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    Recent Privacy Stories on Biometrics, Social Networking and Advertising

    Here are a few stories of interest concerning biometrics, social networking and advertising that were posted in the last couple of weeks.

    USA Today: Facebook agrees to privacy changes in Europe

    BERLIN – Facebook has agreed to make several changes to its services to improve transparency and better protect the personal data of its millions of users outside of the U.S., following an in-depth audit of its international headquarters that was released Wednesday.

    The social media company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., agreed to changes including asking European users if they wanted to partake in its Facial Recognition, reworking its policies of retaining and deleting private data, reducing the amount of information collected about people who are not logged into Facebook, the company said in response to a report of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.

    Facebook’s international headquarters are based in Dublin, Ireland, a member of the European Union. This means the company is required to comply with European data privacy laws, which are more stringent than those that apply in the United States, particularly regarding how long data can be retained. […]

    The company has agreed to present its results in a follow-up to the report in July. […]

    Facebook has repeatedly come under fire in Europe for a raft of complaints ranging from accusations that it sells personal data to advertisers — a charge that the Irish authority said its findings did not uphold — its Friend Finder application and “archiving” of data that users have deleted.

    This is especially the case in German-speaking nations, where laws protecting individual privacy and the use of personal are even more far-reaching than those covering the European Union, Facebook has run up against several complaints from local data protection authorities.

    New York Times: Beijing Imposes New Rules on Social Networking Sites

    BEIJING — Officials announced new rules on Friday aimed at controlling the way Chinese Internet users post messages on social networking sites that have posed challenges to the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda machinery.

    For many users, the most striking of the new rules requires people using the sites, called microblogs, or weibo in Chinese, to register with their real names and biographical information. They will still be able to post under aliases, according to a report by Xinhua, the state news agency.

    Some analysts say the real-name registration could dampen some of the freewheeling conversations that take place online, and that sometimes result in a large number of users criticizing officials and government policy.

    The rule on real-name registration had been expected for several months now by industry watchers, and Internet companies in China had already experimented in 2009 with some forms of this. It was the ninth of 17 new microblog regulations issued on Friday by Beijing government officials, who have been charged by central authorities with reining in the way microblogs are used. […]

    The regulation announced by the Beijing officials applies only to companies based in the capital, where several of the largest microblog platforms, including Sina and Sohu, are located. […]

    Leaders here have long discussed how to better control the Chinese Internet, which has about 485 million users, the most of any country. Most vexing for officials has been the speed with which information can spread on microblogs. This year, several episodes highlighted the reach of microblogs, including posts that ignited mass anger over both the Wenzhou high-speed train crash and the hit-and-run death of a 2-year-old toddler, Yueyue.

    Wired: U.S. Holds On to Biometrics Database of 3 Million Iraqis

    [The U.S.] military is holding on to a major souvenir of the war: a massive database packed with retinal scans, thumb prints and other biometric data identifying millions of Iraqis. It will be a tool for counterterrorism long after the Iraq War becomes a fading memory.

    U.S. Central Command, the military command responsible for troops in the Mideast and South Asia, confirms to Danger Room that the biometrics database, compiled by U.S. troops over the course of years, will remain U.S. property. “Centcom has the database,” says the command’s chief spokesman, Army Maj. T.G. Taylor, who says it contains files on three million Iraqis. The U.S.-sponsored Iraqi government, in other words, doesn’t control a host of incredibly specific information on its citizens.

    For much of the war, U.S. troops carrying viewfinder-like scanning devices kept digital records of the Iraqis they encountered. Some Iraqis got their unique identifiers recorded because they were suspected insurgents on their way to detention centers. Residents of violent cities like Fallujah would only get to return home from travel if they showed U.S. troops an ID card complete with biometric data. Iraqis underwent iris scans when they wanted to join the police. So did Iraqis who worked on U.S. bases. […]

    Taylor doesn’t say why the U.S. didn’t hand over its biometrics toy to the Iraqis. But there’s an obvious reason: Iraq’s sectarian divides have not healed. And a database filled with uber-specific information about approximately 10 percent of Iraq’s population could represent a wish list for a death squad, militia or insurgent group — some of which are aligned with Iraqi political parties.

    It’s not an idle fear. The day after the U.S. departed, a court beholden to Iraq’s (Shiite) prime minister issued an arrest warrant for the (Sunni) vice president on terrorism charges. “Three of my brothers have been killed because of my participation in building a new Iraq, regardless of all I have done,” the incredulous VP, Tarek al-Hashemi, told Eli Lake of Newsweek. Hashemi, who is Iraq’s highest ranking Sunni, blamed the U.S. for leaving Iraq in Maliki’s hands.

    Iraqis aren’t the only ones to wind up in huge U.S. biometrics databases. Afghans, too, have been scanned by the millions. As far back as 2005, detainee biometric data from both Iraqis and Afghans turned up in an obscure Pentagon anti-terrorism database called the Department of Defense DNA Registry. Documents released by WikiLeaks suggest that the U.S. even seeks to collect bio-data on foreign leaders.

    Wall Street Journal: EU Privacy Panel Rejects Industry On-Line Advertising Rules

    The European Union’s top privacy advisory panel on Thursday rejected a code of conduct written by Internet companies for protecting the personal data of on-line users.

    The panel said the plan, which would allow advertisers to police themselves, doesn’t satisfy the EU’s on-line privacy laws. The decision jeopardizes a deal struck earlier this year between the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, and the world’s biggest Internet companies allowing them to comply with EU rules by adopting the code.

    The code covers “behavioral advertising,” the practice of gathering data on users’ Internet surfing habits for the purpose of piping targeted advertising onto their computer screens. The code requires websites to seek permission from users before gathering information that can be used to identify them personally, and it requires websites to give visitors the ability to “opt out” from having their data gathered.

    The advisory panel, composed of national EU privacy regulators, said the code and an accompanying website give the false impression that it is possible not to be tracked while surfing the Internet.

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