The Internet

The 'Terms and Conditions' Reckoning Is Coming (bloomberg.com) 69

Everyone from Uber to PayPal is facing a backlash against their impenetrable legalese. From a report: Personal finance forums online are brimming with complaints from hundreds of PayPal customers who say they've been suspended because they signed up before age 18. PayPal declined to comment on any specific cases, but says it's appropriate to close accounts created by underage people "to ensure our customers have full legal capacity to accept our user agreement." While that may seem "heavy-handed," says Sarah Kenshall, a technology attorney with law firm Burges Salmon, the company is within its rights because the users clicked to agree to the rules -- however difficult the language might be to understand.

Websites have long required users to plow through pages of dense legalese to use their services, knowing that few ever give the documents more than a cursory glance. In 2005 security-software provider PC Pitstop LLC promised a $1,000 prize to the first user to spot the offer deep in its terms and conditions; it took four months before the reward was claimed. The incomprehensibility of user agreements is poised to change as tech giants such as Uber Technologies and Facebook confront pushback for mishandling user information, and the European Union prepares to implement new privacy rules called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The measure underscores "the requirement for clear and plain language when explaining consent," British Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham wrote on her blog last year.

Facebook

Audit Approved of Facebook Policies, Even After Cambridge Analytica Leak (nytimes.com) 66

Nicholas Confessore reports via The New York Times: An auditing firm responsible for monitoring Facebook for federal regulators told them last year that the company had sufficient privacy protections in place, even after the social media giant lost control of a huge trove of user data that was improperly obtained by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The assertion, by PwC, came in a report submitted to the Federal Trade Commission in early 2017. The report, a redacted copy of which is available on the commission's website, is one of several periodic reviews of Facebook's compliance with a 2011 federal consent decree, which required Facebook to take wide-ranging steps to prevent the abuse of users' information and to inform them how it was being shared with other companies. The accounting firm, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, effectively gave Facebook a clean bill of health. "Facebook's privacy controls were operating with sufficient effectiveness to provide reasonable assurance to protect the privacy" of users, said the assessment, which stretched from February 2015 to February 2017. But during that period, Facebook was aware that a researcher based in Britain, Aleksandr Kogan, had provided Cambridge Analytica with private Facebook data from millions of users.
Security

LinkedIn's AutoFill Plugin Could Leak user Data, Secret Fix Failed (techcrunch.com) 24

TechCrunch reports of a flaw in LinkedIn's AutoFill plugin that could have allowed hackers to steal your full name, phone number, email address, location (ZIP code), company, and job title. "Malicious sites have been able to invisibly render the plugin on their entire page so if users who are logged into LinkedIn click anywhere, they'd effectively be hitting a hidden 'AutoFill with LinkedIn' button and giving up their data." From the report: Researcher Jack Cable discovered the issue on April 9th, 2018 and immediately disclosed it to LinkedIn. The company issued a fix on April 10th but didn't inform the public of the issue. Cable quickly informed LinkedIn that its fix, which restricted the use of its AutoFill feature to whitelisted sites who pay LinkedIn to host their ads, still left it open to abuse. If any of those sites have cross-site scripting vulnerabilities, which Cable confirmed some do, hackers can still run AutoFill on their sites by installing an iframe to the vulnerable whitelisted site. He got no response from LinkedIn over the last 9 days so Cable reached out to TechCrunch. A LinkedIn spokesperson issued this statement to TechCrunch: "We immediately prevented unauthorized use of this feature, once we were made aware of the issue. We are now pushing another fix that will address potential additional abuse cases and it will be in place shortly. While we've seen no signs of abuse, we're constantly working to ensure our members' data stays protected. We appreciate the researcher responsibly reporting this and our security team will continue to stay in touch with them. For clarity, LinkedIn AutoFill is not broadly available and only works on whitelisted domains for approved advertisers. It allows visitors to a website to choose to pre-populate a form with information from their LinkedIn profile."
Chrome

Millions of Chrome Users Have Installed Malware Posing as Ad Blockers (vice.com) 42

Kaleigh Rogers, writing for Motherboard: Andrey Meshkov, the cofounder of ad-blocker AdGuard, recently got curious about the number of knock-off ad blocking extensions available for Google's popular browser Chrome. These extensions were deliberately styled to look like legitimate, well-known ad blockers, but Meshkov wondered why they existed at all, so he downloaded one and took a look at the code. "Basically I downloaded it and checked what requests the extension was making," Meshkov told me over the phone. "Some strange requests caught my attention."

Meshkov discovered that the AdRemover extension for Chrome -- which had over 10 million users -- had code hidden inside an image that was loaded from the remote command server, giving the extension creator the ability to change its functions without updating. This alone is against Google's policy, and after Meshkov wrote about a few examples on AdGuard's blog, many of which had millions of downloads, Chrome removed the extensions from the store. I reached out to Google, and a spokesperson confirmed that these extensions had been removed.

EU

Facebook To Put 1.5 Billion Users Out of Reach of New EU Privacy Law (reuters.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Facebook: If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people's online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller. Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company's international headquarters in Ireland. Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America will not fall under the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25. That removes a huge potential liability for Facebook, as the new EU law allows for fines of up to 4 percent of global annual revenue for infractions, which in Facebook's case could mean billions of dollars.
Facebook

'Login With Facebook' Data Hijacked By JavaScript Trackers (techcrunch.com) 91

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Facebook confirms to TechCrunch that it's investigating a security research report that shows Facebook user data can be grabbed by third-party JavaScript trackers embedded on websites using Login With Facebook. The exploit lets these trackers gather a user's data including name, email address, age range, gender, locale, and profile photo depending on what users originally provided to the website. It's unclear what these trackers do with the data, but many of their parent companies including Tealium, AudienceStream, Lytics, and ProPS sell publisher monetization services based on collected user data. The abusive scripts were found on 434 of the top 1 million websites including freelancer site Fiverr.com, camera seller B&H Photo And Video, and cloud database provider MongoDB. That's according to Steven Englehardt and his colleagues at Freedom To Tinker, which is hosted by Princeton's Center For Information Technology Policy.
Privacy

Richard Stallman On Facebook's Privacy Scandal: We Need a Law. There's No Reason We Should Let Them Exist if the Price is Knowing Everything About Us (nymag.com) 352

From a wide-ranging interview of Richard Stallman by New York Magazine: New York Magazine: Why do you think these companies feel justified in collecting that data?

Richard Stallman: Oh, well, I think you can trace it to the general plutocratic neoliberal ideology that has controlled the U.S. for more than two decades. A study established that since 1998 or so, the public opinion in general has no influence on political decisions. They're controlled by the desires of the rich and of special interests connected with whatever issue it is. So the companies that wanted to collect data about people could take advantage of this general misguided ideology to get away with whatever they might have wanted to do. Which happened to be collecting data about people. But I think they shouldn't be allowed to collect data about people.

We need a law. Fuck them -- there's no reason we should let them exist if the price is knowing everything about us. Let them disappear. They're not important -- our human rights are important. No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state. And a police state is what we're heading toward. Most non-free software has malicious functionalities. And they include spying on people, restricting people -- that's called digital restrictions management, back doors, censorship.

Empirically, basically, if a program is not free software, it probably has one of these malicious functionalities. So imagine a driverless car, controlled of course by software, and it will probably be proprietary software, meaning not-free software, not controlled by the users but rather by the company that makes the car, or some other company. Well imagine if that has a back door, which enables somebody to send a command saying, "Ignore what the passenger said, and go there." Imagine what that would do. You can be quite sure that China will use that functionality to drive people toward the places they're going to be disappeared or punished. But can you be sure that the U.S. won't?

Security

Data Firm Leaks 48 Million User Profiles it Scraped From Facebook, LinkedIn, Others (zdnet.com) 56

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet: A little-known data firm was able to build 48 million personal profiles, combining data from sites and social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Zillow, among others -- without the users' knowledge or consent. Localblox, a Bellevue, Wash.-based firm, says it "automatically crawls, discovers, extracts, indexes, maps and augments data in a variety of formats from the web and from exchange networks." Since its founding in 2010, the company has focused its collection on publicly accessible data sources, like social networks Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and real estate site Zillow to name a few, to produce profiles.

But earlier this year, the company left a massive store of profile data on a public but unlisted Amazon S3 storage bucket without a password, allowing anyone to download its contents. The bucket, labeled "lbdumps," contained a file that unpacked to a single file over 1.2 terabytes in size. The file listed 48 million individual records, scraped from public profiles, consolidated, then stitched together.

The Internet

Russia Admits To Blocking Millions of IP Addresses (sfgate.com) 72

It turns out, the Russian government, in its quest to block Telegram, accidentally shut down several other services as well. From a report: The chief of the Russian communications watchdog acknowledged Wednesday that millions of unrelated IP addresses have been frozen in a so-far futile attempt to block a popular messaging app. Telegram, the messaging app that was ordered to be blocked last week, was still available to users in Russia despite authorities' frantic attempts to hit it by blocking other services. The row erupted after Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, refused to hand its encryption keys to the intelligence agencies. The Russian government insists it needs them to pre-empt extremist attacks but Telegram dismissed the request as a breach of privacy. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, said in an interview with the Izvestia daily published Wednesday that Russia is blocking 18 networks that are used by Amazon and Google and which host sites that they believe Telegram is using to circumvent the ban.
China

Huawei To Back Off US Market Amid Rising Tensions (nytimes.com) 91

Huawei is reportedly going to give up on selling its products and services in the United States (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) due to Washington's accusations that the company has ties to the Chinese government. The change in tactics comes a week after the company laid off five American employees, including its biggest American lobbyist. The New York Times reports: Huawei's tactics are changing as its business prospects in the United States have darkened considerably. On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to proceed with a new rule that could effectively kill off what little business the company has in the United States. Although the proposed rule does not mention Huawei by name, it would block federally subsidized telecommunications carriers from using suppliers deemed to pose a risk to American national security. Huawei's latest moves suggest that it has accepted that its political battles in the United States are not ones it is likely to win. "Some things cannot change their course according to our wishes," Eric Xu, Huawei's deputy chairman, said at the company's annual meeting with analysts on Tuesday. "With some things, when you let them go, you actually feel more at ease."
Facebook

Facebook Admits To Tracking Users, Non-Users Off-Site (theguardian.com) 146

Facebook said in a blog post yesterday that they tracked users and non-users across websites and apps for three main reasons: providing services directly, securing the company's own site, and "improving our products and services." The statement comes as the company faces a U.S. lawsuit over a controversial facial recognition feature launched in 2011. The Guardian reports: "When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you're logged out or don't have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don't know who is using Facebook," Facebook's product management director, David Baser, wrote. "Whether it's information from apps and websites, or information you share with other people on Facebook, we want to put you in control -- and be transparent about what information Facebook has and how it is used."

But the company's transparency has still not extended to telling non-users what it knows about them -- an issue Zuckerberg also faced questions over from Congress. Asked by Texas representative Gene Green whether all information Facebook holds about a user is in the file the company offers as part of its "download your data" feature, Zuckerberg had responded he believed that to be the case. Privacy campaigner Paul-Olivier Dehaye disagreed, noting that, even as a Facebook user, he had been unable to access personal data collected through the company's off-site tracking systems. Following an official subject access request under EU law, he told MPs last month, Facebook had responded that it was unable to provide the information.

Facebook

Former Cambridge Analytica Employee Says Facebook Users Affected Could Be 'Much Greater Than 87 million' (theverge.com) 45

Cambridge Analytica and its partners used data from previously unknown "Facebook-connected questionnaires" to obtain user data from the social media service, according to testimony from a former Cambridge Analytica employee. From a report: Brittany Kaiser provided evidence to the British Parliament today as part of a hearing on fake news. Kaiser, who worked on the business team at Cambridge Analytica's parent company until January of this year, wrote in a statement that she was "aware in a general sense of a wide range of surveys" used by Cambridge Analytica or its partners, and she said she believes the number of people whose Facebook data may have been compromised is likely higher than the widely reported 87 million.
Businesses

Cybersecurity Tech Accord: More Than 30 Tech Firms Pledge Not to Assist Governments in Cyberattacks (cybertechaccord.org) 67

Over 30 major technology companies, led by Microsoft and Facebook, on Tuesday announced what they are calling the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, a set of principles that include a declaration that they will not help any government -- including that of the United States -- mount cyberattacks against "innocent civilians and enterprises from anywhere."

The companies that are participating in the initiative are: ABB, Arm, Avast, Bitdefender, BT, CA Technologies, Cisco, Cloudflare, DataStax, Dell, DocuSign, Facebook, Fastly, FireEye, F-Secure, GitHub, Guardtime, HP Inc., HPE, Intuit, Juniper Networks, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Nielsen, Nokia, Oracle, RSA, SAP, Stripe, Symantec, Telefonica, Tenable, Trend Micro, and VMware.

The announcement comes at the backdrop of a growing momentum in political and industry circles to create a sort of Digital Geneva Convention that commits the entire tech industry and governments to supporting a free and secure internet. The effort comes after attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya hobbled businesses around the world last year, and just a day after the U.S. and U.K. issued an unprecedented joint alert citing the threat of cyberattacks from Russian state-sponsored actors. The Pentagon has said Russian "trolling" activity increased 2,000 percent after missile strikes in Syria.

Interestingly, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Twitter are not participating in the program, though the Tech Accord says it "remains open to consideration of new private sector signatories, large or small and regardless of sector."
Canada

19-Year-Old Archivist Charged For Downloading Freedom-of-Information Releases (www.cbc.ca) 418

Ichijo writes: According to CBC News, a Canadian teen "has been charged with 'unauthorized use of a computer,' which carries a possible 10-year prison sentence, for downloading approximately 7,000 freedom-of-information releases. The provincial government says about 250 of those contain Nova Scotians' sensitive personal information."

"When he was around eight [...] his Grade 3 class adopted an animal at a shelter, receiving an electronic adoption certificate," reports CBC. "That lead to a discovery on the classroom computer. 'The website had a number at the end, and I was able to change the last digit of the number to a different number and was able to see a certificate for someone else's animal that they adopted,' he said. 'I thought that was interesting.' The teenager's current troubles arose because he used the same trick on Nova Scotia's freedom-of-information portal, downloading about 7,000 freedom-of-information requests."
The teen is estimated to have around 30 terabytes of online data on his hard drives, which equates to "millions" of webpages. "He usually copies online forums such as 4chan and Reddit, where posts are either quickly erased or can become difficult to locate."
United States

Facebook Must Face Class-Action Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition, Says Judge (kfgo.com) 79

U.S. District Judge James Donato ruled on Monday that Facebook must face a class-action lawsuit alleging that the social network unlawfully used a facial recognition process on photos without user permission. Donato ruled that a class-action was the most efficient way to resolve the dispute over facial templates. KFGO reports: Facebook said it was reviewing the ruling. "We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously," the company said in a statement. Lawyers for the plaintiffs could not immediately be reached for comment. Facebook users sued in 2015, alleging violations of an Illinois state law about the privacy of biometric information. The class will consist of Facebook users in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored facial recognition algorithms after June 7, 2011, Donato ruled. That is the date when Facebook launched "Tag Suggestions," a feature that suggests people to tag after a Facebook user uploads a photo. In the U.S. court system, certification of a class is typically a major hurdle that plaintiffs in proposed class actions need to overcome before reaching a possible settlement or trial.
Communications

France is Building Its Own Encrypted Messaging Service To Ease Fears That Foreign Entities Could Spy on Private Conversations (reuters.com) 87

The French government is building its own encrypted messenger service to ease fears that foreign entities could spy on private conversations between top officials, the digital ministry said on Monday. From a report: None of the world's major encrypted messaging apps, including Facebook's WhatsApp and Telegram -- a favorite of President Emmanuel Macron -- are based in France, raising the risk of data breaches at servers outside the country.

About 20 officials and top civil servants are testing the new app which a state-employed developer has designed, a ministry spokeswoman said, with the aim that its use will become mandatory for the whole government by the summer. "We need to find a way to have an encrypted messaging service that is not encrypted by the United States or Russia," the spokeswoman said. "You start thinking about the potential breaches that could happen, as we saw with Facebook, so we should take the lead."

Encryption

Former FBI Director James Comey Reveals How Apple and Google's Encryption Efforts Drove Him 'Crazy' (fastcompany.com) 350

An anonymous reader shares a report: In his explosive new book, A Higher Loyalty, fired FBI director James Comey denounces President Trump as "untethered to the truth" and likens him to a "mob boss," but he also touches on other topics during his decades-long career in law enforcement -- including his strong objection to the tech industry's encryption efforts. When Apple and Google announced in 2014 that they would be moving their mobile devices to default encryption, by emphasizing that making them immune to judicial orders was good for society, "it drove me crazy," he writes. He goes on to lament the lack of "true listening" between tech and law enforcement, saying that "the leaders of the tech companies don't see the darkness the FBI sees," such as terrorism and organized crime.

He writes, "I found it appalling that the tech types couldn't see this. I would frequently joke with the FBI 'Going Dark' team assigned to seek solutions, 'Of course the Silicon Valley types don't see the darkness -- they live where it's sunny all the time and everybody is rich and smart." But Comey understood it was an unbelievably difficult issue and that public safety had to be balanced with privacy concerns.

Social Networks

Is It Time To Stop Using Social Media? (counterpunch.org) 291

Slashdot reader Nicola Hahn writes: Bulk data collection isn't the work of a couple of bad apples. Corporate social media is largely predicated on stockpiling and mining user information. As Zuckerberg explained to lawmakers, it's their business model...

While Zuckerberg has offered public apologias, spurring genuine regulation will probably be left to the public. Having said that, confronting an economic sector which makes up one of the country's largest political lobbying blocks might not be a tenable path in the short term.

The best immediate option for netizens may be to opt out of social media entirely.

The original submission links to this call-to-action from Counterpunch: Take personal responsibility for your own social life. Go back to engaging flesh and blood people without tech companies serving as an intermediary. Eschew the narcissistic impulse to broadcast the excruciating minutiae of your life to the world. Refuse to accept the mandate that you must participate in social media in order to participate in society. Reclaim your autonomy.
Facebook

Facebook Competitor Orkut Relaunches as 'Hello' (bloombergquint.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: In 2004, one of the world's most popular social networks, Orkut, was founded by a former Google employee named Orkut Buyukkokten... Orkut was shut down by Google in 2014, but in its heyday, the network had hit 300 million users around the world... "Hello.com is a spiritual successor of Orkut.com," Buyukkokten told BloombergQuint... "People have lost trust in social networks and the main reason is social media services today don't put the users first. They put advertisers, brands, third parties, shareholders before the users," Buyukkokten said. "They are also not transparent about practices. The privacy policy and terms of services are more like black boxes. How many users actually read them?"

Buyukkokten said users need to be educated about these things and user consent is imperative in such situations when data is shared by such platforms. "On Hello, we do not share data with third parties. We have our own registration and login and so the data doesn't follow you anywhere," he said. "You don't need to sell user data in order to be profitable or make money."

Social Networks

'An Apology for the Internet -- from the People Who Built It' (nymag.com) 179

"Those who designed our digital world are aghast at what they created," argues a new article in New York Magazine titled "The Internet Apologizes". Today, the most dire warnings are coming from the heart of Silicon Valley itself. The man who oversaw the creation of the original iPhone believes the device he helped build is too addictive. The inventor of the World Wide Web fears his creation is being "weaponized." Even Sean Parker, Facebook's first president, has blasted social media as a dangerous form of psychological manipulation. "God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains," he lamented recently...

The internet's original sin, as these programmers and investors and CEOs make clear, was its business model. To keep the internet free -- while becoming richer, faster, than anyone in history -- the technological elite needed something to attract billions of users to the ads they were selling. And that something, it turns out, was outrage. As Jaron Lanier, a pioneer in virtual reality, points out, anger is the emotion most effective at driving "engagement" -- which also makes it, in a market for attention, the most profitable one. By creating a self-perpetuating loop of shock and recrimination, social media further polarized what had already seemed, during the Obama years, an impossibly and irredeemably polarized country... What we're left with are increasingly divided populations of resentful users, now joined in their collective outrage by Silicon Valley visionaries no longer in control of the platforms they built.

Lanier adds that "despite all the warnings, we just walked right into it and created mass behavior-modification regimes out of our digital networks." Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, is even quoted as saying that a social-validation feedback loop is "exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, creators -- it's me, it's Mark [Zuckerberg], it's Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it's all of these people -- understood this consciously. And we did it anyway."

The article includes quotes from Richard Stallman, arguing that data privacy isn't the problem. "The problem is that these companies are collecting data about you, period. We shouldn't let them do that. The data that is collected will be abused..." He later adds that "We need a law that requires every system to be designed in a way that achieves its basic goal with the least possible collection of data... No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state."

The article proposes hypothetical solutions. "Could a subscription model reorient the internet's incentives, valuing user experience over ad-driven outrage? Could smart regulations provide greater data security? Or should we break up these new monopolies entirely in the hope that fostering more competition would give consumers more options?" Some argue that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 shields internet companies from all consequences for bad actors -- de-incentivizing the need to address them -- and Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, thinks the solution is new legislation. "The government is going to have to be involved. You do it exactly the same way you regulated the cigarette industry. Technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and product designers are working to make those products more addictive. We need to rein that back."

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