also: Why Commercial Drones Are Stuck In Regulatory Limbo

Brendan Schulman, a lawyer who specializes in litigation involving unmanned aircraft systems, told ReadWrite the measure lines up with the FAA’s earlier testimony.

“The FAA has never had a mandate concerning privacy, and in Congressional hearings has indicated that it would look to other agencies to develop any necessary privacy policies for commercial drones,” he said.

“There is no obvious agency to take this on, so it seems the President made a decision to specifically designate NTIA as the lead agency to study the issue. My understanding is that the result will be privacy best practices, not necessarily regulations.”

Congress has set a 2015 deadline for the FAA to develop its regulations. Internationally, drones are used for delivery purposes, crop surveying and maintenance, search and rescue, and more.

White House officials have not made it clear when the President will be issuing his order.

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LinkedIn’s Latest Lawsuit Is A Great Reminder Of How We Give Up Our Own Privacy

On Friday, a judge ruled that LinkedIn must face a lawsuit brought by customers who claim LinkedIn accessed their external email accounts like Gmail and Yahoo in order to bombard their contacts with unwanted LinkedIn invites. 

You’d need to read LinkedIn’s terms of service closely to learn that when you give LinkedIn access to your email accounts, the company pulls data from your emails to recruit new members. And you’d have to read through a lot of verbiage to discover that LinkedIn warns you that it will send out invites that look like they’re from you. Nowhere does it explicitly warn you that LinkedIn will follow up with repeated invites, making you look like a needy friend.

(Oh, you didn’t even bother to read the terms of service? Well, then those spammy invites your friends received in their email are all on you.)

This is the crux of a lawsuit brought by a group of users that raises questions about how much data companies can collect, and what they do with that information. U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh said Friday in her ruling that LinkedIn members who sued the company can pursue damages, as they try to expand their case to include other users, Bloomberg reported

Koh rejected some wild conspiracy-theory claims LinkedIn members advanced that the company was somehow “hacking” into their email accounts, finding they’d consented to give it access.

“We will continue to contest the remaining claims, as we believe they have no merit,” a LinkedIn spokesperson told ReadWrite.

Giving Up Our Privacy, One Click At A Time

And yet there is merit to the idea that something is happening when we use online services like LinkedIn that puts our digital lives out of our control.

The suit hangs on the fact that LinkedIn users consent once to sending an email. The plaintiffs allege that LinkedIn then sends numerous follow-up invitations to people’s contacts, a practice Koh said in her ruling was grounds to move forward with the lawsuit.

Soon, a lawsuit like this one might be a dinosaur.

An increasing trend is for corporations to erode not just our privacy, but our right to protest these invasions, by taking advantage of terms of service—implied contracts with customers—to shield them from lawsuits like this.

Instead, they rewrite their terms to favor procedures like mandatory arbitration, a process which many legal advocates believe favor corporations. Dropbox made this change in February (though it allows users to opt out of the change).

Two Supreme Court decisions in 2011 and 2013 have made it possible for companies to quietly revise the terms of service users rarely read, in an effort to forestall any consequences for abusing user privacy, like those alleged in the LinkedIn suit.

As Lina Khan of the Washington Monthly notes

The decisions culminate a thirty-year trend during which the judiciary, including initially some prominent liberal jurists, has moved to eliminate courts as a means for ordinary Americans to uphold their rights against companies. The result is a world where corporations can evade accountability and effectively skirt swaths of law, pushing their growing power over their consumers and employees past a tipping point.

This could theoretically put us in a world where Facebook could quietly change its terms of service to make the private information of its more than one billion users public—and there’d be almost nothing you could do about it, save quit in a huff.

It’s easy to lecture people about how important it is read the fine print you’re consenting to before sharing your private data. But we have lives to live, work to do, and families to see—all higher priorities than wading through Internet legalese.

And it’s not like we have any choice about these terms if we want to use a popular website. There’s no negotiating terms—only abject surrender.

I know I’m guilty of agreeing to terms of an app or website that I haven’t fully read. 

But cases like LinkedIn’s contact-email lawsuit serve as a reminder for all: The scales are tipped against us when it comes to protecting our privacy. We constantly trade convenience for control over our own online lives. And soon, we may have no recourse.

Image by Isengardt 

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Does Privacy + Twitter = A Reputation Disaster? by @jeanmariedion

Twitter has been a happening place this spring. Reuters suggests the micr0blogging site will have nearly 400 million users by 2018. In addition, the hashtag #YesAllWomen exploded, and according to CNN, it was mentioned in 1 million tweets in just one week. That’s a lot of talking. At the same time, there’s a ghost conversation going on about the public nature of Twitter. Specifically, some people who thought they were speaking at least semi-privately have discovered that their names, their identities, and in some cases, their locations were being spread all across the internet after they shared a few thoughts that […]

The post Does Privacy + Twitter = A Reputation Disaster? by @jeanmariedion appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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5 Fast Facts about the EU’s Privacy Ruling on Google

A European court has ruled that if Google wants to continue operating in Europe, the search giant must respect individuals’ requests to remove data from the search results. Here are five facts you need to know about the “right to be forgotten.”

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Facebook Introduces Privacy Checkup Tool, And New Default Privacy Settings by @mattsouthern

Today, Facebook announced some changes to their default privacy settings for new users, as well as a new privacy checkup tool for current users. Facebook understands that some users don’t mind publishing a post for everyone to see, but some users would rather share their content with a smaller group: We recognize that it is much worse for someone to accidentally share with everyone when they actually meant to share just with friends, compared with the reverse. What Facebook has done to satisfy users concerned about privacy settings is introduce these two new features. New Default Settings When new users […]

The post Facebook Introduces Privacy Checkup Tool, And New Default Privacy Settings by @mattsouthern appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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FTC To Silicon Valley: Lying About User Privacy Will Get You A Big … Wrist Slap

The Federal Trade Commission today effectively told technology companies: Go ahead and lie to consumers about your privacy protections, because even if you get caught, the most you’ll have to do is apologize. (If that.)

Snapchat, the “ephemeral” messaging service, agreed to settle FTC charges over claims that alleged it violated user privacy and deceived its customers. The company claimed that messages disappear entirely once viewed by the recipient, which they don’t, and collected user data such as location and address books without notice or consent.

The FTC charges followed a Snapchat security breach that leaked 4.6 million Snapchat usernames and phone numbers. According to the FTC, Snapchat made multiple representations to consumers that turned out to be utterly false. It also failed to properly safeguard its “Find Friends” feature—the one that led to the breach.

“If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action.”

And The Punishment Is … Nothing Much 

Sounds pretty bad, right? But the price Snapchat has to pay for all this is, well, basically nothing. The FTC settlement forbids Snapchat from lying to consumers about the privacy and security of the application, and requires the company to implement a privacy program that will be independently monitored for the next two decades. (Assuming Snapchat lasts anywhere near that long, of course.)

So instead of levying a fine against the messaging startup, which has raised $123 million to date, the FTC is letting Snapchat off with a warning. The startup responded to the settlement with a “whoopsie” and a vague promise to be “more precise” in how it communicates with the Snapchat community. Even as apologies go, it leaves something to be desired.

The Snapchat settlement is in stark contrast with another Internet company that knowingly violated user privacy—in 2012, Google agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle with the FTC after it tracked Safari users who visited sites within Google’s advertising network, even though Google had told those users they would automatically be opted out of such tracking.

While $22.5 million is a drop in the bucket for Google, a multi-million dollar fine might have crimped the startup’s bid to become a mobile messaging giant. Instead, the federal government chose to let the company off easy, even though it put its users at risk.

Any company should be held accountable for their actions, whether a small startup or an industry giant like Google. Facebook, a company notorious for confusing privacy policies, settled its own $20 million lawsuit last year after a court determined its shady “Sponsored Stories” advertisements violated users’ privacy.

The Snapchat precedent is a dangerous one, especially as consumers become more aware of how their data is being used by technology companies and the government. The fact is, social media companies are way too cavalier about vacuuming up their users’ data and offering too little in return. Now both small companies and tech giants alike will look to the Snapchat ruling for support in future cases—they got off easy, so we should, too.

So here’s your lesson entrepreneurs. If you lie to users, it’s no big deal, because the government doesn’t care about your privacy either.

Image courtesy of TechCrunch on Flickr

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Facebook Finally Gets Serious About Privacy

Facebook is finally getting serious about privacy. At its F8 developer conference in San Francisco Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced two new updates to Facebook Login that center around user privacy.

You’ll now be able to use Facebook Login anonymously, meaning you can log into a mobile application using your Facebook account—but the application won’t know any personal information about you. 

“It’s an experience that’s synced without an app knowing who you are,” Zuckerberg said. “If you want, you can always sign in with your real identity once you’re comfortable sharing your information.”

Facebook has grappled with privacy issues in the past. And Zuckerberg has notoriously been chilly about the idea about anonymity online. The Facebook experience is, after all, all about your real identity. But with anonymous login, Facebook is embracing the concerns of users and finally offering a new option for people that aren’t comfortable sharing their true identity with applications that don’t need to know your real name, location, or Facebook Likes in order to operate. 

For users that are privacy conscious but still want to use their real identity to log into third-party applications, Facebook rolled out editable permissions at F8 as well. Now, when you log into an application, you can choose which personal information to share line by line. 

“We know people are scared of pressing this blue [Facebook Login] button,” Zuckerberg said, admitting users are nervous about sharing all their personal information with third-party apps. “We don’t want anyone to be surprised how they’re sharing on Facebook.”

Some applications, like the ridesharing application Lyft, will likely require people to provide identifying personal information like their name and picture, but now you’ll be able to give apps only the information they require, and nothing else. 

While the new Facebook features are a great move for protecting user privacy, it’s still unclear whether Facebook knows which apps you’re using even if you log in anonymously. For now, though, Facebook will be satisfied by gaining the favor of privacy pundits that are nervous about how applications access and use their personal information. 

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