Privacy News of the Week

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small__8008932498Verizon Wireless placing ‘supercookies’ on customer devices

Verizon Wireless, the nation’s largest provider of cell service, is using a unique form of tracking to help advertisers target Verizon customers with ads.

And the technology – dubbed a ‘supercookie’ in reference to the cookies that websites place in web browsers to identify unique users – was being used to track Verizon customers who had deleted one ad broker’s ordinary cookies.

That broker, Turn, has since ceased the practice. But, privacy experts say, the use of Verizon’s device-based tracking tech to replace regular cookies could hint at how tracking will look in the not-too-distant future.

Credit card data proves tough to evade

A lot can be inferred about you from your credit card spending history, researchers at MIT have shown – using only a handful of data points.

After compiling a dataset of 1.1 million anonymized (i.e., nameless) credit card transaction records, the researchers could identify 90 percent of people in four records. When prices could be used, just three records were required to get to 90 percent.

The findings reveal how fragile our notions of privacy are, co-author Alex Pentland tells the AP: “We are showing that the privacy we are told that we have isn’t real.”

Obama administration’s online privacy bill takes shape

The Obama administration has released more details about its proposed online privacy legislation.

Sources tell Politico that the bill would require large internet companies to receive customers’ permission before sharing their data or using it for any purpose other than what each customer originally allowed.

The legislation would mark a sweeping change to the way online privacy is regulated. It’s unclear, however, whether such a move will have enough support in Congress to become law.

Business-as-usual in digital privacy won’t cut it: professor

The way we manage privacy today is fundamentally broken, the director of Harvard’s Data Privacy Lab said at a computing conference.

Speaking at the fourth annual Symposium on the Future of Computation in Science and Engineering, Latanya Sweeney – who is also the chief technologist at the FTC – suggested that the systems in use to protect people’s data are woefully inadequate. “Every single one of them,” she said, “is headed for a major disaster.”

In the absence of better systemic privacy management, former NSA analyst Edward Snowden added at the conference, encryption can at least enable individuals to secure the bulk of their digital information. But implementing encryption across different platforms, communication technologies and devices can prove challenging, other panelists noted.

How much does your alma mater know about you?

The answer may be: more than you think.

As the New York Times describes this week, a handful of startups are offering advanced analytics tools to universities and private schools. The tools can parse individual alumni profiles on social networks – including location data – to determine the best donor candidates.

The troubling part is, many people probably have no idea their schools are tracking their online activity, World Privacy Forum executive director Pam Dixon tells the Times. “I do think there’s an ethical issue,” she says.

Photo courtesy of thronx via photopin cc.

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