Category Archives: Privacy

Privacy Extinction Event!

Imagine that you visited a porn site, and when you did your user profile was immediately posted to the site, and every umm article you viewed. While this is extreme, we now have a website doing exactly that. Will the World Wide Web become a place of absolutely no privacy and your every action bared to the world to see.

To date you have been able to visit sites, and the only way people would know you had visited that site or web page, is if you liked the page or something similar!

Privacy on the net is officially extinct. The idiots over at have decided that every time a registered user visits a page on their site, that they are going to display directly on that very page that you have viewed the page, and exactly how you got there! It shocks me to the core that would violate users privacy to this extent!

The simple action of lurking / visiting a web page on Quora is going to get broadcast to everyone in your social circle and the world.

From this day forward, I will never ever visit again. Their actions have went to far. I am not surprised that they have stooped to this level of desperation, in their attempt to build greater social interaction on their website. Drastic actions like these makes me wonder what else they have been doing with personal identifiable information.

Industrial Spy Photo courtesy of

Ever Get That Feeling You’re Being Followed (On The Internet)? Check This Out.

You don’t have to click around too much to find advice on how to protect your anonymity on the Internet. Finding good advice that isn’t simply fear-laden jibber-jabber or link bait designed to get you to pay for an identity protection service is a bit more difficult. posted a brief, but realistic and practical, piece on maintaining anonymity while navigating the Internet. The true sign that this post is a collection of actionable advice and not a panicked plea to save your identity?

Two things – 1. They admit that some people might not mind being tracked across the Internet by websites, ad networks and search engines – it does help those folks deliver more relevant ads to you and, like it or not, advertising makes the web go ‘round. 2. The post tells you the easiest and best ways to protect your anonymity – one of which takes about 5 minutes to accomplish (caveat – you’d have to use Firefox exclusively).

Check out the post from It might be old news for some, but there are a lot of great tips in the comment section, as well. Share any additions you might have to these suggestions.

Siri Storage Habits Have Privacy Advocates Buzzing

Image Courtesy Apple

The Internets are quietly humming with the recent realization that Apple is, uh, absorbing your “personal” data if you use Siri – the voice-activated personal assistant (of sorts) that lives in the iPhone 4S (launched in October 2011).

What does that mean, precisely? Well, according to information disseminated by the ACLU, Apple’s privacy policy in relation to the Siri software allows the tech mammoth to harvest, send and stockpile “Voice Input Data” (what you say to Siri) and “User Data” (personal information on your phone, like contacts and associated nicknames; e-mail account labels; and names and playlists of songs on your phone).

This information is sent and stored at a data center in Maiden, North Carolina. From there, it remains murky what happens with your personal data. What does Apple actually do (or intend to do) with this data? No one seems to know, other than “generally to improve the overall accuracy and performance of Siri and other Apple products and services.” (again, according to the ACLU citing the Siri privacy policy, which is damn near impossible to actually find online). How long is it stored? Who actually looks at it and who is it shared with? Shoulder shrugs all around.

So murky is the status of stored Siri data, that IBM recently barred employees from using Siri on its networks – for fear of sensitive data and spoken information might be obtained by Apple. IBM CIO Jeanette Horan told MIT’s Technology Review that employees could still bring iPhones to work, but using the Siri technology would no longer be allowed. To be fair, IBM has also banned other apps, like Dropbox, for fear of information leaking out through file-sharing gaps in security.

This new wave of Siri-related negative news for Apple comes on the heels of a class action lawsuit filed against Apple claiming that they falsely advertised Siri’s capabilities and news that the Samsung Galaxy S3 has become the most pre-ordered device in gadget history with 9 million pre-orders (compared to 4 million for the iPhone 4S last year).

If you’d rather not have Siri enabled on your phone, it’s pretty easy to shut it off. Tap “Settings,”  then “General,” then Siri. Switch the Siri option to “Off.”

VPN Usage On The Rise Where Internet Surveillance Increases

Young Swedes Going Covert On Internet With VPNs

As lawmakers across the globe attempt to pin down a wriggling Internet with rules aimed at stemming file sharing between users (but, curiously, increasing file sharing between governments and corporations), among other things, there appears to be a growing movement towards purchased privacy by the Internet community – particularly the younger folks.

TorrentFreak shared a study this week done by a research group from Lund University in Sweden showing a significant increase in the number of 15 to 25 year-olds buying and using VPN (virtual private network) services – some 40% more since late 2009.

As TorrentFreak points out, Sweden’s Internet community faces a unique strain of web surveillance with its spacious bandwidth and status as homebase to The Pirate Bay – the leading location on the Internet for getting things for free. That puts a lot of eyes on the Internet users of Sweden and, according to Lund University’s Cybernorms research group, 700,000 Swedes are paying for VPN services designed to hinder access to – and surveillance of – their online activities.

Compared to 500,000 Swedes using VPNs in 2009, the demographic pushing the nearly 30% increase in users looking to limit snooping on their web behaviors are young people in the 15 to 25 year-old age bracket. That demo comprises 15% of the total and is up by about 10% from 2009.

It’s not hard to see the pattern. As surveillance (by governments and private entities like Facebook and Google and other Internet entities) continues to heighten under the guise of hunting for file sharers, the technology to prevent such snooping will not only get better, but more people will be willing to shell out a few bucks for it.

If interested in learning more about VPNs, TorrentFreak put together a great list of which VPN providers actually do what they claim, and which ones don’t.

Image: VPN Net from

Facebook Doesn’t Want Employers to Ask for Your Password

Employers who are asking their current employees, or potential applicants, for their Facebook passwords need to watch out. Facebook has heard about this nasty practice, and is not the least bit pleased about it. An official statement was released by Erin Egan, the Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook Policy.

I found it to be an interesting read. The statement points out that the practice of asking employees, or potential employees, for access to their Facebook profile or private information, is inappropriate. It is referring both to when an employer specifically asks for someone’s Facebook password and situations where the employer directs someone to access their own Facebook page while the employer “shoulder surfs” so that he or she can view the information that is on it.

This is more than a rude and inappropriate request, though. It is also a violation of Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” for a person to share their password, or for someone else to ask a Facebook user for their password.

Part of the official statement points out the many ways that an employer can have a legal liability issue as a result of demanding access to a worker’s, or applicant’s, Facebook page. For example, let’s say that an employer accesses the Facebook page of a person who is a member of a protected group.

Maybe the person is over a certain age, or is part of a minority group, or is gay, lesbian, transgendered, or bisexual. If that information appears on the person’s Facebook page, and the employer fires, or chooses not to hire that person, it opens up the employer to a discrimination lawsuit.

What if an employer reads something on a person’s Facebook page that suggests that the person has committed a crime? This could be as simple as viewing a photo where it appears that an underage worker or applicant is drinking alcohol. Or, there could be information that indicates that the person was involved in a much more serious crime. The employer could now be held liable if they do not report that crime.

The most interesting quote from the statement, by far, is this one:

“We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges”.

In other words, Facebook is not simply going to stand idly by and allow this to happen. It seems to me that they are prepared to take employers who break the rules to court.

Image: Facebook Social Media by BigStock

iTwin Creates a Personal Cloud

iTwin Infinite Capacity Thumb DriveiTwin is billed as an “infinite capacity thumb drive” but this sells the device short – it’s much more than this. Andy finds out what its capable of from Akash at CES Showstoppers.

The basic premise of iTwin is a pair of USB devices, one of which goes in your work desktop, the other in your home (or laptop) computer. Files can then be copied securely to and from the work computer across the internet to the laptop.

The devices are cryptographically paired together to ensure the security of the connection and the creators seem to have solutions for most of the issues that might arise, such as dynamic IPs or theft.

The brilliance of iTwin is that it offers a personal cloud solution where the data is completely under your control but not actually in your possession. No risk of theft, loss or nosey border guards rifling through your files.

Works with both Windows PCs and Mac – available now for $99.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

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If You Live In or Visit Hawaii Your Rights are Being Threatened

  The Bill of Rights The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”– 4th Amendment, Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution

What would you say if your state decided that your ISP had to keep records of all the Web sites you went too? That they had to keep records of both Internet protocol address and domain names of all sites that you visited and they had to keep them for a minimum of two years. That is what is being proposed in the Hawaiian State Legislation under H.B. 2288, which states that Internet destination history information and the subscriber’s information, such as name and address must be saved for no less than two years. I know what some of you are saying I don’t care if the government knows what Web sites I visit I have nothing to hide, or if you aren’t doing anything wrong what’s the problem.

Do you currently belong to any political or social organization like the Tea Party  and do you visit supporting Web sites a lot.  How would you feel if the government started investigating the Tea Party and started looking for information on its members. Now how do you feel about the legislation. Let’s take this to the real world, what if the government required the local retail stores to keep a record of every book you bought, every magazine article you read, the talk radio you listen too, the clubs you joined, the people you associated with, now how do you feel. If you are like me you are saying to yourself that’s none of the government business, well this legislation does exactly that only in the virtual world.

Rep. John Mizuno of Oahu is a lead sponsor of the bill and a similar bill is being introduced in the Hawaii Senate. The bills are being introduced at the behest of Representative Kimberly Marcos Pine, who is in the middle of a dispute with a web designer Eric Ryan, who launched and who says she owes him money. Her email was also hacked last summer, at the same time an article was written in the Hawaii Reporter about the dispute.  Because of these incidents Rep Pine has advocated tougher cyber laws. Those who support the legislation say that this type of law is necessary to “to protect people of Hawaii from these attacks and give prosecutors the tools to ensure justice is served for victims.” Unfortunately for the supporters of this bill, that is not how the law works in the United States, you can’t gather information on a large group of people in hopes that you may capture a few bad apples.

If the constitutionality of the bill is not enough there is also the question of what the Internet Provider can do with the information while they hold it. The bill says nothing about how the data should be stored or if it needs to be encrypted. There is no prohibition against the Internet Companies selling the information to anyone including advertiser or insurance agencies. So if you don’t care about the government having the information, how about your insurance company. The police aren’t even required to get a court order to view the information of anyone who uses a computer in Hawaii. This legislation would not only apply to Hawaiian residents but it would also apply to the 6 million tourist who visit the state each year. Which mean coffee shops, hotels, bookstore or anyone else with a public wi-fi would have sweeping requirements and cost put upon them.

We all want the bad guy to be caught and stopped, but not if it means giving up our rights and freedoms. Although SOPA and PIPA were stopped last week in the U.S. Congress, the fight over our rights and freedoms on the Internet is on going, it has simply moved to state legislation, we all need to remain vigilant.

Malls Will Not Track You For Now

This is an update to the article I wrote on the 26th of November Malls Maybe Tracking Your Cellphone. A brief background, two malls in the United States, the Promenade Temecula in Southern California and the Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va, where planning to test Footpath by Path Intelligence, a technology which allows malls to track the path of their costumers. One of the concerns that I and others brought up was the issue of privacy. The fact that in order to opt out of the tracking you had to turn off your cellphone, which isn’t realistic in today’s world. This issue was also brought up in a letter by Senator Charles Schumer of New York. In a press conference and also in a letter to the mall and the FTC, Senator Schumer stated “A shopper’s personal cell phone should not be used by a third party as a tracking device by retailers,” Schumer said in a press conference on Sunday. “Personal cell phones are just that—personal. If retailers want to tap into your phone to see what your shopping patterns are, they can ask you for your permission to do so.” He especially had an issue with the idea that a consumer had to opt out of the tracking by turning their cellphone off. He stated this should be something consumers opt into and not opt out. Forest City which owns both the malls has not abandoned the plan entirely, but is trying to find a way to make it opt in. Path Intelligence the maker of Footpath, insist that this method of tracking is no different than cookies on the Internet. This maybe true, but I can manage online cookies, while this is an opt in or opt out period. I don’t expect this technology to go away, but it does need to be updated to be opt in.

Malls Maybe Tracking Your Cellphone are constantly trying to track shoppers activities, to try to attract more consumers to their stores and improve their sales. They use various methods to do this including shopper cards and newspaper inserts just to name a few. A couple of malls are testing a new technology called Footpath by Path Intelligence. Footpath tracks the movement of consumers by their cellphone. It has the ability to track the consumer to within a few meters of where they are. The information is then feed to a central processing center, where it is audited and studied to create a continual updated report on the flow of shoppers throughout a store or mall. It can be used to better place stores in a mall and merchandise within a store.

According to the Path website, it works by tracking random signals from mobile phones. The system does not collect or view phone numbers, SMS messages, or listen to calls. The information it collects can not identify an individual caller. The detector units can only be accessed by trained personal, mall employees do not have access to the tracking device. So the tracking devices can not be combined with other information by mall employees to get more detailed and individual information. It is aggregated information and not real-time that is provided to client. Path also has agreed not to access any third-party information that could in combination with Footpath identify individuals. Despite these promises some privacy experts are concerned about the misuse of the technology by both Path and their clients. Mark Rasch, the director of cyber security at CSC stated.

“Although this mall technology might not identify specific individuals, it raises a bunch of privacy red flags,” he wrote. “First, the instant the consumer identifies himself or herself anywhere in the mall (say, by using a credit or debit card to buy something), it is a trivial task to cross reference the cell phone data with the payment data and realize that the person hanging around outside the Victoria’s Secret dressing room was your 70-year-old neighbor.”(via We’re watching: malls track shopper’s cell phone signals to gather marketing data)

At this point only two malls in the United States are testing the technology, the Promenade Temecula in Southern California and the Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. They will be testing it thru New Year’s Day. Both malls have signs throughout their location telling shoppers that their cellphones are being tracked and they can opt out of the system by turning their phones off. In today’s world where most people are never without their phones, this seems an unlikely choice. The system is also being tested in some malls in Europe and Australia. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this technology and it’s uses being tested in court by privacy advocates. However since malls are private properties courts tend to give them a lot of leeway.

Choices and Decisions

ChoicesOne of the things that we face everyday in the real world and online are choices. However, studies show that if people are given a default choice, along with others most people will choose the default choice. This is true in the both in the real world and online. Advertisers, companies like Google, Facebook and even politicians have known this for years. This is one of the main reasons that politicians fight hard to be first on the ballot and companies always list their preferred choice as the default choice when they have to give consumers an option. If you are a Facebook user, you know that one of the biggest complaints against Facebook is that the option to share your information has always been the default one. Facebook wants the user to make this choice and they know that most users will opt for the default choice. Often if you choose something other than the default choice you have to jump through multiple hoops to set up that choice up. Facebook is not alone in this type of behavior. This is a major reason that Google pays Mozilla and estimated 100 million dollars a year to be its default search engine.

Why are decisions made this way by consumers. Part of it is laziness, it is just easier to use the default choice, consumers often feel overwhelmed when given a lot of choices. However it is more than that, subconsciously we see the default choice as the one that the authorities recommend and therefore the best choice. This is one of the major issues that the Federal Trade Commission is dealing with when it comes to the issue of privacy online. Advertisers and companies like Facebook and Google want the choices they give to consumers to be self-regulated. Privacy advocates would like there to be more government oversight and regulation. Unfortunately for privacy advocates more choices is not the answer. When users are provided with multiple privacy tool options they often find the choices confusing and too complicated. Often they make choices that do little to protect their privacy, whether they want that protection or not. So more choices is clearly not the answer. The answer may be fewer choices, with the default one being at a higher privacy setting being key.
To read more about default choices and the impact they have on our decision-making process see the New York Times article The Default Choice, So Hard to Resist.