Month: April 2020

Will Canopy Still Protect User Privacy After CNN Purchase?

By Joanne Cleaver

If news-aggregation app Tonic protects users from unwanted commercial attention, will its users be abandoned to the mercies of the market now that its parent company, Canopy, has been acquired by CNN?

Announced Tuesday, the acquisition of Canopy’s privacy-driven platform and 15-member team is a major step toward building a new platform to address “ever-evolving user needs,” according to a CNN statement.

Canopy, founded in 2018, delivers to its users via Tonic customized news feeds curated by human decisions and artificial intelligence, framed by “differential privacy,” in the company’s terms.

WarnerMedia, corporate parent of CNN, did not respond to requests for comment from Digital Privacy News. WarnerMedia is an operating unit of AT&T. Terms were not disclosed.

But the real question with the deal is whether CNN can resist the temptation to dismantle the privacy mission, posed Yang Cheng, an assistant professor of communications at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. 

“How will they gain revenue?” she asked. “Will people have to start paying for privacy?” 

Continue reading “Will Canopy Still Protect User Privacy After CNN Purchase?”

Technology, Data Play Growing Role in Stalking

By Aisheh Barghouti

In the United States, as many as 7.5 million people are stalked every year.

Once the bane of celebrities and their overzealous fans, the internet and social media have created an intelligence gold mine for stalking that cuts across all sectors of society.

Domestic violence advocates argue, however, that stalkers have been using technology to harass their victims for years. One in four victims report being tracked through some form of technology, according to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center (SPARC) in Washington.

“People used to be stalked using fax machines and odometer readings,” Rachel Gibson, a Senior Technology Safety Specialist at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Digital Privacy News. “Abusers using technology is not new.”

Continue reading “Technology, Data Play Growing Role in Stalking”

ACLU Satire From 2004 Proves Eerie Reminder Amid Pandemic

By Samantha Stone

If you want to illustrate something abstract, connect it with an experience everyone understands, like ordering food. Extra points if you get a few laughs.

The American Civil Liberties Union did it in 2004, to show how scattered records of personal activity can be centralized and connected to a unique identifier.

“Scary Pizza” was their darkly funny and prescient video, warning of a boundless new appetite by government and business for personal data. It featured a mock cellphone call to a pizza restaurant, where caller ID also reveals an extensive customer profile.

“That video was, for many years, the most watched piece on the ACLU’s site,” Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley, the lone veteran of the education campaign that produced the video, told Digital Privacy News.

Continue reading “ACLU Satire From 2004 Proves Eerie Reminder Amid Pandemic”

5 Ways: How Senior Citizens Can Protect Their Privacy Online

By John Riddle

Senior citizens are facing new challenges in  protecting their privacy online. Rampant scams against that population have led many law enforcement agencies to call data theft “the crime of the 21st century.”   

“In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, many senior citizens will find themselves staying at home and browsing the internet more frequently,” Bill DeLisi, CEO of the GOFBA search engine, told Digital Privacy News.

“For hackers, this is the perfect time for them to scam senior citizens through phishing and malware attacks.”

Here are five ways seniors can protect their privacy while online:

Continue reading “5 Ways: How Senior Citizens Can Protect Their Privacy Online”

Coronavirus Masks Pose Quandary for Facial Recognition

By Joanne Cleaver

We all look like bandits now. Will that knock facial-recognition algorithms for a loop?

The great COVID-19 cover-up is pulling masks across the lower half of most faces in America. Wearing fabric face masks out in public (anywhere, really) is a new experience for most Americans, but so is facial-recognition software.

Cameras that can recognize and validate your identity by rapidly running your features through algorithms to confirm that you are you — or not — are now just starting to be used by landlords, financial institutions and office security systems. 

With half our faces hidden, the industry is trying to adjust for the short and long terms.

“This is a new thing for us. We have to adapt, as an industry,” Shaun Moore, CEO of Trueface, a Los Angeles facial-recognition software company, told Digital Privacy News. 

Continue reading “Coronavirus Masks Pose Quandary for Facial Recognition”

Phishing Epidemic Adds Online Misery to Coronavirus Pandemic

By Robert S. Anthony

Is there an easy answer for the COVID-19 pandemic? No.

And that sad fact translates into opportunities for those with bad intentions to take advantage of a stressed, anxious public to profit, spread fake news or circulate useless advice, say medical, online security and communications experts.

“When people are fearful, they seek information to reduce uncertainty,” Jeff Hancock, a Stanford University communications professor, told Stanford News Service.

“This can lead people to believe information that may be wrong or deceptive because it helps make them feel better — or allows them to place blame about what’s happening.”

Phishing, crafting fake emails and other messages so they look genuine, is not new but has evolved.

Continue reading “Phishing Epidemic Adds Online Misery to Coronavirus Pandemic”

Coronavirus Pushes Global VPN Usage to Record Levels

By Nick Eng

More people are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic — and multiple virtual private network (VPN) providers are reporting huge surges in customer usage and activity around the globe.

VPNs provide users with an encrypted connection to a private network to protect sensitive information while working online. They act as a security tunnel for traffic and personal data between a user’s device and remote servers.

This process keeps online activity secure and anonymous from outside intrusion, making a user’s public network virtually private.

The U.S. accounts for only an estimated 5% of global VPN usage.

“Due to the recent coronavirus outbreak and an increasing number of people going into self-isolation, the VPN market is reporting a massive increase in its services,” Laura Tyrell, head of public relations for NordVPN, told Digital Privacy News.

Continue reading “Coronavirus Pushes Global VPN Usage to Record Levels”

Will Any Data Privacy Be Left After COVID-19? Ask Washington

By Charles McDermid

Governments across the world have unleashed stunning surveillance tools to collect data from citizens in the fight against COVID-19. Many now fear how that information may be used once the pandemic has finally passed.

In the United States, that could be one of the big questions when the Senate Commerce Committee meets Thursday for a hearing titled “Enlisting Big Data in the Fight Against Coronavirus.”

According to a government statement, the committee will “examine how consumers’ privacy rights are being protected and what the U.S. government plans to do with COVID-related data collected at the end of this national emergency.”

A look at the policies in place in other countries to handle this collected information could prove a road map for the United States, where none presently exist.

Continue reading “Will Any Data Privacy Be Left After COVID-19? Ask Washington”

Q&A: EFF’s Danny O’Brien

Trading Privacy to Save Lives

By Samantha Stone

The world marked its one millionth coronavirus case last week. Experts say electronic surveillance is an effective tool to slow the spread, but at what cost to privacy?

Privacy activist Danny O’Brien says there will be enormous temptation after the crisis to stockpile the personal tracking data for future use.

O’Brien is director of strategy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. He’s credited with coining the term “life hack.”

Should we trade off privacy to save lives?

The big questions we have with these things are is it necessary and is it proportionate? 

Also, not jumping to the first high-tech solution that might appear appropriate [is another consideration], because there are lots of ways of doing this. Some of them are effective; some of them are ineffective. 

A classic example is where people were trying to tell from the data they had whether people, generally, were practicing social distancing.

They didn’t take into account that in some states, people have to travel farther to see someone else.

If you’re tracking how far people are moving in — say, Montana — that’s going to have a very different characteristic than it is in California.

Continue reading “Q&A: EFF’s Danny O’Brien”

Privacy, Security Questions Abound When Zoom Is the Classroom

By Samantha Cleaver

When Valerie Silva’s school in Tennessee closed last month for COVID-19, her Spanish class moved online within hours.

She’d never heard of Zoom.

But, her school encouraged teachers to use the Zoom service, so she logged in. The problem: she was teaching subjunctives (a verb tense) — and knew she’d need a display space.

So, Silva, who teaches at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, Tenn., did what all teachers do: she improvised.

She knew that shower board could be used like whiteboard, and thought, why not?

She set up her computer in her bathroom and led the lesson with her shower as a whiteboard. (After the lesson was over, she learned about Zoom’s whiteboard feature.)

Silva is like many other teachers who have switched to online teaching because of COVID-19.

“We all got thrown into this all of the sudden,” Silva told Digital Privacy News, “so privacy concerns aren’t really anything we addressed.”

Continue reading “Privacy, Security Questions Abound When Zoom Is the Classroom”

Amid COVID-19, Rush to Use Geodata Apps Raises Abuse Fears

By Joanne Cleaver

Sunday was warm and sunny in Charlotte, N.C.

Despite urgent directives from public health officials for all residents to stay home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many flocked to the parks adjacent to the fast-growing central business district — to walk, run, skate, play with their dogs and picnic. 

The cumulative effect of their misbehavior was recorded by Unacast, a Norwegian data firm that uses geolocation information from cellphones and apps to map individual travel patterns.

Overall, North Carolina earned a C on the new Unacast Social Distancing Scoreboard, and the company estimated that Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte and adjacent suburbs, charted a 40% drop in the average distance traveled. 

Two days later — Tuesday, March 31 — county officials closed all public parks, partly in response to the information they had received from geolocation services. 

Geolocation data firms are having a moment.  In the words of Cuebiq, a New York company that offers daily human movement trends by county, making the data available for free is “part of our commitment to sharing data for the greater good.”

Continue reading “Amid COVID-19, Rush to Use Geodata Apps Raises Abuse Fears”

Usage-Based Insurance Is Good for Drivers, But at What Cost?

By Rob Sabo

Safe drivers may receive lower premiums in return for having their habits tracked through usage-based automobile insurance, but many customers aren’t fully aware of the consequences of that huge data exchange.

Known as “pay for how you drive,” usage-based insurance (UBI) allows companies to track drivers through plug-in devices in their cars or via smartphone apps.

Carriers use the driver telematics to set individual rate profiles for customers.

UBI coverage varies from traditional insurance in that companies determine risk profiles and rates by targeting such key demographics as age and location.

The older model results in teenagers paying more for insurance than middle-aged consumers because they, categorically, have higher risk profiles.

Continue reading “Usage-Based Insurance Is Good for Drivers, But at What Cost?”

Understanding the Privacy Implications of Web ‘Cookies’

Peter A. McKay

For better or worse, cookies are an integral part of the modern web, enabling many features that users consider essential.

But cookies also carry major – and, for the most part, poorly understood – implications for privacy.

In short, cookies are small files stored in your web browser with information about the sites you visit. The browser uses them to manage what programmers call “state,” or the quality that allows an application to pick up where it left off previously in an ongoing task.

Cookies, thus, enable in-browser features like shopping carts that “remember” which items you added to them.

But cookies can also be used to capture information to target you with advertisements, an activity increasingly frowned upon by users because of its privacy implications.

“There have definitely been some unintended consequences to cookies,” since their original implementation in the 1990s to add application-like utility to the web, Jonathon Sampson, a web developer at the browser startup Brave, told Digital Privacy News.

Continue reading “Understanding the Privacy Implications of Web ‘Cookies’”

Using Ride-Sharing Services Invite Many Privacy Perils

By Tammy Joyner

Cyber-hail an Uber or Lyft ride and you enter an unchecked digital world that knows your whereabouts and much of your personal life.

Ride-share services use cellphones, GPS, credit and debit cards — founts of personal information.

They can sell that information if they choose, with your authorization (Hint: read the fine print) — and there’s little you can do about it, experts say.

“Any company that has your data, we’re pretty much at their mercy,” Steve Lasky, a corporate security and risk expert in Alpharetta, Ga., told Digital Privacy News. “Data and information are power. It’s like catnip.”

People don’t realize how much information they unwittingly hand over when they ride-share, said digital government expert Beatriz Botero.

“These types of companies are relatively serious about the privacy of their users,” said Botero, a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

“The problem is when you sign up, you typically authorize them to know where you go — and they have your credit cards.”

Continue reading “Using Ride-Sharing Services Invite Many Privacy Perils”

Drone Operators Fear Proposed FAA Rule Could Endanger Safety

By Christopher Adams

A proposed federal rule that would identify drone operators has many fearing for their safety from a public that generally scoffs at the sight of a small unidentified object flying anonymously over their property.

“For an assortment of reasons, some people have a strong distaste for drones,” Jonathan Jacobs, a drone operator and founder of the Drone Academy in Texas, told Digital Privacy News.

“Is it really smart or safe to provide the pilots’ location to someone who is upset by their presence?”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reviewing a Remote ID rule that would collect and store specific data on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, operators and control stations.

Continue reading “Drone Operators Fear Proposed FAA Rule Could Endanger Safety”

Protecting Your Child’s Privacy

By Sheryl Nance-Nash

A broken-hearted teenager can create chaos in cyberspace.

Sharon Parker (not her real name) said nothing has been the same since a six-month relationship between her 16-year-old son and his girlfriend went awry more than two years ago.

“When Facebook purchased Instagram, your Facebook and Instagram accounts could be linked,” Parker told Digital Privacy News. “If you had a Facebook account that had your name and nothing else on it, Facebook made it public.

“His private account became public,” she continued. “That’s how the girl was able to get access to his information and contacts.”

Her son’s ex impersonated him on Instagram through a fake account, Parker said. It appeared as if he was sexually harassing girls online.

He became a pariah at school. Parker then took legal action.

Continue reading “Protecting Your Child’s Privacy”

With COVID-19, Good Hygiene Isn’t Just for Hands

By Aisheh Barghouti

“Wash your hands!” has become the mantra for the coronavirus pandemic.

Practicing good personal hygiene, though it seems simple, has been touted by medical professionals worldwide as a key way to stop the spread of the virus.

But like good personal hygiene, practicing good “cyberhygiene” has never been more important.

As COVID-19 spreads throughout the country and around the world, companies now must have their employees working remotely. This directive has shaken the business world, leaving workers and their bosses scrambling to adjust to a new reality.

“The security and privacy implications of working from home are staggering,” David Finn, an executive vice president at Cynergistek in Austin, Texas, told Digital Privacy News.

Continue reading “With COVID-19, Good Hygiene Isn’t Just for Hands”

Setting Up Young Children for Safe Online Learning

Setting Up Young Children for Safe Online Learning

By Samantha Cleaver

When Monica McMahon, mom of a kindergartener in Charlotte, N.C., realized that school was going to be at home through mid-May because of COVID-19, she quickly updated her son’s device with education programs.

McMahon looked for apps that were more education than game, and that had the Common Sense Media seal of approval.

With more than 55.1 million children at home as schools nationwide are closed, McMahon and many other parents are quickly looking for online programs that will educate and engage their young children while in-person instruction is paused and, often, while parents must work.

Creating an online account for your child is easy enough. Enter your email, password, and click through the privacy and user policies.

With kids home because of coronavirus closings, now is the time to check and set privacy settings on apps that your child will be using and choose apps that keep privacy in mind. 

Continue reading “Setting Up Young Children for Safe Online Learning”

Jussie Smollett Orders: Dangers in Email Drafts and Deleted Texts

By Matthew Scott

Last of two parts. (Part 1)

Sweeping warrants recently issued in the Jussie Smollett special investigation pit privacy rights against law enforcement. Today’s report details the perils in unsent or draft emails and texts.

Chicago special prosecutor Dan Webb must prove fraud in last year’s
alleged Jussie Smollett attack — and that most likely enabled him to get warrants for deleted and unsent information from Google, New York privacy advocate Adam Wandt told Digital Privacy News.

Fraud cases often require law enforcement to probe deeper to prove intent and motive, explained Wandt, assistant professor of public policy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Because so many crimes are growing in sophistication, prosecutors are asking for — and obtaining — greater access to digital information. Warrants seeking access to email drafts, deleted emails and GPS tracking data from multiple platforms now are extremely common, Wandt said.

Criminals have been found to delete or manipulate such data to commit and hide illegal activity. Terrorists were the first to evade authorities by communicating through email drafts without sending them.

“They’d type up a draft, do not send it, then somebody else logs in to the same account,” he said. “That person then reads the draft, and they delete it.

“There is never an actual sent email,” Wandt noted, but the message is communicated.

The “strategy” has been replicated in organized crime — and now is common among drug dealers and fraudsters worldwide.

Continue reading “Jussie Smollett Orders: Dangers in Email Drafts and Deleted Texts”