Privacy News StoriesExcerpts of Key Privacy News Stories in Major Media
Note: This comprehensive list of privacy news stories is usually updated once a week. Explore our full index to revealing excerpts of key major media news stories on several dozen engaging topics. And don't miss amazing excerpts from 20 of the most revealing news articles ever published.
Research unveiled today shows how vulnerabilities in “smart city” technology could be compromised by hackers. Bugs were found in major cities in the U.S. and Europe, with teams from IBM and Threatcare disclosing a series of “disturbing” scenarios that could soon play out for real. These included the abuse of flood warnings, radiation alarms and, yes, traffic networks. “If someone ... were to abuse vulnerabilities like the ones we documented in smart city systems, the effects could range from inconvenient to catastrophic,” a report said. The experts were inspired by the recent incident in Hawaii in which an alert warned citizens that a ballistic missile was inbound. The blaring island alarms, made in error, caused mass panic. Research found 17 major flaws in four smart city systems, eight of which were labeled “critical.” They spotted basic errors, including weak passwords and basic authentication flaws. “Security around these sensors and controls must be a lot more stringent,” wrote IBM’s Daniel Crowley. “Attackers could manipulate water level sensor responses to report flooding in an area where there is none - creating panic, evacuations and destabilization,” Crowley wrote. In another example, he said: “Controlling additional systems could enable an attacker to set off a string of building alarms or trigger gunshot sounds on audio sensors across town, further fueling panic.”
Note: This 2015 New York Times article calls 'smart' devices, "a train wreck in privacy and security." Watch an excellent documentary uncovering the serious dangers of smart meters. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on corruption in government and the disappearance of privacy.
New smart energy meters that the Government wants to be installed in millions of homes will leave householders vulnerable to cyber attacks. The intelligence agency GCHQ ... raised concerns over the security of the meters, which could enable hackers to steal personal details and defraud consumers by tampering with their bills. The Government wants every home in the country to have a smart meter, but only 8 million out of 27 million households have so far signed up to the Ł11 billion scheme. Cyber security experts say that making the meters universal will make them more attractive to hackers because the potential returns are so much greater if they can hack every meter using the same software. In some foreign countries hackers have already attacked smart meter networks to defraud customers. Criminals are able to artificially inflate meter readings, making bills higher. They then try to intercept payments, and if they simply skim off the difference between the real reading and the false reading, energy companies will think the bill has been paid normally. Another potential problem is the meters being used as a “Trojan horse” to access other computers and gadgets around the home if the meters are able to “talk” to the other devices. That would potentially give hackers the ability to steal personal information that could be sold on to other criminals.
Note: This 2015 New York Times article calls 'smart' devices like these meters, "a train wreck in privacy and security." The networked computerization of everyday objects often means that these objects can spy on you, accelerating the disappearance of privacy in the name of convenience. Watch an excellent documentary uncovering the serious dangers of smart meters.
The National Security Agency (NSA) is developing a tool that George Orwell's Thought Police might have found useful: an artificial intelligence system designed to gain insight into what people are thinking. The device will be able to respond almost instantaneously to complex questions posed by intelligence analysts. As more and more data is collected—through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records - it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think. The system is so potentially intrusive that at least one researcher has quit, citing concerns over the dangers in placing such a powerful weapon in the hands of a top-secret agency with little accountability. Known as Aquaint, which stands for "Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence," the project was run for many years by John Prange, an NSA scientist at the Advanced Research and Development Activity. A supersmart search engine, capable of answering complex questions ... would be very useful for the public. But that same capability in the hands of an agency like the NSA - absolutely secret, often above the law, resistant to oversight, and with access to petabytes of private information about Americans - could be a privacy and civil liberties nightmare. "We must not forget that the ultimate goal is to transfer research results into operational use," said ... Prange.
Note: Watch a highly revealing PBS Nova documentary providing virtual proof that the NSA could have stopped 9/11 but chose not to. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on intelligence agency corruption and the disappearance of privacy.
Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to. An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you've used privacy settings that say they will prevent it from doing so. Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP's request. Storing your minute-by-minute travels carries privacy risks. So the company will let you "pause" a setting called Location History. Google's support page on the subject states: "You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored." That isn't true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking. For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. And some searches that have nothing to do with location, like "chocolate chip cookies," or "kids science kits," pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude - accurate to the square foot - and save it to your Google account. Since 2014, Google has let advertisers track the effectiveness of online ads at driving foot traffic, a feature that Google has said relies on user location histories. The company is pushing further into such location-aware tracking to drive ad revenue, which rose 20 percent last year to $95.4 billion.
Note: This article instructs you how to effectively delete Google's tracking of your movements. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on corporate corruption and the disappearance of privacy.
A trove of documents released by the city of Memphis late last week appear to show that its police department has been systematically using fake social media profiles to surveil local Black Lives Matter activists, and that it kept dossiers and detailed power point presentations on dozens of Memphis-area activists. The surveillance project was operated through the Memphis police department’s office of homeland security. In a deposition for a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union over the information gathering, officials said it ... began to focus on “local individuals or groups that were staging protests” [around 2016]. This included the publication of daily joint information briefings on potential protests and known protesters. The briefings regularly included information about meetings on private property, panel discussions, town halls, and even innocuous events like “Black Owned Food Truck Sunday”. A good deal of that information appears to have been obtained by a fake MPD Facebook profile for a “Bob Smith”, which the ACLU said was used “to view private posts, join private groups, and otherwise pose as a member of the activist community”. The briefings, which contained ... photographs, dates of birth, addresses, and mental health histories were distributed beyond the department according to the ACLU lawsuit, to a number of local businesses including the region’s largest employer FedEx and the county school district.
Thousands of people pass by the buildings each day and rarely give them a second glance, because their function is not publicly known. They are an integral part of one of the world’s largest telecommunications networks – and they are also linked to a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program. Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.. In each of these cities, The Intercept has identified an AT&T facility containing networking equipment that transports large quantities of internet traffic across the United States and the world. A body of evidence – including classified NSA documents, public records, and interviews with several former AT&T employees – indicates that the buildings are central to an NSA spying initiative that has for years monitored billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats passing across U.S. territory. The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its most trusted partners and has lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.” Little known, however, is that its scope is not restricted to AT&T’s customers. According to the NSA’s documents, it values AT&T not only because it “has access to information that transits the nation,” but also because it maintains unique relationships with other phone and internet providers. The NSA exploits these relationships for surveillance purposes, commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies.
Note: The NSA was authorized in 2016 to share communications data it collected without warrants on Americans with 16 intelligence and law enforcement agencies. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on intelligence agency corruption and the disappearance of privacy.
A review of hundreds of Facebook’s patent applications reveals that the company has considered tracking almost every aspect of its users’ lives: where you are, who you spend time with, whether you’re in a romantic relationship, which brands and politicians you’re talking about. The company has even attempted to patent a method for predicting when your friends will die. Taken together, Facebook’s patents show a commitment to collecting personal information, despite widespread public criticism of the company’s privacy policies and a promise from its chief executive to “do better.” “A patent portfolio is a map of how a company thinks about where its technology is going,” said Jason M. Schultz, a law professor at New York University. One patent application discusses predicting whether you’re in a romantic relationship using information such as how many times you visit another user’s page [and] the number of people in your profile picture. Another proposes using your posts and messages to infer personality traits ... then using those characteristics to select which news stories or ads to display. Another patent application discusses tracking your weekly routine and sending notifications to other users of deviations from the routine. In addition, it describes using your phone’s location in the middle of the night to establish where you live. As long as Facebook keeps collecting personal information, we should be wary.
The Supreme Court ruled that police generally need a search warrant to review cell phone records that include data like a user's location, which will impose a higher bar for law enforcement to access data collected on the millions of people who use smartphones on a daily basis. The plaintiff in the case, Timothy Carpenter, was convicted of multiple robbery and gun offenses in 2010 but challenged the conviction saying that officers investigating the case didn't get a warrant for his cell phone records. The government argued that law enforcement doesn't need a warrant to get cell phone records from the service provider since it's a third party. The Court ruled that the government's search, in this case, did not meet the bar for probable cause for a warrant. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority decision that the government is obligated to get a warrant before compelling a wireless provider to provide cell phone records in an investigation. "We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier's database of physical location information," Roberts said.
Note: While this ruling limits police powers, the NSA was authorized in 2016 to freely share communications data it collected without warrants on Americans with 16 intelligence and law enforcement agencies. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on police corruption and the disappearance of privacy.
The Newborn Genetic Screening test is required in all 50 states. Nearly every baby born in the United States gets a heel prick shortly after birth. Their newborn blood fills six spots on a special filter paper card. It is used to test baby for dozens of congenital disorders. Some states destroy the blood spots after a year, 12 states store them for at least 21 years. California, however, is one of a handful of states that stores the remaining blood spots for research indefinitely in a state-run biobank. The child's leftover blood spots become property of the state and may be sold to outside researchers without the parent's knowledge or consent. "I just didn't realize there was a repository of every baby born in the state. It's like fingerprints," new mom Soniya Sapre responded. In California ... you do have the right to ask the biobank to destroy the leftovers after the fact, though the agency's website states it "may not be able to comply with your request." You also have the right to find out if your child's blood spots have been used for research, but you would have to know they were being used in the first place and we've discovered that most parents don't. But researchers with the California Genetic Disease Screening Program aren't the only ones with access to samples stored in the biobank. Blood spots are given to outside researchers for $20 to $40 per spot. According to biobank records, the program sold about 16,000 blood spots over the past five years, totaling a little more than $700,000.
As Facebook sought to become the world’s dominant social media service, it struck agreements allowing phone and other device makers access to vast amounts of its users’ personal information. Facebook has reached data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device makers - including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung. The partnerships ... raise concerns about the company’s privacy protections and compliance with a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. Facebook allowed the device companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders. Some device makers could retrieve personal information even from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing. In interviews, several former Facebook software engineers and security experts said they were surprised at the ability to override sharing restrictions. “It’s like having door locks installed, only to find out that the locksmith also gave keys to all of his friends so they can come in and rifle through your stuff without having to ask you for permission,” said Ashkan Soltani, a research and privacy consultant who formerly served as the F.T.C.’s chief technologist.
Edward Snowden has no regrets five years on from leaking the biggest cache of top-secret documents in history. He is wanted by the US. He is in exile in Russia. But he is satisfied with the way his revelations of mass surveillance have rocked governments, intelligence agencies and major internet companies. What has happened in the five years since? The most important change, he said, was public awareness. “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance. But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.” He said he had no regrets. His own life is uncertain, perhaps now more than ever, he said. His sanctuary in Russia depends on the whims of the Putin government, and the US and UK intelligence agencies have not forgiven him. For them, the issue is as raw as ever. One of the disclosures to have most impact was around the extent of collaboration between the intelligence agencies and internet companies. In 2013, the US companies were outsmarting the EU in negotiations over data protection. Snowden landed like a bomb in the middle of the negotiations and the data protection law that took effect last month is a consequence. But he will not be marking the anniversary with a “victory lap”. There is still much to be done. “The fightback is just beginning,” said Snowden. “The governments and the corporates have been in this game a long time and we are just getting started.”
Last year an American company microchipped dozens of its workers. Of the 90 people who work at [Three Square Market] headquarters, 72 are now chipped. Two months ago, the company ... started chipping people with dementia. If someone wanders off and gets lost, police can scan the chip “and they will know all their medical information, what drugs they can and can’t have, they’ll know their identity.” So far, Three Square Market has chipped 100 people, but plans to do 10,000. The company has just launched a mobile phone app that pairs the chip with the phone’s GPS, enabling the implantee’s location to be tracked. Last week, it started using it with people released from prison on probation. Some Chinese companies are using sensors in helmets and hats to scan workers’ brainwaves. There are tech companies selling products that can ... monitor keystrokes and web usage, and even photograph [employees] using their computers’ webcams. All this can be done remotely. Monitoring is built into many of the jobs that form the so-called “gig economy”. It’s not easy to object to the constant surveillance when you’re desperate for work. What has surprised [Cass Business School professor André Spicer] is how willingly people in better-paid jobs have taken to it. Spicer has watched the shift away from “monitoring something like emails to monitoring people’s bodies – the rise of bio-tracking basically. The monitoring of your vital signs, emotions, moods.”
Note: Author James Bloodworth describes the high tech monitoring of workers at Amazon warehouses in his new book, "Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain". For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on microchip implants and the disappearance of privacy.
Over the last two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online - simply with music playing over the radio. A group of students from University of California, Berkeley, and Georgetown University showed in 2016 that they could hide commands in white noise played over loudspeakers and through YouTube videos to get smart devices to turn on airplane mode or open a website. This month, some of those Berkeley researchers published a research paper that went further, saying they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list. There is no American law against broadcasting subliminal messages to humans, let alone machines. The Federal Communications Commission discourages the practice as “counter to the public interest,” and the Television Code of the National Association of Broadcasters bans “transmitting messages below the threshold of normal awareness.”
Note: Read how a hacked vehicle may have resulted in journalist Michael Hastings' death in 2013. A 2015 New York Times article titled "Why ‘Smart’ Objects May Be a Dumb Idea" describes other major risks in creating an "Internet of Things". Vulnerabilities like those described in the article above make it possible for anyone to spy on you with these objects, accelerating the disappearance of privacy.
Chinese companies are picking their employees’ brains - literally - with mind-reading devices designed to improve efficiency and performance. Workers are being outfitted with safety helmet-like caps that monitor brain waves and send the information to computers that use artificial intelligence algorithms to detect emotional spikes, like depression, anxiety and rage. The Orwellian technology has been used on factory employees, train conductors and workers at State Grid Zhejian Electric Power. State Grid, which has 40,000 employees ... said the company’s profits have increased by about $315 million since it implemented the surveillance caps in 2014. The government-funded brain-monitoring project, called Neuro Cap, has been implemented in more than a dozen factories and businesses. Jin Jia, an associate professor of brain science and cognitive psychology at Ningbo University, which is hosting the project, said the brain caps allow workers to be better managed. Qiao Zhian, professor of management psychology at Beijing Normal University, said the devices could give companies a competitive boost - but warned they could also violate privacy in the worst way. “There is no law or regulation to limit the use of this kind of equipment in China. The employer may have a strong incentive to use the technology for higher profit, and the employees are usually in too weak a position to say no,” he said. “The selling of Facebook data is bad enough. Brain surveillance can take privacy abuse to a whole new level.”
A former U.S. Secret Service agent named Peter Cavicchia III ran special ops for JPMorgan Chase & Co. His insider threat group ... used computer algorithms to monitor the bank’s employees. Aided by as many as 120 “forward-deployed engineers” from the data mining company Palantir Technologies Inc., which JPMorgan engaged in 2009, Cavicchia’s group vacuumed up emails and browser histories, GPS locations ... and transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations. It all ended when the bank’s senior executives learned that they, too, were being watched. [The] spying scandal ... which has never been reported, also marked an ominous turn for Palantir. An intelligence platform designed for the global War on Terror was weaponized against ordinary Americans at home. Founded in 2004 by Peter Thiel and some fellow PayPal alumni, Palantir cut its teeth working for the Pentagon and the CIA. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses Palantir. The FBI uses it. The Department of Homeland Security deploys it. Police and sheriff’s departments in New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Los Angeles have also used it, frequently ensnaring in the digital dragnet people who aren’t suspected of committing any crime. JPMorgan’s experience remains instructive. “The world changed when it became clear everyone could be targeted using Palantir,” says a former JPMorgan cyber expert who worked with Cavicchia at one point on the insider threat team. “Everyone’s a suspect, so we monitored everything.”
Note: Palantir was one of the private intelligence firms that reportedly conspired to discredit activists and journalist Glenn Greenwald, in part by submitting fake documents to WikiLeaks. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on corporate corruption and the disappearance of privacy.
Bloomberg Government reports on a FedBizOpps.gov posting by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the relatively benign-sounding subject “Media Monitoring Services.” The details of the attached Statement of Work, however, outline a plan to gather and monitor the public activities of media professionals and influencers and are enough to cause nightmares of constitutional proportions, particularly as the freedom of the press is under attack worldwide. As part of its "media monitoring," the DHS seeks to track more than 290,000 global news sources as well as social media. The successful contracting company will have "24/7 access to a password protected, media influencer database" ... in order to "identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event." The database will be browsable by "location, beat and type of influencer," and for each influencer, the chosen contractor should "present contact details and ... an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer." Increasing government encroachment on the freedom of the press is the sinister backdrop to all of this. Freedom House ... recently concluded that global media freedom has reached its lowest level in the past 13 years. The independent watchdog organization blames "new threats to journalists and media outlets in major democracies" as well as "further crackdowns on independent media in authoritarian countries like Russia and China."
I downloaded a copy of my Facebook data last week. I didn’t expect to see much. But when I opened my file, it was like opening Pandora’s box. I learned that about 500 advertisers - many that I had never heard of, like Bad Dad, a motorcycle parts store, and Space Jesus, an electronica band - had my contact information, which could include my email address, phone number and full name. Facebook also had my entire phone book, including the number to ring my apartment buzzer. The social network had even kept a permanent record of the roughly 100 people I had deleted from my friends list over the last 14 years. Facebook said unfamiliar advertisers might appear [in the file] because they might have obtained my contact information from elsewhere, compiled it into a list of people they wanted to target and uploaded that list into Facebook. Brands can obtain your information [by] buying ... from a data provider like Acxiom, which has amassed one of the world’s largest commercial databases on consumers. Let’s be clear: Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what information tech companies have collected on me. Knowing this, I also downloaded copies of my Google data with a tool called Google Takeout. The data sets were exponentially larger than my Facebook data. Here was the biggest surprise: In a folder labeled Ads, Google kept a history of many news articles I had read. Be warned: Once you see the vast amount of data that has been collected about you, you won’t be able to unsee it.
Note: Those who want to download their own Facebook data can use this link. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on corporate corruption and the disappearance of privacy.
[Here's] how much of your information ... Facebook and Google store about you. Google stores your location ... every time you turn on your phone. You can see a timeline of where you’ve been from the very first day you started using Google on your phone. Google stores search history across all your devices. Even if you delete your search history and phone history on one device, it may still have data saved from other devices. Google creates an advertisement profile based on your information, including your location, gender, age, hobbies, career, interests, relationship status, possible weight ... and income. Google offers an option to download all of the data it stores about you. I’ve requested to download it and the file is 5.5GB big, which is roughly 3m Word documents. Facebook offers a similar option to download all your information. Mine was roughly 600MB, which is roughly 400,000 Word documents. Facebook also stores what it thinks you might be interested in based off the things you’ve liked and what you and your friends talk about. The data they collect includes tracking where you are, what applications you have installed, when you use them, what you use them for, access to your webcam and microphone at any time, your contacts, your emails, your calendar, your call history, the messages you send and receive, the files you download, the games you play, your photos and videos, your music, your search history, your browsing history, even what radio stations you listen to.
Sitting in a hotel bar, Alexander Nix, who runs the political data firm Cambridge Analytica, had a few ideas for a prospective client looking for help in a foreign election. The firm could send an attractive woman to seduce a rival candidate and secretly videotape the encounter, Mr. Nix said, or send someone posing as a wealthy land developer to pass a bribe. “We have a long history of working behind the scenes,” Mr. Nix said. The prospective client, though, was actually a reporter. The encounter was secretly filmed as part of a monthslong investigation into Cambridge Analytica, the data firm with ties to President Trump’s 2016 campaign. The results of Channel 4’s work were broadcast ... days after reports ... that the firm had harvested the data from more than 50 million Facebook profiles in its bid to develop techniques for predicting the behavior of individual American voters. Less noticed has been the work that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, the SCL Group, have done outside the United States. “Many of our clients don’t want to be seen to be working with a foreign company,” he told the Channel 4 reporter. “We can set up fake IDs and websites.” Mr. Nix ... boasted that Cambridge Analytica employs front companies and former spies on behalf of political clients. The information that is uncovered ... is then put “into the bloodstream to the internet,” said Mark Turnbull, another Cambridge executive. “Then watch it grow,” he added. “It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘That’s propaganda.’”
Note: Watch an astounding video revealing how Cambridge Analytica has successfully manipulated national elections around the world using sleazy tactics like pretty women to entrap candidates and offering major bribes while recording the exchange. And here is a video featuring the whistleblower who exposed this.
At 24, [Christopher Wylie] came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that went on to claim a major role in the Leave campaign for Britain’s EU membership referendum, and later became a key figure in digital operations during Donald Trump’s election campaign. In 2014, Steve Bannon ... was Wylie’s boss. And Robert Mercer, the secretive US hedge-fund billionaire and Republican donor, was Cambridge Analytica’s investor. The idea they bought into was to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology – “information operations” – then turn it on the US electorate. By , Steve Bannon had become Trump’s chief strategist. Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, had won contracts with the US State Department and was pitching to the Pentagon, and Wylie was genuinely freaked out. “It’s insane,” he told me one night. “The company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? It’s like Nixon on steroids.” He ended up showing me a tranche of documents that laid out the secret workings behind Cambridge Analytica. Wylie ... came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.
Note: Billionaire Robert Mercer used this new new technology to build a corporate empire capable of swinging elections by using military propaganda strategies on civilian populations. The above article further details how mass media is being combined with Big Data to produce powerful new forms of mind control. Watch an astounding video revealing how Cambridge Analytica has successfully manipulated national elections around the world.
Important Note: Explore our full index to revealing excerpts of key major media news stories on several dozen engaging topics. And don't miss amazing excerpts from 20 of the most revealing news articles ever published.