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Traitorware - Devices that backstab your privacy

Your digital camera may embed metadata into photographs with the camera's serial number or your location. Your printer may be incorporating a secret code on every page it prints which could be used to identify the printer and potentially the person who used it. If Apple puts a particularly creepy patent it has recently applied for into use, you can look forward to a day when your iPhone may record your voice, take a picture of your location, record your heartbeat, and send that information back to the mothership.

This is traitorware: devices that act behind your back to betray your privacy.

It's a very disturbing trend. Companies will collect data about you and do god knows what with that data without your permission. It may be hidden inside giant privacy policies and user agreements, but is this behavior ethical or proper? Hell no. It's a giant game of privacy cat and mouse. Right now we have to fight for every bit of privacy because lawmakers don't legislate fast enough or even at all. Companies have thrown ethics out the door and will screw customers at every step to help their bottom line. What do we have left? Investigating, exposing, hacking/disabling, proxies/vpn, firewalls and refusing to buy software that violates our privacy.

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Another Facebook Inspired Article on Privacy

Privacy isn't a technological binary that you turn off and on. Privacy is about having control of a situation. It's about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways. It's about creating certainty so that we can act appropriately. People still care about privacy because they care about control. Sure, many teens repeatedly tell me "public by default, private when necessary" but this doesn't suggest that privacy is declining; it suggests that publicity has value and, more importantly, that folks are very conscious about when something is private and want it to remain so. When the default is private, you have to think about making something public. When the default is public, you become very aware of privacy. And thus, I would suspect, people are more conscious of privacy now than ever. Because not everyone wants to share everything to everyone else all the time.

Worth reading and understanding. Main take away is privacy isn't dead, as much as some people may think it is. The fact all this is causing such a stir should be enough to understand people still value privacy.

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Gaydar - MIT Social Network Mining Predicts Sexuality

Using data from the social network Facebook, they made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay. They did this with a software program that looked at the gender and sexuality of a person’s friends and, using statistical analysis, made a prediction. The two students had no way of checking all of their predictions, but based on their own knowledge outside the Facebook world, their computer program appeared quite accurate for men, they said. People may be effectively “outing” themselves just by the virtual company they keep.

This sort of data mining is becoming increasingly popular and the spread of social networks means we give more and more about ourselves away either knowingly or unknowingly. I had not even considered the power to profile people in various ways without even looking at the contents of their profile but simply looking at their friends. Of course, the best results were a hybrid of the two methods, but still, the predictive power of such a thing is a marketer/government's dream and someone concerned with privacy's nightmare. Now, for most things there are simple recommendations for how you conduct yourself online that can help protect you, but this one I cannot really think of one. Does anyone have idea?

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Iran Election, Privacy and Proxies

As most informed citizens of the world now now, Iran is having a lot of turmoil over its recent elections. The most interesting part about it (ok perhaps second most interesting after the chance of a potential revolution in Iran) is the power of the internet and how news and information has traveled. The story was largely ignored by major news networks (looking at you CNN) but it gained life on Twitter (@ProxyHost now on twitter). They re-scheduled maintenance around the event and news from Iran has been all but cut off with the exception of Twitter.

Why is Twitter the exception?
*Open network - Anyone can join
*Open API - Tons of applications, services and proxies can access and post information

I think those are the two main reasons. The first gave rise to a service and the second cemented it's power for the users. With a completely open API anyone around the world can access it, build apps and allow other services to interact on their behalf. So let's say government Y blocks access to twitter.com, they still have to block every proxy (web service that allows you to interact with the service/post information to it/etc) to effectively shut the service down. Now that Twitter has grown and developers have taken the challenge of building applications for it on, it simply can't be stopped. News, leaks and videos pop up onto the service constantly no matter how hard a government tries to stop it.

Proxy Servers used as evidence of 'sophistication in committing a crime'

The US government has dropped - for now - a plan to classify the use of 'proxy' servers as evidence of sophistication in committing a crime.

Proxy servers are computers that disguise the source of Internet traffic. They are commonly used for legitimate purposes, like evading Internet censors and working from home. But they can also be used to hide from law enforcement.

Just like I could use a kitchen knife to cut veggies or kill someone. Should we ban kitchen knives? Proxies are important today. Even western governments have begun censoring content (see wikileaks about these lists). While I don't promote or condone the content listed at many of the censored sites I think it is a step in the wrong direction and the wrong way to handle such things. We have law enforcement which should investigate crimes, not block all uses of technology/create arcane laws to 'protect' citizens from the potential harm. We might as well all jump into bubbles and never experience life because that is where the ultra strong paternalistic state seems to want to push us.

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WikiLeaks on Western Internet Censorship

For every noble human desire, in this case, the strong protective feelings most adults have towards children, opportunists such as Senator Conroy and his German equivalent, CDU Minister Ursula von der Leyen, stand ready to exploit these feelings for their own power and position.

Von der Leyen apparently hopes to raise her profile before a national election by promoting a national censorship "solution" to child pornography.

But forcibly preventing the average parent from seeing evidence of what may be an abuse against a child is not the same as stopping abuses against children. Absense of evidence is not evidence of absense.

Censoring the evidence promotes abuses by driving them underground, where they are difficult to track. Such schemes divert resources and political will away from proven policing solutions which target producers and consumers.

Children depend, even more than their parents, on the quality and viability of government. An assault against those systems and ideals which keep government honest and accountable - public oversight, natural justice, and protection from state censorship - is not just an affront to Enlightment ideals, but an assult on the long term interests of children and adults alike.

The Eternal Value of Privacy

Two proverbs say it best: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? ("Who watches the watchers?") and "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." Watch someone long enough, and you'll find something to arrest -- or just blackmail -- with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies -- whoever they happen to be at the time.

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.

Internet Providers Quietly Test Expanded Tracking of Web Use to Target Advertising

The online behavior of a small but growing number of computer users in the United States is monitored by their Internet service providers, who have access to every click and keystroke that comes down the line.

The companies harvest the stream of data for clues to a person's interests, making money from advertisers who use the information to target their online pitches.

The practice represents a significant expansion in the ability to track a household's Web use because it taps into Internet connections, and critics liken it to a phone company listening in on conversations. But the companies involved say customers' privacy is protected because no personally identifying details are released.

The extent of the practice is difficult to gauge because some service providers involved have declined to discuss their practices. Many Web surfers, moreover, probably have little idea they are being monitored.
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Is big brother watching?

The other important contributory factor is the strength and moral independence of the nation's Data Protection Authority, which is resolute in its determination to uphold the following principles enshrined in the Greek constitution:

  • Every person's home is a sanctuary
  • The private and family life of the individual is inviolable
  • Secrecy of letters and all other forms of free correspondence or communication shall be absolutely inviolable

The authority has real teeth. In December 2006 it fined mobile phone company Vodafone 76m euros for bugging more than 100 top Greek officials, including Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, around the time of the Olympics.

Vodafone's network planning manager in Greece, Costas Tsalikides, was found hanged not long after he informed his superiors he had discovered that spying software had been secretly installed in the company's system.

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That little segment was about Greece and how they have the best privacy laws in Europe and the world. Nice to see at least one country still cares about the right of privacy as it seems to erode from so many other countries.

IP blocking

Got an interesting email from Anonymizer today. I used to be a subscriber to their service and this seemed like an interesting offering.

What is IP Blocking?
Because IP addresses are public and attributable, it's easy for Web site administrators to know who visits their site. When you conduct online research, you share potentially confidential information each time you visit a competitor's Web site and reveal your focus of interest.

Furthermore, any target site that recognizes visitors as belonging to a "competitor" can block access, or worse redirect you to cloaked sites designed to display false or outdated information created specifically to mislead and spoil your research.

Even if you are using a non-attributable IP address from Anonymous Surfing™, the volume and pattern of your traffic will raise a red flag of suspect activities to Web administrators who would then be able to block you out.

5 Best Practices for Conducting Competitive Intelligence & Data Harvesting Online

1. Spread traffic across as many days as possible, and at least over a 24 hour period. This keeps the instances of IP addresses seen in the Web analytic logs to a minimum.

2. Spread traffic across many IP addresses. If you are going to connect to the same site repetitively or use robots to harvest data, you need more than a handful of IP addresses. Web administrators will quickly be able to recognize a pattern and block your IP’s from accessing their site.