The Week in Privacy


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small__4383737447Writers express concern about government spying

Writers, editors and translators around the globe are tweaking what they publish and censoring themselves in response to government surveillance, a new survey shows.

The nonprofit PEN American Center polled more than 700 writers in fall 2014, in countries classified as “free”, “partly free” and “not free”. While respondents in the “not free” nations reported more self-censorship and were more worried about surveillance, a significant number of writers in “free” countries are concerned with privacy as well, PEN American Center executive director Suzanne Nossel said.

“The idea that we are seeing some similar patterns in free countries to those we’ve traditionally associated with unfree countries is pretty distressing,” she observed.

Minnesota student questions school privacy policy, has internet access revoked

A high school student in Wayzata, Minn. is asking some tough questions about how his online privacy is being protected – and his school isn’t happy about it.

Last fall, nonprofit news site MinnPost describes, school administrators at Wayzata High School were issuing iPads to every member of the junior class. Student Nathan Ringo read the contract he was asked to sign and realized that he would have no idea how much of his data the district would capture – or what they could do with it.

When Ringo raised concerns with school officials, they reportedly revoked his internet access for “hacker talk”. He now has to access the internet using a personal tablet and personal mobile hotspot when he’s at school.

While Ringo has been asked to write a paper detailing proposed solutions to the privacy concerns he’s raised, there’s no word when his internet access will be restored.

Privacy takes the stage (sort of) at International CES

The International Consumer Electronics Show is one of the world’s biggest showcases for new devices, apps and digital services. And while many of the technologies on display at this year’s show – which is going on now in Las Vegas – demand greater interconnectedness, at least a handful are dedicated to privacy.

A corner of the show floor has been devoted to privacy hawks, the Washington Post’s tech blog reports. Among the exhibitors are VPN developer Private Internet Access and Peeled Group, the maker of a smartphone wallet that totally blocks data transmission. Aaron Zar, Peeled Group’s CEO, said 2013’s revelations of NSA spying were contributing to much greater interest in privacy among the buying public.

“It’s the Snowden effect,” he explains.

Note: our own CEO, Rob Shavell, is at CES – keep your eye out for him if you’re there!

In other CES news: FTC official calls for IoT companies to adopt security ‘best practices’

A senior official at the Federal Trade Commission, speaking this week at CES, suggests that so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT) companies must bake privacy into their products from the start.

IoT refers to products and physical sensors that can connect to the internet. The IoT marketplace is small at the moment – current IoT products include the Nest thermostat and Dropcam home security system – but it’s poised to grow substantially. As it does, FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez suggested, IoT firms should use encryption, strong password requirements and security audits to ensure their products are safe to use.

In addition, TechCrunch reports, Ramirez called on IoT device makers to practice “data minimization” (i.e., collecting only as much data as is required for normal operations) and give consumers choice about how their data is used.

Should we be concerned about ‘super cookies’?

A certain kind of browser cookie can track a person’s browsing activity even in “private browsing” (or “incognito” mode), a security researcher reports this week.

Sam Greenhalgh of UK-based consultancy RadicalResearch describes in a blog post how a browser feature called HTTP Strict Transport Security can act as a “super cookie” that tracks users across browsing sessions and even devices.

The good news, though: HSTS can be defeated on desktop computers by manually clearing browser cookies before entering private browsing mode. Things aren’t quite so simple on Apple iOS devices, Greenhalgh found – but that’s all the more reason to use the Blur app for secure browsing.

Photo courtesy of redeye^ via photopin cc.

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