The Internet started it all off--the (theoretical) creation of a world without borders. There's a problem, however: borders still remain. And those borders are inhabited by sovereign entities that dictate the rules for their respective domains. This creates another problem, for both consumers and producers: what rules are in force over a technology that has no regard for arbitrary geographic boundaries? Microsoft, in a move that protects it and the consumers it serves, has asked that current federal technology laws be updated, new ones implemented, and that international standards be devised, so that border-oblivious technologies will be protected.
Microsoft’s push for change is motivated by the advent and expansion of cloud computing. Brad Smith, General Counsel for Microsoft, in a keynote address delivered at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., stated: “The PC revolution empowered individuals and democratized technology in new and profoundly important ways. As we move to embrace the cloud, we should build on that success and preserve the personalization of technology by making sure privacy rights are preserved, data security is strengthened and an international understanding is developed about the governance of data when it crosses national borders.”
The big concern for Microsoft is how clouds will be regulated and protected. Cloud computing won’t take-off unless consumers believe it secure, so consumer privacy is a must. To protect that privacy there needs to be rules that make punishing transgressors more certain. And all parties, including governments, need to be on board (as cloud computing transcends political boundaries). The benefits for providers and consumers are self-evident: consumers get the security they want, while producers have a stable environment within which to offer their product.
While it may seem odd to find Microsoft on the side of the angels, Smith makes a good point: there are no rules at present that govern cloud computing. Users have no protection from hackers, from providers, or from governments. Smith rightly notes: “The rise of cloud computing should not lead to the demise of the privacy safeguards in the Bill of Rights. The public needs prompt and thoughtful action to ensure that the rights of citizens and government are fairly balanced so that these rights remain protected.”
The U.S. government's practice of seizing laptops through random searches at border crossings is again coming under scrutiny, this time by a pair of civil rights groups who are on the hunt for potential plaintiffs.
The groups include the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, both of which have the support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
"This lawsuit will not seek monetary damages for individuals who have been searched; instead, it will focus exclusively on fixing the unconstitutional policy," wrote Jennifer Granick, civil liberties director and lawyer with the EFF.
To help bolster their chances in court, the groups are in search of lawyers whose laptops or other electronic gadgets were subject to search and/or seized at U.S. points of entry and exit.
It's been exactly a month since we last visited the topic of Google Chrome. With both Windows and OSX beta versions of the browser now supporting add-ons, and with nearly 1,500 possible extensions flooding the Chrome Extensions "marketplace" since December 8, 2009, it's about time to take another look at the overflowing mass of Chrome add-ons. Why? To build the perfect browser, of course. Allow me a moment to monologue:
I've been a Mozilla Firefox user for a long, long time. Simply put, I love extensions. Being able to build new elements into my browsing experience, from Cloud-based bookmark synchronization to Sudoku puzzles, has been one of the more awesome elements of using this piece of software. If only it was that easy to enhance or extend the usefulness of any program one installed!
I've been hesitant to switch to Chrome for this very reason--without add-on support, I'm missing out on 50- to 75-percent of the awesomeness I've build into my admittedly slower and more memory-hogging browser, Firefox. But that's an argument that's slowly dying away. A number of Firefox's best add-ons have made the conversion over to Google Chrome, and that's exactly what I'll be exploring in this Freeware Files roundup.
These extensions are the crème de la crème. The best. The add-ons you should rush to pack into any new installation of Google Chrome, period. But that's not all--I'm also going to take a look at some apps that interact with Google Chrome or, in some cases, replace Google Chrome entirely... you'll see what I mean when it comes to interesting alternatives!
If you don’t want others knowing what your reading, you should probably stick to paper. That’s the conclusion of an Electronic Frontier Foundation study that looked at how our e-book readers collect information, and what the device maker has access to during our daily use.
Not surprisingly always on connected devices such as the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook log everything from what you read, to how long you read it, while more limited devices without wireless such as the Sony Reader can’t track you quite so closely.The EFF suggests anyone concerned with their privacy stick with the open-source FBReader, but lets face it, we prefer having our e-books delivered in seconds over a high speed wireless network don’t we?
Anyone else concerned with the privacy of your e-reader? Or did you check all your expectations of privacy at the Ethernet jack when you first logged on to the net in the first place? Let us know what you think.
In case you missed it, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, in an interview on CNBC, seem to suggest that Google’s take on user privacy was pretty much open-ended. Schmidt said “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.” Some thought this was Google blaming the victim rather than the victimizer. Not the sort of ‘got-your-back’ attitude many would like to see in their search-engine provider.
In addition, Google changed its search-engine privacy settings, to better personalize the experience. One of the changes made is the storing of 180-days of search history in a browser cookie, so Google has a database on which to draw for second-guessing what you want to look for.
In all the hubbub, Mozilla’s Director of Community Development, Asa Dotzler, said that users should drop Google in favor of Bing, which Dotzler said provides better privacy guarantees.
Hot on the heels of the controversy, Bing is touting both its privacy, and changes which enhance that privacy. Bing will now give you greater control over the history of your recent searches with “See all”, “Clear all”, and “Turn Off” options. (In “See all” you can delete individual search requests. “Turn off” lets you disable the history function all together.) In addition, Microsoft will store a maximum of four weeks of searches (up from 48-hours), in a browser cookie.
In the announcement of these changes, Microsoft said “...we've tried to build privacy and respect for your search history into the overall experience and not as an afterthought. Too many systems provide us with choice, but little control.”
In a legal back-and-forth between the Ontario Police Department in California and Sergeant Jeff Quon, the overarching privacy issues concerning technology have come into full view (once again).
Sgt. Jeff Quon sued the Ontario Police Department after his texting transcripts were read by his lieutenant. While the messages were sent to/from a department-issued pager (yep, pager), Sgt. Quon claims his fourth amendment rights were violated by the department.
A three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Sgt. Quon saying that the lieutenant had made an informal policy change to view transcripts on accounts who didn’t pay their overage fees. In viewing Sgt. Quon’s transcripts, he violated his own policy and thus violated Sgt. Quon’s constitutional rights.
To take a step further, the Ontario Police Department petitioned the Supreme Court requesting the case to be overturned on the precedent that the lieutenant had no authority to overturn the department policy that all privacy is relinquished when using department equipment, including pagers.
Most companies force employees to sign IT Privacy restriction documents waiving all rights on company owned equipment. Do you think your privacy is violated if an IT guy snoops around your employer-issued computer?
The topic of privacy frequently comes up, but it really hits home when a major online portal draws up a detailed list of all the online activities it's able to keep tabs on. Of course, you were never meant to see the menu of spying services Yahoo provides to law enforcement agencies, but now that someone has provided a copy to whistleblower site Cryptome, anyone can take a look.
The document is 17 pages long and describes in detail both Yahoo's data retention policies and surveillance capabilities. It even includes a price list of sorts, listing out the average cost of reimbursement it would seek in responding to subpoena requests.
Yahoo isn't the only site to have its data retention policies show up on Cryptome. The site has also published similar documents from Cox Communications, SBC, Singular, Nextel, GTE, and several other telecoms and service providers. That bit comes as little consolation to Yahoo, who's team of lawyers have issued a DMCA takedown notice to Cryptome.
According to Yahoo's legal team, posting the portal's Compliance Guide for Law Enforcement at Cryptome engages in "business interference" and could help criminals evade surveillance.
As of right now, the document remains online (and probably always will thanks to mirrors), which you can read right here.
Bing has come a long way since it launched a few months back, but few can argue with the reality that Google is still the king of search. They always seem to know exactly what you were looking for, even when you only provide the vaguest of guidance with your inquiry.
It turns out the secret to their hyper accurate results isn't as complicated as you might think, and despite appearances, Google isn't actually reading your mind. We all know Google collects a ton of personal data about us as we surf, but they now fully admit to using the data gathered from your search and surfing history to create a comprehensive profile of you based on your interests to help refine search results. It sounds creepy I know, but it turns out its a rather useful feature.
Bryan Horling and Robby Bryant of Google have put together a short YouTube clip you can view after the jump to explain the process in more detail if your curious. For those that aren't comfortable with this level of tracking, the video also teaches you how to remove your web history from Google's servers if you value privacy over function. It is a useful feature to leave in place, but it certainly drives home just how much Google knows about us these days. Don't forget to check out the new Google Dashboard if you're interested in learning "just how much" they actually know.
Are you comfortable with the idea of having to opt out when it comes to privacy?
Advances in technology can be amazing. At the same time they can be threatening. Especially when they crash into existing cultural predispositions, as Google is finding out in Switzerland. Apparently, the Swiss (and a few other countries in Europe) are fond of their privacy. And, in their opinion, Google’s Street View poses a direct threat to that privacy.
The Swiss penchant for privacy is old news--who doesn’t know about the strict anonymity of Swiss banking laws? It’s not surprising, then, that the country’s federal data protection commissioner, Hanspeter Thuer, announced it would take Google to court unless it did a better job protecting the privacy of those it captured with its Street View cameras. In particular, Thuer wants better blurring of faces and license plates, and a lower camera view so that things not normally viewable from the street, such as walled gardens or private streets, would not be shown.
Google’s Matthais Meyer respond by saying “We believe that Google Street View is absolutely legal, also in Switzerland.” The company, he said, would “vigorously contest” the case.
This is not Google’s first run-in over privacy concerns. Japan has already made Google agree to reshoot images from a lower camera angle; Germany has demanded erasure of raw footage of faces, house numbers, and license plates of individuals who don’t want to appear in Street View; Greece has so far said no to Google’s requests to photograph its streets; and villagers in Buckinghamshire in England formed a human chain around a Google van to block it from photographing its streets.
Street View is an amazing technology. I used it to successfully track down locations for photographs I took last year in Tokyo--even on small, out-of-the-way side-streets. But is the loss of individual privacy too high a price to pay for my convenience?
We all know Google has a lot of information about us. Now there’s a way to have all that data laid out before you in terrifying detail. Google Dashboard is the search giant’s new site aimed at increasing user control over personal information.
The Dashboard is available in your account settings page (or just go here), and kept behind an additional sign-in page. Once logged in, you’ll see all the Google services you use along with a summary of its use. There is currently support of more than 20 Google services including Gmail, Latitude, Google Voice, Google Docs, Gtalk, YouTube and Picasa.
Google offers quick access to the settings for each service if you’re not happy with the information being stored. So, feel better?
Check out Google's video overview after the break!