Month: July 2020

Essay: Howard University’s Ingrid Sturgis

‘See something. Say Something.’ Really, With Constant Surveillance?

By Ingrid Sturgis

The Digital Privacy News Essay is an occasional guest feature.

We’ve come to view the flip sides of surveillance, as some people await a contact-tracing app to help stem the spread of COVID-19, while others plead with photographers to delete their images taken at rallies for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death in May by Minneapolis police.

The most cynical will say the protesters’ requests call for protection from the surveillance state we live in, with people fearing that facial-recognition software could help the government indict and forever track them based on images and data gleaned from rallies.

The more sanguine will counter that contact-tracing is simply a quid pro quo, part of opting into the convenience of goods and services in a surveillance society.

But who is right?

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‘ToSDR’ Ramps Up Efforts to End ‘Gotcha’ Privacy Policies, Terms

By Sue Treiman

A grassroots website is reigniting its campaign against the so-called “biggest lie on the internet” — the assumption that people actually read and agree to the “terms of service” and the privacy policies they accept.

The ToSDR site — “Terms of Service; Didn’t Read” — was conceived at a 2011 European open software conference to warn consumers that what they didn’t know (and didn’t read) could hurt them.

Grassroots activists wanted to educate consumers about the policy “traps” frequently hidden within provisions they tended to overlook.

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Q&A: Emsisoft Threat Analyst Brett Callow

Healthcare Firms Ripe for Ransomware Attacks During COVID

By Patrick W. Dunne

Healthcare companies long have been a prime target for hackers and scammers.

Last year’s Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that healthcare companies comprised 15% of breaches. The coronavirus now has only made such companies even more vulnerable to malicious outsiders.

Emsisoft threat analyst Brett Callow said that as many as 764 healthcare providers were affected by ransomware attacks last year.

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Brain-Computer Interface: Evolving Tech Begs Many Privacy Issues

By Rifki Aria Nugraha

Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology could bring challenges to individual privacy, cybersecurity expert Pablo Ballarin Usieto told Digital Privacy News.

“If this data is not properly processed, the malicious can retrieve very valuable information about the person,” Usieto, co-founder of the Balusian cybersecurity firm in Spain, said of the technology.

It relies on devices that read a user’s brain activities, retrieving information from them.

The technology is premature, Usieto explained, and any mishandling could lead to abuse of confidential data regarding an individual’s health, personal preferences and emotions.

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Facebook ‘Blocklists’ Raise First Amendment Issues at Public Colleges

By Jason Collins

Public universities are using Facebook filters to censor and block student speech, raising critical First Amendment questions, experts tell Digital Privacy News.

The “blocklists” limit student comments on Facebook when accounts are accessed via university networks. The institutions’ filters flag certain words, automatically hiding the comments that contain them.

“State universities are preemptively censoring large swaths of protected speech and altering the public discourse with just a few clicks of the mouse — and Facebook gives them all the tools they need to do it,” Robert Shibley, director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told Digital Privacy News.

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Sun, STEM, Security: Summer Camps Go Virtual and Deal with Privacy Issues

By Samantha Cleaver

Ellen Zavian’s 14-year-old son was interested in the University of Maryland engineering Seaperch camp, but instead of being on campus, it was moved online.

Campers use materials at home and work through experiments led through Zoom calls.

Zavian, a member of the Safe Tech Committee in Montgomery County, Md., outside Washington, read the fine print and saw that campers had the option to use cameras for recordings. She liked that.

For Zavian and her family, the ability to opt out of audio and video recording helped them think through how her son would attend camp securely.

She is one of many parents who find themselves preparing for online summer camp for the first time. On the other side, many camps are moving into the uncharted territory of online programming.

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Privacy Advocates Wary About Tech Giants’ Facial-Recognition Moves

By Robert Bateman

In the wake of worldwide protests over police brutality, three major technology giants have announced significant changes to their development and sale of facial-recognition technology — but privacy advocates told Digital Privacy News that the changes amounted to little more than public posturing.

The announcements began June 8, when IBM Corp. told Congress that it would stop offering general-purpose facial-recognition software, citing a desire to “help advance this nation’s pursuit of equity and justice.”

Two days later, Amazon followed, saying in a blog post that it was “implementing a one-year moratorium” on police use of its facial software. 

Then, in a June 12 interview with The Washington Post, Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith said the company would not offer facial-recognition software to U.S. police departments until federal regulation was in place.

But privacy campaigners were cautiously welcoming these changes. They told Digital Privacy News that the efforts did not go far enough, while others remained cynical about the companies’ motivations.

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