Privacy

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ABC logoA few weeks back, I had a conversation on Twitter with Natasha Mitchell, presenter of ABC Radio National’s Life Matters, about smartphones and just how much data they’re handing on to, well, all manner of organisations. This morning we came back to that conversation live on national radio.

Do you know what data you’re really sharing, and with whom, when you download and use smart phone apps? Companies are collecting as much as they can get away with, says Stilgherrian.

We spoke for 20 minutes and covered a lot of territory.

If you want to know more, then you can listen to my guest lecture at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and then follow the links to more than 30 references.

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The audio is of course ©2014 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and it’s served here directly from the ABC website.

ABC logoEarlier this morning I spoke about Facebook’s disturbing new “Big Cat” technology on ABC 702 Sydney, and here’s the audio.

Big Cat is the codename for an algorithm that can apparently detect with a high reliability whether your partner is having an extramarital affair, by analysing such things as their pattern of friend formation and communication, comparing their smartphone location with what they’ve said in posts — such as whether they’re really shopping or at the gym or on a work trip — as well as language cues, such as a tendency to avoid answering direct questions.

In a way, it’s a natural extension of MIT research from 2009, which showed that a young man’s pattern of friend formation could reveal whether he was gay — often before he even knew himself. Or Target (US) being able to determine when a woman had become pregnant from her shopping list — at least with 87% accuracy.

It’s the kind of stuff I talk about in my guest lecture to UTS students — which, as it happens, I’ll be updating and presenting this coming Monday 7 April.

As I discuss with breakfast presenter Robbie Buck, however, this is a little more serious than sending someone some discount coupons on a likely hunch. Facebook had better get this right, given that confronting a partner about an alleged affair is a serious issue.

I’m hearing that the Australia test locations will be the Brisbane / Gold Coast nexus or, more likely, Adelaide, for reasons that I explain.

One thing we forgot to mention in the interview is the reason for Facebook’s codename: “Big Cat” is for catching cheaters. Oh dear.

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The audio is of course ©2014 Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Screenshot from The Project, 28 February 2014It’s been a while since I got to talk directly to The Project presenters, but I did so last night. And I was captioned as a “Cyber Security Commentator”, which is obviously a bit special.

The story was about the security risks of webcams. Presenter Gorgi Coglan introduced it thusly:

What if I told you that the webcam in your computer could be under the control of someone on the other side of the planet, and watching everything you do right now?

I was pleased that The Project introduced the Channel TEN audience to RATs, or remote administration (or access) tools, and managed — as they nearly always do — to strike the right balance between scary and funny.

Over the fold you’ll find the video of the entire four-minute segment — starting off with a “package”, as they’re called, featuring Hacklabs director Chris Gatford, followed by the panel interviewing me.

It was the Friday team, so that panel consisted of presenter Gorgi Coglan, comedian Lehmo, the inimitable Waleed Aly and, just to be different, Richie Sambora, guitarist of Bon Jovi fame.

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Hitachi Data Systems privacy law graphic: click for whitepaperAustralia’s new privacy laws come into force on 12 March. On 12 February, four weeks before the new laws come into force, I hosted a panel discussion on dealing with these new law for Hitachi Data Systems.

The panelists were lawyer Alec Christie, a partner in the intellectual property and technology practice of global law firm DLA Piper; Jodie Sangster, chief executive officer of ADMA, the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (which used to be called the Australian Direct Marketing Association); and Adrian De Luca, chief technology officer for Hitachi Data Systems in the Asia-Pacific region.

Over the fold is the full 58-minute video. This was done as a Google Hangout, and since there were some internet glitches the video is a bit glitchy too, but the content itself is great.

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On Wednesday I decided to see if I could finally sort out my Google+ profile, which was suspended around two and a half years ago. I didn’t really get anywhere, but I did discover some new and different frustrations.

First, the back story…

Google+ screenshot 1: see text for a description

As the first screenshot (above) says, “Your profile [that is, my profile] was suspected because it violates our names policy.” That’s because back in 2011, Google required that names consist of at least two words. To get something that looked close to my single-word name (a “mononym”), I’d entered it as “Stilgherrian .” But the full stop (“period” for American readers) isn’t allowed, and the profile was suspended.

I was so frustrated by that, and even more so by Google’s arrogant-seeming error messages, that I wrote an infamous expletive-filled blog post — which got more than 100,000 unique viewers on the first day. Even now, two and a half years later, it sometimes gets a couple hundred readers a month.

Since then, Google had supposedly started allowing people to display their “nicknames” (that is, pseudonyms”), at least in some contexts, so I figured that I’d give it another go. It wouldn’t worry me too much if I was “Stilgherrian Stilgherrian” under the hood, as long as my name was displayed properly.

So I clicked on “Take action”…

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FIVEaa logoI continue to be pleased that digital privacy issues are getting more and more coverage in the mainstream media — such as the interview I did last Monday 20 January with radio 1395 FIVEaa in Adelaide.

Presenter Will Goodings had spotted the story of Turnstyle Solutions in Toronto, who can track people around town via their smartphones and use that location data for marketing.

Rather stupidly, I talk about Australia’s Privacy Act being “under review” when in fact that review is well over and the new Privacy Act comes into force on 12 March.

We also spoke about the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) forcing Apple to refund $35 million to customers who’d had their kids make what they felt were unauthorised in-app purchases on their iDevices.

It’s something the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been concerned about too, and they have a page to explain how you can block in-app purchases or complain to Apple or Google.

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The audio is ©2014 dmgRadio Australia, but here it is ’cos it hasn’t been posted on the radio station’s website. Besides, this is a reasonable plug.

Screenshot from The Project, 13 December 2013On Friday 13 December I recorded some grabs for the Channel TEN program The Project, which were used that night in a story about Google’s idea of putting microphones in your house so that their “digital assistant” software could figure out how it could help you next.

I was amazed that Google would even suggest this idea so soon after they were linked to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US National Security Agency (NSA). But then again, Google is a many-headed hydra of an organisation. It can walk and chew gum at the same time. Badly.

The Project only ended up using two of the grabs, but over the fold you’ll find the video of the entire four-minute segment — including some guy called Mark Pesce in the studio, talking to the panel.

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ABC logoBack on 13 December I was a guest for the recording of the penultimate episode of Marc Fennell’s Download This Show for 2013.

Data privacy. What a year it’s been: 2013 will be remembered as the year we came to understand just how much our data was not our own. Edward Snowden might not have won Time magazine’s Person of the Year, pipped to the post by Pope Francis, but the former NSA computer specialist has forever changed the way we think about our information security as a result of his world-changing revelations. But has he changed our behaviour?

My fellow panellist was Karalee Evans, head of social for advertising agency DDB Australia, and we had a great time. Here’s the full audio.

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The audio is ©2013 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and it’s served here directly from the ABC website.

ABC logo“It’s not every day that I find myself agreeing with Senator Eric Abetz,” began my column at ZDNet Australia yesterday. But as the remainder of my 89-word opening sentence reveals, we’re in agreement over just one word: Orwellian.

My concerns were about the data being collected by the ABC’s Vote Compass project, and what it might end up being used for somewhere down the track.

You should probably read the full article for the nuances of what I’m on about, but here’s a taste.

Vote Compass may remove personally identifiable information (PII) from its data before sharing it, but it’d be an easy task for a third-party researcher to re-identify users by cross-matching Vote Compass’ data with their existing databases.

“Scientists have demonstrated they can often ‘re-identify’ or ‘de-anonymise’ individuals hidden in anonymised data with astonishing ease,” wrote law professor Paul Ohm of the University of Colorado in 2009. It’s become easier since, for everyone from Google, Twitter, and Facebook to all the less well-known data mining companies on the planet…

The Orwellian scenario implicit in all this is that secretive data mining companies could match your political beliefs with the psychology of how you make decisions (gleaned from that “What breed of dog are you?” questionnaire you filled out five years ago) and use that to generate (through your favourite news site) a selection of persuasive news stories, opinion pieces, and advertising designed just for you — and you’d never know.

Well this piqued the interest of ABC 666 Canberra, and earlier this morning I was interviewed by presenter Genevieve Jacobs along with the creator of Vote Compass, Cliff van der Linden.

Here’s the audio — and my apologies for it being cut abruptly at the end. Finger trouble on my part. Ms Jacobs was saying that the ABC is satisfied with the precautions being taken by Vote Compass, and I must stress that I have no direct issue with their work either.

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The audio is of course ©2013 Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The article I mention is How Companies Learn Your Secrets by Charles Duhigg of The New York Times.

Crikey logoMy Crikey story today on Telstra’s plan to trial the “shaping” of peer-to-peer internet traffic includes quotes from network engineer Mark Newton — but he said so many interesting things I though you should see his entire email.

Mark Newton writes:

From Telstra’s point of view, it’s a good thing: ISPs are a bit like electrical networks, in that they need to provision capacity for peak even though peak is only ever used for an hour or two per day (or, under adversity, a day or two per year: consider capacity planning for the ABC’s ISPs during flood events, or CNN on Sep 11 2001).

P2P users push the peak up, so in electrical network terms that’s like servicing a bunch of customers who leave their air conditioners on all the time.

Anything a telco can do to “squash” the peak is going to have an immediate impact on their bottom line.

If, by side effect, it inspires a bunch of the heaviest-using customers to migrate to other ISPs, that’ll reduce the profitability of those other ISPs and improve Telstra’s margins, so that’s a net positive. Why “fire” your worst customers when you can convince them to resign?

From a user’s point of view it’s more dismal, and the impact will depend on how Telstra uses their systems.

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