Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘privacy’ Category

Out (and Outage) at Facebook

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RE: Yesterday’s multi-hour outage at Facebook, which impacted Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Oculus Go.

What The Verge’s T.C. Sottek said in a headline from just a few minutes ago: “Facebook owes us an explanation.”

Yesterday, somewhere in the sixth hour of Facebook’s record outage, I sat dumbfounded alongside my fellow editors at The Verge. We wondered how it was possible that the largest and most influential technology company in the world could have a day-long service disruption and basically say nothing about it except for a curt and cryptic tweet. Facebook eventually said that the outage was the result of a “server configuration change” — an impenetrable combination of words that translates to “we played ourselves.” The company wasn’t being attacked, so why not just come clean early?

Facebook’s loss was apparently Telegram’s gain. Telegram is a private messaging platform that apparently saw 3M new users added within the last 24 hours, according to a report from TechCrunch.

I don’t think the outage meant the world was coming to an end or anything, but as a regular user and someone curious, I’d like to see a more robust explanation of what exactly happened. 

Sottek explains:

The Verge, The New York Times, and others tried to get more information out of Facebook when following up for comment. After Facebook issued its statement today, we asked the company to explain more about the outage, including the real scope of the problem. How many countries did it affect? How many people were disrupted? Facebook ignored our questions, referring us to its generic statement and apology.

In light of Facebook’s long list of wrongdoings, a temporary service outage might not seem like a big deal. It’s even good material for jokes about Facebook. But what if we took Facebook seriously? What if, as an experiment, we charitably assumed all of the things Facebook says about itself are true?

This is the explanation we got (ahem, ahem, via a Tweet from @facebook):

Yesterday, as a result of a server configuration change, many people had trouble accessing our apps and services. We’ve now resolved the issues and our systems are recovering. We’re very sorry for the inconvenience and appreciate everyone’s patience.

Our systems are recovering. What, did they catch pneumonia or something? Did they not drink enough fluids?

Piling on, today Facebook announced two key execs were leaving the company, Chief Product Officer Chris Cox and VP of WhatsApp Chris Daniels.

Explanation: Cox wants to do something different (he’s been with the company over a decade) and Daniels…well, Mark Z enjoyed working with him but doesn’t really tell us in his message to the world what Daniels is up to next.

Has the post privacy/Cambridge Analytica/6-hour outage Facebook brain drain begun??

Written by turbotodd

March 14, 2019 at 4:06 pm

Posted in 2019, privacy

Tagged with

Smarter Assistance

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Happy Friday, and Happy Holidays.

For those of you who have already started fleeing to parts beyond, here’s hoping you did not get caught up in the drone traffic at Gatwick Airport outside of London.

I guess that whole geofencing thing to keep the drones out…yeah, that’s not working out so much.

Me, I’m firmly ensconced in Turbo North, praying for the weather to stay warm enough over the weekend to follow a little white ball around.

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep up with the breakneck pace of tech news that was coming out this week.

This one caught my eye from Loup Ventures, where they conducted their annual smart speaker IQ test.

They conducted the test by asking each of the four smart speakers — Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana — 800 questions each, and then measured how well they answered correctly and/or understood the query.

Google Assistant came out on top, answering the questions correctly 87.9 percent of the time and understanding the query 100 percent of the time!

Surprisingly (at least to me, anyways), Siri came in second at 74.6 and 99.6 percent, respectively, and Alexa third, at 72.5 and 99 percent. Cortana was dead last at 63.4 and 99.4 percent.

Meanwhile, if you’re a user of Slack, be prepared to not be cut any if you visited or live in a U.S. sanctioned country recently.

The Verge reported yesterday that Slack is banning some users with links to Iran, even if they’ve left the country. 

“In order to comply with export control and economic sanctions laws…Slack prohibits unauthorized use of its products and services in certain sanctioned countries,” the notice from Slack read. “We’ve identified your team/account as originating from one of these countries and are closing the account effective immediately.” Users received no warning, and had no time to create archives or otherwise back up data.

That right there is the long arm emoji of Uncle Sam hard at work!

And speaking of big guvment, there’s this on the sub-continent of India today: India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has authorized ten government agencies, including intelligence and law enforcement, to monitor, intercept, and decrypt data on all computers in the country. 

The governmental order detailing the powers immediately drew strong criticism from both India’s privacy activists and its opposition parties, who said it enabled blanket state surveillance and violated the fundamental right to privacy that India’s 1.3 billion citizens are constitutionally guaranteed.

People who don’t comply might face up to seven years in prison and a fine, according to India’s Information Technology Act, which the order falls under.

The order caused a major dispute in India’s parliament, with members of the opposition calling it “unconstitutional, undemocratic, and an assault on fundamental rights.”

How come all of a sudden almost every single tech story seems to also have a government or public policy angle?!

That would be a question best responded to by Facebook’s PR team, the next great breeding ground for crisis communications talent.

Okay, back to the salt mines…Happy Holidays, everyone!

Written by turbotodd

December 21, 2018 at 9:40 am

Google in the Hot Box

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai is in the hotbox today on Capitol Hill as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee.

I’ve had some of the later testimony on in the background, and there have already been lots of questions about data and data sharing, preloaded apps, privacy, DoubleClick cookies and the merging of offline data (which I found sooo 1999!).

The New York Times is following much more closely, and here are some highlights of what they’ve observed:

Republican lawmakers displayed the party’s growing distrust toward Google, raising a broad array of tough questions on the search giant’s market power, plans to relaunch service in China, and whether the site suppresses conservative content. At the core of their questions was a concern over the company’s commitment to free expression.

Kevin McCarthy, House Republican Leader, had this to say:

“All of these topics — competition, censorship, bias, and others — point to one fundamental question that demands the nation’s attention. Are America’s technology companies serving as instruments of freedom or instruments of control?”

There was also discussion around liberal-leaning biases of employees and whether or not those biases “affect[ed] filtering decisions for its search engine,” a claim many right-leaning leaders have suggested in the past.

Location information was also prevalent, and Texas Republican Ted Poe held up his own smartphone and asked Pichai if Google was tracking his whereabouts if we walked to the other side of the room.

Pichai’s response: “Not by default,” suggesting it depended on the congressman’s app settings.

The Times also observed that Google’s been taking heat both internally and externally for “Project Dragonfly,” it’s initiative to build a censored search engine that could be used in the Chinese market.

My observation: Regulation of American Internet giants is not a question of if, but when, and how much. They’ve amassed too much personal data far too quickly and treated it with reckless abandon, and now the question becomes what measures can an American regulatory regime take that has both teeth for the consumer but doesn’t stifle innovation for industry.  

It’s a tall order and a complicated ask, but they, that’s why all those lobbyists get paid the big bucks! ; )

Written by turbotodd

December 11, 2018 at 12:43 pm

Facebook’s Portal Doublethink

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CNET is reporting that Facebook’s new home smart video assistants, Portal and Portal Plus, are now available for sale on the Portal online store, Amazon and Best Buy.

Facebook Portal Plus is selling for $349, and has 1080p HD res and a 15.6-inch screen. The $199 Portal has a 720p, 10.1-inch screen. Both serve as Alexa speakers as well as offer Facebook’s “Hey, Portal” (so original!) voice service.

Yes, Facebook’s Portal product uses Alexa service because, well, why reinvent the home assistant and copying is the sincerest form of flattery.

As for a Facebook video product being unleashed into the privacy of your home??  Well, I would have used to say read Facebook’s privacy policy with care…

A post from Facebook on privacy and security for Portal alleges the following:

  • Facebook does not listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. This means nothing you say on a Portal video call is accessed by Facebook or used for advertising.
  • Portal video calls are encrypted, so your calls are secure.
  • Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t identify who you are.

And as to how they use information from Portal:

  • Portal is integrated with some of your Messenger and Facebook experiences. When you use Portal, we process the same kinds of information as when you use Facebook products on your other devices. Some of this information, including the fact that you logged into your account or how often you use a feature or app, may be used to inform the ads you see across Facebook.
  • While we don’t listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls, or use this information to target ads, we do process some device usage information to understand how Portal is being used and to improve the product.

Read the full post for more details here.

At least one technology journalist, The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern, isn’t having any of it. She wrote:

I just couldn’t bring myself to set up Facebook’s camera-embedded screen in the privacy of my family’s home. Can you blame me when you look at the last 16 months?

The personal data of millions of users was accessed for political purposes without consent. Whoops. False news articles were deliberately spread across our feeds to hoax us. Whoops again. Hackers gained access to nearly 50 million accounts, the largest-ever security breach at the social network. Giant whoopsies.

However, she did go on to write that “The Portal+, with its 15.6-inch giant rotatable screen, is one of the most immersive video-chatting experiences I’ve ever had.”

Doublethink?

Written by turbotodd

November 8, 2018 at 9:33 am

Posted in 2018, privacy, video

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Another Facebook Breach

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Happy Friday!

Well, depending on who you ask.

The BBC, Gizmodo, and others are reporting a new Facebook data breach, this time of private Facebook messages of at least 81,000 unfortunate souls.

It’s being reported the culprit was a Chrome Extension exploit, and is apparently not related to the more widespread September breach previously reported of 120 million Facebook accounts.

Some details:

The hackers, who may be Russian since they reached out to the BBC Russian Service, appear to have the Facebook messages of at least 81,000 people, mostly of Russians and Ukrainians, but also from people in the U.S., UK, and Brazil, according to the BBC.

“Browsers like Chrome can be very secure, but browser extensions can introduce serious gaps in their armor. The addition of browser extensions increases what is otherwise a small attack surface. Malicious extensions can be used to intercept and manipulate the data passing through the browser,” said Rick Holland, CISO of Digital Shadows, which helped the BBC analyze the breach.

As to the content of those messages:

Many of the messages are relatively benign and include simple chats about going on vacation and attending concerts. But as you’d expect, there are also more sensitive discussions, including “intimate correspondence between two lovers,” as the BBC describes it.

Hoped all 81K Facebook users whose private messages were sold!

Written by turbotodd

November 2, 2018 at 3:24 pm

Tim Cook and the Data Industrial Complex

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TechCrunch is reporting that Apple CEO Tim Cook has begun to basically throw down the gauntlet with respect to the global trade in digital data, suggesting that it has exploded into a “data industrial complex.”

“Our own information — from the everyday to the deeply personal — is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” warned Cook. “These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold.

“Taken to the extreme this process creates an enduring digital profile and lets companies know you better than you may know yourself. Your profile is a bunch of algorithms that serve up increasingly extreme content, pounding our harmless preferences into harm.”

This discussion came about as a result of a keynote speech Cook was giving to the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels.

Cook also addressed the issue of artificial intelligence, saying that “at its core this technology promises to learn from people individually to benefit us all. But advancing AI by collecting huge personal profiles is laziness, not efficiency.”

“For artificial intelligence to be truly smart it must respect human values — including privacy. If we get this wrong, the dangers are profound. We can achieve both great artificial intelligence and great privacy standards. It is not only a possibility — it is a responsibility.”

I find it fascinating that Cook tied up AI and privacy. He’s clearly looking well ahead to where some of the next major digital battlegroups are likely to take place, and the raw horsepower AI could bring to privacy violations.

Cook went on to say that Apple is “in full support of a comprehensive, federal privacy law in the United States.

He argued that a U.S. privacy law should prioritize four things:

  1. Data minimization — “the right to have personal data minimized”, saying companies should “challenge themselves” to de-identify customer data or not collect it in the first place
  2. Transparency — “the right to knowledge”, saying users should “always know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for, saying it’s the only way to “empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn’t”. “Anything less is a shame,” he added
  3. The right to access — saying companies should recognize that “data belongs to users”, and it should be made easy for users to get a copy of, correct and delete their personal data
  4. The right to security — saying “security is foundational to trust and all other privacy rights”

Over the past several years, Apple has positioned itself as a protector of digital privacy rights. However, it should be noted that  Apple is also far less dependent on digital advertising revenue as are other key players in the tech space (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.)

Written by turbotodd

October 24, 2018 at 11:49 am

Bigger, Better, Badder Pixels

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Well, uh, that was awkward. 

Just a day after Google had to come clean about its Google+ privacy debacle (and announced the imminent demise of G+ for consumers once and for all), Google announced some new members of its hardware family.

I’m an iPhone guy, but I did purchase a Google Pixelbook chromebook earlier this year that I’ve been very happy with, so at minimum I wanted to pass along the speeds and feeds from yesterday’s Google Pixel 3/XL Android smartphone announcements.

The Verge has this tight breakdown:

The Pixel 3 starts at $799 for 64GB, with the 3 XL costing $899. Add $100 to either for the 128GB storage option. That’s a $150 and $50 premium over last year’s models, respectively.. Core specs for both include a Snapdragon 845, 4GB RAM (there’s no option for more), Bluetooth 5.0, and front-facing stereo speakers. Also inside is a new Titan M security chip, which Google says provides “on-device protection for login credentials, disk encryption, app data, and the integrity of the operating system.” Preorders for both phones begin today, and buyers will get six months of free YouTube Music service. The Pixels will officially launch on October 18th.

The Pixel 3 and 3 XL both feature larger screens than last year’s models thanks to slimmed down bezels — and the controversial notch in the case of the bigger phone. The 3 XL has a 6.3-inch display (up from six inches on the 2 XL), while the regular 3 has a 5.5-inch screen (up from five inches). Overall, though, the actual phones are very similar in size and handling to their direct predecessors.

And Google’s own blog post explains how the Pixel 3 will help you keep from talking to those undesirable humans you’re trying to avoid:

…Starting out in English in the U.S., Pixel 3’s on-device AI helps you screen phone calls and avoid spam calls. Imagine you’re at dinner with family or in a meeting at work and a call from an unknown caller comes in. Just tap on “Screen call” to find out who’s calling and why, as well as other information (as prompted by you). You’ll immediately see a transcript of the caller’s responses so that you can then decide whether to pick up, respond by tapping a quick reply (e.g., “I’ll call you back later”), or mark the call as spam and dismiss. Processing the call details on-device means these experiences are fast, private to you, and use up less battery.

Second, Pixel users in the U.S. will be the first to get access to an experimental new Google Assistant feature, powered by Duplex technology, which helps you complete real-world tasks over the phone, like calling a restaurant to book a table. This feature will initially be available later this year in New York, Atlanta, Phoenix and the San Francisco Bay Area to help people book restaurant reservations and will roll out to other U.S. cities in the future.

Because why talk to even yet another human to make a restaurant reservation when your Google Assistant can do all the work?

Written by turbotodd

October 10, 2018 at 9:44 am

Posted in 2018, google, privacy, smartphone

Tagged with ,

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