Privacy

A modern failure to communicate

David Strom does a good job of describing the awful Tower of Babel mess we are in with the myriad of ways to supposedly "contact" someone. It's a good read, and describes what most of us struggle with on a daily basis.

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NSA Network Best Practice Tips

The National Security Agency has released a very nice set of tips for managing desktop computers and home and small office network devices like routers and wireless base stations. Here is the link, and I have attached it to this article.

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Facebook and LinkedIn: Be afwaid...be vewy vewy afraid...

I just got an invite to Google+, the new Facebook-like offering from Google. So I created an account, and at first glance, I would say Facebook and LinkedIn have a lot to worry about. Note, however, that Google has a very mixed track record of success outside search and mapping. Anyone remember Orkut? It never caught on the U.S., although it has been successful in some other countries like India. If Google can do a better job of supporting business-oriented uses of Google+, both Facebook and LinkedIn will have to work very hard to keep their customer base.

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Facebook facial recognition: "Creepy..."

PCWorld calls what Facebook is doing with facial recognition "creepy." The social networking site has rolled out facial recognition software that tries to tag photos with your face in them without asking permission.

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Microsoft: Skype or hype?

So Microsoft has purchased Skype and will integrate voice communications into various MS hardware and software products. The company paid an enormous amount of money for Skype ($8.5 billion), which is a projected future value of the voice communications firm. Microsoft obviously hopes to monetize what they bought, but what did they really get? VoIP technology is hardly cutting edge, and Microsoft has plenty of smart software folks that could cough up equivalent software in short order.

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Apple is not tracking your every move

I have waited a bit to write about the hoo-ha surrounding the accusation that Apple and Google were tracking user locations via GPS information stored in iPhones and Android phones. I suspected there was more to the story than was being cited in the news. And I was right. Apple has released a Q&A that explains what is going on, and it is indeed benign. Note that this applies only to Apple--I have not seen a similar statement from Google, although it is likely to appear soon.

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Is the cloud a force for political empowerment

SandMonkey, a prominent Egyptian blogger who was briefly detained by Egyptian security forces, advocates that opponents of repressive regimes should store all their documents, writing, and information (e.g. email addresses and data on compatriots) on a cloud-based service located in a different country. That way, if a laptop is confiscated, there are no incriminating documents on it.

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Private search: An idea whose time has come

It was inevitable that someone would see a business opportunity by providing private search. Starting Page is a search engine that promises to keep your searches private, unlike Google, Bing, and others that build dossiers on what you search for. The search data is sold to third parties and is also used to target ads. I've written recently about how an hour of searching for camping items resulted in weeks of ads about camping stuff.

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Enzyte, Smilin' Bob, and warrantless searches

The Sixth Circuit Court decision on email being protected by the Fourth Amendment contains the fascinating story behind the, uh, "male enhancement" product called "Enzyte" and the infamous Smilin' Bob character who appeared in the annoying late night TV commercials. The entire document runs 98 pages, but pages 4 through 12 describe in detail how a $250 million a year complete scam is set up and run. And yes, if you don't bother to read the decision, the short story is that Enzyte was a scam from beginning to end.

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Email is protected by the Fourth Amendment

Freedom to Tinker reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled that email is protected by the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment requires a search warrant issued by a judge before law enforcement officials can search premises, and has long been applied to opening sealed paper mail.

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Facebook security problems

The Wall Street Journal has an article about issues with the way third party Facebook apps (e.g. FarmVille, HoldEm Poker, others) are grabbing personal information even though they are not supposed to be doing so. Facebook officials said they are clamping down to ensure that the 500 million Facebook users are protected.

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The Internet routes around damage (wiretapping)

In a story that has been simmering for a while, the New York Times reports that the Feds want to be able to easily wiretap a wide variety of Internet services, including Skype, Facebook,and Blackberry (RIM) communications.

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Crooks using location information to rob homes

All these location-aware devices we have now with GPS capabilities are turning out to be a boon for crooks. Here is how it works: people go on vacation, take pictures with their location-aware iPhone or Android phone, and upload the picture to Facebook with the exact location conveniently added in. Crooks browse Facebook pages, find someone on vacation a long way from home, and then head over to your house for a leisurely romp through your belongings.

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Wal-Mart smart tag worries overwrought

The InterTubes are a a-flutter with articles about Wal-Mart's plans to use RFID smart tags on clothing. The little tags are readable via wireless handheld devices, and the new system will allow Wal-Mart to manage inventory better. Every article I have read, including this reasonably well-balanced one from USA Today, talks about "privacy concerns." But USA Today, near the end of the article, provides the necessary information to understand just how big the privacy threat is: not very big.

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Boucher proposes online privacy bill

Congressman Rick Boucher (D) of Virginia's Ninth District has proposed an Internet privacy bill, which is co-sponsored with Cliff Stearns (R) of Florida. The bill has critics from both the business community and consumer advocates, which suggests it probably strikes the right balance as a place to start. I am constantly amazed at how casually people give up personal information like their birthdate, street address, and other information just to get some "free" service (e.g. Facebook).

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What is Google up to?

The Intertubes have been buzzing for the past couple of days with what is actually a very modest announcement from Google that the company wants to play around with community fiber. Google wants to find out what people do when they have a fast connection, and what kinds of services they might be able to give away or sell if everyone has those kinds of connections.

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Social networking sites are privacy problem

A ComputerWorld article reports on a study that says social networking sites like Facebook are "leaking" personal information that allow third parties to tie Web browsing habits to specific individuals. The study looked at 12 different social networking sites and was able to determine that 11 of them were intentionally or unintentionally making it possible for third parties to tie your viewing habits to you personally.

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The tediousness of "legitimate" spam

I had eighteen emails in my inbox this morning, and sixteen of them were "legitimate" spam. By "legitimate" I mean each email was advertising a legitimate service, and their address, phone number, and valid email return address was included. Most of them come from businesses the company has ordered something from in the past, and the rest are probably harvesting the company "contact us" email address from legitimate sources or buying it from address list resellers. Of the sixteen emails, only two were anything I would have even the mildest interest in.

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Pay a toll to go to the grocery store?

A section of a Colorado highway now has cashless toll booths. High resolution cameras take a picture of the license plate on each car passing through the toll plaza. If the car does not have an EasyPass, the license plate is matched with vehicle registration records and you get a bill at the end of the month.

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Google tracks the flu

It may be benign and even mildly useful, but SEEMS creepy. Google has announced it now tracking the flu by using searches for keywords like "flu," "fever," "thermometer," and so on. It uses information gleaned from your browser and computer (IP address, MAC address, service provider) to identify an approximate location. The data will then be passed on to the Center for Disease Control. A test last year was apparently good enough that they are doing it again this year.

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