Privacy News of the Week


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6072571372_99c5115ef6_nVerizon Wireless to allow ‘supercookie’ opt-out

The nation’s largest wireless carrier, stung by criticism about its use of “supercookie” trackers on customers’ mobile devices, will start allowing people to opt out of supercookie tracking.

The move, announced at the end of January, marks a sharp reversal for Verizon, which until recently had only let customers opt out of marketing programs that used data generated by the trackers. Customers of the carrier will be able to fully remove the supercookies, known formally as UIDHs, “soon”, in the words of a Verizon spokesman.

Most troubling about the supercookies is that they have the potential to supersede conventional privacy protection measures, such as deleting browser cookies. Mark this announcement as a win for privacy – but keep an eye on device-based tracking moving forward, we say.

Brokers express concern about hacking risk

Broker-dealers believe hacking to be their top cybersecurity threat, regulatory group Finra says.

Concerns about hackers “penetrating systems for the purpose of account manipulation, defacement or data destruction” topped the list of digital security worries cited by brokers in a 2014 Finra survey [PDF]. The results mirrored those of Finra’s last security poll, conducted in 2011: At that time, too, hacking was the No. 1 perceived threat.

Finra’s findings illustrate how multibillion-dollar financial companies, like individual internet users, must take steps to protect themselves from malicious activity on the web. Strong passwords are the individual’s best defense against internet threats – and Blur can help you create and save them.

Connected device privacy receives senatorial scrutiny

To hear tech companies tell it, we’re on the cusp of a brave new world in which all of our digital devices “talk” to each other, bringing us better user experiences and greater efficiency. But if you’re concerned about how privacy will look in this heralded future of connected devices, you’re not alone.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken wrote to TV makers LG and Samsung this week to inquire how they will protect the data their “smart TVs” collect. Both companies recently introduced TVs with voice-recognition capability, and the senator, PC Magazine reports, wants to determine what happens to a user’s voice data once it is sent over the internet.

Senator Franken has been outspoken in favor of consumer privacy before – as we noted in November, he also sought information about Uber’s data privacy policies.

Student data privacy gets a boost from Obama administration, Congress

Cross-aisle cooperation seems to have all but vanished from inside the Beltway. But on the matter of protecting children’s educational data, there does appear to be bipartisan consensus.

The Obama administration, Reuters reports, is partnering with two members of the House of Representatives – Colorado Democrat Jared Polis and Indiana Republican Luke Messer – to develop legislation that would regulate how tech companies can use and share student data.

The draft legislation should be released soon, Reuters noted. And more privacy announcements may be forthcoming from the Obama administration, which will convene a digital privacy forum tomorrow, Feb. 13, at Stanford University.

U.S. Marshal cell phone tracking program garners attention from privacy nonprofit

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is seeking more information from the Department of Justice about a U.S. Marshals Service tracking program that remains shrouded in secrecy.

The program uses light aircraft equipped with so-called “stingrays”, which simulate the equipment used on wireless carriers’ cell towers. The stingrays gather device identifiers from thousands of cell phones to track criminals’ locations – or at least that’s how everything is supposed to work in theory.

Worryingly, it remains unclear how long the Marshals hold on to the data they collect. The EFF complained this week to a federal court that the DOJ has not been forthcoming with this information, in violation of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the nonprofit late last year.

Photo courtesy of JOH_1665 via photopin (license).

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