We Revoke Our Right to Privacy with Assist From Facebook

At the annual Facebook F8 event yesterday, Facebook announced several powerful applications to expand the reach of the Web 2.0’s social networking model. New product announcements included Open Graph application software and inclusion of location-based services for greater social web inter-connectivity. The debut of the highly anticipated “Like” button on sites external to Facebook was also disclosed. In fact, Facebook stated that it already has established partnerships with approximately 30 highly visible websites including Yelp and Microsoft. Senior Facebook developers successfully demonstrated some of the potential uses to marketing and business users as well as individuals.

In light of this event, I’d like to share some of my concerns regarding the effect of increased information disclosure on us. The legal and contextual basis for my concern is drawn from a prescient feature article via BBC News. The following excerpt regarding erosion of privacy due to online activity is solid background material. It is followed by my own comments, as motivated by yesterday’s F8 activities.

How Online Life Distorts Privacy Rights for All by Zoe Kleinman, BBC News, 8 Jan 2010

People who post intimate details about their lives on the internet undermine everybody else’s right to privacy, claims an academic. Dr Kieron O’Hara [a senior research fellow in Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton] has called for people to be more aware of the impact on society of what they publish online. “If you look at privacy in law, one important concept is a reasonable expectation of privacy,” he said. “As more private lives are exported online, reasonable expectations are diminishing.”

The rise of social networking has blurred the boundaries of what can be considered private, he believes – making it less of a defense by law. We live in an era that he terms “intimacy 2.0″ – where people routinely share extremely personal information online. “When our reasonable expectations diminish, as they have, by necessity our legal protection diminishes.”

This is the article’s most critical point: “People who post intimate details about their lives on the internet undermine everybody else’s right to privacy… When our expectations diminish, by necessity our legal protection diminishes…”

The negative effects associated with such a loss of privacy are significant. Contemplate an analogy, between the social web’s escalating trend toward over-sharing and the risk scenario implicit in the herd immunity effect of inoculation to prevent infectious disease.

Start by considering our rapidly growing social web. Achieving today’s level of coverage and confidence in the security of our private information was not achieved easily nor quickly. Certain rights, such as protected health information laws under HIPAA, were only legislated during the past five or ten years. However, in this sudden outpouring of social web-motivated information disclosure, we might destroy all that our predecessors, and ourselves, have fought to achieve over a span of decades or centuries.

Now consider immunization against contagious disease. Note that metaphorical comparison to disease is not overstatement: In a worst case scenario, the threat to personal privacy or infrastructure security due to unprecedented levels of network connectivity is dire. We’ll use the non-controversial example of polio, for which immunity is achieved at the community level. Decades of time and effort were required to wipe out incidence of this disease. However, by choosing not to protect oneself (or one’s children), the entire community is made more vulnerable, not just those who choose not to immunize. The immuno status of the “herd” can be compromised by a small number of now unprotected individuals.

The phrase “going viral” with the spread of social web information is in fact just as sinister as the original epidemiological context from which it was derived.

That is why nearly everyone who works in information security—be it computers, telephony, healthcare, or in financial or IT audit— seems leery of Facebook services. Every time I scan news feeds from InfoSec Island, Wired.com, or DEFCON, I notice references to the latest Facebook scam, exploit, user vulnerability etc. The data security and information technology community appear to be of one mind about Facebook: no system safeguards, no matter how stringent, can protect users who choosing to divulge information by over sharing.

I conclude with a link to visual editor and journalist Robb Montgomery’s advice about how to guard your privacy and enjoy your time more securely on Facebook.

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tech Update One: The Real Smart Card Finally Steps Up, Finally Steps Up

Today I step out from under my dark cloud of foreboding to bring glad tidings! It seems that the consumer is finally able to avail herself of effective and affordable protection from identity theft and collateral loss. Mine arrived in a small securely wrapped parcel from www.PayPal.com a few weeks ago: an ICT Display Card. After a ten-year wait, this form of the long-anticipated “Smart Card” finally debuts.

What does it do, and is it really anything special? Yes, because the ICT Display card appears to offer the first instance of double password protection (dual factor authentication) for the average consumer’s online transactions. Let me describe the process, although I cannot fathom how it works. The account holder logs in to PayPal servers via secure https connection using her established account name and password. After gently depressing the small rubbery nub, the ICT Display Card generates a six to eight digit security key.

How does that new password protocol work?

   It appears on a (possibly LED) display, flush with the surface of the card, on the upper corner. The user then keys in the numeric code, no other process nor hardware needed. After a 6 to 10 second pause (the instructions are contrite, asking for the user’s patience during that nearly imperceptible interval), the key is authenticated and account access is granted. A different randomly generated security key is created for every session, according to the instructions. One could also use a security token delivered via a text message, instead of the card-based security key.  

This nifty little card is the size of an ATM or credit card. It is thinner and lighterthan most office building entrance card readers. The only cost associated is a one-time charge of $5.oo, including shipping and handling.  Remarkable technical innovation was required, as the card is powered by a super lightweight, paper-thin, very long-life battery, which emits a low-power radio frequency transmitting the security code. But where is the receiver? The card is not location-dependent, and may be used with any login, with any IP address. I am very curious how it works!

The developers are a privately-held company, with numerous overseas retail banking customers, and a very low profile website, probably due to this extremely valuable proprietary technology.  PayPal offered this option  for a more secure connection to customers as a bullet point update on the login screen, as opposed to a more visible email distribution to customers.  In fact, I recall seeing it announced only once, with minimal promotion. Instructions are given for users in the USA, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Germany and Austria. though I believe that PayPal offers the double password option solely to US-domestic customers at present. Actually, I am intrigued by the lack of fanfare as much as the capability of the card itself!

Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 11:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Thoughts about Emotional Data in Wiredset Blog

Foursquare User Numbers Soar

The title of the article Data Driven Experiences: Emotional Data, by Mark Ghuneim is fascinating, however, I’m concerned about address-level sharing of geo-spatial information as part of social networks.

FourSquare is a phone application that has seen soaring popularity since the 2010 SXSW event in Austin,Texas in March. Details of how the application works can be found at the Foursquare.com site. I was dismissive initially. It seemed little more than a way of telling others where you are at the moment, maybe make a restaurant recommendation, and earn very cute badges based on level of activity.

Activity is measured by the user’s “check-in” to a location, which is received and time stamped via mobile device by FourSquare and further validated by GIS-type service. Of course there is the element of competition by earning badges and becoming “Mayor” of a location. FourSquare also offers users a less blatant way of informing friends, and possibly everyone else, that you shopped at a great new clothing boutique, or went dancing at an upscale club over the weekend. Better yet, if you made an appearance at not merely one nightclub but three, in a single evening! FourSquare would be very effective for that. Why? Well, the app is new and not yet hacked or gamed by savvy users, it is far more credible than heresay and not subject to human error.

Foursquare activity in TX

Foursquare activity @ SXSW 2010, Austin TX

At first glance, FourSquare and similar didn’t seem terribly compelling. Merely more of the popularity contest and conspicuous consumption effect? Well, I didn’t foresee much potential for widespread appeal for another social networking phenomena, different but novel in its own way: the Facebook game, Farmville… and I was so very wrong.

Foursquare Logo

Businesses will certainly find value from subscriptions to FourSquare user data feeds. Geo-spatial data based social network applications, described by the more general term of LBS, location-based services, are attracting attention in unexpected ways.

For example, FourSquare advocates introduce the alluring idea that it actually enriches the lives of users with a collectively magnified knowledge base of the world to draw on, leading to a higher level of engagement with everything.

However, I believe that most possible benefits are far outweighed by the risks of over sharing. The most obvious negative consequence is increased vulnerability, impacting personal, family and property security. Note that FourSquare does have a posted privacy policy , about which I am not informed enough to comment.

Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 11:21 am  Comments (2)  
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Death Comes to Second Life. Again?

Some very special treats have floated by as I idle away my unemployed days.

Farewell, Pathfinder Linden!  I enjoyed happy hours rummaging through your bookshelves, playing your harpsichord, dredging through the copy-mod-transferable sheet music, personal RL photos and CD cases you thoughtfully left strewn on the floor of your in-world office.  Although rumored to be aloof, Pathfinder did appear to be a critical thinker, successful advocate of educational applications for Second Life, and contributor in the RL healthcare field. It would’ve been prudent for Linden Lab to keep him on staff, rather than eliminating his job.

Perhaps Not-so-full-of-Crap Mariner’s Vinnie Linden could be a SL eulogy for Pathfinder? Fly-in-the-ointment with that theory is the timing discrepancy. “Ode to Vinnie” was released in 2008.

On the Viewer War frontlines, many have noted the passing of young Master 5050, noted by NexisONLINE Status blog and at SLUniverse General Discussion.  Advisory to all native and non-native speakers of the English language: the Notorious 5050 has risen and blogs again. I personally hearken more to Mr. Poenta’s campaign to “avenge the banning of the innocents”.

To end on an equally somber note, I was saddened to read of the demise of Luna viewer, discontinued on Agni and no longer running anywhere else as of March 22. Nexis ONLINE experienced no end of complications, ranging from Linden Lab’s viewer policies to the negative impact of copybot activity on Nexis’s SLX-type product FlexMarket.

Massacre at Braunworth: Slaughter of the Newbies

Memento mori. I dedicate this post to the deities of the internet and transformation.  Horus and Hermes, Legba and Shiva, you are having quite a field day in our little corner of virtual reality.  T.S. Eliot always says it best, excerpted from The Four Quartets:

In my beginning is my end.  In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass…
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility. Humility is endless.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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