Category Archives: Privacy

Facebook Portal Will Spy On You After All



As reported by Recode, and with a small dose of “Told you so“, Facebook has clarified that it will spy on you using its new Portal devices after all.

In an email sent to Recode, Facebook said, “Portal voice calling is built on the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e. usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices. We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads.

I don’t have to put up with this kind of privacy abuse when I use my landline or my smartphone to make a voice call. Why should it be acceptable at all just because it’s a video call?

Imagine I phoned a retailer using their toll-free number and then I was phoned a few days later by a competitor, perhaps offering a discount. The phone company had sold my phone number to the competitor on the basis of the original call. Now, I’m fairly sure that would be flat out illegal in most countries – I’m not a lawyer but I’m pretty sure in Europe the GDPR regulations would stop that – but here we are with Facebook potentially showing us ads on the basis of who we talk to. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

I am increasingly of the opinion that these social media giants need regulation to ensure our rights are maintained. Keeping private both conversations, and the data about conversations, would be a very good place to start.


35 Years from Today



35 Years from today you, your spouse, your son or daughter may be involved in an investigation where an entity needs to know where you were at this exact time 35 years ago. For most of us to answer that would be nearly impossible to answer.

But Apple, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Fitbit and any other app or device that you use or wear pretty much knows exactly where you were at any given time, and even better the 100 people that where physically closest to you.  If you think about the metadata being collected on each of us today is incredible.

After all Google Maps recent update is even helping you with known routes and drop-offs and things of interest in between targeting you with advertising. Apps like Woz will even be able to tell an investigator if you had to deal with traffic during your commute.

Recent political events where the Supreme Court nominee produced a calendar of his daily life from 35 years ago got me to thinking about this quite a bit. The tech we carry in our pockets and purses has the most comprehensive digital diary known to man.

We have already seen Google Map data used in divorce proceedings and a variety of other legal events So whats to say that our lives will not be re-constructed later with the digital footprint we have today.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash


DuckDuckGo Revamped Their Browser Extension and Mobile App



DuckDuckGo announced that they have fully revamped versions of their browser extension and mobile app. Their new app and browser extension will block advertising tracker networks, increase encryption protection, and help you search privately – no matter what platform you are on.

Today, we’re taking a major step to simplify online privacy with the launch of fully revamped network blocking, smarter encryption, and, of course, private search – all designed to operate seamlessly together while you search and browse the web. Our updated app and extension are now available across all major platforms – Firefox, Safari, Chrome, iOS, and Android – so that you can easily get all the privacy essentials you need on any device with just one download.

Both the revamped browser extension and mobile app will show you a Privacy Grade rating (A-F) when you visit a website. The rating lets you see at a glance how protected you are, dig into the details to see who DuckDuckGo caught trying to track you, and learn how DuckDuckGo enhanced the underlying website’s privacy measures.

The Privacy Grade is scored automatically based on the prevalence of hidden tracker networks, encryption availability, and website privacy practices.

DuckDuckGo’s Privacy Protection will block all the hidden trackers they can find, exposing the major advertising networks tracking you over time, so that you can find out who is trying to track you.

If DuckDuckGo discovers a site offers an encrypted version but does not send you to it automatically, DuckDuckGo will send you to the encrypted version of that website.


FCC Adopts Rules to Protect Your Online Privacy



fcc-logoThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted rules that require broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to protect the privacy of their customers. The rules ensure that broadband customers have meaningful choice, greater transparency, and strong security protections for their personal information collected by ISPs.

This landmark ruling, which was passed by a 3-2 party line vote by the FCC’s five commissioners, asserts that customers have a right to control their own personal information. In short, the new rules may forbid internet providers from sharing sensitive personal information such as app browsing histories, mobile location data, and other information generated while using the internet.

More specifically, the rules separate the use and sharing of information into three categories and include clear guidance for both ISPs and customers about the transparency, choice, and requirements for customers’ personal information.

  • Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information. The rules specify categories of information that are considered sensitive, which include precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications.
  • Opt-out: ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer “opts-out”. Some examples of non-sensitive information include email address or service tier information.
  • Exceptions to consent requirements: Customer consent is inferred for certain things such as the provision of broadband service or billing and collections.

WhatsApp Wants to Share User Data with Facebook



WhatsApp logoWhatsApp updated its terms and privacy policy for the first time in four years. Some of those changes are likely to turn off users. In short, WhatsApp wants to share user data with Facebook for the purpose of using it to show you targeted ads. There is a way to opt-out of it.

WhatsApp posted an oddly worded blog post that describes more about what it is about to do. It tries to reassure users that they will still be able to keep in touch with friends and loved ones on WhatsApp. Next, it vaguely suggests that the new terms and privacy policy is intended to benefit companies that want to show you adds. From the blog post:

People use our app every day to keep in touch with loved ones who matter to them, and this isn’t changing. But as we announced earlier this year, we want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you too, while still giving you an experience without third-party banner ads and spam. Whether it’s hearing from your bank about a potentially fraudulent transaction, or getting notified by an airline about a delayed flight, many of us get this information elsewhere, including in text messages and phone calls. We want to test these features in the next several months, but need to update our terms and privacy policy to do so.

The wording implies that WhatsApp thinks that talking with your loved ones is an equally valuable experience as communicating with “businesses who matter to you”. I doubt many users are going to be convinced of that notion. No one joins a social media site or app because they simply cannot wait to connect with businesses and see more ads.

WhatsApp goes on to point out that they will share some user data with Facebook. It assures users that they have “rolled out end-to-end encryption”, and that user messages are encrypted by default.

WhatsApp also states that it won’t post or share your WhatsApp number with others, including on Facebook, and that it also won’t give your phone number to advertisers. Then, WhatsApp suggests that connecting your phone number to Facebook’s systems will enable Facebook to “offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads”.

If you are using both WhatsApp and Facebook, and you want to opt-out of this new change, you can. WhatsApp has instructions on how to do that directly from the app.


Shhh! It’s a Secret!



Shhh!The past few weeks have seen most of the tech industry line up against law enforcement and intelligence agencies over the matter of encryption and privacy. I particularly liked Google’s recent conversion to privacy as it wasn’t that long ago that Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, said that, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Moving on, there’s been a great deal of emphasis on the privacy aspect, but few have noted that encryption is mainly about secrecy, and that privacy and secrecy are not the same thing. If you do think that privacy and secrecy are the same thing, consider this, “It’s no secret that you go to the restroom, but it’s something you do in private.” I can’t claim credit for this – Bruce Schneier was discussing this over ten years ago and I thoroughly recommend you read some of his recent posts on the matters too.

You might also like to think of it this way; a private home v. secret hide-out. The former is in plain sight but restricted to the owner and his guests, whereas the latter is hidden and known only to a select few.

With a better understanding of the difference between privacy and security, a more reasoned debate can take place, which needs to be agnostic of the technology, to decide the rights of the individuals and the responsibilities of law enforcement.

Ask yourself some questions, “Should what person X does (on their phone) be private?” and “Should what person X does (on their phone) be secret?”. Remember, person X might be you, your family, your friends, your colleagues; person X might be suspects, criminals, murderers, terrorists, paedophiles; person X might be freedom fighters, democracy activitists, oppressed women, abused spouses, LGBT members. You get the picture, person X might be someone you approve of, or they might be someone you don’t like.

The easy answer is to say that person X should have privacy but not secrecy. Does this guard against wholesale monitoring of communication by intelligence agencies? Snowden has shown that this happened and I think most people would see this as an overreach of their authority with no legal oversight. But once person X has come to the attention of the authorities, does that strip away any right to privacy? What level of suspicion is needed, what evidence is required, what is the process of law? None of these have easy answers.

Undoubtedly this is a complex affair with hyperbole, thin-end-of-wedge-ism, and freedom protestors in dictatorships by the bucket load. For certain, we need to move this away from the technology and into human, societal and legal rights. Nothing is black and white, but this is about the future and the world we want to live in. Personally, I firmly believe in privacy, but I’m not so sure about secrecy. I use encryption on my phone as reassurance that should I lose my phone, important data won’t be misused by the finder. Generally I feel that wrong-doers, alleged or otherwise, shouldn’t have secrets, but I’m always concerned about the abuse of power. As always, “Who watches the watchers?”

(The other curious thing to consider is regarding dead people. Generally, they don’t have the same legal rights as living people. What would this mean?)


SmartSafe Brings Data Security To Your Wrist At CES



Ionosys Smart Safe

Our personal data is valuable. With the endless stream of hacks and security breaches flooding the news these days, protecting our private information is more important than ever.

Scott spoke with Stephane Blondeau of Ionosys about the Ionosys SmartSafe. SmartSafe is a wristband that securely stores your passwords, account numbers, and other personal data right on your wrist. The wristband uses a combination of encryption and your personal biometrics to ensure that only you as the owner have access. And with NFC capability, SmartSafe can connect to your other devices, including doors.

SmartSafe will be available in September or October. Price is still to be finalized.

Interview by Scott Ertz of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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