Daily Digest (6/17)

Political Groups Tracking Protesters’ Cellphone Data; CU Colorado Springs’ $3.3M Facial-Recognition Project Under ‘Restricted-Research License’; Former eBay Executives Charged With Cyberstalking Mass. Couple; Dating Apps Exposed 845 GB of Explicit Photos, Chats, Other Data. Click “Continue reading” below.

Political Groups Tracking Protesters’ Cellphone Data

Voter registration and advocacy groups are using geofencing techniques to gather the location data of individuals protesting across the U.S.

The organizations are tracking the cellphones of participants and sending them messages about registering to vote or taking other actions, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Geofencing has been used by businesses for years but has more recently caught on among political groups.

The data allows companies to reach people’s phones with ads or other messaging — in real-time or later — without identifying individuals, proponents told the Journal.

“When these protests emerged, it was eye-opening for folks to understand, wow, people are gathering again,” said Quentin James of the Collective, which works to elect African Americans to office.

The group is using the data gathered to target voter-registration messages to people who have been at protest locations. “We want to make sure we’re using all available tools in our toolbox to make sure we’re reaching the right people,” he said.

But Keith Chen, a behavioral economics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said subjects often did not know their information was being used because of the lack of rules about informed consent.

“I do worry that it starts to put a chill on people’s willingness to peaceably assemble,” Chen told the Journal.

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CU Colorado Springs’ $3.3M Facial-Recognition Project Under ‘Restricted-Research License’

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Professor Terrance Boult defended the legality of his $3.3 million government-backed research on facial-recognition software, claiming that images of more than 2,400 students were “only available under a restricted-research license.”

“If someone thought we were collecting this data with students’ names to put in an FBI database, for example, that would be concerning,” he added, The Gazette reports. “That’s not what we’re doing.” 

In the military-backed research, known as the UnConstrained College Students Dataset, Boult secretly photographed thousands of campus students, employees and visitors on public sidewalks at the university in 2012 and 2013, using a hidden camera set up in a building nearly 500 feet away.

The research sought to improve software to allow facial-recognition technology to perform more accurately at greater distances.

“We want to make sure the men and women in the fighting forces have the best ability to protect themselves,” Boult told the Gazette. “We want to be able to recognize car bombers or vest bombers as they approach from far enough away to stop them if they’re on a watch list.”

Critics contend that the technology can threaten the First Amendment by invading privacy. Boult countered that the research and the data accumulated were not in the public realm.

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Former eBay Executives Charged With Cyberstalking Mass. Couple

Six former eBay executives and staffers have been charged with cyberstalking a Massachusetts couple who published a newsletter that criticized the company.

Prosecutors allege the harassment included sending the couple live cockroaches, a bloody Halloween mask of a pig’s face and a funeral wreath, along with threatening messages, BBC News reports.

EBay said it did not tolerate such behavior and apologized to the couple. The company fired the workers last September after its own investigation.

The inquiry also uncovered “inappropriate” communication by former CEO Devin Wenig, but it did not find evidence he had been aware of the specifics of the campaign, eBay said.

He was not charged, according to the report.

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Dating Apps Exposed 845 GB of Explicit Photos, Chats, Other Data

Two security researchers last month discovered publicly accessible Amazon Web Services “buckets” on the internet that contained information from dating apps catering to specific groups and interests.

The researchers, Noam Rotem and Ran Locar, discovered a total of 845 gigabytes and close to 2.5 million records, likely representing data from hundreds of thousands of users, VPNMentor reports.

The data included sexually explicit photos and audio recordings. The researchers also found screenshots of private chats from other platforms and receipts for payments sent among users within certain apps.

“We were amazed by the size and how sensitive the data was,” Locar told Wired. “The risk of doxing that exists with this kind of thing is very real: extortion, psychological abuse.

“As a user of one of these apps, you don’t expect that others outside the app would be able to see and download the data.”

But Wired concluded: “This was not a hack; it was sloppily stored data.

“The researchers don’t know whether anyone else discovered the exposed trove before they did,” the report continued.

“That’s always crux of the issue with data exposures: Mistakenly making data accessible is at best an inconsequential mistake, but at worst can hand hackers a data breach on a silver platter.”

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— By DPN Staff