Well Known Biases

Politics, Economics, and the Law

Tag Archives: Facebook

Privacy Link Roundup – 02/09/13

Your password is bad and you should feel bad. Seriously, review your passwords.

Facebook’s ‘Graph Search.’ Making something already horrifying slightly more horrific.

Speaking of Facebook, you do know they monitor, record, and turn over to police the things you write, right? Just making sure.

Your WiFi-enabled smartphone could be used to track where you go in stores, in the not-that-distant future. But maybe it’s not really that bad.

The NSA pinky-swears that there’s no domestic spying.

The DEA would very much like to snoop through the medical records of Oregon residents without the hassle of a warrant.

In a two-page paper, devoid of argument or analysis, the DHS concludes that it may seize travelers’ electronic devices for any reason at all. This power apparently extends 100 miles inland as well, which covers the entirety of Florida, Hawaii, several states in the northeast, and more than a handful of large cities.

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Link Roundup – 06/28/12

IT World has an article about web tracking, and who’s doing the most of it.

Facebook is being sued for $15 billion over their privacy practices.

Wired reports on legislation in New York to ban anonymous online speech.

Rhode Island has just repealed a 1989 law which made lying online illegal.

The CBSA has been directed to put on hold their plans to monitor Canadians’ at airports with cameras and microphones.

Iran is again blaming the U.S. and Israel (And the U.K. as well, why not?) for computer attacks and disruptions of the nuclear program.

Senator Charles Schumer is concerned with Google and Apple’s attempts to survey the world for their mapping services. Is it the invasion of privacy? Why, no. He’s concerned that Terrorists™ will use this information to do terroristy things.

Foreign workers are being advised to keep their papers on them when in Arizona.

American fundamentalist Christian schools are using the Loch Ness Monster to prove evolution is an evil secularist lie perpetrated by godless scientists, or something like that. I’m confident they’re proving something, but I don’t think it’s what they think they are.

Netflix may be compelled to provide closed-captioning on all their programming.

Jimmy Carter states what should be obvious: The United States’ policy of drone warfare, with its regular and numerous collateral victims, is a violation of various human rights, and undermines any claim we might have as a beacon of morality.

Link Roundup – 06/14/12

The USAF’s X-37B shuttle will soon come down from orbit. What they’ve had it doing for the best part of a year is a bit of a mystery.

James Freedmon has written a paper, appearing in Stanford Law Review, offering a strategy to help the U.S. government clamp down on organizations such as Wikileaks: Assert copyright over the documents.

The Megaupload case is going nowhere slowly. The U.S. government is now asserting that former Megaupload users may access their files, so long as they pay for it.

Senator Chuck Schumer hast gotten his undies all in a bunch concerning Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s plans to become a resident of Singapore, after renouncing his American citizenship. He has introduced S. 3205, which would amend the tax code to allow for a 30% capital gains tax on anyone “renouncing citizenship for a substantial tax avoidance purpose”, as well as barring them from reentering the United States. The text of the bill is worryingly vague. The statue is written to apply to pretty much whomever the government wishes for it to apply. I’m always deeply unimpressed when legislators craft law expressly for the purpose of settling a score with a specific party.

New York and California would like to force gun makers to microstamp the firing pins of their firearms, in an effort to make it easier to track down guns used in crimes. The New York Times has a piece concerning this pipe dream. There are quotes in the article from industry reps, explaining why this is a pointless idea. Which is nice, because it means I don’t have to repeat them.

Yet Another Rehash of Social Media and “E-privacy”. Again.

It wasn’t “news” the last time I wrote about social media and the degredation of privacy, and it isn’t this time either. It wouldn’t have even been “news” if I’d written on this a couple of weeks ago, when I meant to.

Paul Venezia wrote a good article comparing what is being done in digital space to analogous situations in physical space. The thrust seems to be that these sort of snooping activities, all too common now, are widespread mainly because they’re very easy to do, and there aren’t as many laws concerning them. Reading your email is somehow different from reading your physical mail beacuse, well… it just is. Internet snooping, while it would certainly seem to violate the legal protections of privacy, doesn’t violate the letter. And that makes it A-okay.

A Texas researcher added an app to Facebook, allowing you to name enemies. I haven’t kept up with the story, if there’s indeed a story to keep up with, but by now the app could well have been axed. It’s well known that Facebook has consistently told users to get bent regarding a ‘dislike’ feature. The advertisers-first angle is, of course, spot-on. Facebook is an artificially friendly(ish) place, and that’s good for Facebook’s customers. If the only available options are to either like something, or ignore it, that suits companies just fine. No one can ever hate them, and they’re all seperated only by the degree to which people love them. It’s hard to fault Facebook, really. Most of us would probably do something quite similar, if hawking users’ information would net us $4.27 billion dollars during the year.

On the topic of Facebook, the House shot down a bill that would have outlawed the practice of employers requesting Facebook login information. Also fun, they’re claiming rights to the word ‘book.’ And here’s a look at what Facebook sends police if they subpeona your account.

More in privacy and security news:

Found on Popehat, the Ninth Circuit rejects the government’s attempts to base criminal prosecution on violations of usage agreements. The majority opinion is a pretty entertaining read, too.

The NSA, fattened on post-9/11 dollars, is building a gigantic data center in Utah. I’ll have more to say on this in the future, because it’s a Really Big Deal, but for now I’m just somewhat alarmed. I’d encourage you to be alarmed as well. I’d also encourage you to download a copy of TrueCrypt, and encrypt all your data. Maybe your email too, just for giggles. If my tax dollars are in some small way paying for this, I want to make sure they’ve got plenty to keep them entertained. AES encryption with a suitably strong password should keep even the government busy for a while.

Get out your chemicals and rubber hose, the FBI wants to “advance the science of interrogation.”

The Increasingly Troublesome Baggage of Social Networking

Social networking is now the method by which most of us keep up with one another. I’ve done Myspace, Facebook, Google+, and have dipped my toe into LinkedIn. Most people in my age group have at least an active Facebook, and a handful maintain a G+ account as well. Myspace is a ghost town, but still has a few users. And who else remembers Friendster? Add to this YouTube, the various photo uploading sites, webcam services where you can chit-chat with complete strangers, the abomination unto God and man that is Twitter, and countless more.

These networks have given us all a forum in which to stand up and say “Hey! Look at me!” and we’ve wholeheartedly taken them up on this offer. Whatever part of the human mind makes this sort of thing irresistible has been expertly marketed to, and it should come as no surprise that the people who own these sites have found their own way to capitalize on our deep-seated need to tell everyone everything. We’ve solved a number of market research problems by telling the entire internet what we enjoy, think about, and want to do and buy. All this information divulged without ever having been formally requested. I have a great many friends who are constantly ‘liking’ this and that on Facebook, despite knowing full well that they’re acting as unpaid market research subjects, and that this benefits them in no concrete way.

It is by now fairly well known that Facebook retains your data forever. I began to have my own suspicions as to this being the case when the service would occasionally glitch, and display items from years ago. There are also allegations that Facebook collects information to build a skeletal “shadow profile” of people who are not (yet?) users of the service. And let’s not forget the troubling facial recognition software which “helps” you by automatically tagging people. The truly staggering amount of money that is made selling this information to marketers is an obvious motivation for harvesting and retaining it, yet there appears to be more to the story.

Articles are beginning to appear, mainly on tech-oriented websites, concerning usage of social media information by banks and other money-lenders, both to help assess you as a credit risk, and to additional people to whom they can market their products and services. More disconcerting still is the fact that the government increasingly monitors social networks for their own purposes. The Department of Homeland Security keeps tabs on people and news outlets, and monitors them for dissent. This information is then made available to the various other alphabet soup agencies. Not to be outdone, the FBI has expressed interest in a program to automatically collect information from various social and news sites, filter it, and plot the location from where it originated onto a map.

Facebook is certainly commonly thought to be the worst offender, but G+ should be catching up soon, as Google has changed its terms of service, and intends to fully integrate their various services, all in an effort to better serve you. Whether or not this will in fact better serve the end-user remains to be seen, but I would assume it will better serve Google’s pocketbook, and in the meantime could certainly streamline the process of information gathering by third parties.

Towards the end of this past year I decided to abandon the Facebook account that I’d had for several years, and to begin a new one under a pseudonym. I did this for various reasons, privacy being only one of them. This certainly won’t provide any deterrence to an entity with a genuine interest in discovering who I am, but it provides at least a small measure of separation between my name, and my online presence. Eben Moglen would argue that this still makes me part of the problem, and I’m inclined to agree with him, though I’m not yet sure what to do about it. The intelligent and principled thing to do would be to commit “web suicide” and never look back, but few of us would use these services to begin with if they didn’t provide some utility. However I have greatly scaled back my online persona, and have created my own personal policies regarding what sort of information I intend to provide. It’s not perfect, but it’s some kind of start.

The ever-building mountain of evidence that social networking is being exploited by various parties, none with our best interests in mind, should act as a reminder that it’s exceedingly foolish to depend upon another party to safeguard our information and maintain our privacy.

Additional links:

Europe v. Facebook
Electronic Privacy Information Center on ‘Facebook Privacy’