Google

Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google (wsj.com) 29

Facebook may be in the hot seat right now for its collection of personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, but as The Wall Street Journal points out, "Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps." From the report (alternative source): It's likely that Google has shadow profiles (data the company gathers on people without accounts) on as at least as many people as Facebook does, says Chandler Givens, CEO of TrackOff, which develops software to fight identity theft. Google allows everyone, whether they have a Google account or not, to opt out of its ad targeting, though, like Facebook, it continues to gather your data. Google Analytics is far and away the web's most dominant analytics platform. Used on the sites of about half of the biggest companies in the U.S., it has a total reach of 30 million to 50 million sites. Google Analytics tracks you whether or not you are logged in. Meanwhile, the billion-plus people who have Google accounts are tracked in even more ways. In 2016, Google changed its terms of service, allowing it to merge its massive trove of tracking and advertising data with the personally identifiable information from our Google accounts.

Google uses, among other things, our browsing and search history, apps we've installed, demographics like age and gender and, from its own analytics and other sources, where we've shopped in the real world. Google says it doesn't use information from "sensitive categories" such as race, religion, sexual orientation or health. Because it relies on cross-device tracking, it can spot logged-in users no matter which device they're on. Google fuels even more data harvesting through its dominant ad marketplaces. There are up to 4,000 data brokers in the U.S., and collectively they know everything about us we might otherwise prefer they didn't -- whether we're pregnant, divorced or trying to lose weight. Google works with some of these brokers directly but the company says it vets them to prevent targeting based on sensitive information. Google also is the biggest enabler of data harvesting, through the world's two billion active Android mobile devices.

Facebook

Silicon Valley Investors Wants to Fund a 'Good For Society' Facebook Replacement (calacanis.com) 195

Silicon Valley angel investor Jason Calacanis just announced the "Openbook Challenge," a competition to create a replacement for Facebook.

"Over the next three months, 20 finalists will compete for seven $100,000 incubator grants," explains long-time Slashdot reader reifman. "Their goal is to find startups with a sustainable business model e.g. subscriptions, reasonable advertising, cryptocurrency. etc. And they want it to be 'good for society.'"

Jason Calacanis writes: All community and social products on the internet have had their era, from AOL to MySpace, and typically they're not shut down by the government -- they're slowly replaced by better products. So, let's start the process of replacing Facebook... We already have two dozen quality teams cranking on projects and we hope to get to 100...

This is not an idea or business plan competition. We're looking for teams that can actually build a better social network, and we'll be judging teams primarily based upon their ability to execute... Keep in mind, that while ideas really matter, Zuckerberg has shown us, execution matters more.

Calacanis has even created a discussion group for the competition...on Facebook. And his announcement includes a famous quote from Mark Zuckerberg.

"Don't be too proud to copy."
Social Networks

Kaspersky Lab Banned From Advertising on Twitter Because of Its Alleged Ties With Russian Intelligence Agencies (cyberscoop.com) 44

An anonymous reader shares a report: Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab has been banned from advertising on Twitter due to its allegedly close and active ties between the company and Russian intelligence agencies, according to the social network. The ban is the latest blow in an ongoing saga for Kaspersky, which includes two ongoing legal battles with the U.S. government. Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of Kaspersky Lab, took to Twitter on Friday to condemn the ban. A Twitter spokesperson reiterated that the "decision is based on our determination that Kaspersky Lab operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices."
Yahoo!

Yahoo's New Privacy Policy Allows Data-Sharing With Verizon (cnet.com) 38

"Yahoo is now part of Oath and there is a new Privacy and Terms contract..." warns long-time Slashdot reader DigitalLogic. CNET reports: Oath notes that it has the right to read your emails, instant messages, posts, photos and even look at your message attachments. And it might share that data with parent company Verizon, too... When you dig further into Oath's policy about what it might do with your words, photos, and attachments, the company clarifies that it's utilizing automated systems that help the company with security, research and providing targeted ads -- and that those automated systems should strip out personally identifying information before letting any humans look at your data. But there are no explicit guarantees on that.
The update also warns that Oath is now "linking your activity on other sites and apps with information we have about you, and providing anonymized and/or aggregated reports to other parties regarding user trends." For example, Oath "may analyze user content around certain interactions with financial institutions," and "leverages information financial institutions are allowed to send over email."

Oath does offer a "Privacy Controls" page which includes a "legacy" AOL link letting you opt-out of internet-based advertising that's been targeted "based on your online activities" -- but it appears to be functioning sporadically.

CNET also reports that now Yahoo users are agreeing to a class-action waiver and mutual arbitration. "What it means is if you don't like what the company does with your data, you'll have a hard time suing."
United States

Trump Signs Law Weakening Shield For Online Services (vice.com) 188

President Donald Trump has signed a new law aimed at curbing sex trafficking. From a report: The bill -- a mashup of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which is commonly referred to as the latter -- passed Congress in March. It makes websites liable for what users say and do on their platforms, and many advocacy groups have come out against the bill, saying that it undermines essential internet freedoms.

It could be months -- or as late as January 2019 -- before FOSTA is enacted and anyone could be charged under the law. But even in the days immediately after the bill passed in Congress, platforms started scrambling to proactively shut down forums or whole sites where sex trafficking could feasibly happen. Fringe dating websites, sex trade and advertising forums, and even portions of Craigslist were taken down in the weeks following, while companies like Google started strictly enforcing terms of service around sexual speech.
Commenting on the development, EFF said, "As we've already seen, this bill silences online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users."
Democrats

Democratic Senators Propose 'Privacy Bill of Rights' To Prevent Websites From Sharing Or Selling Sensitive Info Without Opt-In Consent (arstechnica.com) 136

Democratic Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today proposed a "privacy bill of rights" that would prevent Facebook and other websites from sharing or selling sensitive information without a customer's opt-in consent. The proposed law would protect customers' web browsing and application usage history, private messages, and any sensitive personal data such as financial and health information. Ars Technica reports: Markey teamed with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to propose the Customer Online Notification for Stopping Edge-provider Network Transgressions (CONSENT) Act. You can read the full legislation here. "Edge providers" refers to websites and other online services that distribute content over consumer broadband networks. Facebook and Google are the dominant edge providers when it comes to advertising and the use of customer data to serve targeted ads. No current law requires edge providers to seek customers' permission before using their browsing histories to serve personalized ads. The online advertising industry uses self-regulatory mechanisms in which websites let visitors opt out of personalized advertising based on browsing history, and websites can be punished by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if they break their privacy promises.

The Markey/Blumenthal bill's stricter opt-in standard would require edge providers to "obtain opt-in consent from a customer to use, share, or sell the sensitive customer proprietary information of the customer." Edge providers would not be allowed to impose "take-it-or-leave-it" offers that require customers to consent in order to use the service. The FTC and state attorneys general would be empowered to enforce the new opt-in requirements. The bill would require edge providers to notify users about all collection, use, and sharing of their information. The bill also requires edge providers "to develop reasonable data security practices" and to notify customers about data breaches that affect them.

Twitter

Twitter Says It Will Comply With Honest Ads Act To Combat Russia Social Media Meddling (theverge.com) 47

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Twitter today pledged to support a proposed Senate bill that would require technology platforms that sell advertising space to disclose the source of and amount of money paid for political ads. Called the Honest Ads Act, the bipartisan bill was first introduced back in October by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). As part of its transparency efforts, Twitter says it's launched a new platform called the Ads Transparency Center, or ATC, that will "go beyond the requirements of the Honest Ads Act and eventually provide increased transparency to all advertisements on Twitter." Twitter says the platform will increase transparency for political and so-called issue ads, which target specific topics like immigration and gun control, by providing even more information on the origin of an ad that is required by the Honest Ads Act. "We have a dedicated team that is fully resourced to implementing the ATC and are committed to launching it this summer," the company states. "Twitter is moving forward on our commitment to providing transparency for online ads. We believe the Honest Ads Act provides an appropriate framework for such ads and look forward to working with bill sponsors and others to continue to refine and advance this important proposal."
Businesses

How Much VR User Data Is Oculus Giving To Facebook? (theverge.com) 60

Facebook owns many other apps and services, including the Oculus virtual-reality platform, which collects incredibly detailed information about where users are looking and how they're moving. Since most of the discussion about how Facebook handles user information is focused on the social network itself, The Verge's Adi Robertson looks into the link between Facebook and Oculus: A VR platform like Oculus offers lots of data points that could be turned into a detailed user profile. Facebook already records a "heatmap" of viewer data for 360-degree videos, for instance, flagging which parts of a video people find most interesting. If it decided to track VR users at a more detailed level, it could do something like track overall movement patterns with hand controllers, then guess whether someone is sick or tired on a particular day. Oculus imagines people using its headsets the way they use phones and computers today, which would let it track all kinds of private communications. The Oculus privacy policy has a blanket clause that lets it share and receive information from Facebook and Facebook-owned services. So far, the company claims that it exercises this option in very limited ways, and none of them involve giving data to Facebook advertisers. "Oculus does not share people's data with Facebook for third-party advertising," a spokesperson tells The Verge.

Oculus says there are some types of data it either doesn't share or doesn't retain at all. The platform collects physical information like height to calibrate VR experiences, but apparently, it doesn't share any of it with Facebook. It stores posts that are made on the Oculus forums, but not voice communications between users in VR, although it may retain records of connections between them. The company also offers a few examples of when it would share data with Facebook or vice versa. Most obviously, if you're using a Facebook-created VR app like Spaces, Facebook gets information about what you're doing there, much in the same way that any third-party app developer would. You can optionally link your Facebook account to your Oculus ID, in which case, Oculus will use your Facebook interests to suggest specific apps or games. If you've linked the accounts, any friend you add on Facebook will also become your friend on Oculus, if they're on the platform.
Oculus does, however, share data between the two services to fight certain kinds of banned activity. "If we find someone using their account to send spam on one service, we can disable all of their accounts," an Oculus spokesperson says. "Similarly, if there's 'strange activity' on a specific Oculus account, they can share the IP address it's coming from with Facebook," writes Robertson. "The biggest problem is that there's nothing stopping Facebook and Oculus from choosing to share more data in the future."
Facebook

Facebook Scans What You Send Other People on Messenger App (bloomberg.com) 108

Sarah Frier, reporting for Bloomberg: Facebook scans the text and images that people send each other on Facebook Messenger, making sure it all abides by the company's rules governing content. If it doesn't, it gets blocked. The company confirmed the practice after an interview published earlier this week with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg raised questions about Messenger's practices and privacy. Zuckerberg told Vox's Ezra Klein a story about receiving a phone call related to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Facebook had detected people trying to send sensational messages through the Messenger app, he said.

"In that case, our systems detect what's going on," Zuckerberg said. "We stop those messages from going through." Some people reacted with concern on Twitter: "Was Facebook reading messages more generally?" Facebook has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over how it handles users' private data and the revelation struck a nerve. Messenger doesn't use the data from the scanned messages for advertising, the company said, but the policy may extend beyond what Messenger users expect.

Privacy

Gay Dating App Grindr Is Letting Other Companies See User HIV Status, Location Data (buzzfeed.com) 132

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BuzzFeed: The gay hookup app Grindr, which has more than 3.6 million daily active users across the world, has been providing its users' HIV status to two other companies, BuzzFeed News has learned. The two companies -- Apptimize and Localytics, which help optimize apps -- receive some of the information that Grindr users choose to include in their profiles, including their HIV status and "last tested date." Because the HIV information is sent together with users' GPS data, phone ID, and email, it could identify specific users and their HIV status, according to Antoine Pultier, a researcher at the Norwegian nonprofit SINTEF, which first identified the issue.

Grindr was founded in 2009 and has been increasingly branding itself as the go-to app for healthy hookups and gay cultural content. In December, the company launched an online magazine dedicated to cultural issues in the queer community. The app offers free ads for HIV-testing sites, and last week, it debuted an optional feature that would remind users to get tested for HIV every three to six months. But the new analysis, confirmed by cybersecurity experts who analyzed SINTEF's data and independently verified by BuzzFeed News, calls into question how seriously the company takes its users' privacy. SINTEF's analysis also showed that Grindr was sharing its users' precise GPS position, "tribe" (meaning what gay subculture they identify with), sexuality, relationship status, ethnicity, and phone ID to other third-party advertising companies. And this information, unlike the HIV data, was sometimes shared via "plain text," which can be easily hacked.

Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg: Tim Cook is 'Extremely Glib' (fastcompany.com) 326

A week after Apple CEO Cook said "some well-crafted regulation is necessary " in light of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and that Apple was better off than Facebook because it doesn't sell user data to advertisers, Facebook's CEO has struck back. In an interview published on Monday, he said: "You know, I find that argument, that if you're not paying that somehow we can't care about you, to be extremely glib. And not at all aligned with the truth. The reality here is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world, then there are a lot of people who can't afford to pay. And therefore, as with a lot of media, having an advertising-supported model is the only rational model that can support building this service to reach people . . . I don't at all think that means that we don't care about people. To the contrary, I think it's important that we don't all get Stockholm syndrome, and let the companies that work hard to charge you more convince you that they actually care more about you. Because that sounds ridiculous to me."
Privacy

'Thousands of Companies Are Spying On You' (cnn.com) 170

Security guru Bruce Schneier warns that "thousands of companies" are spying on us and manipulating us for profit. An anonymous reader quotes his article on CNN: Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff calls it "surveillance capitalism." And as creepy as Facebook is turning out to be, the entire industry is far creepier. It has existed in secret far too long, and it's up to lawmakers to force these companies into the public spotlight, where we can all decide if this is how we want society to operate and -- if not -- what to do about it...

Surveillance capitalism drives much of the internet. It's behind most of the "free" services, and many of the paid ones as well. Its goal is psychological manipulation, in the form of personalized advertising to persuade you to buy something or do something, like vote for a candidate. And while the individualized profile-driven manipulation exposed by Cambridge Analytica feels abhorrent, it's really no different from what every company wants in the end... Surveillance capitalism is deeply embedded in our increasingly computerized society, and if the extent of it came to light there would be broad demands for limits and regulation. But because this industry can largely operate in secret, only occasionally exposed after a data breach or investigative report, we remain mostly ignorant of its reach...

Regulation is the only answer.The first step to any regulation is transparency. Who has our data? Is it accurate? What are they doing with it? Who are they selling it to? How are they securing it? Can we delete it...? The market can put pressure on these companies to reduce their spying on us, but it can only do that if we force the industry out of its secret shadows.

The article also insists that "None of this is new," pointing out that companies like Facebook and Google offer their free services in exchange for your data.

But he also notes that there are now already 2,500 to 4,000 data brokers just in the U.S., including Equifax.
Advertising

MailChimp Bans Emails Promoting Cryptocurrency (gizmodo.com) 48

"MailChimp to Cryptocurrency Promoters: Your Fake Money's No Good Here," jokes the headline at Gizmodo. The mass emailing service -- which sends over a billion emails a day -- just updated its Acceptable Use Policy to warn users that MailChimp "does not allow businesses involved in any aspect of the sale, transaction, exchange, storage, marketing, or production of cryptocurrencies, virtual currencies, and any digital assets related to an Initial Coin Offering, to use MailChimp to facilitate or support any of those activities."

An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: The ban on cryptocurrency promotion isn't out of the blue so much as a clarification of existing use policies... In a statement to Gizmodo, MailChimp further clarified: "We recognize that blockchain technology is in its infancy and has tremendous potential. Nonetheless, the promotion and exchange of cryptocurrencies is too frequently associated with scams, fraud, phishing, and potentially misleading business practices at this time..." MailChimp previously held policies prohibiting multi-level marketing, "make money online" businesses, and "industries hav[ing] higher-than-average abuse complaints," and earmarked "online trading, day trading tips, or stock market related content" for "additional scrutiny..."

This follows similar, though less restrictive bans by Facebook (and Instagram by extension), Google, Linkedin, Twitter, and Snapchat on ICO ads, and country-wide bans in China and South Korea.

Futurism reports that the first victims are "responding in kind by attempting to read the riot act to a Twitter account whose avatar is a monkey with a hat," strongly informing that monkey that "Centralized capricious power is exactly why we need blockchains."
Facebook

It's Possible that the Facebook App is Listening To You, Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower Says (theoutline.com) 204

Jon Christian, writing for The Outline: During an appearance before a committee of U.K. lawmakers today, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie breathed new life into longstanding rumors that the Facebook app listens to its users in order to target advertisements. Damian Collins, a member of parliament who chaired the committee, asked whether the Facebook app might listen to what users are discussing and use it to prioritize certain ads.

"That's probably a question for Facebook," Wylie said. But, Wylie said in a meandering reply, it's possible that Facebook and other smartphone apps are listening in for reasons other than speech recognition. Specifically, he said, they might be trying to ascertain what type of environment a user is in in order to "improve the contextual value of the advertising itself. There's audio that could be useful just in terms of, are you in an office environment, are you outside, are you watching TV, what are you doing right now?" Wylie said, without elaborating on how that information could help target ads.

Facebook

Facebook is Being Sued Over Housing Discrimination (fastcompany.com) 125

The National Fair Housing Alliance, along with three other nonprofit housing advocacy organizations around the country, has filed a lawsuit against Facebook over its alleged discriminatory advertisements. From a report: The nonprofits, over the last few months, created a fake real estate company and used the Facebook ad platform to place housing ads. According to the lawsuit, the NFHA was able to place advertisements that "[excluded] families with children and women from receiving advertisements, as well as users with interests based on disability and national origin." In the NFHA's press release, the organization writes that "Facebook's advertising platform enables landlords and real estate brokers to exclude families with children, women, and other protected classes of people from receiving housing ads."

The lawsuit follows extensive reporting from ProPublica that investigated these potentially discriminatory practices. For over a year, the journalism outlet tested various ways that landlords could place ads for housing, and found that the targeting allowed for many people to be kept out of the loop. Given Facebook's massive user base of over 2 billion users, the group believes that the social network is in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Twitter

Twitter Moves To Ban Crypto Ads (techcrunch.com) 58

An anonymous reader shares a report: Twitter is the latest social service to boot out cryptocurrency advertisers. The company told Reuters it will be launching a new policy this week to prohibit the advertising of token sales/initial coin offerings (ICOs), and crypto wallet services. Ads for cryptocurrency exchanges will also be banned -- with some limited exceptions. Facebook announced a ban in January, while Google said earlier this month that it will ban them from June. In a statement, the company said, "We are committed to ensuring the safety of the Twitter community. As such, we have added a new policy for Twitter Ads relating to cryptocurrency. Under this new policy, the advertisement of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and token sales will be prohibited globally."
Music

Spotify Says 2 Million Users Hacked Apps To Suppress Ads On Its Free Service (engadget.com) 62

Earlier this month, Spotify revealed that it had begun cracking down on people using hacked versions of apps. These apps allowed users with free accounts to suppress advertising and take advantage of paid features. Now, Spotify has disclosed just how many people have been taking advantage of this hack: around 2 million users. Engadget reports: That's not an insignificant number, and it's understandable why Spotify is cracking down on them. As the company explains in an amended F1 filing with the SEC this week, these users forced the company to adjust its metrics and key performance indicators. The disclosure notes, "Unauthorized access to our Service may cause us to misstate key performance indicators, which once discovered, corrected, and disclosed, could undermine investor confidence in the integrity of our key performance indicators and could cause our stock price to drop significantly." As a result, Spotify has adjusted its monthly active users from 159 million at the end of 2017 to 157 million.
Social Networks

Reddit Bans Subreddits Related To Selling Guns, Drugs, Sex, and More (bloomberg.com) 277

New submitter cornholed writes: Yesterday, Reddit updated their Content Policy forbidding transactions for certain goods and services. From the formal announcement on Reddit: "As of today, users may not use Reddit to solicit or facilitate any transaction or gift involving certain goods and services, including: firearms, ammunition, or explosives; drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, or any controlled substances (except advertisements placed in accordance with our advertising policy); paid services involving physical sexual contact; stolen goods; personal information; falsified official documents or currency." Bloomberg has an interesting write-up on how Reddit is wading into the gun control debate. See this post on Reddit for a full-list of all subreddits banned. "Reddit has been something of a Wild West for users building communities by curating and commenting on content in subreddits," reports Bloomberg. "Sometimes, as in the case with gun sales, marketplaces emerge in the course of conversations within specific communities. With Reddit's increased popularity -- the site is the sixth-most-visited in the world -- has come introspection and stricter content guidelines. The company recognizes its responsibility for having provided a platform for hate groups to flourish and, more recently, the possibility that Russian propaganda on the site may have played a role in influencing the 2016 presidential election."
Mozilla

Mozilla Pulls Advertising from Facebook (betanews.com) 82

An anonymous reader shares a report: Mozilla is not happy with Facebook. Not happy at all. Having already started a petition to try to force the social network to do more about user privacy, the company has now decided to withdraw its advertising from the platform. The organization is voting with its money following the misuse of user data by Cambridge Analytica, as it tries to force Facebook into taking privacy more seriously. Mozilla says that it is not happy to financially support a platform that does not do enough to protect user privacy. But the company is not severing ties completely. It says that advertising is being "paused" and that if the right steps are taken by Facebook "we'll consider returning."
Facebook

Facebook Under Pressure as EU, US Urge Probes of Data Practices (reuters.com) 68

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced calls on Monday from U.S. and European lawmakers to explain how a consultancy that worked on President Donald Trump's election campaign gained access to data on 50 million Facebook users. From a report: Facebook's shares fell more than 7 percent, wiping around $40 billion off its market value, set for their biggest drop since September 2012, as investors worried that new legislation could damage the company's lucrative advertising business. "The lid is being opened on the black box of Facebook's data practices, and the picture is not pretty," said Frank Pasquale, a University of Maryland law professor who has written about Silicon Valley's use of data. Lawmakers in the United States, Britain and Europe have called for investigations into media reports that political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the private data on more than 50 million Facebook users to support Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign. Further reading: An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News reveals how Cambridge Analytica secretly campaigns in elections across the world. Bosses were filmed talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.

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