Month: December 2020

Taiwan’s Smart ID Plan in Doubt, as Local Officials Get Cold Feet

By Steven Crook 

Taiwan’s plan to begin trials of its long-planned but heavily criticized national electronic identification (eID) cards next month has been thrown into doubt by a municipal government’s reluctance. 

The pilot effort would use volunteers in Hsinchu, a city of 451,000 nearly 45 miles southwest of Taipei. 

But the Hsinchu City Government said that, because it prioritized citizens’ rights and information security, if Taiwan’s central government was unable to convince it that the eID system was safe, it was “inclined to suspend the trial.” 

The Hsinchu City Government’s decision was reported Saturday by United Daily News, a major Taiwanese newspaper. 

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France Hits Google and Amazon With $163M in Cookie Fines

By Robert Bateman

France’s data-protection authority has hit Google and Amazon with fines totaling $163 million over the tech giants’ use of tracking cookies online.

Google’s $121 million fine and Amazon’s fine of $42 million were imposed Dec. 7 by France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL).

CNIL enforces privacy laws, such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), France’s Data Protection Act and the ePrivacy Directive, which sets the rules on cookies use across the EU.

According to Dec. 10 statements on CNIL’s website, Google and Amazon’s websites placed cookies on user devices without proper notice and without requesting consent.

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Q&A: UC-Berkeley’s Daniel Aranki

Monitoring Employees by AI Raises New Class of Privacy Fears

By Victor R. Bradley

The general public is broadly aware that artificial intelligence and increasingly powerful statistical models have given companies the ability to build intrusive customer profiles based on web-surfing behavior.

Less discussed, however, is the power such technology confers upon employers. 

This neglected legal and ethical area is becoming increasingly prominent. In February, U.S. House Labor and Education Committee held a hearing: “The Future of Work: Protecting Workers’ Civil Rights in the Digital Age.”

The session investigated the ways algorithms and automated surveillance technology could reproduce and exacerbate existing biases in the workplace.

The explosion in remote work since March because of COVID-19 has made such investigation increasingly necessary, as employers must increasingly rely on supervision via cyberspace. 

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AT&T Plan for Cheap Phones Subsidized by Ads Raises Privacy Issues

By Jason Collins

Anyone who uses Instagram or Facebook knows that moment when you realize that something you were talking about has popped up as an advertisement on your feed.

Whether you find this expedient or creepy, you now have realized that your cellphone is listening to you.

While most of the blame for breach of privacy is laid on Apple, Microsoft and other big tech companies, a major player is being overlooked: Telecom giants are directly connected to personal information, since not only do they now provide phone access, but also mobile data and WiFi as well.

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A Dizzying Year in Privacy: From Antitrust to a Lack of Trust

By Jackson Chen

Despite the world being disrupted in an unprecedented manner in 2020, the privacy world still saw many significant events and developments.

Early this year, COVID-19 led to privacy concerns over rushed contact-tracing apps and data breaches at overtaxed health care operations.

Nearly halfway into 2020, the European Union evaluated the effectiveness of its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), while a wave of racial-justice protests in the U.S. reinvigorated concerns about facial-recognition technology.

To cap off the year, Congress held several hearings with Big Tech CEOs, while many regulatory actions took place against them by federal and state governmental agencies.

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Washington’s Busy Year for Privacy Legislation

By Jackson Chen

With the calls for the creation of a comprehensive privacy law in the U.S., politicians from both sides of the aisle have proposed solutions.

In March, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act, which aimed to create a federal standard for data-privacy protection.

It also sought to give consumers control over their data and restrict how businesses collect peoples’ data.

Moran’s bill also would give the Federal Trade Commission enforcement authority for these protections while offering the agency more resources.

The proposal is awaiting a hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee.

In the summer, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio, put forth his take on a comprehensive privacy bill.

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Privacy Fears Voiced Over India’s National Digital Health Mission

By Aishwarya Jagani

 As India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government gears up for a full rollout of its National Digital Health Mission (NDHM), experts continue to raise privacy and security concerns over what could be the world’s biggest health database. 

“Large databases are always risky, especially when handling sensitive data like health data,” Prasanth Sugathan, legal director of the Software Freedom Law Centre in New Delhi, told Digital Privacy News.

“Moreover, in this case, the data could be exposed to multiple entities — and the data-security practices of these entities will have a bearing on the safety of the sensitive health data” he said.

The NDHM was announced in August, with test-runs launched in six union territories — federal areas that are governed, in part or in whole, by Modi’s government.

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Q&A: Kristin Johnson of Emory University

‘We’re Never Clear About the Data That’s Being Gathered’

By C.J. Thompson

Guarding private information is only getting tougher.

The lack of federal data-privacy legislation, combined with the ramifications of the intensifying pandemic, is increasing the entry points for compromising data.

Kristin Johnson, Asa Griggs Candler professor of law at the Emory University Law School, told Digital Privacy News that more public vigilance was needed.

She argues in a soon-to-be-published academic paper — “Regulating Digital Surveillance: Protecting Privacy in a Pandemic” — that when it comes to privacy intrusion, financial-transaction data is as critical a privacy issue as geolocation tracking.

As such, the choice to add apps to devices should not be taken lightly.

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UK Sets Up Regulator to Take On Big Tech

By Robert Bateman 

The U.K. is establishing a new competition authority to regulate digital markets and improve consumer choice.  

The new Digital Markets Unit (DMU) will be established next April, following a report in July about online platforms by the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). 

The unit will “introduce and enforce a new code to govern the behavior of platforms… such as Google and Facebook,” according to a government news release last month. 

But with a handful of firms increasingly dominating the market, some experts told Digital Privacy News that they were concerned that the new regime could struggle to take on the tech giants. 

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Privacy Loses When Crowdfunding Clashes With Politics, Protests

By Joanne Cleaver

Last of two parts.

Patti Breitigam-Wenzel didn’t ask for fame, not the way it came in late August.

On Aug. 25, armed demonstrators mixed with protesters supporting Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot by local police in Kenosha, Wis.

Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, an Illinois resident now is charged with coming to the protests with a loaded gun, with shooting three men — killing two — and severely wounding Wenzel’s friend, Gaige Grosskreutz.

Supporters say Rittenhouse, who remains free on $2 million bond, acted in self-defense. The others fatally shot were Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, Wis., and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha.

But since the incident, Wenzel has been at the eye of a social media storm, much of it from a GoFundMe page she set up, which shows her name as the organizer of an appeal for funds to cover Grosskreutz’s medical bills.

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Crowdfunding Rife With Perils, Especially During Holiday Season

By Joanne Cleaver

First of two parts.

A story good enough to coax donations from individuals through a crowdfunding site is also a story likely to attract unwanted attention. 

Intent on helping those in need — friends, relatives, animals, the environment or myriad other causes — consumers inadvertently mark a bullseye on themselves, said Stephanie Sullivan, founder of Protect Now, a technology company in Boston that equips individuals and professionals with digital privacy tools. 

The urge to help overrides everyday discretion, she told Digital Privacy News.

“You’ll be more vulnerable for a cause you care about,” Sullivan said. “All they have to do is hone in on your interests.

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Anxious Hong Kong Residents Balk at New Police ‘Hotline’

By Patrick McShane

In these occasional reports, Digital Privacy News examines the fallout from China’s new “national security law” on Hong Kong.

Early last month, Hong Kong Police announced a new dedicated “hotline” for the public to report anyone — neighbors, classmates, colleagues, parents, even adult children — who may have broken the National Security Law, enacted by Beijing on June 30.

But even before the hotline’s sudden Nov. 5 launch, Hongkongers pushed back on what they considered an egregious assault on personal privacy.

“This will be a serious blow to freedom in Hong Kong,” former Democratic Party legislator James To told local radio in late October, warning that the effect of the new tip line would be “disastrous” for Hong Kong.

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EU Accuses Amazon of Misusing Marketplace Seller Data

By Robert Bateman

The EU’s competition watchdog has accused ecommerce giant Amazon of breaching EU antitrust rules by misusing third-party sellers’ data on its marketplace.

The European Commission, which enforces competition law in the EU, has issued a “statement of objections” alleging that Amazon is “distorting competition in online retail markets” by “systematically relying on nonpublic business data of independent sellers,” according to a Nov. 10 news release.

The commission’s statement is part of its investigation into Amazon’s use of marketplace seller data, which was launched in July 2019. Amazon now has an opportunity to examine and respond to the objections.

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Q&A: Ethan Zuckerman at UMass

What Infrastructures Bring a ‘Healthy Online Life?’

By Mukund Rathi

Ethan Zuckerman is a visiting research scholar at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and a new faculty member at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. 

He has started the Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure at Amherst, which advocates for treating internet platforms as public spaces and public goods, “much as public television and radio have complemented commercial broadcasting,” according to the institute’s website.

Formerly the director of the Center for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Zuckerman created pop-up internet ads in 1997. In 2014, he apologized for unintentionally creating one the internet’s most despised forms of advertising.

But he told Digital Privacy News that this new approach regarding platforms would help protect privacy and help users control their data online.

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Advocates: Internet Shutdowns Continue in India, Months After Huge Outages Ended

By Sakshi Udavant

Months after full-scale internet shutdowns ended in Kashmir and other parts of India, functional online services have not been fully restored — leaving citizens helpless during the COVID-19 crisis, privacy advocates told Digital Privacy News.

“Turning off internet access is a drastic decision that hurts the state’s own ability to communicate with their people,” said Rachel Vrabec, a privacy researcher and founder of the privacy start-up Kanary.

“However, they justify these actions in order to prevent ‘rumors from spreading and causing violence.’

“Because they don’t control the platforms where organizing is taking place or rumors are spreading, like Facebook or Twitter, they shut off access to the entire network,” she added.

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Researchers: More Online Shopping This Season Brings More Chances of Hacks

By Nora Macaluso

More people than ever are shopping online this holiday season — 33% more than last year, according to Adobe Analytics — and that points to more opportunities for hackers.

Security experts told Digital Privacy News that the top privacy threats they were seeing involved spoofing and phishing attacks from sites purporting to be those of major retailers.

Shoppers need to be more vigilant than ever about making sure they’re not clicking on bad links and about monitoring credit-card statements for fake charges, they said.

“This holiday season is different from any other because of the pandemic,” Mieke Eoyang, senior vice president for the national security program at Third Way, a Washington think tank that focuses on security, told Digital Privacy News.

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School Districts Focus on Privacy in Digital Citizenship Lessons

By Samantha Cleaver

Digital citizenship was front and center as the school year started in August in San Bernardino County, Calif. With online learning, “this is a priority,” said Laurel Aguilar-Kirchhoff, digital learning specialist. “It’s not triage.”

The focus across the 33 districts comprising San Bernardino will be building digital citizenship into the culture.

Instead of teaching a few lessons, digital citizenship now is a routine part of the day. “I think this is an opportunity to teach students to empower students to think critically,” Aguilar-Kirchhoff told Digital Privacy News.

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Baltimore Police Airplanes Can Fly But Face Cloudy Future

By Hamil R. Harris

The murders are so frequent to the Rev. Duane Simmons that he sees police surveillance planes flying above his church in West Baltimore in Maryland as a blessing from God.

“I have been in this church for 30 years — and someone was killed right in front of the church,” said Simmons, who added that one Sunday a plane spotted suspects that relayed information to a police security camera on the ground.

A suspect was apprehended.

While Simmons, pastor of Simmons Memorial Baptist Church, told the talk-show host on WYPR-FM that he supported the Baltimore Police Department’s aerial surveillance program, David Rocha, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union countered, “Giving so much to government is dangerous.”

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Apple Under Fire in EU Over iPhone ‘Tracking Code’

By Robert Bateman

Privacy advocates across the EU have filed complaints against Apple over a “tracking code” installed on millions of its devices. 

The code, known as the IDFA (ID for advertisers), is generated without user consent and enables Apple and third parties to track users’ activity across websites, apps and devices.

Experts told Digital Privacy News that IDFA was an intrusive tool that compromised user privacy.

Complaints were filed with privacy regulators in Spain and Berlin by Austrian nonprofit None of Your Business: European Center for Digital Rights (NOYB), headed by lawyer and privacy advocate Max Schrems.

Apple strongly disputed NOYB’s complaints.

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Q&A: Simple Analytics’ Adriaan van Rossum

‘Analytics Is Basically a Knife’

By Jackson Chen 

Google Analytics may be one of the most popular analytics platforms, but Adriaan van Rossum felt it was far from being the best. 

Van Rossum, who created a privacy-friendly alternative called Simple Analytics, believes analytics platforms do not need to track cookies while still providing essential visitor data. 

With more users concerned with how their data is being used and with governments passing laws on how companies can gather peoples’ online history, van Rossum told Digital Privacy News that not all analytics tools should be invasive. 

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