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Google engineer fired for snooping

 by John Moe // Posted: 09/15/10 11:12 AM

Google has fired engineer David Barksdale for accessing private information from users’ Google Voice, Gmail, and instant messaging accounts. The users were apparently teenagers. Barksdale was working as a site reliability engineer or SRE at the company’s Kirkland, Washington facility. SREs have access to some of the company users’ most private information. Barksdale was evidently bragging to an online group he belonged to about being able to do this kind of thing. He evidently took pride in his hacking skills. Gawker broke the story.
And it seems this isn’t the first time it’s happened, either.

Comments | Filed Under: google privacy

Burglars take advantage of Facebook status information

 by John Moe // Posted: 09/13/10 12:11 PM

Three industrious burglars in Nashua, New Hampshire have reportedly made off with up to $200,000 in stolen cash and merchandise. They did it the new-fashioned way: checking Facebook for people who said they were out of town on vacation and then going and getting stuff. They were caught. Perhaps it’s not a good idea to set your status on Facebook to be able to be seen by everyone and then say you’re out of town. But perhaps this is a form of Darwinism too.

Comments | Filed Under: Social media facebook law privacy Web Culture

Microsoft used as tool of repression by Russian government

 by John Moe // Posted: 09/13/10 12:02 PM

A New York Times article got plenty of buzz in tech circles over the weekend. It’s about how the Russian government is using the construct of the Microsoft license agreement to crack down and silence dissenters and activist groups. What happens is the authorities will raid an office or organizing location under the premises of making sure that all copies of Windows are licensed. Then they take the computers belonging to those groups, on which is all their organizing information. Lawyers for Microsoft have said they support the government’s efforts, saying it’s necessary to stop software piracy. But now the company is backtracking, saying they’re concerned about the situation and vow to have closer oversight of legal issues in Russia.

Comments | Filed Under: world law privacy

Want users to tell all??? Have an ugly site.

Posted: 09/03/10 12:18 PM

The scuzzier-looking the site, the more users may reveal about themselves. That’s the finding of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. They set up identical questionnaires at differently designed sites.

The naughty devil won the day.  Volunteers responding on that site were almost twice as likely to admit to having engaged in “illicit” or “socially questionable” activities. And they were also more likely to type in their e-mail addresses.

Watch for more red-on-blue flashing fonts and smiley icons at a marketing site near you.

Comments | Filed Under: marketing privacy research web design jb

Tag your tots: RFID chips for preschoolers

Posted: 09/01/10 01:42 PM

By Steve Henn

So what do you do if you are a hard working school superintendent whose school system’s so strapped for cash that you don’t have enough teachers or aids to keep track of your pre-k kids, or make sure they actually eat lunch?

Seattle Municipal Archives

Well, according to the AP, Contra Costa County in California used a $50,000 federal grant to buy jerseys with RFID tags to help keep tabs on their tots. School officials say the system will save the district thousands of hours of staff time and could pay for itself in less than a year.

But if you can’t keep track of your kids, can you really expect to teach them to read?

Comments | Filed Under: rfid education privacy children

India's security services eye Google and Skype

Posted: 09/01/10 06:00 AM

Blackberry has cut a deal with security officials in India, allowing them access e-mail and data sent using BlackBerry’s network. But the Indian government isn’t done yet. It’s now applying pressure to some other high-tech players.

Indian officials say they’re exploring ways to track the contents of conversations on Google’s video chat service and on Skype.

This spat is just the latest international dispute over internet privacy.

We speak with Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University who specializes in privacy and security, to understand what - if anything - security services gain when they try to mine massive amounts of information in search of terrorists.

Comments | Filed Under: India Google Skype data mining privacy security

Soon, a trip to the airport might mean a skeleton scan

Posted: 08/24/10 12:30 PM

Yesterday, body scan images were in the news thanks to a handful of U.S. Senators who want to know why 35,000 images taken of people walking into a federal courthouse in Florida were stored.

Today, Bruce Schneier noted a story on his blog about skeletal scans. The Wright State Research Institute is working on a system that would scan skeletal structures and match them with previously scanned skeletons. They say they could have this technology ready to go in a year, but it’s not going to make a difference until they have developed a database of skeletal scans for comparison. 

Comments | Filed Under: scan security privacy

Senators want to know why U.S. Marshals Service is keeping body scan images

 By Larissa Anderson // Posted: 08/23/10 12:06 PM

They’re images of people who entered a U.S. Courthouse in Orlando, Fl. Earlier this month, reports of the 35,000 images the U.S. Marshals Service stored sparked discussion about privacy. 

Now, the leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee want to know why these images were stored and whether there are other places body scan images might be stored. They sent a letter late last week asking for answers.  They also urged the service to use automatic target recognition technology - that would let a machine check out the images, not a person.

In a statement, the U.S. Marshals Service said the machine automatically stores images to the hard drive and you have to have an administrative password to see them and by the way, no one looked.  Also, “The millimeter wave scan images captured by the Brijot machine in Orlando can in no way be described as images of ‘naked’ or 'undressed’ people.  Rather, they are pixilated, chalky and blurred images.”

ARLINGTON, VA - DECEMBER 30: Images produced by a 'millimeter wave’ scanner are displayed during a demonstration at the Transportation Security Administration’s Systems Integration Facility at Ronald Reagan National Airport December 30, 2009 in Arlington, Virginia. 'Millimeter wave’ passes electromagnetic waves over the body to create three-dimensional images that look like a photo negative. The scan can detect hidden metallic and nonmetallic objects such as weapons and explosives without physical contact. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Comments | Filed Under: TSA, body scan, privacy US Marshals Service

Clickjacking: the feature Facebook isn't so proud of

Posted: 08/19/10 06:00 AM

Amid all the announcements Facebook has been making lately, there’s one feature you might not even know about. But you should. It’s called clickjacking. Maybe this has happened to you: you see a link  that says “Justin Bieber’s phone number leaked” or “Top ten t-shirt fails”. Maybe it’s in an ad or maybe it even appears to be posted by your friend.

So you click on it and that’s where the trouble begins. You’re taken to page after page of buttons to click, surveys to take, and permissions to give. Unlike the rest of the web, the links are associated with your friends’ names so you trust them. One recent scam was secretly placing $5 weekly charges on users’ cell phone bills.

We talk to Beth Jones from internet security firm Sophos about how clickjacking works. We also check in with Mashable founder and CEO Pete Cashmore who talks about the advantages scammers have in working on Facebook.

Comments | Filed Under: facebook security privacy

The Internet: Bringing Families Together

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/20/10 06:17 PM

We’re just wrapping up tomorrow’s show, about social networking for little kids (and how it might not be as bad a thing as you think). And of course I had to go back and re-watch one of the simultaneously funny and deeply sad viral video hit of recent weeks: the beleaguered Jessi Slaughter & Family. After being mercilessly harassed online, the 11-year-old and her father and mother make the ill-fated decision to make things worse by turning on the webcam again (more background here).

You’ve probably seen it already. If you haven’t, you may wish to follow it with a chaser of the double rainbow guy. (Heads up: Some words go flying in here that make it NSFWoK – not safe for work or kids.)

Jessi’s tale is also a good complement to our forthcoming episode – a chilling example of what can go down when you’re not paying attention to what your kids are up to online. (And for God’s sake, do not try to rectify your child’s Internet troubles by just rolling tape and then posting to YouTube.)

So do we shield our kids from the ‘net until they’re old enough to handle it? Or – as our show guests suggest – can we train them in so they’re more prepared for the Wild Wild Web?

Choose wisely. Or, as I once heard someone say, “Consequences will never be the same.”

Comments | Filed Under: family youtube privacy harassment

The I.T. Guy Who Knew Too Much

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/12/10 06:00 AM

Turns out, that’s probably a large proportion of them. A new survey (PDF file) from the electronic security company Cyber-Ark reveals what you probably suspected but don’t really want to think too hard about: Two-thirds of IT professionals anonymously surveyed in the US and UK admit they have accessed information that is unrelated to their jobs. Forty-one percent say they or their colleagues have actually used their admin privileges to get at info “that is otherwise confidential or sensitive.”

Yikers. Seriously: I love and respect our IT guys, and they do a ton to keep my computer ship-shape and doing what I need it to do. I’m sure it’s none of them. But all those other guys out there? For shame!

Truth is, there’s a fine line for these guys between snooping and doing what they are told to do by the bosses, which these days often involves keeping tabs on private email, porn surfing and any other activity deemed not in the company interest. So does this include…emails you send applying for another job? It all starts to get very fuzzy.

In this episode, we chat with a former snooper, a snoopee (Snoopy?) and of course the friendly fellow behind this excoriating survey. Just remember, most IT guys are loving, caring individuals. They just happen to swim every day in an ocean of your sensitive information.

(Jeff Horwich guest hosts.)

Comments | Filed Under: privacy work IT

'Zuckerberg law'

Posted: 05/24/10 09:09 PM

TechCrunch is featuring a Charlie Rose interview with Yuri Milner, co-founder and CEO of Digital Sky Technologies.  In light of Mark Zuckerberg’s Washington Post op-ed, Milner made two comments that caught my eye.  He said that Facebook will unify “all civilization” (it’s a pretty bold statement, but probably not surprising since his company poured $200 million into Facebook last year).  He also referred to something he called “Zuckerberg law,” which he described as : “Every 12-18 months the amount of information being shared between people is doubling. Basically means that people at large don’t really see that as a huge concern." 

People may be giving up more of their information.  But, if there weren’t concern about it, I doubt Zuckerberg would have told the world today in the Washington Post that Facebook will be making it easier to control privacy settings.  We’ll see in the coming weeks what that really means. /la

Comments | Filed Under: Facebook privacy

How to protect your kids' privacy online

Posted: 05/10/10 03:55 PM

Anna Weggel of our Public Insight team tapped into the Public Insight Network for some stories of how parents  help protect their kids’ privacy online.  Here’s what she heard back:

I have a 12-year-old daughter. We regularly talk about what information is safe to share and also what is appropriate to share. We talk about online etiquette as well. And then we monitor her email accounts and her web browsing history. She is aware that we monitor as well. Nothing is meant to be a secret on either side. We have found that open communication and clear expectations are the critical component. She knows to report anything unusual and trusts that our intention is to protect her, not stifle her. -Kris Donnelly, Minneapolis, MN

 We keep the computer in the kitchen area, which is the most commonly occupied room in the house; that way we can keep a close eye on what they are doing online at all times. We also don’t grant them administrative privileges on the computer so they cannot install anything, and password protect our adult accounts so they cannot use those. -Jeff Ingalls, Rochester, MN

 My children are between 8 and 11 years, so my tactics are fairly blunt. No social networks (facebook, myspace). As they grow older, am happy to allow the networks with privacy controls and parental oversight. Currently, anything requiring a username and password has to be approved by mom or dad and the login info available to the parents. And most of all we keep the family computer in the main area of the house. Our 10 year old recently requested to have a blog. And we fully support the increased writing and computer skills this will develop. Of course, we required the blog be by invitation only and that as parents we always have access to the content. Lastly, we limit the amount of time per day they can spend on screens (tv, computer, gaming) outside of school work.. –Annette, Draper, UT  

 I protect my children by giving them freedom of choice. I talk to them and help them to develop common sense, but I never limit what they can see or do, online or in books or films. The more they know about the world, the safer they’ll be in the long run. –Dr. Angela Sorby, Milwaukee, WI 

 I have two daughters one of them is a 5 years old and already using the web for child friendly programs (PBS). I am always monitoring her access and stay alert to what shows on the screen. However I am concerned as she continues to grow and not been able to monitor what may come through the screen when I am not there. –Eduardo Barrera, St. Paul, MN  

 We talk frequently about sites that they visit. We work to educate them about how to use sites appropriately and how, when and where to share information. We let them use Facebook, but go through the privacy settings together so that they understand and are comfortable on what info they choose to share. We also talk about who they are adding as friends. We have chosen to not let them use Twitter, because it is so public and we are concerned about term consequences of having info out there (college admission, jobs, etc). Education and an ongoing dialog is the best way to protect them. Using blocking software is not that effective and kids can easily get around it, much better to educate them, set clear boundaries and remove the computer for a time if those boundaries abused. My kids are 14 and 12. –April Kennedy, Minneapolis, MN

 Sit next to here at the kitchen table when she is online. –Jim Stock, MN

 We limit computer use to a half hour per day. We do not allow them to have a Facebook or MySpace account. They do have their own e-mail accounts. We make sure we are in the house when they are on line. We monitor their choices of on-line activities. - James Armstrong, Winona, MN

I know their passwords and I routinely go into their accounts and see what they are doing, including what websites they visit, games they play, which songs they download from iTunes, and which movies from Netflix. I have them show me their MySpace and Facebook profiles too. I also remind them that the internet is not private and they must be careful what they do there. I have tried various automatic parental controls, and they are getting better. Once another girl put my daughter’s MySpace up with a line about “For a good time, call…” only in more specific language. My daughter was 12 years old and devastated. I called the girl’s mother and the message disappeared. The damage seems to have faded. She is 13 now. - Lisa Hoesing, Santa Cruz, CA 

Comments | Filed Under: privacy

You still have time to tell the FTC what you think

 By Larissa Anderson // Posted: 05/10/10 06:00 AM

The Federal Trade Commission is still taking comments on what you think about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. If you want to give the FTC a piece of your mind, you’ve got until June 30, 2010.

Comments | Filed Under: privacy

Facebook security hole lets you see your friends' IM chats

 by John Moe // Posted: 05/05/10 11:16 AM

This one flagged by TechCrunch. May be fixed by the time you read this.

Comments | Filed Under: privacy facebook

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