• YouTube users beware: Your viewing habits can be tracked

    Despite YouTube’s attempts to safeguard user anonymity, intelligence agencies, hackers, and online advertising companies can still determine which videos a user is watching. Researchers developed an algorithm to determine if someone had watched a specific video from a set of suspicious, terror-related videos. Intelligence agencies could access this technology for tracking terrorists or other suspicious individuals. Internet marketing companies could track the number and make-up of viewers watching an ad.

  • Vibrator maker to pay out $3 million for tracking users' sexual activity

    We-Vibe, the sex toy maker, has agreed to pay customers up to $7,600 each selling them a “smart vibrator” which tracked the customers’ sexual habits without their knowledge. A class-action lawsuit was filed against in an Illinois federal court against We-Vibe’s parent company, Standard Innovation. Standard Innovation has been ordered to pay a total of $3 million to owners of the vibrator who had also used the app associated with the vibrators (the tracking of customers was done by the app).

  • New guide helps travelers protect their digital information at the border

    Increasingly frequent and invasive searches at the U.S. border have raised questions for those who want to protect the private data on their computers, phones, and other digital devices. A new guide released last week by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) gives travelers the facts they need in order to prepare for border crossings while protecting their digital information.

  • If surveillance cameras are to be kept in line, the rules will have to keep pace with technology

    The growing prevalence of cameras and greater understanding of the many ways in which we are surveilled has led many – including the current commissioner, Tony Porter, to voice concern that Britain is “sleepwalking into a surveillance state”. This raises critical questions about whether we can be confident that all these cameras are being used in a way the public would approve of – and if not, whether regulation can force CCTV operators into line. In the future, surveillance camera processes will become more opaque, more sophisticated, and potentially integrated with data from a variety of sources, including social media, meaning decisions about who to survey and who determines intensive surveillance will be determined by big data and algorithms. Any regulatory framework that does not or cannot keep up with the pace of change will soon become worthless.

  • Building privacy right into software code

    It is the programmer’s job to enforce these privacy restrictions. Because privacy-related code is scattered throughout all the programs Facebook uses to run its systems, the programmer must be vigilant everywhere. To make sure nobody finds out where I am unless I want them to, the programmer must tell the system to check my privacy settings everywhere it uses my location value, directly or indirectly. The best way to avoid these problems is to take the task of privacy protection away from humans and entrust it to the computers themselves. We can – and should – develop programming models that allow us to more easily incorporate security and privacy into software. Prior research in what is called “language-based information flow” looks at how to automatically check programs to ensure that sloppy programming is not inadvertently violating privacy or other data-protection rules.

  • Tech coalition fights DHS proposal to collect social media passwords

    Earlier this week, the Center for Democracy & Technology announced the creation of a coalition of tech companies, NGOs, and privacy advocates to oppose efforts by DHS to collect social media passwords from individuals entering the United States. The coalition focuses on visa applicants who might be compelled to share their passwords under new DHS policies.

  • The problem with U.S. secrets

    Secrets are often harmless, but they can prompt major problems when they happen at the highest levels of government. So what are the consequences when a U.S. president is dangerously preoccupied with secrecy? One expert says that question is particularly relevant with a new administration taking charge. She said that every other administration withheld some crucial information, whether about Woodrow Wilson’s stroke, Richard Nixon’s burglaries, or Bill Clinton’s affairs. “Secrecy turns out to be the president’s greatest power,” she said. “And if not controlled, it’s also the greatest threat to democracy.”

  • Making it harder to track Bitcoin transactions

    Bitcoin was initially conceived as a way for people to exchange money anonymously. But then it was discovered that anyone could track all Bitcoin transactions and often identify the parties involved. Researchers have developed a Bitcoin-compatible system that could make it significantly more difficult for observers to identify or track the parties involved in any given Bitcoin transaction.

  • Consumers ignorant of tracking methods used by online advertisers

    The general public has a poor understanding of the workings of online behavioral advertising, and the privacy implications behind the information that advertisers gather. Researchers found that two-thirds of the consumers they interviewed in the study did not realize that most online advertising involved third-party entities and advertising networks that track a user’s browsing activities across websites to provide targeted ads.

  • “Anonymized” Web browsing history may not be anonymous after all

    Raising further questions about privacy on the internet, researchers have released a study showing that a specific person’s online behavior can be identified by linking anonymous Web browsing histories with social media profiles. The new research shows that anyone with access to browsing histories — a great number of companies and organizations —can identify many users by analyzing public information from social media accounts.

  • Personal technology aids in criminal proceedings, but poses privacy, rights risks

    Personal technology such as fitness trackers and smartphones that record users’ daily activities are likely to be used increasingly in criminal investigations, raising questions about individuals’ rights that the legal system is not yet fully prepared to address. Information such as location, travel patterns, and even physiological details such as heart rate and activity levels could be retrieved from devices as a part of criminal investigations. Such technology offers new tools to law enforcement, but raises unique issues regarding important constitutional rights such as self-incrimination, according to the report.

  • Health wearable devices pose new consumer and privacy risks

    Watches, fitness bands, and so-called “smart” clothing, linked to apps and mobile devices, are part of a growing “connected-health” system in the U.S., promising to provide people with more efficient ways to manage their own health. These personal health wearable devices, which are used to monitor heart rates, sleep patterns, calories, and even stress levels, raise new privacy and security risks, according to a new report.

  • Malware covertly turns PCs into eavesdropping devices

    Researchers have demonstrated malware that can turn computers into perpetual eavesdropping devices, even without a microphone. Using SPEAKE(a)R, malware that can covertly transform headphones into a pair of microphones, the researchers show how commonly used technology can be exploited.

  • Can you be anonymous on the Internet? No, you cannot

    If you still think you can be anonymous on the Internet, a team of Stanford and Princeton researchers has news for you: You cannot. Researchers say most people do not realize how much information they are leaving behind as they browse the Web. Online privacy risks are not new, but the researchers say their research is “another nail in the coffin” to the idea that the average person with the average Web browser can be private online.

  • We are watching you: U.K. CCTV strategy

    There are over six million CCTV cameras in the United Kingdom – one CCTV camera for every ten citizens. This number does not include body-cam footage, unmanned aerial vehicles, or the automatic number plate recognition system. Britain has 20 percent of the world’s cameras despite being home to less than one percent of its population. In 2015, turnover for the video and CCTV surveillance sector topped £2.12 billion in the United Kingdom. The government has just released a draft national surveillance camera strategy for England and Wales.