FCC Unsure Whether to Punish Carriers for Selling Location Data

Two years ago we found out that US carriers were selling real-time location data of its customers. The FCC has wrapped up its investigation, and maybe it will punish the carriers…or maybe not. Who knows? Chairman Ajit Pai doesn’t.

Pai’s statement went on: “Accordingly, in the coming days, I intend to circulate to my fellow Commissioners for their consideration one or more Notice(s) of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture in connection with the apparent violation(s). We are unable to provide additional information about any pending enforcement action(s) beyond what is stated in the letter.”

If that seems unusual vague: that “one or more” mobile operators “apparently violated” the law by selling location data, you’re not the only one.

Amazon Will Sell Your Face for as Low as 40 Cents for Facial Recognition

Reporters at The California Sunday Magazine recently published an overview of facial recognition technology. It’s a long read and it provides a lot of information on this technology and how it works. Among the tidbits that caught my eye I wanted to share this one:

Why has the use of facial recognition become such a hot-button issue now? The most obvious answer is that the technology has been improved, streamlined, and commercialized to the point that it has become widely accessible, available for purchase for as low as 40 cents an image if you opt for Amazon’s facial-recognition software plan.

RoomMe is a Smart Home Device to Person-Specific Automation

RoomMe is a occupancy automation sensor for your home. This means when a person walks into a room, it detects your phone via Bluetooth to enable person-specific automation. A spokesperson told me it uses localized technology called Presence Sensing Technology. It stores your automation rules on your smartphone and doesn’t accept external automation triggers or manual operation. Meaning, the device commands your other devices and doesn’t accept commands from other devices. However, according to its privacy policy the app does contain Google analytics and “behavioral remarketing services” to show you ads outside of the app. But you can enable Limit Ad Tracking in iOS settings. You can pick up a single RoomMe sensor for US$69.99, or buy combo packs. It supports various smart home protocols including HomeKit.

Location is One of The Big Factors in Advertising

Jennifer Jolly wrote an article wondering if Siri was spying on her because she began to see ads in Spanish after her husband began speaking Spanish at home, within “earshot” of her iPad. The answer is, of course, no. In her buried lede she tells us that she had just moved to a predominantly Spanish-speaking part of Oakland California. It seems reasonable to me that you would see Spanish ads in a Spanish area. Although I’m sure the device’s language is a factor. We did have news last year that contractors listened to some snippets of Siri recordings, but that was to improve the service and not sell ads. Meanwhile, if you turn on Limit Ad Tracking in Settings, your advertising identifier is zeroed. After that, location becomes one of the big factors in advertising.

And Apple says it engineers its devices to protect user privacy. When it comes to Siri, which is integrated in nearly every Apple device, the assistant is designed to activate only after the wake word (“Hey, Siri”) or a waking action is completed, Apple says.

CocoonWeaver Gives You Private Voice Transcriptions

CocoonWeaver is a new-ish app (released five months ago) that gives you private voice transcriptions automatically sorted into categories with a voice command. To assign a category to a transcription just say at the beginning, “Cocoon, <category>” then start talking as normal. The developers also have a good privacy policy. Audio and textual data is encrypted and stored locally. The app’s design adheres to guidelines put forth by The Center for Humane Technology. Other features include: Integrated maps for geotagged notes, global search of history, an Apple Watch app, works offline, and more. App Store: Free

Facebook Hilariously Reminds its Users About ‘Data Privacy Day’

In the next few weeks you might see a reminder in the Facebook to review your privacy settings. That is, what little privacy the company gives you.

The updates represent Facebook burnishing its image to some extent. It spent much of the last decade embroiled in privacy problems that ranged from the Cambridge Analytica scandal through to data exposure on a third-party system. At the same time, it’s safe to say many people want to know their data is being used properly — the prompt and expanded tools could provide a degree of reassurance.

I don’t think it’s possible for Facebook to burnish its image.

Amazon’s Ring Surveillance App is Loaded With Trackers

Not only are Ring doorbell cameras used as surveillance, but the app itself too. Like many apps, it’s loaded with third-party trackers and analytics tools. The EFF examined the Android app.

As we’ve mentioned, this includes information about your device and carrier, unique identifiers that allow these companies to track you across apps, real-time interaction data with the app, and information about your home network. In the case of MixPanel, it even includes your name and email address.

Leaked Documents Reveal Antivirus Surveillance Industry

Leaked documents reveal that an Avast antivirus subsidiary called Jumpshot packages what you do on your computer and sells it to companies like Google, Microsoft, Pepsi, and more.

The data obtained by Motherboard and PCMag includes Google searches, lookups of locations and GPS coordinates on Google Maps, people visiting companies’ LinkedIn pages, particular YouTube videos, and people visiting porn websites. It is possible to determine from the collected data what date and time the anonymized user visited YouPorn and PornHub, and in some cases what search term they entered into the porn site and which specific video they watched.

I write a lot about privacy and security, and I try hard to be optimistic that eventually things will change and some day we will have a federal privacy law.