Privacy News of the Week


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249386138_2c2f4cacbd_nCommercial facial-recognition software is here – should you be concerned?

Who else but Facebook, with its 1.3 billion users and hundreds of millions of their photos, would have developed an advanced facial-recognition program?

The software, called DeepFace, is already in use: If you upload a new picture with other people in it, Facebook will try to identify the people from your Facebook friend list. The social-networking giant has not partnered with any other companies on DeepRank – but technology similar to DeepRank is only going to proliferate, computing experts tell Science magazine.

That means, in the not-too-distant future, it will be possible to automatically ID you in any picture on the web, Iowa State University researcher Brian Mennecke tells the magazine. “The genie is, or soon will be, out of the bottle,” he said.

Only incremental changes made to NSA data collection program

The large-scale collection of communications data revealed in 2013 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is still going on – all but full steam ahead.

The Obama administration has ordered some minor changes to the NSA’s data collection program, stipulating that the agency delete most phone-record data after five years and instituting a regular review of the NSA’s efforts to spy on foreign leaders. But most of the government’s bulk data collection will continue unabated, the AP reports.

“It’s clear the administration is going to continue to stand by a lot of the mass surveillance policies,” ACLU attorney Neema Singh Guliani told the news service.

Google moves to streamline European privacy policy

In the face of investigations into how it informs users about the privacy of their personal information, Google is making significant changes to its privacy policy in Europe.

Google is being investigated by privacy watchdogs in the UK, France and Spain. By tweaking its privacy policy and providing users with more information about how it uses their data, Google will be able to bring an end to those investigations, the BBC reports.

Facebook set something of a precedent last year when it pared its end-user license agreement from 9,000 words to 2,700. Still, it’s unlikely that either Facebook or Google’s privacy policies will ever be as simple as Abine’s.

Uber announces plans to secure user data

Uber, stung by criticism that it takes a lax approach to protecting the privacy of its riders, is taking steps to improve how it thinks about privacy.

The ridesharing company last year commissioned a review of its privacy practices by law firm Hogan Lovells. Some of the firm’s recommendations – including stronger access controls on rider data and better employee training – are in the process of being implemented, Uber said.

Still, if you want to really anonymize yourself on Uber, consider following the steps we laid out in this blog post.

Encryption software runs on a shoestring: report

The German developer of one of the world’s most widely used email encryption programs earns barely anything for his efforts, ProPublica reports this week.

Werner Koch, who created the Gnu Privacy Guard program in the 1990s, almost threw in the towel on GPG in 2013. But when Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s secret phone data collection program, Koch decided to redouble his efforts.

Still, ProPublica notes, Koch is barely eking out a living – he earned $21,000 in 2013 – despite his important work to protect the email privacy of people the world over. You can donate to his organization here.

Photo courtesy of Chris’s eye (selective colouring) via photopin (license).

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