Loss of Privacy

Keeping you informed on recent losses to privacy and civil rights worldwide.

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a glut of companies are lurking in the shadows of the Internet, gathering your data to sell it to anyone who’s willing to pay the price. These so-called “data brokers” can easily follow your digital trail by using your browser cookies and other ingenious tracking methods.

And it’s not just general statistics, demographics, or overall trends that they’re selling. Many data brokers sell dossiers on individuals, complete profiles that include your name and personal information, without your knowledge or consent. These dossiers can include sensitive information such as medical history, political and religious affiliations, and sexual orientation.

There are no regulations for companies such as these. If you want to keep your personal data private and not let anonymous companies bid over it, you have to take matters into your own hands to block their efforts.

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As a parent Adam Sheffield says he worries about his Xbox Kinect being capable of spying on his family in their home, “It recognizes him when he enters the room and says “Hi.” The question a lot of people have, what’s that data being used for?”

Sheffield is a Cyber Security Program Manager and he says there is a good reason to be worried, “You should assume anything that can connect to internet – push info out, is a source of collection.”

And this applies to more than just gaming devices – computers, TV’s, cellphones – anything online. “When you download an app you give them permission to access phone book, camera, microphone. Could they go in and turn on your camera and microphone? They could. Are they? I am not quite sure.”

Experts say go into your privacy settings and make it as private as possible, but there’s no promise it’s fool proof. Make sure to change your password from the default and decide how many devices online you actually need.

“Develop a personal threshold with what you are comfortable sharing with. As for my son, we put a sticker over the camera unless he is using it. Not that we are paranoid or anything,” says Sheffield.

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A new Barbie doll has been designed to record and store conversations it has with children. The recordings will be analyzed by researchers who say they will use the data to make the toy’s responses more complete.

“Whatever we come away with as our first blush attempt at the conversations, we’ll see what kids want to talk about or not. We’ll take our honest best guess at that and then see what comes back, and then that will change and evolve over time as those conversations happen between individual children and Barbie dolls,” Oren Jacob, CEO of ToyTalk said in a recent statement.

However, security experts have raised concerns about how else that information could be used.

“It wouldn’t take much for a malicious individual to intercept either the wi-fi communications from the phone or tablet, or connect to the doll over Bluetooth directly. These problems aren’t difficult to solve; the manufacturer needs to check the phone application carefully to make sure it’s secure. They also need to check that any information sent by the doll to their online systems is protected,” Ken Munro, a security researcher at Pen Test Partners said.

The company responded to these concerns with a statement, saying that:

“While we’re familiar with the Cayla doll and with what happened in terms of a privacy breach, Hello Barbie is fundamentally different on many levels. As with all of ToyTalk’s products–we started with apps for kids–online privacy and security is of utmost importance. That’s why we ask for parental consent and agreement to use their kids’ speech, anonymously, to add to our database in order to increase Barbie’s conversational capabilities. To address the issue of being able to intercept the wi-fi communications or connect Barbie via Bluetooth, all communications take place over a secured TLS (HTTPS) network and it’s not possible to connect her via Bluetooth. Further Barbie connects directly to ToyTalk servers–not via an outside app with local data stored on it. And no back doors are being added to the app, to further avoid access issues.”

The problem they are not addressing is that they will be recording the conversations of children. Children do not have a fully functioning filter to know what they should and should not be talking about to what is a stranger. They don’t know who will be listening to them or what is going to happen with those conversations.

Children also have a habit of telling their dolls, stuffed animals and figurines confidential stuff they do not wish to share with anyone else.

This is yet another example of surveillance microphones attempting to get their foot in the door to our homes. We already have to be leery of Xbox Kinect, Amazon Echo, Samsung Smart TV and everything else listed in the Internet of Things.

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(Photo: William Petroski/Register photo)

(Photo: William Petroski/Register photo)

The Iowa Department of Transportation would like it if everyone would carry their driver’s license on their cell phone.

The app, which will be provided to drivers at no additional cost, will be available sometime in 2015, DOT Director Paul Trombino told Gov. Terry Branstad during a state agency budget hearing Monday.

“We are really moving forward on this,” Trombino said. “The way things are going, we may be the first in the nation.”

People will still be able to stick a traditional plastic driver’s license in their wallet or purse if they choose, Trombino said. But the new digital license, which he described as “an identity vault app,” will be accepted by Iowa law enforcement officers during traffic stops and by security officers screening travelers at Iowa’s airports, he said.

“It is basically your license on your phone,” he said.

At least for now, it’s possible to stick to the traditional license, but what happens when that becomes mandatory? What if you don’t have a cell phone? Will you be forced to get one in order to have a driver’s license or not be allowed to drive?

There are also privacy concerns. Right now, nearly every state requires some sort of warrant before police can unlock your phone. Once you unlock your phone to show your driver’s license, police are free to search it at will.

The new app should be highly secure, Trombino said. People will use a pin number for verification.

Should be. How long is the PIN? If it’s the traditional 4-digit PIN, it’s not highly secure.

While Iowa may be the first to allow driver’s licenses on phones, it is among 30 states that already allow electronic proof of insurance.

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At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have secretly equipped their officers with radar devices that allow them to effectively peer through the walls of houses to see whether anyone is inside, a practice raising new concerns about the extent of government surveillance.

The radars work like finely tuned motion detectors, using radio waves to zero in on movements as slight as human breathing from a distance of more than 50 feet. They can detect whether anyone is inside of a house, where they are and whether they are moving.

HOW IT WORKS

“The idea that the government can send signals through the wall of your house to figure out what’s inside is problematic,” said Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist. “Technologies that allow the police to look inside of a home are among the intrusive tools that police have.”

Agents’ use of the radars was largely unknown until December, when a federal appeals court in Denver said officers had used one before they entered a house to arrest a man wanted for violating his parole. The judges expressed alarm that agents had used the new technology without a search warrant, warning that “the government’s warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions.”

By then, however, the technology was hardly new. Federal contract records show the Marshals Service began buying the radars in 2012, and has so far spent at least $180,000 on them.

More at USA Today.

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