There is no way to escape the machine systems that surveil us, whether we are shopping, driving or walking in the park. All roads to economic and social participation now lead through surveillance capitalism’s profit-maximizing institutional terrain, a condition that has intensified during nearly two years of global plague.

(Shoshana Zuboff via NYT)

Compare this with the underhanded way Vizio spies on paying customers:

If you think that some companies want to make money the honest way, by selling you stuff, while other companies are full of evil wizards who want to spy on you in order to deprive you of free will, then the answer is simple: just pay for stuff, and you’ll be fine. But time and again, we learn that companies spy on you – and abuse you in other ways – whenever it suits them – even companies that make a lot of noise about how they don’t need to spy on you to make money.

(Via Cory Doctorow)

The outside world is surveilled. I don’t like it. What I can do about it, I do.

The inside world, the world in my house and yard and car, that I only want surveilled by one person — me.

  • When I shop for a new thing I ask a few key questions:
    • Will the device work without a network connection?
    • Without a subscription?
    • Without advertising? Tracking?
    • Do I own the thing I bought?
    • Can I repair it? Modify it? Resell it?

    Analog stuff is great. There is no debate. Getting “smart” in one’s home is harder.

    H/t Dave Pell.

    The Ease of Tracking Mobile Phones of U.S. Soldiers in Hot Spots – WSJ:

     

    In 2016, a U.S. defense contractor named PlanetRisk Inc. was working on a software prototype when its employees discovered they could track U.S. military operations through the data generated by the apps on the mobile phones of American soldiers.

    …  The discovery was an early look at what today has become a significant challenge for the U.S. armed forces: how to protect service members, intelligence officers and security personnel in an age where highly revealing commercial data being generated by mobile phones and other digital services is bought and sold in bulk, and available for purchase by America’s adversaries.

     

    A bunch of thoughts:

    I can’t help but immediately think about the push in many political quarters to weaken security by breaking encryption. I’ll get back to that.

    Why did this get attention in 2016? And no, this was not “an early look”.

    The government has known for decades that cell phones are trackable if they have power and their transceiver is on. It’s how cell phones work. Anyone who’s watched any incarnation of Law & Order in this century or the last also knows this. The government could have mandated a phone system that would have afforded protections but the carriers resisted, I expect.

    And don’t forget cell phones aren’t always phones – laptops and tablets and watches and Kindles and a bunch of other things might – and eventually will – have cell connectivity. With 5G, the distinction might go away if the media (cell, wired, wifi, &c.) converge as advertised. Imagine golf gloves that report your stats back to the cloud.

    By the way, all that additional social media data is gravy to the buyer, but someone specifically wanting to track the movement of US military personnel around the globe don’t need it … from military personnel.

    Take this scenario:

    • They script a tool like the McDonalds Ice Cream Machine tracker to scrape airline seat assignments to see if open seat availability suddenly drops on certain routes;
    • They scrape social media for hub airport and airline workers who are talking about increases in military personnel coming through; and
    • They watch counts for private Facebook groups for military families to see if their memberships increase.

    Based off of that trivial-to-collect data (It’s free or for sale), and we assume they just generally monitor social media and the news, it’s not hard to get an idea of what’s happening. And before anyone complains that my loose lips are sinking ships, this is a simple scenario that is well understood and the plot of several books, movies, and TV shows.

    Note, my above scenario assumes all the military personnel are disconnected and analog.

    Also note that the above scenario works for advertisers as well as it does for bad actors and for industrial espionage …  and other use cases..

    That things would evolve into what the Wall Street Journal article describes was predictable:

    buried in the data was evidence of sensitive U.S. military operations by American special-operations forces in Syria. The company’s analysts could see phones that had come from military facilities in the U.S., traveled through countries like Canada or Turkey and were clustered at the abandoned Lafarge Cement Factory in northern Syria, a staging area at the time for U.S. special-operations and allied forces.

    The U.S. military’s clutching of pearls and muttering, “Well, I do declare that I never …  ,” about this situation is perhaps disingenuous. ※

    The U.S. government has built robust programs to track terrorists and criminals through warrantless access to commercial data. Many vendors now provide global location information from mobile phones to intelligence, military and law-enforcement organizations.

    But those same capabilities are available to U.S. adversaries, and the U.S.—having prioritized a free and open internet paid for largely through digital advertising with minimal regulation of privacy—has struggled to effectively monitor what software service members are installing on devices and whether that software is secure.

    Which brings us back to encryption – strong, uncompromized encryption –  is one of the tools that the government could bring to bear to help protect troop movements. There are innumerable ways they could, and do, leverage encryption. By the way, we need strong encryption for e-commerce, on-line banking, and a ton of other critical things.

    There’s some reflection on the tech industry welding batteries into their phones (and devices) and adopting eSIMs, predicating an always on-line but always trackable society, that needs considering.

    Solving this problem, the consolidation of anyone’s/everyone’s/each-of-our on-line and off-line life into a revenue stream for the advertising companies that are Facebook and Google, one that is very much the government’s own creation yet needs to be solved by the government, is a complex undertaking that will require the private sector to forgo some profits for the greater good. Oh, it could fix some of the military troop movement leak issue as a byproduct.

    ※ There is a American trope about the White southern belle or matriarch who, when faced with realities with which she does not want to deal, does what I describe.

    AI can now easily (8 seconds) change the identity of someone in a film or video.
    Multiple services can now scan a few hours of someone’s voice and then fake any sentence in that person’s voice. […]
    Don’t buy anything from anyone who calls you on the phone. Careful with your prescriptions. Don’t believe a video or a photo and especially a review. Luxury goods probably aren’t. That fish might not even be what it says it is.
    But we need reputation. The people who are sowing the seeds of distrust almost certainly don’t have your best interests in mind-we’ve all been hacked. Which means that a reshuffling is imminent, one that restores confidence so we can be sure we’re seeing what we think we’re seeing. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow, so now, more than ever, it seems like we have to assume we’re being conned.
    Sad but true.
    What happens after the commotion will be a retrenchment, a way to restore trust and connection, because we have trouble thriving without it.

    (Via The end of reputation; photo via Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash)
    Apologies to Seth for quoting nearly his whole post, but it’s important and scary.
    Neal Stephenson, in his book Fall; Or, Dodge in Hell 🇺🇸 🇯🇵, addresses this very issue of reputation and authenticity. In very simplistic & basic terms, it involves leveraging something like blockchain to “check in” or “sign in” to legitimate things by you or things you control. He also talks about Editors, who are human professional social media filters, which takes us down a different rabbit hole.
    As I move my on-line life as much on to platforms I control or trust, I am thinking about how to validate “me” outside of that without that validation coming back to bite me later, assuming such a thing is possible.
    What do you think?

    The Department of Justice wants access to encrypted consumer devices, but promises not to infiltrate business products or affect critical infrastructure. Yet that’s not possible, because there is no longer any difference between those categories of devices. Consumer devices are critical infrastructure. They affect national security. And it would be foolish to weaken them, even at the request of law enforcement.

    (Via The Myth of Consumer Security – Lawfare)

    No clue what to do about it, but sure something should be done about it, and picking the wrong thing to do about it: the Trump administration in a nutshell. There’s already been a “sensational case” – the San Bernadino one in 2016 – and the FBI paid an Israeli company about $1m to break into the iPhone in question, to find nothing useful. There was more, and better, data on the terrorists’ Facebook profiles.
    unique link to this extract

    (Via The Overspill)
    Similar to my earlier post on AG Barr’s complete lack of understanding about how encryption actually works and benefits the entire economy.

    Attorney General William Barr Really Wants to Read Your iMessages:

    It is almost impressive how people with no clue about how encryption works have, time and time again, ignored the advice of actual experts in it. If [US Attorney General William] Barr were in charge of NASA, he’d demand a faster-than-light Space Shuttle even after being told that it is impossible.

    (Via Pixel Envy)
    This Ars Technica article is a pretty good summary of Barr’s latest attack on working encryption.

    Mozilla Firefox to Enable Hyperlink Ping Tracking By Default by Lawrence Abrams:

    Firefox
    Mozilla has told BleepingComputer that they will be enabling the tracking feature called hyperlink auditing, or Pings, by default in Firefox. There is no timeline for when this feature will be enabled, but it will be done when their implementation is complete.
    For those not familiar with hyperlink auditing, it is a HTML feature that allows web sites to track link clicks by adding the “ping=” attribute to HTML links. When these links are clicked, in addition to navigating to the linked to page, the browser will also connect to the page listed in the ping= attribute, which can then be used to record the click.

    When these links are displayed on the page, they will appear as a normal link and if a user clicks on it, there is no indication that a connection is being made to a different page as well.

    Mozilla feels it’s a performance improvement

    While some users feel this feature is a privacy risk, browsers developers feel that trackers are going to track, so you might as well offer a solution that provides better performance.

    When we asked if they felt that users should at least be given the ability to disable the feature if they wish, Mozilla stated that they did not believe it would have any “meaningful improvement” to a user’s privacy.
    “We don’t believe that offering an option to disable this feature alone will have any meaningful improvement in the user privacy, since website can (and often already do) detect the various supported mechanisms for hyperlink auditing in each browser and disabling the more user friendly mechanisms [ed: bold mine] will cause them to fall back to the less user friendly ones, without actually disabling the hyperlink auditing functionality itself.”

    How is this “user friendly” exactly? Let’s block all of the tracking mechanisms and let people explicitly opt in to share their data … especially considering this method is already being used in DDoS attacks.
    Or maybe just be transparent. That the user doesn’t know and can’t know without parsing the HTML themselves that these are there is … problematic at best.

    British parliament releases contentious Facebook emails by Mathew Ingram:


    When a British parliamentary committee looking into Facebook’s role in misinformation and data privacy seized documents last week from an American businessman involved in a lawsuit with Facebook, the committee threatened to make the files public, even though they were sealed by a California court order. And that’s exactly what it did on Wednesday: Damian Collins, the head of the committee–and the man who used a little-known British law to send a Serjeant-at-Arms to the American businessman’s hotel room to escort him to the House of Commons–published more than 200 pages of emails and other documents. The files came from a court case with Six4Three, makers of an app that allowed users to search their friends’ photos for bathing suit pictures. The details in the documents won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been following Facebook and its various privacy blunders, but it is illuminating to see some of the company’s practices exposed in black and white.
    One of the most contentious revelations revolves around a proposal to update the Facebook app for Android phones so that the social network could read and store the call logs of users. It would then use the data from a user’s call history, as well as their text messages, to tweak the News Feed algorithm and other features (including the “people you might know” feature, which recommends other users to friend on the network). An email from a senior Facebook staffer admits this is “a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective, but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it.” A subsequent email says the team has figured out that if the app only wants access to the call logs, it could offer a simple “click to upgrade” option without having to get users to give their permission through a special dialog box. Ashkan Soltani, former chief technology officer for the Federal Trade Commission, pointed out that this kind of behavior may be a breach of the “consent decree” that Facebook signed with the FTC in 2011, in which it agreed not to engage in certain kinds of behavior.
    From the British committee’s viewpoint, one of the more interesting email chains has to do with Facebook’s data policies; the committee is investigating the company’s behavior in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the company wrongfully acquired personal data on more than 50 million users that they provided by signing up for a personality quiz app. Facebook has said repeatedly that access to this kind of data was closed off in 2015, but the emails and other documents make it clear that for certain “whitelisted” companies, access to that data continued (as _The Wall Street Journal_ has reported). The committee’s preamble to the documents continues: “It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted.”
    In another document, Facebook outlines the restrictions it places on certain companies when it comes to accessing Facebook data. “We maintain a small list of strategic competitors that Mark personally reviewed,” the document states. “Any usage beyond that specified is not permitted without Mark level sign-off.” In the case of certain competitors, especially ones that competed with Facebook’s pet features (like video), Facebook would terminate virtually all access to user data. It did this in the case of Twitter’s short-lived Vine video app, for example: in an email to Zuckerberg in 2013, a Facebook product manager says Vine (which had just launched that same day) allowed users to find friends by using the Facebook API. He suggested shutting down Twitter’s access to this data immediately, and Zuckerberg responded: “Yup, go for it.”
    In a response to the documents’ publication, Zuckerberg pointed out that in the time leading up to the changes to its platform in 2015, the company was driven primarily by a desire to connect people in as many different ways as possible, until it discovered that developers were building “shady apps that abused people’s data.” Without naming the bikini app company, the Facebook CEO says some of the developers whose apps were kicked off the platform sued in an attempt to reverse the change, “but we’re confident this was the right thing to do and that we’ll win these lawsuits.” Whether the published emails will also provide more ammunition for those looking to regulate the social network remains to be seen.

    Obviously things progressed since this news came out. It should cause users to, yet again, reflect on their use of Facebook’s platforms.
    Updates:

    • [Internal Documents Show Facebook Has Never Deserved Our Trust or Our Data – Motherboard](https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/7xyenz/internal-documents-show-facebook-has-never-deserved-our-trust-or-our-data)
    • [Facebook Fined $11.3M for Privacy Violations | Threatpost | The first stop for security news](https://threatpost.com/facebook-fined-privacy/139824/)

    Creating systems of trust and real security for users should be all hands on deck, from government to the private sector. We need to encrypt the web, secure data at rest and in transit, and ensure that homes, cars and anything that can be connected to the internet are safe and trustworthy. The array of options is poor since security architects have to bolt security onto insecure systems. But that’s all the more reason to encourage people who understand how computer security works (and how it fails) to help. After all, there are only so many hours in the day, and the more attention we pay to these problems, the faster and better we can address them.
    It’s not just individuals and private institutions who should be focusing on improving security for users, of course. Governments should be shouldering their responsibility for public safety by leading, incentivizing and, in places, even legally mandating real digital security for their increasingly vulnerable citizens.
    But they are not. While the U.S. government has pushed hard to make sure that companies give them information about security problems—in the Department of Homeland Security’s Information Sharing and Analysis Centers and in the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed in 2015, for example—there has been very little information or tools coming back to protect the public as technology users. This is even as we’re pushed into a world that increasingly relies on the internet for every facet of our daily lives. It’s also as the consequences of losing control of our data grow larger and more dire. Digital networks are now increasingly coming into our homes and cars. There are pushes to move to online voting, to the horror of security experts. The vast majority of us carry our phones with us everywhere; with them comes access to a tremendous amount of intimate information about us, our loved ones and our business and personal associations, both stored on the device and accessible through them.
    The government should generate, incentivize and support efforts to build a more secure and trustworthy internet, along with the devices and services that rely on it. Instead, law enforcement in the U.S. and elsewhere too often demonize companies and individuals that offer strong security and pressure them to offer worse tools, not better ones.

    Resisting Law Enforcement’s Siren Song: A Call for Cryptographers to Improve Trust and Security – Lawfare
    Great piece, especially in light of the recent actions in Australia.

    Find out what Twitter and Facebook think you like:

    Facebook and Twitter don’t like to talk about how, exactly, their algorithms determine users’ interests. According to their privacy policies, both collect basic information you provide in your profile, like your birthday and gender, as well as details around your log-ins, like what devices you use and your location, and your posts and “likes.” Twitter and Facebook may also receive information from your browser cookies, what links you click, and third party apps that you’ve connected to your account. They might also be able to match additional info from their partners to you based on your phone number or email address.
    Though the details of their algorithms aren’t clear, Facebook and Twitter are at least attempting to be somewhat transparent about the end result of those programs. Your Twitter and your Facebook ad settings allow you a glimpse into what social media companies (and the advertisers who pay them) think you’re into.

    (Via Quartz)