Tag Archives: privacy

Vizio smart televisions watch YOU

If you are going to buy a smart television, don’t buy one by Vizio, as they by default track your viewing and provide the information to advertisers.

The feature, “Smart Interactivity,” is already turned on as a default setting for millions of people who have purchased the device. Viewers are able to turn off the setting, that is, if they know it even exists. “Non-personal identifiable information may be shared with select partners… to permit these companies to make, for example, better-informed decisions regarding content production, programming and advertising,” Vizio said in a statement.

Vizio seems to be taking a new approach by tracking viewers by default, while competitors like San Jose-based Samsung or LG Electronics leave it to customers to turn the setting on. Vizio’s sharing with advertisers also reportedly lets them target devices like your phone, which other companies do not.

Somehow this seems to be a direct violation of privacy, which also might be quite illegal.

Researchers push for access to confidential government records of the public

What could possibly go wrong? Researchers in a number of fields want access to the vast amount of private government data that is routinely gathered from the public.

In the past few years, administrative data have been used to investigate issues ranging from the side effects of vaccines2 to the lasting impact of a child’s neighbourhood on his or her ability to earn and prosper as an adult3. Proponents say that these rich information sources could greatly improve how governments measure the effectiveness of social programmes such as providing stipends to help families move to more resource-rich neighbourhoods.

But there is also concern that the rush to use these data could pose new threats to citizens’ privacy. “The types of protections that we’re used to thinking about have been based on the twin pillars of anonymity and informed consent, and neither of those hold in this new world,” says Julia Lane, an economist at New York University. In 2013, for instance, researchers showed that they could uncover the identities of supposedly anonymous participants in a genetic study simply by cross-referencing their data with publicly available genealogical information.

Read it all. It is terrifying to me how governments worldwide increasingly consider this private data their property to use as they wish. For example:

In the United States, the Census Bureau has been expanding its network of Research Data Centers, which currently includes 19 sites around the country at which researchers with the appropriate permissions can access confidential data from the bureau itself, as well as from other agencies. “We’re trying to explore all the available ways that we can expand access to these rich data sets,” says Ron Jarmin, the bureau’s assistant director for research and methodology.

I ask: What business is it of the Census Bureau to do this? The information they gather was originally intended solely to determine Congressional districts. Moreover, who gave them the right to release the confidential data to anyone? Have they asked anyone for this permission?

New bill would repeal Patriot Act

Some good news: Two Congressmen have introduced legislation to repeal the Patriot Act as well as end all unconstitutional domestic spying by government agencies.

The article notes that there is bi-partisan support for “doing something” about the out-of-control surveillance of federal agencies like the National Security Agency. I agree. Expect something like this to get passed. Whether Obama will veto it is another question. Despite what he says (which no one should every believe), he likes the idea of prying into the lives of private citizens.

Massive federal/state program uncovered to track millions of cars nationwide

What could possibly go wrong? A massive federal/state government partnership has been built to track the movements of millions of cars as they move across the country.

The program is also linked to a number of databases that provide a significant amount of private information about the drivers of those cars. The program has also been designed to aid state and federal officials in their efforts to grab cash and property from citizens in their civil forfeiture programs.

Doesn’t that make you feel safe?

Obamacare website easy to hack

It appears the wrong people can find out what’s in it: The Obamacare website, which has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions if not a billion dollars (depending on who you ask), turns out to be very easy to hack.

The website requires those enrolling for ObamaCare to supply their first and last name, home address, social security number and paying information — including credit card data. Lamar Smith, chair of the committee looking after the security of the website, said there had been hearings on the “lack of security” around the website. He told Fox News: “What we”ve discovered is that it seems to be easy to be hacked, the security is not secure.

It appears the site was hacked on July 8 but the hack wasn’t discovered until August 25. That gave the hackers almost two months to rummage through the personal files of Americans. How nice.

Use a smart phone? Google knows where you’ve been

If you use a smart phone or tablet, Google is very likely tracking all your movements.

Go to this website with your smart phone and you will see your travels for up to the past month. Which is why I don’t use a smart phone, and my own tablet has as few identification settings activated as possible. This information is no one else’s business, unless I say so.

The government is months behind in testing the security arrangements of Obamacare.

O goody: The government is months behind in testing the security arrangements of Obamacare.

“They’ve removed their margin for error,” said Deven McGraw, director of the health privacy project at the non-profit Center for Democracy & Technology. “There is huge pressure to get (the exchanges) up and running on time, but if there is a security incident they are done. It would be a complete disaster from a PR viewpoint.” The most likely serious security breach would be identity theft, in which a hacker steals the social security numbers and other information people provide when signing up for insurance.

Arizona — in corporation with the federal government — has now joined Utah, California and Texas in scanning and recording the license plates of cars near the Mexican border

Does this make you feel safer? Arizona — in corporation with the federal government — has now joined California and Texas in scanning and recording the license plates of all cars traveling near the Mexican border.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has asked the Utah state legislature for permission to scan the license plates of all cars driving on Interstate 15.

What could go wrong? The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has asked the Utah state legislature for permission to scan the license plates of all cars driving on Interstate 15.

Worse, they are already scanning plates in Texas and California, and plan to add Arizona to the list.

I especially like this quote from a Utah legislator in response to the request. “I’ll be quite frank with you. A lot of us in Utah don’t trust the federal government.” Do tell.

The National Health Service of the UK is making its patient database available to researchers

Coming to your US healthcare system soon! The National Health Service (NHS) of the UK is making its patient database available to researchers.

NHS plans to change its constitution to allow patient data to be open to researchers by default, with an opt-out option for individuals. The ability to take advantage of NHS data will be a boon for research in the United Kingdom, said Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust. The more patients who are involved in research, the greater the public benefit, he said in a statement, adding that a patient once told him, “giving my anonymous data is the most painless thing I can do to help others get better.”

Some have raised privacy concerns about the data access plan, which is why the U.K. government will hold a public consultation on the idea before moving ahead, but Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, also applauds the proposal. [emphasis mine]

It is significant that the NHS’s constitution forbid the release of this data without a patient’s permission. I suspect that this privacy rule was almost certainly a condition used to convince Great Britain’s population to go along with nationalized healthcare. “Don’t worry about your health records! The nationalized healthcare system will be required to keep it private and available only to you!”

As is typical for a government program, this promise had an expiration date. Government programs like to control things, and they will inevitably do whatever they must — twist the facts, break promises, lie, cheat, — to gain that control.

Right now the patient health records are supposed to remain anonymous once they are released. Want to bet that in a few years these same scientists will demand that they need to know who the patients are in order to do their research effectively? And do you want to bet on whether that information remains secret?

Facing possible inquiry, OnStar drops ‘Big Brother’ plans

Facing outraged criticism, General Motors’ OnStar division has dropped its plans to track and record the personal driving information of both former and current subscribers.

Sounds good, but I wouldn’t assume this story is over. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they try again later to sneak this data grab by everyone.