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22 October 2008

Managing Adobe Flash Cookies

Ever since hearing about those so-called browser “cookies” for the first time, I have been very wary about accepting and storing them. Over time, I became slightly more comfortable with cookies from some sites, while still blocking other cookies. Even my own site uses cookies nowadays, because they do serve a purpose.

Thinking I quite thoroughly scrub cookies from my computers, it was quite an unpleasant surprise when I heard about Adobe's Flash storing cookies as well. Cookies stored in a location that can't be accessed by my browser, so they don't get deleted when I delete the regular cookies. Now, I forgot where I read this (it was in one of the many RSS feeds I read, and a while back so I can't track where I read about it first), but it turns out you can actually delete those flash cookies. In addition, you can manage future storage of cookies. All this, through Adobe's Flash Player help pages. Delete cookies using the manager at this location. Use one of the other tabs in the manager to change other settings.

19:59:00 - 10/22/08 - RB - Category: Privacy - No Trackbacks - karma: 13 [+/-]

21 July 2008

Viacom Not Getting Your Data After All

It took me a while to get back to this, so if you are still worried about it after all this time, I apologize. Viacom and Google have reached an agreement that allows Google to present Viacom with anonymous data of YouTube user viewing habits. So your secret is safe after all, nobody will find out you enjoy watching old A-Team episodes.

20:03:24 - 07/21/08 - RB - Category: Privacy - No Trackbacks - karma: 16 [+/-]

03 July 2008

Viacom To Get YouTube User Data

So, I don't know what you have been watching on YouTube lately, but soon Viacom will know. A US court ruled that Google has to hand over terabytes of user data that contains information on the viewing habits of YouTube users.

Given the enormous market share of YouTube, this can be quite an interesting catch for Viacom. It will provide the company with incredible amounts of data that can be mined for users habits. Even if Viacom decides not to use it to identify people (and it easily can, considering how easy it is to connect IP addresses to specific users), it has gain a wealth of information on people who watch video clips. So if 90% of the people who watched clips of Viacom show A also watched clips of artist B, targeted advertising suddenly becomes more interesting. A wealth of commercial information, which Viacom would have had a very hard time gathering itself.

An interesting business model is starting to unfold. Meanwhile, user privacy is as safe as ever. I.e., not at all.

23:07:28 - 07/03/08 - RB - Category: Privacy - No Trackbacks - karma: 18 [+/-]

23 April 2008

Dutch Customs Wants Your Cell Phone Data

It seems gathering people's data is the latest fad in customs land. Two different-yet-the-same news items today. First, several sites mention how the US Ninth Circuit says US customs is allowed to search traveler's laptops, something I wrote about before.

The second news item is about Dutch customs secretly conducting a pilot (in Dutch) in which the contents of storage media (such as cd's and mobile phones) was searched. Apparently this was aimed at catching child porn smugglers, who may resort to physical smuggling instead of online or mail exchange, because of the risks involved. Child porn and terrorism are the magic words to make people give up their rights. Because if you object, surely you must be involved with one (or both) of these. The exact criteria for deciding which people to search have not been made public, but it was clear the focus was on people coming in from countries that are infamous for the manufacturing of child porn or a certain type of sex industry.

The pilot is currently under evaluation. It'll be interesting to see what the legal issues involved are. It may seem simple, using the usual “if you got nothing to hide ...” kind of reasoning, but are you really comfortable with strangers having access to your pictures and private documents? Without any real reassurance that nothing will happen to these?

Privacy is hard to find these days, you can't even go in for surgery without ending up on YouTube.

22:01:22 - 04/23/08 - RB - Category: Privacy - No Trackbacks - karma: 11 [+/-]

30 September 2007

I Won An Award

I won an award. Unfortunately, it is not one to be proud of. On top of that, I have to share it with 16 million people. Every year, Bits of Freedom hands out the Big Brother Awards in the Netherlands. The award goes to a person or organization that is a threat to privacy or that violates privacy.

This year, the reward went to all Dutch citizens, because they give up their privacy without a fight. We gladly give up our privacy if we think it makes us safer, or if it results in discounts at our local supermarket. And yes, this includes me to some extent as well. Sad, shameful, but true.

I can accept the award a little tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time it is good to get a wake up call every now and then. To remind me that there are risks to posting all kinds of personal data on the Web, to telling large corporations and government institutions stuff about me they don't really need to know. To let my supermarket track my hygiene product purchases, or my apparent (dis)like of Italian food. I will do my best not to get nominated again next year. I promise.

18:36:44 - 09/30/07 - RB - Category: Privacy - No Trackbacks - karma: 1 [+/-]

14 June 2007

Privacy Report Slams Google

A report by Privacy International examined the privacy practices of internet service companies. It concludes that Google is one of the worst companies in its treatment of privacy. Google doesn't like this, of course. I can't say I am very surprised though. Google is huge. Google collects a massive amount of data and it keeps that data. Nobody knows what it uses it for, exactly.

Google has declared it will only keep private information for 18 months, because of data retention legislation in (among other countries) Europe. This has been mentioned before, so it doesn't seem like anything interesting. However, a member of the European Commission's Data Protection Unit claims “[t]he Data Retention Directive applies only to providers of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communication networks and not to search engine systems”. In other words, it does not apply to Google, since Google is a search engine. Well, right now it is. Perhaps in one or two years it will be a provider in the sense of the law. That might even be a good ploy to make sure it can still use the legislation as an excuse.

I wonder though. Google no doubt has a massive legal team. Would they now know about the legislation and that it doesn't apply to Google? Or did they intentionally ignore this fact and use it to attempt to hide the fact that it simply wants the data itself? Or is the data protection officer wrong and does this legislation apply to Google? Perhaps more will become clear over the next days or weeks.

21:44:46 - 06/14/07 - RB - Category: Privacy - No Trackbacks - karma: 3 [+/-]

12 May 2007

Remove Your Phone Number From Google

Google tries to be helpful, but in doing so it often goes beyond what people find comfortable. It can be rather scary at times, to see what turns up when you search your own name. Google has become a great tool for stalkers. If I know the name and town someone lives in, I only need one Google search to find “all” web pages about this person and to get his address, phone numer, and a map to go there.

So, why not make it a little bit harder on your enemies? One of my many RSS feeds (forgot which one, I should have saved it) mentioned how you can easily remove your phone number from Google. Use this page to do so. Of course this also means it will be harder for secret valentines to come over for a surprise visit. Since Google says it will never again show your number once you remove it, make sure you really want to do this.

Of course anyone can still use a different online phone book or just call phone services, but at least that takes more effort on their part. That Google page tells me Google is quite aware that some of your personal information it divulges might be a problem for you. With the web pages it indexes, Google shows others information you want(ed) to be public. Providing information from secondary sources such as phone books or high school photo books your old classmates put online, goes beyond what is comfortable.

21:20:37 - 05/12/07 - RB - Category: Privacy - No Trackbacks - karma: 8 [+/-]

16 March 2007

Google Privacy Change

Google has announced a change to its log retention policy. Instead of keeping a record of all searches done by a user from a specific IP address indefinitely (or, as Google states, for as long as it is useful), the IP addresses will be changed to anonymize the data after 18-24 months.

At the very least, this information makes it clear how long Google keeps information that can be tracked down to you. After 18-24 months, the information might still be kind of obvious, but at least it won't have the same IP address as you currently use. However, I wonder about the specifics. If Google turns my IP address into an anonymous number, but still wants to aggregate my searches, it needs to be able to keep track of real IP addresses and the related anonymous one. How will it do this in such a way it can't be reversed? Cryptography maybe? I was unable to find specifics about that.

This might also be the end of Google's infamous cookie expiration date that was set to 2038. Two years is still an awfully long time to keep all my searches, but with current US and EU legislation, data retention is a problem anyway, so Google isn't really an exception.

21:26:20 - 03/16/07 - RB - Category: Privacy - No Trackbacks - karma: 13 [+/-]

16 October 2006

Laptop Searches At Border Crossing

Back in July, I wrote about US officials searching laptop contents when people are crossing the border. In more recent developments, a US court ruled such a search would require at least “reasonable suspicion” to be legal. That makes it sound like it would be a little more safe to cross the border with my own laptop, without wiping every possibly incriminating private/sensitive file from it. But then, IANAL, so don't take my word for it. [Source]

18:20:16 - 10/16/06 - RB - Category: Privacy - 1 Trackback - karma: 17 [+/-]

06 October 2006

EU-US Passenger Data Agreement

Just a couple of days after the expiration date of the previous agreement, the EU and US have reached a new agreement on the transfer of passenger data for flights to the US. This new agreement allows the distribution of passenger private data to more US law enforcement agencies than the previous agreement. A good thing a number of privacy protection safeguards have been introduced. </sarcasm>

In related news, CBS' 60 Minutes will apparently report on the infamous No-Fly list, which contains the names of people suspected of terrorist sympathies. It appears that the actual list is as bad as expected, with numerous accounts of pretty common US names, and such important suspects as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. I guess I should consider myself lucky with a very Dutch name. The number of terrorist suspects with a Dutch name is probably quite limited.

21:47:55 - 10/06/06 - RB - Category: Privacy - No Trackbacks - karma: 19 [+/-]
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