Just when you thought you couldn't get tracked any closer...
If you happen to be walking in Ireland's capital, you may not have noticed the 10 new advertisements placed in the city by the ad-tech firm Orb, but the ads noticed you.
The outdoor ads feature motion-detection cameras that record the faces and other physical attributes of passersby. According to an April 7, 2017, article by Irish news service RTE, the ads track pedestrians' eye movements, calculate the people's age and gender, and interpret their mood based on facial features.
Advertisers collect the data and use it to measure how engaging the ad is for its target audience. (And I do mean target, as in, "We've got you in the crosshairs.") The advertisers intend to connect the ads to the mobile phones of people who opt in to be identified whenever they are near the "dynamic digital display ad."
Privacy advocates are concerned that people who consent to the tracking are not fully informed of the implications of the data collection. No guidelines are in place for the storage and future uses of the personal data scooped up by the ads.
How many ultrasonic beacons are running on your phone?
When you open certain applications on your phone or device, they track everything you do and everywhere you go -- and often continue to do so after you've closed the app. Cross-device tracking is used by Google's Universal Analytics and Facebook's Conversion Pixel advertising platforms to combine your phone, browser, and other activities into a single comprehensive profile.
Researchers Daniel Arp, Erwin Quiring, Christian Wressnegger, and Konrad Rieck of Technische Universitat Braunschweig in Brunswick, Germany, report on a new, more-insidious mobile tracking technique that uses ultrasonic beacons. (pdf)
The researchers discovered 234 Android applications "that are constantly listening for ultrasonic beacons in the background without the user’s knowledge." These include apps from McDonalds and Krispy Kreme. The scientists also detected ultrasonic beacons broadcasting in "various web media content" and in four of 35 stores in two European cities, where they were being used for location tracking of customers.
The beacons present four distinct privacy threats, according to the scientists:
The researchers point out that there are many shortcomings to the beacons' current ability to track people, and there are also several countermeasures available to stymie the tracking -- once people become aware of it. They offer a tool that scans your phone's apps to detect any that are using "ultrasonic side channels." Unfortunately, the purveyors of ultrasonic beacons can avoid detection by scanners via simple code changes.
The privacy threat posed by ultrasonic beacons is just appearing on people's radar screens, according to the researchers. The invisible tracking by phone and device apps is happening now, and it is expected to be extended to television, radio, and digital media in the future. Now you've got another very good reason to think twice before you install that cute "free" app.
How to end poverty: Make poor people disappear
The shocking departure of the leader of a vital federal agency imperils the republic.
No, not former FBI director James Comey, whose May 9, 2017, firing has drawn parallels to President Richard Nixon's Watergate crimes. On the same day as Comey's firing, U.S. Census Bureau director John H. Thompson resigned. The 2020 census was already threatened by "a bureau starved for funding," according to Wired's Aarian Marshall in a May 11, 2017, article.
The U.S. Constitution mandates a decennial census, the results of which are used to allocate seats in the House of Representatives. The census data has many other important uses, however -- including the provision of statistics that serve as the bedrock for research by government agencies and private industry alike.
Marshall quotes Gary Dean Painter, an economist for the University of Southern California Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, who says the government may be attempting "to obfuscate the viewing of what’s happening in particular places by not collecting the right types of data."
According to Marshall, the Census Bureau received $140 million less than it requested in 2016. The pattern has been for the the bureau's budget to be increased in the years preceding a census, but the current administration's proposed budget "has flatlined it." Thompson gave no reason for his resignation, but less than a week before he quit, he told a "combative" congressional committee that the bureau needed $309 million in additional IT equipment.
Marshall quotes a former Census Bureau chief who believes Thompson's resignation is "a big problem," but he concludes that there is ample time to ensure the census is conducted completely and accurately. Still, there are many reasons to make doubly sure the once-a-decade count gets the attention it deserves.
The inherent unreliability of IP addresses to ID suspected criminals
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has devised recommendations for law enforcement and courts whenever IP addresses are used to identify suspects of crimes (pdf). Police often use IP addresses to show probable cause when requesting a search warrant or arrest warrant from the court. The EFF points out the many irregularities in IP addresses when used to ID suspects. The group believes such information should be treated with the same precautions as are applied to anonymous "unreliable informants."
For police, the EFF recommends that more investigation be done to confirm the physical location of the device associated with the IP address. Make sure the address isn't referring to a default location rather than an actual one, and verify the location with the internet service provider that assigned the address. It's also possible that more than one party is associated with the IP address, and that the address is used by a Tor, VPN, or proxy server.
The EFF's advice for courts' reliance on IP addresses to demonstrate probable cause includes questioning the accuracy of IP location information. Confirm that the police conducted further research to verify the physical location apart from the IP address alone, and make sure the police obtained the IP address from the authorized ISP or another legal source.
A privacy toolkit designed to protect kids: Hey, parents! Are you worried about who is collecting, storing, and selling private information about your children? The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy (PCSP) and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) have released the Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy: A Practical Guide for Protecting Your Child's Sensitive School Data from Snoops, Hackers, and Marketers. Common Dreams' Nadia Prupis writes about the toolkit in a May 16, 2017, article.
According to Prupis, the toolkit was developed in response to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in April 2017 that found surveillance of students' devices and the software they use in class begins in grade school. Information being collected about young students includes their names, birth dates, browsing histories, grades, and disciplinary records. Kinda gives a whole new meaning to the old threat, "This will go on your permanent record!"
Facebook is 'a giant behavioral tracking network for direct marketers': That's according to a tweet by Digital Content Next CEO Jason Kint. The tweet links to a technical report (pdf) issued by the Belgian Commission for the Protection of Privacy. The report found that Facebook tracks users and non-users alike, without permission. The company continues its tracking even after you've deactivated your account. The researchers also identified serious flaws in Facebook's mechanism for opting out of tracking and targeted ads. No big surprise.
The Privacy Commission responded to the report in a May 16, 2017, position paper that charges Facebook with failing to acquire users' valid consent, as well as with violating other legal requirements. Also not surprising.
(As a reminder, here's a June 17, 2014, article by ProPublica's Julia Angwin describing Facebook's history of tracking users and non-users alike.)
Does 45 have Alzheimer's? That's the question AlterNet's Kali Holloway asks in a May 16, 2017, article. One observer notes the similarities between Trump's outrageous behavior and the "dementia and general cognitive decline" experienced by President Ronald Reagan during his second term. Reagan wasn't diagnosed with Alzheimer's until he was 83, years after his last term concluded, but he showed clear symptoms of the disease even in his first term, according to analysts.
The best part of Holloway's post is the examination by the Daily Beast's Alex Leo of a single sentence delivered by 45 at a campaign stop in South Carolina:
You gotta ask yourself, "If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck...."