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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Today on the Diane Rhem’s show she hosted a discussion concerning the implications of smart phone encryption. Tech giants Apple and Google recently announced that operating systems for their newest phones will be encrypted with a complex code. The move would make photos, videos and personal contacts accessible only by the owner of the phone. Privacy advocates hailed the decision as a welcome response to what they say is massive data collection by intelligence agencies. But law enforcement officials warn smartphone encryption will hinder criminal investigations and jeopardize public safety. What was most interesting to me about this discussion is that each of the parties involved (see link for guests), all of whom had very different perspectives and backgrounds, agreed that a balance needed to be struck between personal privacy and liberty, national interests, and national security and law enforcement. The question remains is how do we define what that balance is and why is Congress so absent on the subject?

Anatomy of the Third Party Web Tracking Ecosystem


“The presence of third-party tracking on websites has become customary. However, our understanding of the third-party ecosystem is still very rudimentary. We examine third-party trackers from a geographical perspective, observing the third-party tracking ecosystem from 29 countries across the globe. When examining the data by region (North America, South America, Europe, East Asia, Middle East, and Oceania), we observe significant geographical variation between regions and countries within regions. We find trackers that focus on specific regions and countries, and some that are hosted in countries outside their expected target tracking domain. Given the differences in regulatory regimes between jurisdictions, we believe this analysis sheds light on the geographical properties of this ecosystem and on the problems that these may pose to our ability to track and manage the different data silos that now store personal data about us all.”


The Takeaway:

“Unsurprisingly, we found overall that a small number of international corporations are heavily dominant in all countries and regions. We observed significant differences in the numbers of observed third-parties across regions, with Turkey and Israel in the Middle East region standing out as having considerably more local third-parties than most countries. We observed considerably greater regional dominance of third-parties in Europe and East Asia, perhaps indicating greater commercial collaboration among companies in countries in those regions. In contrast, presence countries in North America is dominated by local third-parties.” the


The authors’ analysis of the effect of regulation was particularly interesting. Even in regions or nations where there were laws governing third party trackers they usually consisted of consent-based systems (the UK being an example). Implementation, however, varied with in the region, for example, the UK’s neighbor Germany has yet to implement the EU wide protocols for governing third party trackers. The US, by contrast, has no national legislation governing third party trackers but instead leaves it up to the states or self-regulation by the collectors (which always works well). It strikes me that legislation alone isn’t going to address the privacy concerns presented by third party trackers and that a more technical solution is required. On the other hand, enforcement could pose a problem. How would a governing body monitor trackers and what would the penalties be for data collection? Furthermore, what loopholes would the private sector find in order to continue to collect user data? Are these governments soft on trackers because it benefits their law enforcement and intelligence agencies to do so?

Bits for Freedom writer Door Hans de Zwart explains how smartphones betray our privacy in a multitude of ways.

How your innocent smartphone passes on almost your entire life to the secret service

From the article:

Ton Siedsma, a lawyer for the Dutch civil liberties group Bits of Freedom, volunteered to have a week’s worth of his phone’s metadata collected and analyzed by researchers from Ghent University and by Mike Moolenaar.

The researchers’ report shows how exhaustively a cursory metadata analysis reveals intimate details of Siedsma’s sex life, family relations, interest, politics, religious affiliation, movements, social graph, and other deeply personal — and potentially compromising — matters. It’s an excellent counterpoint to the dishonest political narrative from intelligence services around the world — especially the US, Canada and the UK — that says that spying on your metadata is somehow harmless.

EFF lawyer, Kurt Opsahl, speaks about the NSA PRISM program at the German-based Chaos Computer Club. It was done recently but there is no date on the video unfortunately.

A Game as Literary Tutorial: Dungeons & Dragons Has Influenced a Generation of Writers

Dungeons and Dragons is on its 5th edition and New York Times writer Ethan Gilsdorf writes about the impact D&D and other table-top role-playing games had on a generation of writers, myself and most of my writer friends included.