Archive for February 2012
While I am encouraged to see the recently announced Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, it is no reason to become complacent about your privacy.
First, the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is a set of fairly general statements. It is unclear if or when we would see real enforcement.
Second, it will be very difficult to enforce this against non-US services, and it is almost impossible for a user to know if some or all of a website she is visiting is being provided by a non-US company.
Third, it is very difficult to tell if the policies are being violated. Unless the website uses the information directly and immediately it is very hard to tie the use of information back to the source of the information. If it is being silently collected, you really can’t tell.
While such policies and statements of principle are a good thing, and one hopes that most major websites will get on board with them, if you actually want to ensure your privacy, you need to take matters into your own hands.
Block cookies, clear out old cookies, and hide your IP address with tools like Anonymizer Universal.
Google and other online advertising companies like Vibrant Media, Media Innovation Group, and PointRoll, are using a flaw in Safari on iOS to track you despite your privacy settings.
iOS Safari is set by default to reject tracking cookies from 3rd party websites. That means that unless you are directly and intentionally interacting with a site it should not be able to cookie and track you. Specifically that is intended to prevent tracking by advertisers displaying banner ads on websites.
The hack is that these advertisers use a script within the website to cause submit an invisible web form to the advertising website, which looks to Safari like you directly interacted with that site and so allows the site to send a cookie. Another flaw in Safari causes those cookies to be returned to the 3rd party sites once they have been set.
Apple is saying that they will address the issue. Google is blaming Apple for breaking with web standards (even though almost all browsers support blocking 3rd party cookies iOS Safari is unusual in making this the default).
- On your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) go to “Settings”, select “Safari”, scroll down and “Clear Cookies and Data”. Do this frequently.
- Don’t log into Google or other social media sites through the browser, only use the dedicated apps.
- Use those social media apps to “like” or “+1” content, rather than doing so in the browser.
- Protect your IP address with a tool like Anonymizer Universal so these sites can’t just use your IP address in place of cookies to track you when you are at home or work on a WiFi connection with a long term IP address.
The WSJ had the first article I saw on this, but it is paywalled.
John Battelle’s searchblog tries to look at this issue from both sides.
The FBI in conjunction with the Bureau of Justice Assistance and Joint Regional Intelligence Center have produced a number of fliers to help the public identify possible terrorists. While some of the points have merit, it is very likely that this will generate an extremely high proportion of false alerts based on perfectly reasonable and legal behaviors.
A big red flag for me were the fliers for cyber cafes and electronics stores. These suggest that the use of privacy protecting services, like Anonymizer, should be deemed suspicious. They also call out Encryption, VoIP, and communicating through video games.
In almost all of the fliers they suggest that wanting to pay cash (legal tender for all debts public and private) is suspicious.
Thanks to Public Intelligence for pulling together PDFs of the documents.