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    Update: Hamburg, Germany, Privacy Official Fines Google Over Street View Data Collection

    Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

    To recap: In 2009, Google came under fire for its Street View product, where the online services giant photographed homes and other buildings in numerous countries as part of its online mapping service, as individuals said the photos invaded their privacy. Then, in 2010, Google announced that, for more than three years — in more than 30 countries — it had been “mistakenly collecting” personal data from open WiFi networks as its vehicles roamed the streets taking photos for its Street View mapping service. Later, the company admitted the data collected — without individuals’ knowledge or consent — included entire e-mails and passwords. And it was revealed that “Google also recorded the street addresses and unique identifiers of computers and other devices using those wireless networks and then made the data available through” In October 2010, the Federal Trade Commission announced that (pdf) it had closed an investigation into possible privacy breaches by Google’s Street View after the company pledged to stop gathering consumers’ e-mail, passwords and other personal data. In April, the Federal Communications Commission decided (redacted pdf) that it would not take enforcement action against the company over this data collection and retention, but it would fine Google $25,000 for impeding the agency’s investigation into the private data collected and retained via its Street View product.

    The online services giant also faced questions from states over the data collection. Last month, the Washington Post reports that Google has reached a settlement (Connecticut pdf; archive pdf) with 38 states and the District of Columbia over the collection and retention of individuals’ personal data through its Street View product, but the company will only have to pay $7 million total and implement a privacy program.

    Now, the New York Times reports that Google will again pay a minimal fine over its Street View private data collection, this time to a privacy regulator in Hamburg, Germany:  Read more »

    AdWeek: FTC Chair Calls for Universal Do Not Track, Stunning Advertisers

    Monday, April 22nd, 2013

    AdWeek reports that new Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez is calling for a universal Do Not Track system rather than the self-regulatory system that advertisers have been pushing:

    In her first speech before the advertising industry, newly minted Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez called once again for a universal solution for Do Not Track. While Ramirez didn’t say the Digital Advertising Alliance’s self-regulatory program was not enough, it was implied in her remarks.

    “Consumers await a functioning Do Not Track system, which is long overdue,” Ramirez said. “We advocated for a persistent Do Not Track mechanism that allows consumers to stop control of data across all sites, and not just for targeting ads.” […]

    Ramirez’s position on Do Not Track stunned the attendees at the American Advertising Federation’s annual advertising day on Capitol Hill, who thought they had responded to the FTC’s call two years ago to develop a program that allows consumers to opt-out of targeted ads. […]

    Microsoft and Mozilla have turned into a giant headache for the advertising industry, forcing the DAA to put out a policy statement last year that advertisers would not honor the Microsoft browser because its default setting did not give advertisers choice.

    Opinion at Politico: A Fourth Amendment application for the Internet

    Friday, March 22nd, 2013

    Laura Murphy, director of the Washington Legislative Office at the American Civil Liberties Union, and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, announced the launch of a new effort to apply Fourth Amendment privacy and civil liberty protections to all digital content in an opinion column for Politico.

    Imagine if federal agents, without a search warrant, listened to your telephone conversations, read your mail and seized private records you kept in a locked file cabinet. Imagine they did so without having probable cause to believe you were involved in a committed crime. Finally, imagine that the statutes they relied on were written in the days before most people even had telephones.

    Living in the United States, these extraordinary invasions of privacy are prohibited by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects Americans from “unreasonable searches and seizures” of their “persons, houses, papers and effects.” In many instances, this is true, so it is hard to believe that your digital life is not protected from federal agents by the Fourth Amendment.

    In the age of the Internet, your privacy is not Fourth Amendment safe. […] Read more »

    FTC Releases Report On Growing Use of Mobile Payments

    Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

    The Federal Trade Commission has released a report, “Paper, Plastic… or Mobile?” (agency pdf; archive pdf) on the growing use of mobile payments and what this means for consumers, including the privacy and security of their financial data. (Last month, the FTC released a report about mobile privacy disclosures.) In a news release, the FTC said:

    The mobile payments arena is growing quickly, and the report notes that mobile payment systems can provide innovative and convenient options for consumers. But the report also notes three major areas of potential concern for consumers.

    First, the report encourages companies to develop clear policies on how consumers can resolve disputes arising from a fraudulent mobile payment or an unauthorized charge. […]

    The report also highlights the growing problem of mobile “cramming,” which occurs when third parties place unauthorized charges onto consumers’ mobile phone bills.  The Commission discussed this issue in its previous comment to the Federal Communications Commission, and the FTC staff has announced a mobile cramming roundtable to be held in May. […] Read more »

    Update: Virginia Legislature Passes Partial Drone Ban, but Governor Debating Veto

    Monday, February 25th, 2013

    We’ve discussed the increasing focus on the issue of use of aerial drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, “UAVs”) to conduct surveillance in the United States. See a recent post for more on moves in state and federal legislatures concerning privacy and restrictions on such domestic use of drones.

    Now, the Washington Times reports that the Virginia legislature has sent legislation, House Bill 2012 “” (Virginia pdf; archive pdf), imposing a two-year partial ban (until July 1, 2015) on the use of drones for domestic surveillance to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) for signature or veto:

    Some Virginia lawmakers sought to pass a bill this year explicitly prohibiting state and local law enforcement from using them for warrantless surveillance, but the legislature chose instead to study the issue for two years and think through any possible restrictions. […]

    The potential use of drones in Virginia has drawn opposition from groups ranging from the Tea Party Patriots Federation to the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

    The assembly’s bill would outlaw general government use of drones, except for National Guard training and for emergency purposes, such as searching for missing children or seniors. […] Read more »

    Gigaom: The increasingly blurry line between Big Data and Big Brother

    Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

    Gigaom considers the privacy and civil liberties issues that can arise from the increasing data-gathering on individuals’ activities:

    The potential benefits of “big data” have been well described, both by us and others: the ability to spot flu trends earlier and potentially save lives, for example, or to make it easier for companies to provide services in a more personalized way. But these same tools could also be used for more disturbing purposes that smack of Orwell’s Big Brother, and two prominent digital skeptics — Nicholas Carr and Evgeny Morozov — recently raised warning flags about that prospect. Which kind of future will we get?

    Carr looked at a recent speech from PayPal co-founder Max Levchin at the DLD conference in Germany (one Om also attended, where he conducted an in-depth interview with Levchin) and clearly didn’t like what he saw. Levchin’s view of people, according to Carr, is that they are just resources that are not being utilized efficiently, and the technology of sensors and real-time information can be used to improve that, in much the same way that programmers try to optimize the clock cycles of a microprocessor. […] Read more »