Posts tagged & Privacy

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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“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 […]

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