Some Things Shouldn’t Have to be Private…Or Should They?

As a vehement privacy advocate, I think it’s odd that I’m saying this, but there are some things about ourselves that shouldn’t have to be private. I’m sure there are several other examples like this, but after reading this article here, I have something specific in mind. Women have babies. It’s an exciting truth of existence and it happens everywhere all the time. It’s the sort of thing that is difficult to keep to yourself and most people can at least be happy for you when you tell them. It’s appalling that some employers could see that a woman has a baby and let that realization affect whether they would hire her and how much they would pay her.

Photos just make it far too easy to make quick judgments of people. I know I don’t have very many pictures on Facebook and the ones I have certainly wouldn’t paint a clear picture of who I am. Plus, photos aren’t inherently real. There are some that are just awkward or Photoshopped to better than the reality. So I’m not sure if I think that I should put up photos that reflect who I am or if I should just avoid putting up photos at all. Decisions, decisions.

As a side note, apparently social media has a growing role in medical information. Consumers head there to get questions answered among other things. You can read the Los Angeles Times article about it here.

One Step at a Time

In a world filled with ever-evolving technology, any effort made toward protecting privacy can soon be obsolete. And yet, attempts are always being made to protect the privacy that many of us take for granted. Nicholas Merrill is one man about to change the idea of user privacy forever.

Merrill plans to create an Internet and mobile phone service provider dedicated to protecting user data and privacy. In an interview with CNET, Merrill says that Calyx, the non-profit organization that will run the ISP, will “use all legal and technical means available to protect the privacy and integrity of user data.” In industries where user data is a primary source of revenue, and also a source of information for several government entities, placing privacy as a top priority is a huge leap forward in privacy policies.

You can read the rest of CNET’s article here.

Also, congratulations to the other half of our Think Tank for their Utah Transparency Project kickoff today, where they promoted “Shining a Light on Utah Government” and making local Utah governments more transparent. For more information about their project, you can find their website here.

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Smartphones Not So Smart With Privacy

We all know that smartphones don’t exactly promote privacy. In fact, they compromise it more than anything. But (let’s be honest here) smartphones are rapidly becoming the only phones worth buying and those that haven’t switched will soon. Myself included. We don’t want to give up the advantages of having a not-so-mini computer in our pocket wherever we go. Instead, we want someone to come up with a way so that we can use these fantastic technological devices without exposing our every move or personal information to anyone who cares to look.

And just to keep you all updated on recent (and somewhat disturbing, but not surprising) articles about smartphones and privacy, there is one about police tracking here and another about apps misuse heightening customer privacy concerns here.

Don’t despair though! There will doubtless be an app to protect privacy someday, if there isn’t already. Totally going to look into that…

Pinterest Policy Decoded

With Pinterest’s popularity growing, the Unlisted Team figured it was time to outline the basics of the virtual pinboard’s privacy policy (which can be read in full here). Here’s what you need to know:

1. Pinterest collects the information you voluntarily enter when you become a user and the information on your linked social networking sites. For example, Pinterest allows  you to log in using your Facebook credentials and any personal information that you have given Facebook could be collected by Pinterest.

2. Pinterest also uses cookies. “First, we utilize ‘persistent’ cookies to save your login information for future logins…. Second, we utilize “session ID” cookies to enable certain features of the Service, to better understand how you interact with the Service and to monitor aggregate usage by Pinterest Users and web traffic routing on the Service. Unlike persistent cookies, session cookies are deleted from your computer when you log off from the Service and then close your browser.”

3. You can control how much information other Pinterest users see. They will automatically see your name, but you don not have to provide any other information (location, bio, photo, etc.) unless you want to.

4. The third parties employed by Pinterest for analysis or maintenance purposes are given access to your information but are not allowed to use it for other purposes.

5. “We allow Users to link their Facebook and Twitter accounts to our Service. Users can then post recent activity on our Service back to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. You will be prompted to decide whether or not your activity on the Service will be shared and disclosed on your Facebook/Twitter service. You can disable the foregoing feature at any time…”

 

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A Do Not Track Option is Finally On Its Way?

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a report (a revision of a report initially released in 2010) containing suggested practices for how companies should handle their consumers’ personal data with corresponding laws looming on the horizon should companies not comply. Among these suggestions is a Do Not Track option so that Internet users can prevent the collection of their data as they surf the web. Once again, there is only an opt-out option rather than having to opt-in, but it is still a step in the right direction! The report is aimed at helping companies provide an experience for customers that is enjoyable without the sacrifice of their personal information, which is all that can be asked for. However, this cannot be called a complete victory as the FTC, worried that the guidelines would be too burdensome, do not apply to smaller companies: those that collect data from less than 5,000 people a year. The entire article can be found here. 

Despite limitations this is still a major gain for privacy and hopefully this Do Not Track option emerges shortly!

New Low: Private Pages May Not Be Enough

We’ve warned you before about keeping your social networking pages well protected and private- or at the very least restricting access to all potentially incriminating posts  and photos, as well as keeping less-than-stellar conversations in private messages. But we’re finding out that it may become necessary to eliminate any such content entirely, rather than just protecting it. Many employers, rather than viewing publicly available content or  requesting to be added as a friend (which still allows you to selectively block content, at least on Facebook) are simply asking potential employees to surrender their social network usernames and passwords as part of mandatory pre-employment screenings.

Facebook came out guns blazing this morning (March 23)- Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan said, “We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.” As well as reminding the public that it is against the terms of use to give your password to anyone.

Don’t be too excited that Facebook will protect you though- by this evening they had already taken up a much weaker defense. “We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s right the thing to do. While we do not have any immediate plans to take legal action against any specific employers, we look forward to engaging with policy makers and other stakeholders, to help better safeguard the privacy of our users.”

On a good note, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) has publicly vowed to write legislation blocking such attempts to require password sharing. Perhaps we can all write our congressmen and ask them to support him?

Read more, this mornings article: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/23/BUON1NPI3U.DTL

and this evenings: http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-facebook-softens-its-stand-20120323,0,650705.story?track=rss&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&dlvrit=515009&fb_source=message

Curiosity

If you lose your phone in a large city, the likelihood of getting it back is low. The probability of someone going through the phone you lost is very high. Scott Wright of Security Perspectives Inc. conducted an interesting experiment, where he “lost” 50 cell phones in 5 major cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. He then tracked what happened to each phone, and here’s what he found:

Only 25 of the 50 phones were picked up by someone who attempted to return them to the owner.

96% of the phones were accessed by the finders, who proceeded to try to open apps labeled “online banking,” “corporate email,” etc…

Finders tried to open a “saved passwords” app on 57% of the phones.

Curiosity is a powerful motivator. Even those people who tried to return the cell phones looked through the phone, and could have accessed potentially sensitive information. With all the things we do on our phones these days (banking, shopping, personal emails, etc…), is your information really safe if you lose your phone?

More information about Wright’s experiment can be found here.

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Business and Privacy

Looks like people are finally starting to realize that providing personal information to businesses is not something to be unconcerned with anymore.

No, really, I’m not kidding. As more and more businesses report data breaches, concerns about data security arise for those people whose information is at risk of being exposed. According to an article from the Sacramento Bee, a new Edelman study entitled “Privacy and Security: The New Drivers of Brand, Reputation and Action Global Insights 2012″ reveals that “70% of people are more concerned about privacy than they were five years ago and 68% feel they have lost control over how their information is shared and used by businesses.” You can read the whole article here.

Essentially, people are so concerned about protecting their privacy that it is affecting their consumer purchasing behavior which is turning the heads of high-ranking business officials. The study states that when purchasing smartphones, 48% of people rank information security as one of the top three factors in a purchasing decision. Personal privacy is joining the ranks of design, price, style and warranty in consumer decisions, and businesses are starting to recognize, “Hey! If I want to sell more of my product, I should think about securing my customers’ data when they give it to me!” Or perhaps marketing directors are thinking, “Hey! If I want to build consumer trust in my company, I should start making consumers’ data more secure and private!”

The public’s newfound issues with trust and need to protect their privacy when dealing with businesses are paralleled by a declining sense of security in financial companies and online retailers. What’s the bottom line? If this trend of privacy protection continues to hold significant sway over the public, businesses might actually start protecting your data. Maybe it’s optimistic to believe that companies like Google and Facebook won’t continue to sell your information to the highest bidder – but hey, businesses have to make a profit… and how do you make a profit if your public (the consumers) won’t give you the information you need to sell to make that profit? Think about it. Only time will really tell.

Proceed With Caution

Companies the world over like to make their customers feel safe, to trust their various product providers. None more than the Internet as its paths become increasingly dangerous to tread. Apple itself has a longstanding claim to standing up for their customers’ privacy to personal information, but it may not be as true as they’d like you to believe. It was recently revealed that Apple has been approving apps for the iOS mobile operating system that allow the download of customer’s entire address books and photo libraries, without permission. Protection? Doesn’t seem that way.

The question “do they really need this information?” has rapidly become a typical one when dealing with Internet services and consumers are becoming ever more wary. With their privacy on the line–whatever it may be defined as–the Internet seems increasingly less trustworthy. Internet companies are steadily losing their sense of fun as they design amazingly innovative technologies and instead become ever more obsessed with the need to make a profit, according to journalist Nick Bilton, whose article on the subject can be read in full here.

There is certainly no need to abandon the Internet altogether, but (as with essentially all privacy issues) be aware that the safety of your personal information may not be guaranteed. Proceed with caution while navigating the Internet highway.

Smart overtakes dumb

How one Unlisted writer's dumb phone makes her feel sometimes. Thanks Kevin Spear for the pic.

At least in the cell phone world. A new Pew report out today shows that more American adults now own smartphones than basic mobile phones without a computing platform. 88% of Americans own cell phones and the responses indicate 53% of all cell phone users have a smart phone. This means 46% of all Americans have a smart phone, up from last year’s 35%. Other findings:

  • Smartphone use increased in all studied demographics. At least 60% of college graduates, 18-35 year olds, and people with a household annual income of $75,000 own smart phones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, seniors and those with only a high school diploma experienced small growth.
  • Android has a slight edge over the iPhone with respect to users. Both experienced growth this year, while Blackberry lost some ground in the market.
  • Just something interesting: “Smartphone ownership decreases dramatically with age even among adults with similar levels of education. However, younger adults with a high school diploma or less are significantly more likely to own a smartphone than even those seniors who have attended college.”

Read the full report here.

While this may not be headline-breaking news or really even that surprising, the privacy implications of such widespread smartphone use  are huge.  Unlisted will keep you updated.

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