“Do Not Track” Not So Good After All?

June 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Source: Slashgear

The “Do Not Track” header in websites is a feature that states if a user wishes to be tracked by websites (mainly for advertising purposes through cookies) or not. However, it is optional for the websites if they respect the user’s decision or not. Today, most browsers support this feature (the Chrome browser will support it by the end of 2012), Microsoft recently even announced that it will be turned on by default in IE10. From a privacy perspective this is a very welcome development, which gives power back to the users. However, two recent articles focused on the economical implications of restricting technology that funds big parts of our (free) Internet as we know it. Without ads, websites such as Google or Facebook would have a hard time financing themselves. In Technology Review, Antonio Regalado asks if this feature will kill off innovation in online advertisement, with serious implications for the $40B online ad industry and as such for us as users as well.

Another reason I find the article quite interesting is that it points out the positive sides of tracking the user to deliver highly targeted ads. You might even get relevant information out of ads instead of useless spam.

In order to better understand online tracking I highly recommend the guide from the Guardian. Also check out their nice graph about the biggest advertising companies and websites that use them.

Posting Pics of Cash on Facebook: Not a Good Idea!

June 1, 2012 Leave a comment

This is just a symbol photo, not actually the girl (it is Tamara Ecclestone), (c) Petra Ecclestone

This story reminds us that we should think before we post something on Facebook. An Australian 17 year old posted a picture of a pile of cash to Facebook after helping her grandmother to count her money. Just hours afterwards, two robbers with masks, a knife and a club turned up at the house of the girl. Luckily, neither the girl nor the cash was there anymore and nobody got hurt. They just took a “small amount of cash” and left. This incident caused the local police to issue a warning about being cautious when posting something to social media.

The only real possibility how this could have happened is that this girl has some really shady people in her friends list. Not only is it your responsibility to choose what to post online but also whom you be-friend. This shows that not only criminals can be caught by the fotos they post online but criminals can get a good idea of whom to rob next.

They’ve Your Data, Whether You’re on Facebook or Not!

May 30, 2012 Leave a comment

(c) Facebook

Yes, there are still some people out there who refuse to join Facebook. And they refuse for good reasons, such as their personal privacy. However, it seems like Facebook has grown so big already, that staying off of it won’t protect your privacy as much as you think. According to a recent publication at the University of Heidelberg / Germany, it is possible to determine with an accuracy of at least 85% (!) if two people know each other, even if both are not on Facebook! Using machine learning methods, which analyze common friends of members as well as email contacts, scientists could deduct common friends of non-members and guess if two non-members know each other. And this does not even factor in such questionable practices as uploading cellphone contacts to social networks!

This is a quite significant finding, which shows that social networks like Facebook have become so ubiquitous that they have significant information about us, even if we never agreed to that. In many cases we cannot decide anymore what happens with our data, our “friends” or social networks decide for us!

“Spying Lamp Posts” Not So Scary After All

May 24, 2012 2 comments

Not believing everything you read on the Internet is generally good advice and this is just another good example.

In October 2011 Infowars, among many other blogs, reported about new “spying lamp posts” that covertly record videos and audio of citizens on streets and parks and are even able to “talk back” using integrated microphones. They called it “Big Brother on steroids” and something that not even Orwell dreamed of.

Now, the first of these lamp posts are being deployed in several cities in the US and accordingly the blogosphere is raging again, scaring us about secret spying lamp posts. However, instead of just re-blogging this, granted, very nice story, I would like to take it as an example how some things we read on the Internet are just bullshit. It is a good example how someone just read what he/she wanted to read about a product and made a “scandal” out of it. Because if you look at the “incriminating” company video (below this post) or just the company website of the developer Intellistreets there is no mention of people being filmed or otherwise surveilled (their statement following this story is interesting as well). Actually, these lamp posts sound pretty cool, intelligently saving energy and money and providing safety features in case of an incident.

Unfortunately, sometimes people just hear what they want to hear and make a flashy headline. It is important to check at least basic facts before re-blogging such a story. Reporting facts might be more important than a headline, which gets many clicks. Maybe the world is not as bad as many think!

Concerned About Privacy? Probably you are a Terrorist!

May 21, 2012 Leave a comment

As part of a campaign by the FBI and the US Department of Justice, 25 different flyers for different industries were distributed to businesses to look out for suspicious activity that might indicate terrorism. There are flyers for Airports, shopping malls, the general public and even tattoo shops. However, the flyer for internet cafes is particularly interesting (funny, that is). It states that people who are “overly concerned about privacy, attempt to shield the screen from view of others” are suspicious, potential terrorists and should be reported to the FBI.

This is not the first time FBI flyers made some people upset. In 1999 (“discovered” by the Internet in 2001) the FBI distributed a similar flyer suggesting that people who “defend the US constitution” are terrorists. While in Austria no-one would even think about doing such a thing, the constitution in the US is something quite sacred.

I wonder if such flyers really help finding terrorists or criminals or if they just provide a hobby for bored neighbors to spy on each other. But I doubt there are any public studies about that.

Twitter Fights for Occupy Protester: Data Belongs to User!

May 16, 2012 1 comment

Last October an Occupy Wall Street protester was arrested for “disorderly conduct” in New York City. As part of his prosecution Twitter received a court order, requiring it to hand over 3 months of Twitter data to the court. The prosecutors obviously hoped that he sent some infringing direct messages since usual Twitter messages are public anyway. It wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Twitter would have handed over the data without complaining. However, recently the company refused! And not only that, the amazing part is that they did this because they state that the data belongs to their users! Thus, the court has to ask the user to hand over the data (who is not very willing either). This is an astounding development, given that generally Internet companies make their privacy policies stricter so they can do whatever they want with their users data.

These are the cases when companies can show how serious they take their privacy policy and, essentially, on which side they are on.

Artist Implanted Camera in Back of his Head

May 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Wafaa Bilal implanted a camera in the back of his head

In an interesting or crazy performance (depending on your point-of-view I guess), Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal implanted a camera in
the back of his head, which took a snapshot once every 60 seconds for a year (December 2010 – December 2011). This photo was automatically posted to the performance website 3rdi.me and to the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar to be viewed by anyone interested. Additionally, his current GPS coordinates were shown as well. He explained the reasoning behind the performance as “a comment on the inaccessibility of time, and the inability to capture memory and experience,” and further that he always wished to have a record of places left behind (he lived in several arab refugee camps after fleeing Iraq during the first Gulf war).

This performance triggered a privacy discussion on university campus, which forced him to cover the camera while being there. However, I’m surprised that this was not a bigger issue, outside the campus. What about people on the street? They just become part of the performance, without consent or even knowledge about it. However, this is a very good example of how a Transparent Society might look like in the future, where we achieve equality by complete and ultimate transparency. Recently, retinal implants successfully let patients see again in the UK. Wouldn’t cameras implanted into the eye be an interesting idea for the not-so-distant future?

Reading Privacy Policies Would Cost us 250 hours per year

May 2, 2012 1 comment

Google's unified privacy policy

A paper, already published in 2008, by Aleecia McDonald and Lorrie Cranor of the Carnegie Mellon University, suggests that the time needed to read all privacy policies we accept in our daily online lives amounts to 250 hours of “work” in a year and the cost of reading these policies amounts to $781 Billion per year. It is obvious that no one can spare the time to read these policies and I do not know anyone who does. It is also obvious that these are not there to inform the user in any way but to create legal protection for the companies against lawsuits. As a result, it is claimed that only 3% percent of users read the policies carefully (though this number still sounds quite high to me, the original study does not seem to be available anymore).

Even though quite controversial, I believe the new Google Privacy Policy, which unifies privacy policies from all Google services, is a step in the right direction. At least they try to explain to the user what it means. Also Facebook recently proposed to update their policies in order to be easier to understand for users. And since a large portion of services we use are Google or Facebook anyway, we save a big chunk from those 250 hours per year…

Drone Authorizations in the US Include Police Departments

April 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Just to point out this interesting article by EFF about issued drone authorizations to public as well as private institutions in the US. There are no big surprises there with public institutions like DARPA or border patrol as well as many research institutions. Interestingly, a number of police departments are included in the list, suggesting that they already use, or are planning to use, drones in police work.

Alleged Hacker Caught Using Image GPS data

April 26, 2012 2 comments

Based on this image an alleged hacker was caught.

The FBI caught an alleged hacker of multiple government websites because he posted a picture of his girlfriend’s décolletage on Twitter (see picture on the right). Unfortunately, he seemed to forget that all iPhone photos include GPS information from where the photo was taken. And many picture-storage websites, like Flickr or Twitpic, retain this information. It seems like this is not the case with Facebook. I suppose they re-encode the images and do not include position information (at least not for users). Even though many people are aware of this, this case makes apparent how much private information we expose by just uploading an image. This stored information not only includes the GPS position but altitude, viewing direction (!) and of course the exact date and time. Here is an example of what information an iPhone image contains:

So if you are a hacker and want to tease the FBI, I would suggest making a screenshot of the picture before uploading it. Because screenshots do not include GPS coordinates (yet). I encourage you to try it out yourself by uploading a picture you took to Jefrey’s EXIF viewer.

Read more about GPS location in images at the EFF.

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