In an open letter to President Obama and Congress, eight of the most prominent U.S. tech companies have demanded that strict new limits be put on government surveillance, citing revelations made earlier this summer, when stories based Edward Snowden’s leaked documents began running in The Guardian. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual,” they argue, “rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”
They’ve staked out an extraordinary position.
Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and AOL all have an interest in restoring public trust in their products and averting new regulatory challenges in countries disinclined to let a spying hegemon control the Internet. My colleague James Fallows has written eloquently about the damage the NSA’s behavior could do to U.S. economic might as other countries react to it. The companies could’ve made a compelling case for reform on those grounds alone.
Instead, they’ve gone quite a bit farther.
Read more. [Image: Jason Lee/Reuters]
The phrase ‘Pick your poison’ was created for scenarios just like this.
Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, September 2013:
"There’s been spying for years, there’s been surveillance for years, and so forth, I’m not going to pass judgement on that, it’s the nature of our society."
Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, November 2013:
"It’s really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if true." His comment follows recent reports of a nefarious tool crafted by the agency and the UK’s GCHQ that accessed Google and Yahoo data lairs without permission. Schmidt also said that to “potentially violate people’s privacy, it’s not OK,”
In 1999, Scott McNealy, the chief executive of Sun Microsystems, summed up the valley’s attitude toward personal data in what became a defining comment of the dot-com boom. “You have zero privacy,” he said. “Get over it.”
Mr. McNealy is not retracting that comment, not quite; but like Mr. Metcalfe he is more worried about potential government abuse than he used to be. “Should you be afraid if AT&T has your data? Google?” he asked. “They’re private entities. AT&T can’t hurt me. Jerry Brown and Barack Obama can.” An outspoken critic of the California state government, and Mr. Brown, the governor, Mr. McNealy said his taxes are audited every year.
Today in Plutocracy: No matter what anyone else says about this surveillance story, it’s a lock that no one will say anything as dumb as that Scott McNealy quote.
Facebook severed Path’s invite ability over the weekend, however, in the wake of a dust-up with a U.K.-based user who joined Path one evening before bed, only to wake up and find that Path had sent texts, e-mails and (inadvertently) phone calls lobbying his friends to join Path on his behalf.
Facebook confirmed to AllThingsD.com that it had cut off its “Find Friends” access to Path at the moment, but emphasized that users can still syndicate content from Path back to Facebook. Facebook did not address whether the restriction came as a result of Path’s recent spamming accusations, and Morin told me he didn’t know why Facebook chose to cut him off when it did.
[insert laughter here]
Path, the photo-centric social network that just hit 10 million users yesterday, has been getting some heat for what some users say are spammy tactics to recruit new users.
Digital marketer Stephen Kenwright downloaded the app earlier this week, tried it out, uninstalled it, and went to bed. When he woke up, he found that Path had gone on a rogue mission early in the morning, texting and robocalling an unknown number of his contacts, including his grandparents.
By the time Kenwright got to work, it became clear that Path had gotten in touch with his entire phone book. Coworkers, friends, and family were asking him about the text or phone call they’d received from Path, which stated that Kenwright wanted to share photos with them. “Having uninstalled the app yesterday when I decided it wasn’t for me, I’m going to go ahead and assume that Path took this data out of my phonebook sometime during the half hour I had it installed,” Kenwright said in a blog post about the incident.
This is not the first or second time Path has fucked over its users. I don’t understand why people think the ability to share some fucking photographs with ‘friends’ is worth the complete abdication of your - and your friends’ - privacy. Who on earth wants Path texting and robocalling their friends, trying to sell them on signing up for a service that texts and robocalling their friends? Path’s only response to this? “The app is working fine, shut up.”
Robert Edwards had been on the popular dating site OKCupid.com for about six months when the administrators asked him to be a community moderator. “They wrote and said I am a responsible user, whatever that means,” he recalled, admitting that at first he was befuddled. Though fairly active on the site, Edwards, a medical professional who lives in the Mission District, had remained a confirmed bachelor.
But curiosity drove him to click the “moderation” button, and within minutes he was reading people’s messages to each other and perusing profiles flagged for possible terms of service violations.
Online love-seekers might not be aware of it, but OKCupid has deputized random strangers to gain access to intimate conversations between others — correspondence that many users, as well as Internet privacy experts, assumed to be private.
See, to me this should be a crime, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also find it very funny/ridiculous. In Europe, I believe the owners of OKCupid would be looking at large fines and probably jail time. That should be the consequence of violating customer privacy in the US, as well. In a sane world, Facebook’s officers would be re-thinking their new phone app, because they’d be afraid of going to jail for the violations of user privacy that are an inevitable by-product of the service/app.
OUR browsing habits, search terms, e-mail communication — even our offering of our ZIP codes at the supermarket checkout — reveal bits of information that can be assembled by data companies, usually for the purpose of knowing what sorts of products we’re most likely to buy. The online advertising industry insists that the data is scrambled to make it impossible to identify individuals.
Mr. Acquisti offers a sobering counterpoint. In 2011, he took snapshots with a webcam of nearly 100 students on campus. Within minutes, he had identified about one-third of them using facial recognition software. In addition, for about a fourth of the subjects whom he could identify, he found out enough about them on Facebook to guess at least a portion of their Social Security numbers.
The point of the experiment was to show how easy it is to identify people from the rich trail of data they scatter around the Web, including seemingly harmless pictures. Facebook can be especially valuable for identity thieves, particularly when a user’s birth date is visible to the public.
Does that mean Facebook users should lie about their birthdays (and break Facebook’s terms of service)? Mr. Acquisti demurred. He would say only that there are “complex trade-offs” to be made.
“I reveal my date of birth and hometown on my Facebook profile and an identity thief can reconstruct my Social Security number and steal my identity,” he said, “or someone can send me ‘happy birthday’ messages on the day of my birthday, which makes me feel very good.”
There are 2 really good articles on Internet privacy in today’s NY Times.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine said she was getting harassing text messages from a particular phone number, which she didn’t recognize and which didn’t appear in any of her own records. On a whim, I suggested entering the number into the Facebook search box, whereupon we found the guy’s profile (even though he had no friends in common with the account we were logged in under), realized who he was, and ratted the thirty-something out to his Mom.
Then I thought: Is it really a good idea, for this to be possible? I tried entering consecutive phone numbers (starting with a random valid number, and varying the last 2 digits from 00 to 99) into Facebook’s search box, and 13 of them came up with valid matches. None of those matches had any friends in common with the account we were searching from; as far as I can tell, anybody could enter any phone number into Facebook’s search box and find the account associated with it, if there is one.
I think this has non-trivial privacy implications. (I repeatedly contacted Facebook explaining why I think this is a problem, but they haven’t responded.) I’m not talking about the ability to find the account associated with a particular phone number — I think relatively few people have a legitimate need to send text messages from a truly anonymous phone number, and if they do, it’s their own fault if they’re dumb enough to put that number on their Facebook profile. And it wouldn’t be a practical way to unmask the phone number associated with a particular account, either — even if you knew the person’s area code, and narrowed down the list of possible exchange numbers following the area code, you’d still have to try tens of thousands of possibilities.
Rather, the problem is that you could use this technique to build up a database of phone numbers and associated accounts without targeting any specific phone number or account. Not only would you know the names associated with each of the numbers, you could associate the phone number with anything else that was discoverable from the person’s Facebook profile &mdash which usually includes their location, their interests, and the names of their other friends. (By default, all such information is visible on your Facebook profile — even to users who aren’t your Facebook friends and have no friends in common with you — but your contact information is supposed to be hidden from other users unless you’ve confirmed them as friends.)
Well, that won’t be the end of this story, but anyone who buys a Nokia phone after this deserves whatever happens to them.
I guess I’ll have to bag Instagram. But I have never logged into FB on my iPad, ever, and only occasionally on my phone. So, if IG is going to share all my info with FB, that’s not awesome.
I may move to Flickr after everyone said how great the new iPhone app is, but when I went to sign up, I had two options: Facebook login or Google login. I couldn’t even see how to log in via Yahoo, and Yahoo owns Flickr, for Pete’s sake.
I don’t think I’m a privacy nut, by any stretch. But I do think you have to be careful about letting millionaires become multi-millionaires - or billionaires - by selling your behavior to other millionaires.
I’ve said before: you may not mind Larry Page or Mark Z having all your information, but what happens when Liz Cheney joins the Board or takes over some social media company as CEO, or is named as chief legal counsel?
(Also, in the new IG release, I can’t see how you can use photos in any album other than ‘Camera Roll’, which is a p.i.t.a.)
Facebook will use these results to say that the ‘proposed documents’ were adopted as a result of these voting statistics. Because, despite a ridiculously lopsided result, there were 1 billion abstentions, and they’ll count all 1 billion of them as votes for the proposed documents.
This is the kind of thing people don’t get too upset about, but they should. It’s reprehensible, and should be tested in court.
Essentially, if you’re logged in to Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, and probably other sites, as well (though I don’t know that tumblr would be guilty of this), if you go to any site with a twitter or FB widget (like, retweet, share, etc.), those companies build a history of all the sites you visit. You don’t have to click the share or retweet buttons, they just track you by virtue of you visiting the page at all.
[via daring fireball]
Next up: a Google Toilet to analyze our dietary habits and serve targeted ads for everything from new restaurants to just the right pill for that problem you’re having! You know, the private one. Just between you and Google. And its advertisers.
Google Inc. and other advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple Inc.’s Web browser on their iPhones and computers—tracking the Web-browsing habits of people who intended for that kind of monitoring to be blocked.
The companies used special computer code that tricks Apple’s Safari Web-browsing software into letting them monitor many users. Safari, the most widely used browser on mobile devices, is designed to block such tracking by default.
Google disabled its code after being contacted by The Wall Street Journal.
Despicable. Remind me again how Facebook is evil and Google (and Google+) is our savior.
Jesus Christ. How dumb are these people? Can’t wait for MG Siegler to tell us it was all a misunderstanding, and how everyone is doing it, and how it’s journalism’s fault.