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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Reason: How Kids Find Online Privacy

    Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

    Danah boyd, who researches youth issues at Microsoft, writes at Reason about how kids try to protect their privacy online:

    1. Social steganography. The most common way teens find privacy is not by restricting access to content, but by restricting access to meaning. They encode what they’re posting using in-jokes, song lyrics, pronouns, and references that outsiders won’t recognize.

    Read the full article for other ways kids try to protect their online privacy.

    Wall Street Journal: Why Some Privacy Apps Get Blocked From the Android Play Store

    Monday, September 1st, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Google is removing privacy-protecting apps from its mobile apps store:

    Google Tuesday removed a smartphone app called “Disconnect Mobile” from its Android Play store because it violated a policy prohibiting software that interferes with other apps.

    Interference was precisely the point of Disconnect Mobile, a privacy tool aimed at stopping other apps from collecting data on users. In the six days it was available in Google’s store, it was downloaded more than 5,000 times.

    Disconnect, a San Francisco startup that spent a year and $300,000 to develop the app, says it was careful to build its product according to Google’s rules, but that the policies are so vague that Google could, in essence, ban any app in its store. [...]

    Google has banned similar ad-blocking apps before because they, too, could interfere with other apps.

    InformationWeek: When Big Data & Infants’ Privacy Collide

    Friday, August 29th, 2014

    InformationWeek reports on issues concerning children’s medical and genetic privacy:

    For decades, hospitals have conducted blood tests on newborns, checking babies for various conditions, treatable and not. Today’s less costly tests, genomic research, and technological advances, coupled with differing policies across states, worry some privacy and ethics advocates.

    Whereas some states allow parents to opt-in for testing, others have an opt-out approach. Critics argue parents have little to no say in whether this data is collected, where and how long it’s stored, and what organizations do with this information. Lower genome testing costs sparked debate about researchers’ right to use this information; who should learn of infants’ chronic conditions and when; and the type of data government, researchers, payers, or healthcare providers can cull. Other concerns surround the storage and transmission of data that’s not de-identified and its potential theft. [...]

    In May, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a law allowing the state to indefinitely store blood spots for future research. Parents can opt out. In New York, parents can decline testing for religious reasons, said the Wadsworth Center, NY Department of Health, which screens the state’s newborns for more than 40 inherited metabolic conditions.

    News Tribune: Documents: Tacoma police using surveillance device to sweep up cellphone data

    Thursday, August 28th, 2014

    The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, reports on the Tacoma police’s use of “Stingray” technology, which simulates a cellphone tower so that nearby mobile devices will connect to it and reveal its location and other information:

    The Tacoma Police Department apparently has bought — and quietly used for six years — controversial surveillance equipment that can sweep up records of every cellphone call, text message and data transfer up to a half a mile away.

    You don’t have to be a criminal to be caught in this law enforcement snare. You just have to be near one and use a cellphone. [...]

    News that the city was using the surveillance equipment surprised City Council members, who approved an update for a device last year, and prosecutors, defense attorneys and even judges, who in court deal with evidence gathered using the surveillance equipment.

    “If they use it wisely and within limits, that’s one thing,” said Ronald Culpepper, the presiding judge of Pierce County Superior Court, when informed of the device Tuesday. “I would certainly personally have some concerns about just sweeping up information from non-involved and innocent parties — and to do it with a whole neighborhood? That’s concerning.” [...] Read more »

    Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Electronics end privacy for many employees

    Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on privacy complications that can arise for employees when they use employer-issued technology:

    ATLANTA — In an era of company-issued GPS-enabled smartphones and tablets, employers now have the technology to track workers’ every move from sunrise to bedtime.

    Companies say tracking employees can be good for business. For example, it can help improve safety — ensuring that truckers drive safely and get the rest required by law. Tracking can also make companies more productive and competitive by monitoring performance and productivity. [...]

    But the capabilities also mean employers can also easily keep tabs on anyone from sales staff to office workers whether at work or at home. Read more »

    Column at Yahoo Tech: What Are Schools Doing with Your Kids’ Data?

    Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

    At Yahoo Tech, columnist Dan Tynan discusses children’s privacy and how their data is used by schools:

    Every student in every school district generates hundreds of data points each year — from their race and gender to their economic status, behavioral issues, biometric data, health status, and more. This tsunami of data is then absorbed and stored by school districts, state databases, educational service providers, websites, and app makers.

    Of course, schools have been collecting data on students since there have been schools. In the past, though, this information was squirreled away in filing cabinets or just on computers used in district offices. Now it lives in the cloud, and it’s being accessed by non-educators who want to apply the principles of big data analysis to it.

    What could go wrong? Plenty. Potentially damaging information about your child’s medical conditions or behavioral issues could accidentally leak or be exposed by hackers. Private companies could decide to use the information for commercial purposes. Potential employers, insurance companies, or other government agencies may someday lobby to get their hands on this data. [...] Read more »