Tuesday, February 15, 2011

“They made it public, we're just making sure everyone knows about it.”


Facebook Data of 1.2 Million Users from 2005 Released: Limited Exposure, but Very Problematic

February 15, 2011 by Dissent

Michael Zimmer writes:

Last week, a Facebook dataset was released by a group of researchers (Amanda L. Traud, Peter J. Mucha, Mason A. Porter) in connection with their paper studying the role of user attributes – gender, class year, major, high school, and residence – on social network formations at various colleges and universities. The dataset — referred to by the researchers as the “Facebook 100″ — consists of the complete set of users from the Facebook networks at 100 American schools, and all of the in-network “friendship” links between those users as they existed at a single moment of time in September 2005.

The research paper indicates that the Facebook data was provided to the researchers “in anonymized form byAdam D’Angelo of Facebook.” (D’Angelo left Facebook in 2008.) Curious as to what precisely was included in the data release, and what steps towards anonymization were taken, I downloaded the data (200 MB zip file) on the morning of February 11.


Thus, the datasets include limited demographic information that was posted by users on their individual Facebook pages. The identity of users’ dorm and high schools were obscured by numerical identifiers, but to my surprise, the dataset included each user’s unique Facebook ID number. [So, not really anonymous. Bob] As a result, while user names and extended profile information were kept out of the data release, a simple query against Facebook’s databases would yield considerable identifiable information for each record. In short, the suggestion that the data has been “anonymized” is seriously flawed.

Read more on MichaelZimmer.org

“The Internet was designed so we could make money.”


Google Wants Case About Leaked Name Dismissed

February 14, 2011 by Dissent

Wendy Davis reports the latest development in Gaos v. Google, a lawsuit mentioned previously on this blog that involves referrer urls that may leak personal information:

Google is urging a federal court to dismiss a privacy lawsuit filed by San Francisco resident Paloma Gaos who alleges that her name was leaked to Web sites she visited after conducting vanity searches.

Automatically transmitting search queries to publishers — even when the queries include users’ names — “is actually a routine and foundational aspect of the Internet,” Google asserts in a motion filed late last week in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif. The search giant also argues that the lawsuit filed by Gaos should be dismissed because she isn’t alleging any economic loss — which some courts have held necessary in privacy lawsuits.

Read more on Media Post.

Related: Google’s motion.

Apparently, this is not a Saturday Night Live skit.


Senate Judiciary names Franken head of new privacy, tech subcommittee

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on Monday was named chairman of a new Judiciary subcommittee for Privacy, Technology and the Law. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) will serve as ranking member, according to a release by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Franken, an outspoken former comedian and author, has been an ardent supporter of tech policies such as net neutrality and warned of too much power being consolidated through Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal.

… Franken said in a release that an unprecedented amount of personal information is in the hands of large companies that are "unknown and unaccountable to the American public." [Fifth Columnists? Perhaps they are in the “Fortune Secret 500?” Bob]

… The Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law will oversee laws and policies governing the collection, protection, use and dissemination of commercial information by the private sector, including online behavioral advertising, privacy within social networking Web sites and other online privacy issues.

“Our students are like terrorists. We have to keep them under surveillance at all times!”


NYC: ‘Spier’ education: Officials pull plug on website promoting hidden camera gadgets for principals

February 14, 2011 by Dissent

Rachel Monahan reports that the New York Daily News uncovered some really nasty spying in the NYC schools:

School principals-turned-Inspector Gadgets had their online spy-gear store shuttered after the Daily News exposed their link to the sleuthing market.

The city Education Department pulled the plug on its website portal to an I-Spy-type arsenal where principals browsed for hidden cameras to trick out their halls.

Among the 45 undercover devices The News found listed on the site, were:

  • A fluffy teddy bear with a built-in camera.

  • A mini-cam fitted electric pencil sharpener.

  • Neckties that double as spy-ties.

After inquiries from The News, the city pulled the spy gear down from its site [...because until then, “no one had any complaints...” Bob] and the New York Civil Liberties Union blasted the the online bazaar as Big Brother Gone Wild.


City Education Department spokeswoman Deidrea Miller said the agency has asked the special commissioner for investigation to look into the spying.

“Purchasing hidden cameras would not be an appropriate use of school funds,” she said. “We are aware of an allegation that one school is using a device.”

Read more in the Daily News.

Wait a minute. They’re asking for an investigation into the spying. Wasn’t this their own web site portal?

I expect we’ll see more on this story as we do not yet know whether any images were stored, who was viewing them, etc.

Could “the next Bird Flu” require us to create a town (state) of “Typhoid Marys?”


February 14, 2011

New York State Public Health Legal Manual - A Guide for Judges, Attorneys and Public Health Professionals

"In today’s world, we face many natural and man-made catastrophic threats, including the very real possibility of a global influenza outbreak or other public health emergency that could infect millions of people. While it is impossible to predict the timing or severity of the next public health emergency, our government has a responsibility to anticipate and prepare for such events. An important element of this planning process is advance coordination between public health authorities and our judicial and legal systems. The major actors in any public health crisis must understand the governing laws ahead of time, and must know what their respective legal roles and responsibilities are. What is the scope of the government’s emergency and police powers? When may these be invoked, and by which officials? What are the rights of people who may be quarantined or isolated by government and public health officials? These questions must be researched and answered now—not in the midst of an emergency—so that the responsible authorities have a readymade resource to help them make quick, effective decisions that protect the public interest. This New York State Public Health Legal Manual - A Guide for Judges, Attorneys and Public Health Professionals, Michael Colodner, Editor-in Chief, is designed to serve this purpose. It will be an absolutely essential tool in guiding us through the effective management of future public health disasters."



Dept. Homeland Security: Handbook for Safeguarding Sensitive Personally Identifiable Information at DHS

February 14, 2011 by Dissent

Handbook for Safeguarding Sensitive Personally Identifiable Information at DHS Updated 1-19-2011

The Handbook provides step-by-step guidance on how to identify and protect Sensitive PII:

  • In the office or an alternate worksite

  • On a portable device, such as blackberry or laptop

  • When sent by email, fax, or other electronic transfer

  • When sent by mail: external, overseas and inter-office

  • When stored on a shared drive

  • When you are on official travel

The Handbook also provides simple instructions on:

  • Encrypting Sensitive PII

  • Securing Sensitive PII when it is not in use

  • Disposing of Sensitive PII

Department of Homeland Security: Handbook for Safeguarding Sensitive Personally Identifiable Information at DHS

[From the Handbook:

Remember that you must secure Sensitive PII in a locked drawer, cabinet, cupboard, safe, or other secure container when you are not using it. Never leave Sensitive PII unattended and unsecured. [Could this be considered a mandate for encryption? Bob]

Who's who?


February 14, 2011

2011 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community

Statement for the Record on the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, February 10, 2011

  • "This statement goes into extensive detail about numerous state and non-state actors, crosscutting political, economic, and military developments and transnational trends, all of which constitute our nation's strategic and tactical landscape. Although I believe that counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and counterintelligence are at the immediate forefront of our security concerns, it is virtually impossible to rank—in terms of long-term importance—the numerous, potential threats to U.S. national security. The United States no longer faces—as in the Cold War—one dominant threat. Rather, it is the multiplicity and interconnectedness of potential threats—and the actors behind them—that constitute our biggest challenge. Indeed, even the three categories noted above are also inextricably linked, reflecting a quickly-changing international environment of rising new powers, rapid diffusion of power to non-state actors and ever greater access by individuals and small groups to lethal technologies. We in the Intelligence Community believe it is our duty to work together as an integrated team to understand and master this complexity. By providing better strategic and tactical intelligence, we can partner more effectively with Government officials at home and abroad to protect our vital national interests."

“Well, see, it's not really a sale. We're leasing you the right to treat the book like you own it, up to the point where you would try actually doing something...” (Perhaps only libraries should buy books?)


E-Book Lending Stands Up To Corporate Mongering

"Publishing Perspectives is talking today about the rise of e-book lending, which, one would hope, will lead to a rise in questioning exactly how far one's digital rights extend. Although the articles are mostly talking about the authorized lending programs through Kindle and Nook ('The mechanics are simple: ebook owners sign up and list books that they want to allow others to borrow. When someone borrows one of the ebooks you have listed, you earn a credit. Credits can also be purchased for as little as $1.99 from eBook Fling'), we have to ask ourselves why we are suddenly paying publishers more for less. In the case of iBooks, you can't even transfer your books to another device, let alone another user, but then at least the prices are somewhat controlled. In the case of sites like BooksOnBoard, you've got ridiculously out-of-control prices with a greatly decreased cost of delivery. It's not all bad, don't get me wrong; Kobo offers competitive prices that never leave me feeling ripped off or stuck with an inferior product. Still, I can't help but think: digital rights management, sure! Where are my rights, as a consumer, and who is managing them? I wouldn't mind selling the rights back to the publisher or store for in-store credit; I also wouldn't be terribly bothered if they got a reasonable cut off the resale of the product to someone else. What I won't like is if they never allow it or continue to make it impossible for me to sell what's rightfully mine."

(Related) Of course, it could never happen with hardware...


Best Buy Brings In Ozzy And Bieber To Completely Hose TechForward, Says Lawsuit

You don’t see total betrayals like this every day. But if the facts that TechForward are alleging in their lawsuit (embedded below) against Best Buy are true, this is some truly sleazy stuff.

… TechForward says that the way they do the buybacks is important – price, exercise rates, etc. BestBuy allegedly held out the promise of a partnership and got TechForward to give them highly proprietary data under a confidentiality agreement.

And then the best part. Just six weeks after the disclosure of information, Best Buy ended discussions and:

Best Buy announced to the world that it was implementing its own buyback program — called the Buy Back Plan (“BBP”) — which is virtually identical to TechForward’s Guaranteed Buyback Plan in its program structure, marketing materials and terms and conditions. To make matters worse, the Best Buy executives who supposedly “developed” this buyback program are the exact same executives who worked with TechForward on the pilot Guaranteed Buyback Plan program for Best Buy and who received TechForward’s highly confidential information.

… The plans have almost exactly the same terms. Here’s Best Buy, and here’s TechForward.

For student research...


Most Useful Discovery Engines: Search for Similar Pages

We all know how the Web search works

… But what if you don’t exactly know how to describe the concept or the topic you are interested in?

… In this case, you need to try discovery search engines: these tools rank the Web by similarity (not by popularity). They allow you to discover more pages based on the one you found most relevant.

Google’s Related: Operator

I have mentioned this neat search operator when listing google tricks when you don’t know what to search for. I also reviewed the visualization tool based on this operator called TouchGraph which can be used as discovery tool as well.

Similar Pages

Similar Pages is a standalone tool that uses its own technology and claims to let users dig into the “hidden” parts of the web

Similar Sites

SimilarSites (and its FireFox addon Similar Web) works similarly to the above one. We have written a review of SimilarSites previously.

Dilbert comments on corporate ethics...


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