FTC Queues-in on Netflix Member Privacy

Attn. MPAA: There are much worse ways to copy movies than with a computer.

In 2007 prosecutors in Anchorage Alaska accused 34 year old stripper Mechele Linehan of plotting a murder based on the 1994 movie "The Last Seduction". Life so closely imitated art, said prosecutors, that they even tried to have the movie played for the jury.

Rockstar Games Grand Theft Auto

In 2008 a teenager confessed that he was trying to imitate scenes from the video game "Grand Theft Auto" when he robbed a murdered a taxicab driver in Bangkok Thailand. Movies like "The Deer Hunter" (1978) are even believed to have inspired several "copycat" suicides in the late 1970's and early 80's.

All of this may seem like fodder for censorship advocates, but that debate has largely come and gone in favor preserving the First Amendment's right to free speech. Wise as the framers of the U.S. Constitution may have been, few would accuse them of being clairvoyant. After all, who could have predicted the impact the Internet would some day have on both the precept of free speech and the concept of privacy?

Though many speak of the "right to privacy", it is not, at least as far as the U.S. Constitution is concerned, a right at all. It is, nonetheless, an ethos that has long been coveted by Americans, and is implicit in the Fourth Amendment's:

...right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures...

Of course, mention the term "search" to most people today, and it's far more likely to conjure thoughts of friends lists", home pages and e-books, than actual people, houses and papers. And while, in just the past few years, popular culture has come to embrace the sharing of intimate, private and personal details with virtual strangers, the desire to remain "secure" seems to be very much alive in the 21st Century. In fact, more than any other, the Fourth Amendment has played a central, albeit contested, role in the litigation of hi-tech criminal evidence.

I know what you watched last summer...

So, what does all this have to do with your Netflix queue? Though Americans, and many other people around the world, may be willing to voluntarily divulge personal information, either in trade for modern conveniences and services, or increasingly, for a sense of online significance, we're not quite as enthusiastic when it's taken from us and shared without any tangible return. It's no longer a secret that the monetary value of data has been pre-calculated into the return on investment (ROI) of so many of today's business models, but consumers still tend to expect a certain level of security. In recent years the bar has been set pretty low. Still, it may surprise many to learn that "anonymous" usage data can be deciphered into personally-identifiable intelligence, as proven by a pair of researchers at the University of Texas using what was thought to be anonymous user data provided to contestants in the three-year $1 million "Netflix Prize" to improve the site's recommendation results.

The UT's results brought both unwanted attention from the Federal Trade Commission and a lawsuit from a private firm, resulting in Netflix's decision last week to cancel a planned sequel to the prize awarded last year.

It's not hard to imagine how this sort of data could be exploited to peddle shoes to people who have rented all six seasons of "Sex in the City", or BestBuy ads targeted at fans of NBC's "Chuck".

Dreamworks Minority Report (2002)

It's no longer extraordinary to see similar data exploited in the process of investigating crimes either. Certainly the viewing interests and habits of the individuals mentioned above have been considered relevant discovery by law enforcement. In these cases, there's little, if anything, to decipher.  Anything that Netflix knows about you, your account, and your viewing habits, is subject to a warrant, and, with or without much imagination, could be incriminating. How many of us haven't seen a good fictional car case, a well-written murder plot, a scripted street-fight, or a perfectly executed crime? The consumption of such fiction could be hazardous to your defense, if it proceeds similar accusations.

Now, imagine the same evidence available to anyone, without a warrant, subpoena, or probable cause. Perhaps someone at the FTC had the movie "Minority Report" in their queue.


YouTube the Crime, You Do the Time

WARNING: Portions of this video may be disturbing to automotive enthusiasts.

A brother and sister from Diamond Bar were arrested on suspicion of insurance fraud after investigators found a video on the Internet that appears to show their high-performance 2009 Nissan GT-R sports car crashing during a street race.

Investigators say Jay Chen, 21 from Diamond Bar, California first reported to his insurance company that his sister crashed his 2009 Nissan GT-R supercar on the 10 Freeway on March 16, 2009, but later withdrew the claim. They say his sister, Tracy Chen, corroborated the story. Months later, according to insurance investigators, Chen filed another claim (estimated at $76,000 in damage), saying that he had crashed the same car on the 60 Freeway in Riverside. Having received information from a body shop that they had the damaged vehicle on their premises for several months, an investigator turned to the Internet and discovered evidence the California Insurance Commission calls "key to building the case" against the Chens. Both have been booked on charges of felony insurance fraud.

More @ San Gabrel Valley Tribune (http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_14666391) & California Department of Insurance (http://www.insurance.ca.gov/0400-news/0100-press-releases/2010/release040-10.cfm)

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Infidelity — There’s a map for that.

How Google might know what you did last summer -- even if you forgot.

google-latitude-781430Google Latitude is a service that allows users to see and share their location on a Google map live and in real-time. The service runs on most smart-phones, regardless of service provider, including Apple's iPhone, Windows Mobile, the Palm Pre, and, of course, Google's Android. Latitude relies on a combination of GPS, cellular tower triangulation, and wi-fi triangulation. Having brushed-up on the service for a recent National Public Radio (NPR) Interview, I have since considered Latitude one-part creepy, and two-parts cool. However, the creepy / cool ratio may be shifting.

This week Google introduced a new and improved Google Latitude -- with enhanced features like "Location History".  With Location History Latitude users can go back in time retrace their footsteps, and even see where they stayed-put, and for how long. Kind of cool...yet, very creepy. But practical?

Imagine, for example, you're the owner of a Palm Pre on Sprint's 3G Now Network , having trouble remembering where your were when you told your spouse you were somewhere else? Now, there's a map for that!

But wait -- there's more! How about "Location Alerts"? Certainly, a application that would alert you when a particular individual, say a family member, has left work or school, would be very practical. After a while of being alerted every time someone is, or has arrived, exactly where you would expect them to be, however, could get old. So, Google's geniuses stepped it up a notch. According to Google, Latitude will learn user's patterns and behavior so that alerts can be issued when a person has strayed from their routine -- left at a different time, or arrived at a different place.

For example, if you decide to staycation with your mistress, you can receive a handy alert when your spouse leaves the office earlier than usual. Or, if traffic is particularly light, Latitude will let you know when it's time for a quick window-exit.

Best of all, when the jig is up, no one has to know, because -- for now -- Google is making all these free services available to you, and no one else... at least, without subpoena powers.

This is deception... on the Now Network.


Location, Location, Location.

Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to play a game of hi-tech "phone tag" on the streets of San Francisco with Reporter Martin Kaste from NPR's "All Things Considered". Late last Summer I was  asked if I would be willing to sit down for an interview for a story he was researching about location privacy. But, instead of agreeing to meet Kaste, I told him he had to find me.

With the aid of his GPS-equipped smart-phone, some software, a little patience, and a good pair of walking shoes, he was able to "tag" me sipping a latte outside a coffee shop on Market St. Of course, with my own GPS, and software-equipped smart-phone, I was able to see him coming. What follows are the fruits of that encounter:

Digital Bread Crumbs: Following Your Cell Phone Trail

Jeff Fischbach is a little bit like those guys in The Matrix — when he puts on his shades and looks at the world, he sees data.

Walking down the street in San Francisco, he points out all the devices that record people's comings and goings: digital parking meters, apartment intercom systems, digital security cameras...

Listen to NPR's Digital Bread Crumbs: Following Your Cell Phone Trail

Audio and transcript: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114241860&ft=1&f=1019


You Tweet, therefore: YOU ARE HERE.

TwitterVisionHow Twitter says they'll hide your location from twits with subpoenas.

Recently, Twitter announced that they would be adding geolocation features to their service, allowing users to embed their physical location in their Twitter feed. As not to alarm: Twitter has always maintained that this would be an opt-in feature. But, frankly, any web site you visit is privy to some information about your physical location by virtue of the IP address assigned to your computer by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from a group of IP addresses reserved for your neighborhood. The logs kept by a web server, combined with a subpoena to the appropriate ISP, usually yield a street address for the subscriber assigned that IP address.

SmarterWare's Gina Trapani (formerly of Lifehacker.com) is attending the Twitter Conference in LA. She's posted updates explaining how Twitter plans to deploy this service and how they intend to protect its Twitter geolocation users from subpoenas. According to Gina, "Twitter will scrub geo-data stored in tweets more than 14 days old to avoid getting subpoena’d about a user’s location in the past. They will outright delete the location information from their database, not just anonymize." ... CONTINUE READING »


Twitter sends mixed messages


Source: PoeticPixel.info

Twitter's co-founder says your tweets belong to you. Now read the fine print.

For as long as there's been a World Wide Web, there has been debate surrounding the question, "Who owns what users post online?"

Adding fuel to the fire, popular sites like Facebook have written (and withdrawn,) controversial statements into their Terms of Service (ToS) that seemed to suggest that they were asserting ownership over users' content, including photographs, and it's users' "likeness and image". After a massive user outcry, and even some backlash, Facebook was forced to rewrite its TOS, and even allowed users to vote between two versions.

Now, in an apparent attempt to get in front of this kind of momentum, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone announced in a blog post that new changes to the company's ToS would assure that -- though Twitter is allowed to "use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute" its user's Tweets -- "they are your tweets and they belong to you". ... CONTINUE READING »


Good news for bad behavior: Cyberbullying mom aquitted.

Source: Reuters

Source: Reuters

Lori Drew will likely forever be known as the mom found guilty of "cyberbullying" and taunting teenager Megan Meier to commit suicide. Nothing, however, could be further from fact. Drew was, in fact, found guilty of violating MySpace's terms of service (ToS), by posing as a fictitious teenage boy, AKA "Josh Evans". A victory, perhaps, far greater for the software industry than for the Meier family.

Similar to convicting Al Capone for income tax evasion, ToS violations are more commonly associated with hacker prosecutions. US District Judge George Wu has now overturned the ruling, saying that the conviction could have set a dangerous precedent for other legal cases. ... CONTINUE READING »


Opt-out — for good!

TheOnion has posted this report on what they call "Google's Op-Out Village".

Via TWiT's Leo Laporte (http://leo.tumblr.com/post/161380154/google-opt-out-feature-lets-users-protect-privacy?dsq=14729616#comment-14729616)


Is the new Cookie Diet just a lot of Flash?

So, you gave up cookies back when you were still using Netscape 4.0? If you're like me, you've tried slimming down with fad browsers like Dillo and HotJava. I can't tell you how many times I've jumped from one crashed browser to the next. You've turned off cookies and scripting and ActiveX controls, to no avail. I've even purged a few times, and my cache is still bloated.

FlashI'm here to tell you--It's not your fault! Blame Adobe.

While you were painstakingly avoiding every cookie that came your way, web sites all over the Internet were secretly getting you hooked on Flash Cookies. Yes, Flash Cookies!

While you may have diligently banned cookies in your browser settings, Flash Cookies can't be controlled through privacy settings in your browser. What's worse, some are even able to store and reinstate traditional cookies, even after you've dumped them.

Open Share Icon

Open Share Icon

Even the ever-popular "AddThis" button (not to be confused with the "AddToAny", AKA, "Share/Save" button below) found on many blogs, utilizes a Flash Cookie that, while providing continuity across various web sites that a user may visit, can also be used to track a user's browsing habits, interests, and predilections across an endless cycle of browsing sessions.

Or friends over at the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology and the Social Science Research Center (SSRN) have submitted a report to the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) outlining their findings and general concern over the proliferation of undisclosed Flash cookies, and the lack of browser controls for users to protect their privacy.

Read more @ Wired (http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/08/you-deleted-your-cookies-think-again/)


Hey Twit, get ready to Feed your Face!

"FaceFeed"? Via Cloudwave

Normally, tech industry news is a huge unhealthy personal interest of mine, but just left of my professional purview. (E.g., a waste of time, better spent earning a living.) So, I had to dig real deep to figure out how to get in on the Facebook-Friendfeed news before it hits the TV networks, and 90% of the first-world population utters a simultaneous, "What's Friendfeed?", over morning coffee.

The other ten percent of us are aware that Friendfeed is, in so many ways, technologically and mechanically superior to both Twitter and Facebook, yet not nearly as hip, cool, or demographically desirable (I think the male-female user ratio is worse than Alaska's) in so many other ways. Then again, maybe only five percent of us might agree with that assessment. There's probably another five who know exactly what Friendfeed is, and would sooner drink bleach than cede any advantages to Friendfeed over Twitter. But, most of those people don't have anything nice to say about Facebook either.

From a practical standpoint, it doesn't matter. Most of the free world has already aligned themselves with either Facebook, Twitter, or both. And, thanks in part to services like Ping.fm and Posterous.com, a few of us have managed to keep at least one toe in Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, Plurk, Linkedin, Tumblr, Identi.ca, Brightkite, Plaxo, Bebo, and Hi5--but won't admit to ever having used MySpace. (Yes, I have 11 toes--Get over it!)

So, here's my spin: The Facebook-Friendfeed marriage ("Facefeed"?) is arguably the biggest merger in the online social space since AOL bought ICQ back in good ol' 1998. (Again, 90% say, "ICQ?") With it, Facebook will be acquiring various bits of personally-identifiable information from over 1,000,000 active and inactive Friendfeed users. Granted, next to Facebook's exhaustive, and arguably invasive (creepy?), profile settings, Friendfeed doesn't even allow for more than four pieces of information: a full name, user name, password, and an email address. But, Friendfeed does encourage users to scan their various email accounts and social networks for other users, and, like other social networks, it stores whatever the user puts into it. While Friendfeed encourages it's users to make their feeds public, similar to most Twitter feeds, it does have a "private feed" option. Presumably, this information has been purchased along with the public feeds. Though Friendfeed's numbers might pale in comparison to Facebook's quarter of a Billion users, it serves as a reminder, lest some even bigger fish (say Google) might one day swallow Facebook. And, one million people might still want to know what's going to happen with their data.

Read more @ Cloud Ave (http://www.cloudave.com/link/facefeed-no-surprises-here)


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