MyLife’s ‘Reputation’ Practices Under Scrutiny From DOJ, FTC

By Rachel Looker 

If you haven’t recently Googled yourself, it might be time you did.

A routine search could bring up a result with your name and a “free background report” at

Clicking it takes you to a page with your age, current and previous addresses, religious views, marital status, net worth, political affiliation and many other personal details.

A graphic that resembles a speedometer indicates your “reputation score” based on “background details, personal reviews and social media posts,” according to MyLife’s website.

The gauge indicates how high or low your score is versus the national average.

Each profile contains other personal details, including court and arrest records that can be viewed on the website, some of which only are accessible via a premium, paid membership.

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UK Considering Face-Data Scheme for Pubs, Raising Privacy Fears

By Robert Bateman

A government-sponsored plan in the U.K. could allow pubs and other venues to identify customers using facial-recognition technology — and some academics and advocates are worried about the implications for privacy and civil liberties.

The proposed scheme, which is being developed by British tech companies iProov and Mvine using a $103,000 government grant, has been touted as a means to ease COVID-19 restrictions without the use of so-called “vaccine passports.”

But iProov assured Digital Privacy News that subjects’ privacy would be protected. Still, the plans have drawn the ire of privacy advocates, who say it would violate individual privacy and other civil rights.

“There is no legitimate justification for including facial recognition or any other biometric applications in vaccine passport schemes,” said Ella Jakubowska, policy officer at European Digital Rights (EDRi), based in Brussels.

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‘A Terrible Idea’

Amazon Expands Contactless ‘Palm’ Technology During Pandemic

By Fiona Tang is opening new physical retail stores so customers can make purchases by scanning their palms, a step that researchers said capitalized on consumers’ concerns about hygiene during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The technology, called Amazon One, debuted in September at an Amazon Go store in Seattle. Officials touted the technology as welcomed during the pandemic but declined to comment further to Digital Privacy News.

It uses a “biometric identification system” that includes a hand scanner that can identify a customer based on such characteristics as “lines and creases in the user’s palm, veins, bones, soft tissue or other structures beneath the epidermis of the skin,” according to a patent Amazon filed in December 2019.

To sign up for Amazon One, a customer inserts a credit card and positions their palm above the scanner. The scanner then generates a “unique palm signature” and connects the customer’s card information to their palm.

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Q&A: HIBP’s Troy Hunt

Huge Facebook Leak Brings the ‘Ability to Send More Targeted Phishing Emails’

By Rachel Looker 

Facebook made headlines this month after news that a data leak exposed the personal information of more than 533 million users.  

First reported April 3 by Business Insider, the leak included cellphone numbers, names, locations, birthdates and some email addresses for users in over 100 countries.  

But Facebook said hackers obtained the data before September 2019 by “scraping” it from the platform through misuse of its contact importer tool. 

“This feature was designed to help people easily find their friends to connect with on our services using their contact lists,” Facebook said in an April 6 blog post.

The platform said the contact importer had been updated to prevent software from imitating the app and uploading large sets of phone numbers to see if any matched a Facebook user.  

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‘We Don’t Hide the Cameras’

Retailers Balance Privacy While Foiling Thieves as COVID-Related Crime Rises

An alleged shoplifter caught on surveillance video at the Homestyles Gallery craft mall in North Carolina before Christmas. The video was posted to social media. Credit: Homestyles Gallery

By Joanne Cleaver 

Angie Smith noticed the red-haired woman who meandered into Homestyles Gallery, an accessories and craft mall in suburban Charlotte, N.C., days before Christmas.

But busy with customers, Smith didn’t realize until hours later that the woman had sashayed out with $700 in handcrafted jewelry from an artisan’s booth within the store. 

The incident was caught on surveillance tape: The COVID-masked woman glancing around, opening a glass case, sweeping jewelry into a tote bag and trotting off-screen. 

“We’ve had small losses before but nothing like this,” Smith, the mall’s co-owner, told Digital Privacy News. 

Infuriated at the woman’s brazen theft, she posted a clip of the video to the shop’s Facebook page — touching off a minor storm of citizen detectives determined to help a popular local business recover from a petty crime.

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What Happened? Nintendo

Data Hacked to Buy Fortnite Currency

By Najmeh Tima

“What Happened?” is an occasional feature by Digital Privacy News that looks back on some of the tech industry’s biggest data breaches last year.

Nintendo has experienced several hacks in recent years — but one of its biggest came last year, when the personal identifiable information (PII) of 300,000 users was leaked in a scheme to buy Fortnite cryptocurrency.

“People have lost their life savings, have had counterfeit passports and other identity cards created using their information,” Nick Espinosa, an Illinois intelligence analyst, told Digital Privacy News, “which can then get them into legal trouble if the identity thief commits a crime while impersonating them.”

Ben Goodman, senior vice president of ForgeRock, a digital identity-platform provider in San Francisco, noted that the leaked PII could have been used in other malicious ways.

“The loss of the PII itself may weaponize a bad actor for further hacking,” he said, “to steal identities, reset passwords and take over accounts for other sites or impersonate an individual.

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Experts Fear Civil Rights Rollback in Ruling on Border Data Searches

By Nora Macaluso

A recent federal court ruling allowing U.S. Border Patrol agents to search travelers’ cellphones and laptops at will has privacy advocates worried about a civil rights rollback.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston found in February that warrantless searches did not violate the U.S. Constitution.

The court, in reversing a 2019 decision, said the “volume” of travelers crossing U.S. borders made warrantless searches “essential” to border protection.

Requiring warrants would “hamstring the agencies’ efforts to prevent border-related crime and protect this country from national security threats,” the court said in its Feb. 9 decision.

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‘Gutting Privacy Rights’

UK Data-Law Plans Draw Advocates’ Ire

By Robert Bateman

The U.K. government has signaled its intention to diverge from the EU standards on data-protection and privacy law, claiming that a “less-European approach” could help drive economic growth.

But some experts told Digital Privacy News that the government’s proposals could weaken individual rights and could put EU trade at risk.

Since the U.K. fully transitioned out of the EU in January, it has been able to make changes to EU law, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which passed in 2016.

According to Reuters, U.K. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he hoped the country could “hold on to many of the strengths of GDPR in terms of giving people security about their data,” but focus “less on the burdens of the rules imposed on individual businesses.”

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Q&A: Colin J. Bennett, University of Victoria

‘Just Because People Say Data Analytics Win Elections Doesn’t Mean It’s True’

By Vaughn Cockayne

Colin J. Bennett is a professor of political science at the University of Victoria in Canada. He is a fellow of the university’s Surveillance Studies Centre.

His research focuses on the use of surveillance policy at the domestic and international levels. His most recent research has been into the use of data analytics during elections and how it has affected worldwide democracies.

His books include “The Governance of Privacy” (2006) and “The Privacy Advocates: Resisting the Spread of Surveillance” (2008).

Bennett, who holds a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Digital Privacy News that exporting “data-driven” political campaign strategies to other countries is a threat that should be resisted.

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Apple Faces French Privacy Complaint Over Tracking

By Robert Bateman

Apple Inc. faces an investigation by the French privacy regulator after a coalition of French startups alleged that the company was violating EU data-protection law.

France Digitale, an advocacy group comprising nearly 2,000 French businesses, contend that Apple tracked user behavior on iPhones and iPads by default, violating EU privacy laws, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect in 2018.

Apple officials retorted that the group’s allegations, filed in a March 8 complaint to the Commission Nationale de l’informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), as “patently false.”

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‘Terribly Sad’

Will China Make Cameras Compulsory in Hong Kong Classrooms?

By Patrick McShane

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

The first push to place surveillance cameras inside Hong Kong classrooms came last summer.

The issue originated during a government discussion on education, when one of the city’s pro-Beijing legislators, Tommy Cheung, suggested that closed-circuit TV cameras be installed inside classrooms to check whether teachers were making “non-patriotic” or “subversive” remarks during lessons.

Another lawmaker, Martin Liao, also a deputy to China’s National People’s Congress, said: “If some teachers have ulterior political motives and hope to bring (anti-China) politics into schools, their untrue claims made in classrooms could deeply impact students negatively.

“We should take the initiative to identify the horses that spoil the whole herd,” Liao said.

However, the controversial topic seemed to fade away over the autumn and winter months, as Hong Kong battled COVID-19 and the ensuing global economic downturn.

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Essay: Mind Control Is Profitable

However, Protecting Your Privacy Is Not

By Peter S. Magnusson

Last of two parts.

Digital Privacy News marked its first anniversary Tuesday. In this final essay, Publisher Peter S. Magnusson explains how products purporting to protect data privacy are financed by those seeking to invade it.

Public awareness of the consequences of losing privacy has been rising dramatically in the past few years.

Unfortunately, growth is occurring within the very fabric of information collection and control.

You may have noticed the increased marketing around a variety of products promising “identity protection” or to “protect your online activity.”

For the most part, they are as honest and effective as the diet programs lauded every January on the covers of magazines on racks in your local checkout aisle.

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Essay: The Modern Prometheus

The Information Revolution Has Turned Us Into Digital Economic Objects

By Peter S. Magnusson

First of two parts.

Digital Privacy News marks its first anniversary Tuesday. In the first of two essays, Publisher Peter S. Magnusson explains the technological and societal changes that created us and our mission.

In recent years, “privacy” has gone from an obscure concern to an everyday worry among the public.

The forces that undermine our privacy have become deeply ingrained in our political and economic systems.

During the Industrial Revolution, citizens became physical economic objects. Extensive reforms to basic labor laws, for instance, became necessary — though not before the world had gone through convulsions of revolutions, global wars and genocide.

The Information Revolution has turned us into digital economic objects. The changes arguably are even greater than those of the Industrial Revolution — and the outlook for the next century is bleak.

Tuesday marks the first anniversary of Digital Privacy News, which seeks to create an independent source of news about digital privacy.

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Q&A: Author Edwin Black

IBM’s Third Reich Ties Presage Today’s Big Tech Ambitions

By Samantha Stone

Edwin Black wrote two decades ago about a stalwart American business and its underreported role in Nazi atrocities.

His book, “IBM and the Holocaust,” was a success by any measure. It had a respectable stint as a New York Times best-seller. It was lavishly praised by other journalists. It won awards and was published in multiple languages.

Black maintains IBM has never challenged the substance of his book. For its 20th anniversary, Black has been making the podcast-interview rounds defending his work and underscoring how IBM’s activities presage today’s Big Data.

“What most people can derive from my book at this particular point in time is that history repeats itself,” he said in a February podcast on the U.K.’s Revelation TV.

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Q&A: Writer Kai Strittmatter

‘There Was a Time When We Wanted to Change China. That Illusion Is Long Gone’

By Charles McDermid

Last of three parts.

China is an increasingly aggressive global actor when democracy is at its weakest point in decades, writes German journalist Kai Strittmatter.

The result is a “global competition of systems” not seen since the end of the Cold War. 

Strittmatter, 55, author of “We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State” (2019), says China is openly advertising the superiority of its system over Western democracies, all while trying to reshape global organizations and infiltrating the West’s think tanks, companies, media and schools. 

In the last of a three-part interview, Strittmatter told Digital Privacy News that the time had come to stop being naïve about the nature and intentions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

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Snowden, Experts Say Customers Pushing for More Data Protections

Edward Snowden speaks Tuesday at the Priv8 Virtual Summit on Digital Privacy. Credit: Orchid Labs Inc.

By Jackson Chen

Governments and companies must rethink how they use personal data amid surging consumer demand for better privacy protections, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden and other global digital-privacy experts said this week.

“Privacy is what protects that right of inquiry that leads to progress,” Snowden, 37, who has been living in political asylum in Russia since August 2013, told Tuesday’s opening session of the “Priv8 Virtual Summit on Digital Privacy,” sponsored by Orchid Labs Inc.

“Privacy was never about something to hide,” he continued. “Privacy is about something to protect.

“Privacy is the right to self. It allows you to be different and distinct from the majority.”

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IRS Creates New ‘Secure’ Portal; Experts Caution: User Beware

By Joanne Cleaver

When the IRS calls, taxpayers must answer.

But even with new tools the Internal Revenue Service has introduced to try to secure digital communication, taxpayers still must guard their data and access information, so they don’t make themselves targets for privacy intrusions, experts told Digital Privacy News. 

Largely in response to COVID-19 chaos intersecting with the possibility of fraud, the agency has created what it describes as a “secure” portal where taxpayers can view the information that it has on file for them. 

If you use the site, however, don’t let your guard down, said Ronald Semaria, a former IRS agent and fraud consultant and investigator in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

“There is no one foolproof site,” he told Digital Privacy News. “By the time someone makes up a program to protect you, somebody else is doing something to unprotect you.”

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Q&A: Journalist Kai Strittmatter

‘You Don’t Need a Policeman. You Have Become the Policeman’

By Charles McDermid

Second of three parts.

Kai Strittmatter speaks Mandarin, studied in Xian and Taipei during the ’80s — and, for more than 20 years, was Beijing correspondent for the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

His 2019 book — “We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State” — probably won’t make him welcome in the Middle Kingdom anytime soon. 

He writes that Western assumptions that technology would force China to accept openness and democracy were dead wrong. Instead, these new tools are bringing the return of a totalitarianism that’s never been more “total.” 

In the second of three interviews, Strittmater, 55, told Digital Privacy News that today’s China was way beyond anything George Orwell ever could have imagined.

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UK Denying Migrants Access to Personal Data, Report Finds

By Robert Bateman

The U.K. is denying thousands of migrants access to their personal information using a controversial exemption to the country’s data-protection law, in a move that advocates say violates human rights.

The U.K.’s Home Office, which handles visas and immigration issues, relied on the controversial “immigration exemption” in as many as 72% of requests for personal information it received last year, according to a report released this month by the Open Rights Group (ORG).

Under U.K. law, individuals can make a “subject access request” to see what personal information an organization has about them. 

The immigration exemption, which forms part of the U.K.’s Data Protection Act of 2018, allows an organization to reject an access request if granting so will be “likely to prejudice … the effective maintenance of immigration control.”

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Q&A: Author Kai Strittmatter

‘China Was Always a Surveillance State’

By Charles McDermid

First of three parts.

Investigative reporter Kai Strittmatter has a clear-sighted view of modern China and a grim analysis of the global ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Be warned: It’s alarming stuff. 

A techno-dystopian dictatorship is laid bare in his 2019 book, “We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State,” which was drawn from Strittmatter’s 30 years of studying China, including more than 20 years as a correspondent in Beijing for the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.   

Strittmatter, 55, documents how AI surveillance startups were heavily financed by the state in exchange for loyalty to the CCP — all part of Beijing’s rush to become the world’s economic leader at any cost. 

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