Posts tagged & Privacy

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stored online than on a computer’s hard drive, something that the many digital rights organizations believe is outdated and needs to change.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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Facebook, If You’re Serious About Privacy Controls, Let Me Control Them

Facebook wants people to stop getting frustrated with the company’s privacy settings. Well, good luck with that.

Almost any change Facebook makes to privacy controls triggers outcries and accusations that the social network is continuing to erode any remaining confidence people might have have sharing their data with the social network—and justifiably so. Yet Facebook just can’t stop trying to win over hearts and minds. If it really wants to succeed, though, it needs to become a lot more transparent, and more lenient, about how it vacuums up data, what sort of data it keeps and what it does with it.

Facebook has faced lawsuits for sketchy privacy policies, and recently closed down a controversial advertising product that used people’s likeness in ads. In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission settled with Facebook after the social network failed to keep its privacy promises, and the FTC reminded Facebook of those promises when it cleared the Facebook-WhatsApp acquisition on Thursday.

The company is hoping to change this negative perception. At a roundtable with reporters this past Tuesday, Facebook highlighted a few changes people will start to see in their news feed.

“We haven’t communicated as well as we could have,” Mike Nowack, privacy product manager at Facebook, told reporters. “[Feedback] has led us to think about privacy not just as controls or settings, but as a set of experiences that help people feel comfortable sharing what they want with who they want.”

For instance, Facebook is testing a minor tweak that would change the look of a drop-down menu that lets you select with whom you share, making “Public” and “Friends” the two prominent options (Facebook says those choices are the most popular). Facebook also told us that it runs 4,000 privacy surveys a day to better understand what people like or dislike about their current settings in order to make changes retroactively. 

The biggest change is letting users control who sees their past cover photos, one of the items Facebook deems publicly available information—that is, data that’s visible to anyone in the world. Previously, anyone could view all your past cover photos.

While it’s smart of Facebook to be proactive about educating users on privacy controls and anticipating backlash, these changes don’t go nearly far enough. The company is still missing some key features that would prove  it really takes privacy seriously.

You Can’t Not Be Public

It’s easy for strangers to find you on Facebook, thanks to publicly available information—the data you give to Facebook that the social network then shares with the world. This includes your name, profile photo, cover photo, gender, and networks such as your school or workplace. 

According to Facebook, it’s necessary for this information to be public: “These are pieces of information that both help disambiguate you from other people in the world, but help you get the best experience to find other people,” Raylene Yung, an engineering manager on Facebook’s privacy team, told me. “They’ve been a part of the site for as long as its existed.”

When Facebook was still a small and growing social network, it made sense for your personal information to be public so new friends or family that signed up for the service would be able to find you. But now, with over one billion users, many people have established their small piece of the social experience and don’t need to field any additional friend requests, while others just don’t want to be found at all.

Public information proves to be a difficult obstacle for many people who have experienced online harassment or stalking. I’ve personally been a target of Facebook stalking—in college I was harassed by a stranger who sent me numerous messages and a friend request; I eventually blocked him and the harassment stopped.

When asked on Tuesday about potential safety issues regarding public information, Facebook officials emphasized the blocking policy and said that people who feel harassed should report it to Facebook. Of course, once blocked or reported, harassers can simply create a pseudonymous account and find you once again.

In order to feel completely secure on Facebook, it should give users the opportunity to opt-out of search, or choose what part, if any, of their data can be publicly visible.

Facebook killed a privacy setting that did just this last fall. It eliminated users’ ability to block people from searching them, effectively forcing everyone into Graph Search—the massive, practically endless, natural-language search that contains all the public data of every Facebook user. I was one of the people that had the setting checked because I didn’t want to appear in unwanted searches, and was disappointed when the setting disappeared.

Luckily, you can tailor your settings to allow only “Friends of Friends” to send you friend requests, or “Only Friends” to send you messages, small but significant settings that deter unwanted contact.

Restricting cover photo viewing is a step in the right direction, but restricting or eliminating all required public information would boost confidence in users that Facebook is taking concerns seriously. 

Multi-App Strategy: What Does It Do With That Data?

When Facebook acquired WhatsApp earlier this year, the fear of Facebook getting its hands on even more of your data irked numerous users. 

Those fears could have legs—a report published by data analytics company SiSense took a look at an average WhatsApp conversation and noticed the data potentially collected from WhatsApp is significantly more personalized and meaningful than what Facebook gleans from its flagship application.

SiSense analyzed the conversation from one of its own employees to illustrate the potential data Facebook can mine from WhatsApp. The analysis showed that Jennifer regularly talks about food, specifically desserts, that she is most active around 8 p.m., and she regularly talks about populism and conservative politics. 

Having access to these intimate conversations creates a more substantial profile based on what people say, not what they like—a profile that Facebook can then monetize. Although WhatsApp claims it will remain independent of Facebook and stay free from advertising, the company’s privacy policy says it may share personal data with third-party services “to the extent that it is reasonably necessary to perform, improve or maintain the WhatsApp Service.”

Clearly the FTC is concerned about the potential privacy flaws, too. The government organization sent letters to WhatsApp and Facebook that accompanied the acquisition approval, reiterating that their responsibility is to consumers first.

We want to make clear that, regardless of the acquisition, WhatsApp must continue to honor these promises to consumers. Further, if the acquisition is completed and WhatsApp fails to honor these promises, both companies could be in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act and, potentially, the FTC’s order against Facebook. 

Instagram’s privacy policies have also drawn ire from users. It was forced to change its policies in 2012 after controversial wording of its privacy policies put users in an uproar. 

And Facebook wants to bring even more of Instagram’s data in-house. The company is testing Facebook Places in lieu of Foursquare’s location services on the app that lets users geo-tag their photos. Instead of feeding precious data to a separate social network, Facebook wants to make sure it keeps tabs not just on photos, but location as well.

A Focus On Anonymity

Facebook has long been tied to your real identity. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg famously said, “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Those tides may be changing, however. In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this year, Zuckerberg said a number of applications created under the Facebook Creative Labs umbrella allow users to login anonymously—an unprecedented move for the social network. 

Recent rumors that Facebook is interested in acquiring Secret, an anonymous social network where people post photos and text updates, give more credence to the speculation that Zuckerberg and company are indeed pushing for more guarded privacy options. 

It could be just the spark folks need to turn the tables in favor of the social network. 

While anonymity may be bad for Facebook—its business is knowing as much about you as possible and using that information to sell advertising—it might prove a useful compromise for Facebook’s longstanding critics.

Lead image by Taylor Hatmaker for ReadWrite

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