Starting from March, Facebook might track all mobile users

February 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Facebook TrackingAccording to a report by Bloomberg published today (in German on n24), Facebook is working on a new version of its mobile app, which will incorporate many more location-based features than before. Specifically, it will notify you if any of your friends are close-by. This is not a new concept, which for example has been out there in the form of the Highlight app or Google Latitude. However, these location-tracking apps do not have a wide user base due to privacy concerns and their battery-draining performance. Facebook adding such a feature is a big deal, considering their user base of one Billion people. Similar to Highlight and Latitude, the app would track the location of users in the background, even if the app is closed. Fortunately, Apple’s design guidelines require developers to get the explicit OK from users to track their location. However, many users might not be aware that once they turn tracking on, they are tracked all the time. For me as a user, this will be a great feature and I will use it. Often I think that it is absurd how many people we know in our city and how few we meet by chance. This could be a great social tool and with a large user base it could actually work. It is just important to be aware what is happening in the background and to turn it off if you really do not want to be tracked.

How to protect yourself from drone surveillance

February 1, 2013 1 comment

stealth-wear-hoodie-sergio1

If you are worried about the coming wave of drone surveillance technology, stealth wear is the right thing for you. Adam Harvey developed the “Anti Drone Hoodie” to make yourself invisible to thermal cameras attached to drones. He has even more designs, which are actually quite fashionable. They work by using “highly metallized fibers” to shield heat from getting outside. Thus, thermal cameras, which detect heat at certain wave lengths, cannot pick you up. Unfortunately, most drones for non-military use currently work with usual color cameras where this protection does not help. But it definitely is a nice geek accessory. And it looks good too!

Is the UK Becoming a Surveillance State?

October 10, 2012 Leave a comment

An Independent interview with Andrew Rennison, the UK’s first and just now appointed surveillance commisioner, creates some controversy. One interesting fact about this article is that the UK, the world’s most prominent state when it comes to public surveillance, appointed a surveillance commisioner for the first time. This is a remarkable turning point in thinking about surveillance technology in the UK.

In the interview, Rennison basicly states that video surveillance technology has become so advanced that the UK is turning into a surveillance state. As examples he cites cheap 16 Megapixel cameras and face recognition, which can identity a person from half a mile away with accuracy of over 90%. These provocative and just false facts caused a flaming reaction by IPVM, a popular blog about video surveillance. Face recognition is just not there yet. A system, which I tested myself last week, was just able to identify me from a 5 meters distance after I enrolled in the system and looked straight in the camera. This system used one of the current leading algorithms in face recognition, NEC’s NeoFace.

So no, what Rennison states is just not correct. However, his warnings are valid. Even if we are at least 5 to 10 years away from working face recognition in the crowd, the point will come when technology will be available that can identitfy all persons on public places in real-time and high accuracy. And we have to think before this time about how we want to deal with it. Shouldn’t we expect to be identitfied if we are in a public space? If so, by whom? Of course, we are identified by our (private) cell phone provider all the time already. And with larger and larger international carriers, isn’t this a much bigger problem, which we are facing already today (not mentioning the even larger SmartPhone software procuders Apple & Google)? I for one trust a public authority more than a private firm, of which I do not know by whom it is owned and controlled. I guess the reason why we are more suspicous towards governments is because they control an executive body, which can use force upon someone. But to think that large companies do not have similar power nowadays is just naiv.

The Biggest EU Surveillance Projects

October 8, 2012 Leave a comment

In an earlier post I pointed out how ridiculous I find the hysteria around the INDECT project. It just acts as a good excuse for some shallow and wrong Anonymous videos. Further, I guess one has a different view on large-scale research projects after being involved in a few. However, it is interesting to see which other EU research projects are currently in progress. Heise.de compiled a nice list of the biggest ones. So I recommend reading this article (English translation) to get a good overview and also some constructive critical remarks regarding INDECT.

FBI to use Face Recognition on 13 Million Faces

October 5, 2012 1 comment

In the latest stage of its one Billion USD worth Next Generation Identification Program, the FBI will deploy free face recognition software nation-wide in the US to law enforcement agencies. Using this software, faces can automatically be compared to a database of close to 13 Million faces. The FBI is stressing that these faces are just mug shots and are not taken from other sources such as social media. Full operational capability of the system is expected in 2014. Of course, there are privacy concerns about this system. Being identified at any time in public places is certainly quite a big intrusion into our personal privacy and freedom and should not be taken lightly.

However, I doubt that the system will work well for public surveillance, at least in the beginning. I just returned from Security Essen, the biggest security trade fair in Europe, and tried various face recognition systems myself. It was once again confirmed that face recognition nowadays works very well for access control (that is for “verification” not “identification”). In this scenario the user wants to be recognized, is voluntarily enrolled in the same system he is recognized with and the system knows which face it should expect. Face recognition in other scenarios and in crowds is much harder and requires very good camera positions and high quality shots of a person, who is enrolled (with various pictures of the face). I do not see this technology being successfully deployed anytime soon in public places and areas where unsuspecting civilians should be recognized. The further development of this project should be observed, especially how the FBI will use the system once it is fully operational.

One Million CCTV Cameras for Bangkok

October 2, 2012 Leave a comment

In an ambitious project (to my knowledge the most ambitious world-wide), Thailand will install one million CCTV cameras in Bangkok in the next three years. Amazingly, this project will only cost 2 Million EUR, which would amount to 2 EUR per camera. This is very unrealistic, to say the least. So how does Thailand plan to finance all these cameras? By requiring residents to pay for this extra protection a monthly fee between 2 and 4 Euros per month.

It will be interesting to see how they plan to make use of these cameras. Currently, there are just vague hints about face recognition and video analysis but no details are given. Obviously, such an amount of cameras cannot be managed manually but automatic analysis can only detect clearly defined events and face recognition is far from anything we see in Enemy of the State or CSI. Without automatic analysis of the videos these cameras are as good as dummy cams. I guess at least privacy won’t be a big issue for them.

Video Surveillance Trend 2012: Smartphone Surveillance

July 23, 2012 Leave a comment

(c) heraldsun.com.au

Mobile apps for video surveillance applications (“Video Surveillance Management” software) exist for some time and are usually add-ons to video surveillance products. They basically allow viewing video streams on a mobile device. However, the next trend in video surveillance seems to be using smartphones as video surveillance cameras. Obvious applications are as spy-cams or as baby monitors. However, additionally, this further paves the way for broader use of sousveillance (“inverse surveillance”) technology, where everyone watches everyone, thus actually creating more privacy than less (as argued by David Brin). This is certainly an area of technology to watch.

Check our this really well-done app which can be used for many applications (such as letting your girlfriend choose which tea she would like while lying sick in bed): Airbeam.

Are You a Sex Predator? Think Before Your Write!

July 19, 2012 Leave a comment

(c) Corner Stock Baby Gifts.
You can get the t-shirt from here.

A recent Reuters story about an interview with Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan revealed that Facebook is scanning user profiles for criminal behavior, focusing on sexual predators. By comparing several parameters like friend status, age, mutual friends and relationship between users, a monitoring software determines how likely it is that a Facebook user is a sexual predator. If there is a positive match, a Facebook employee gets a warning and checks the information manually. If the monitoring result seems likely, the police is informed. This actually led to the arrest of a thirty-something man who talked with a 13 year old girl on Facebook about sex and planned to meet her the next day. Because of the fast reaction of Facebook this man was arrested before anything else could happen.

This raises the obvious question if it is ok for Facebook to scan our data. No one knows if the age of a Facebook user is correct. Maybe the girl was actually a 60 year old, fat man … On the other hand finding criminals before they do any (more) harm cannot be a bad thing either.

I, for one, do not want to think if what I write might look criminally relevant to somebody before I post something on Facebook! I hope as much is done to educate 13 year olds on not doing something stupid as to monitor if they do.

Twitter Gov Requests Doubled in 2012

July 16, 2012 1 comment

Twitter recently released their first transparency report, outlining how often in the first half of 2012 government or copyright holders requested Twitter account information and how often this information was produced. The majority of information requests (679) came from the United States but also a significant number came from Japan (98). US requests were followed in 75% of the cases while in Japans case only 20% of the requests were fulfilled. Interestingly, only 3 requests to remove a Twitter account by court orders were received (Greece and Turkey) but none of them was followed!

In total, Twitter received in the first half of 2012 as many requests as in all of 2011, which is a much bigger increase than overall Twitter growth (which was at about 20% in the US).

All in all, these numbers do not surprise me that much, taking all of the 140 million active users into account. And it is reassuring that Twitter does not seem eager to give out user data (Twitter already took a stand for an Occupy Wall Street protester at the beginning of this year).

Twitters transparency report is a perfect example on how to build users trust: by making the companies actions transparent. They should be a glowing example for other web companies who basically store all the information of our lives online.

If you are interested in what Facebook sends if they get a subpoena for a user, you can see an example online (it’s 62 pages of Facebook data …).

Flying drones prone to hacking

July 2, 2012 Leave a comment

MQ-9_Reaper_-_090609-F-0000M-777The US department of homeland security was offering a prize for whoever can hack into a flying drone. Now, a team from the University of Texas actually achieved it by spoofing GPS signals. This way, a drone can literally be steered anywhere the hacker likes and could be crashed into a building like a missile. This is an obvious security threat to drones today, more so if they are used in urban environments. While this simple “hack” can probably be fixed, it is a warning sign that these threats have to be considered when developing and deploying this technology.

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