"data privacy" entries

The Intimacy of Things

At what layer do we build privacy into the fabric of devices?

Sign-up to attend Solid 2015 to explore the convergence of privacy, security, and the Internet of Things.


In 2011, Kashmir Hill, Gizmodo and others alerted us to a privacy gaffe made by Fitbit, a company that makes small devices to help people keep track of their fitness activities. It turns out that Fitbit broadcast the sexual activity of quite a few of their users. Realizing this might not sit well with those users, Fitbit took swift action to remove the search hits, the data, and the identities of those affected. Fitbit, like many other companies, believed that all the data they gathered should be public by default. Oops.

Does anyone think this is the last time such a thing will happen?

Fitness data qualifies as “personal,” but sexual data is clearly in the realm of the “intimate.” It might seem like semantics, but the difference is likely to be felt by people in varying degrees. The theory of contextual integrity says that we feel violations of our privacy when informational contexts are unexpectedly or undesirably crossed. Publicizing my latest workout: good. Publicizing when I’m in flagrante delicto: bad. This episode neatly exemplifies how devices are entering spaces where they’ve not tread before, physically and informationally. Read more…


There is room for global thinking in IoT data privacy matters

The best of European and American data privacy initiatives can come together for the betterment of all.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts exploring privacy and security issues in the Internet of Things. The series will culminate in a free webcast by the series author Dr. Gilad Rosner: Privacy and Security Issues in the Internet of Things will happen on February 11, 2015 — reserve your spot today.

Please_Josh_Hallett_FlickrAs devices become more intelligent and networked, the makers and vendors of those devices gain access to greater amounts of personal data. In the extreme case of the washing machine, the kind of data — who uses cold versus warm water — is of little importance. But when the device collects biophysical information, location data, movement patterns, and other sensitive information, data collectors have both greater risk and responsibility in safeguarding it. The advantages of every company becoming a software company — enhanced customer analytics, streamlined processes, improved view of resources and impact — will be accompanied by new privacy challenges.

A key question emerges from the increasing intelligence of and monitoring by devices: will the commercial practices that evolved in the web be transferred to the Internet of Things? The amount of control users have over data about them is limited. The ubiquitous end-user license agreement tells people what will and won’t happen to their data, but there is little choice. In most situations, you can either consent to have your data used or you can take a hike. We do not get to pick and choose how our data is used, except in some blunt cases where you can opt out of certain activities (which is often a condition forced by regulators). If you don’t like how your data will be used, you can simply elect not to use the service. But what of the emerging world of ubiquitous sensors and physical devices? Will such a take-it-or-leave it attitude prevail? Read more…

Comment: 1

Top keynotes at Strata Conference and Strata + Hadoop World 2014

From data privacy to real-world problem solving, O’Reilly’s data editors highlight the best of the best talks from 2014.

2014 was a year of tremendous growth in the field of data, as it was as well for Strata and Strata + Hadoop World, O’Reilly’s and Cloudera’s series of data conferences. At Strata, keynotes, individual sessions, and tracks like Hardcore Data Science, Hadoop and Beyond, Data-Driven Business Day, and Design & Interfaces, among others, explore the cutting-edge aspects of how to gather, store, wrangle, analyze, visualize, and make decisions with the vast amounts of data on our hands today. Looking back on the past year of Strata, the O’Reilly data editors chose our top keynotes from Strata Santa Clara, Strata Barcelona, and Strata + Hadoop World NYC.

It was tough to winnow the list down from an exceptional set of keynotes. Visit the O’Reilly YouTube channel for a larger set of 2014 keynotes, or Safari for videos of the keynotes and many of the conference sessions.

Best of the best

  • Julia Angwin reframes the issue of data privacy as justice, due process, and human rights (and her account of trying to buy better privacy goods and services is both instructive and funny).

  • Read more…

Comment: 1

Privacy is a concept, not a regime

In this O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Dr. Gilad Rosner talks about data privacy, and Alasdair Allan chats about the broken IoT.

In this podcast episode, I catch up with Dr. Gilad Rosner, a visiting researcher at the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute in England. Rosner focuses on privacy, digital identity, and public policy, and is launching an Internet of Things Privacy Forum. We talk about personal data privacy in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), privacy as a social characteristic, an emerging design ethos for technologists, and whether or not we actually own our personal data. Rosner characterizes personal data privacy as a social construct and addresses the notion that privacy is dead:

“Firstly, it’s important to recognize the idea that privacy is not a regime to control information. Privacy is a much larger concept than that. Regimes to control information are ways that we as a society preserve privacy, but privacy itself emerges from social needs and from individual human needs. The idea that privacy is dead comes from the vulnerability that people are feeling because they can see that it’s very difficult to maintain walls between their informational spheres, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t countercurrents to that, and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways, as we go forward, to improve privacy preservation in the electronic spaces that we continue to move into.”

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As we move more and more into these electronic spaces and the Internet of Things becomes democratized, our notions of privacy are shifting on a cultural level beyond anything we’ve experienced as a society before. Read more…


The human side of Hadoop

Doug Cutting on applications of Hadoop, where "Hadoop" comes from, and the new partnership between Cloudera and O'Reilly.

Roger Magoulas, director of market research at O’Reilly and Strata co-chair, recently sat down with Doug Cutting, chief architect at Cloudera, to talk about the new partnership between Cloudera and O’Reilly, and the state of the Hadoop landscape.

Cutting shares interesting applications of Hadoop, several of which had touching human elements. For instance, he tells a story about visiting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and discovering the staff using Hadoop to reduce stress in babies. Read more…


One man willingly gave Google his data. See what happened next.

Google requires quid for its quo, but it offers something many don’t: user data access.

Despite some misgivings about the company’s product course and service permanence (I was an early and fanatical user of Google Wave), my relationship with Google is one of mutual symbiosis. Its “better mousetrap” approach to products and services, the width and breadth of online, mobile, and behind-the-scenes offerings saves me countless hours every week in exchange for a slice of my private life, laid bare before its algorithms and analyzed for marketing purposes.

I am writing this on a Chromebook by a lake, using Google Docs and images in Google Drive. I found my way here, through the thick underbrush along a long since forgotten former fishmonger’s trail, on Google Maps after Google Now offered me a glimpse of the place as one of the recommended local attractions.


The lake I found via Google Maps and a recommendation from Google Now.

Admittedly, having my documents, my photos, my to-do lists, contacts, and much more on Google, depending on it as a research tool and mail client, map provider and domain host, is scary. And as much as I understand my dependence on Google to carry the potential for problems, the fact remains that none of those dependencies, not one shred of data, and certainly not one iota of my private life, is known to the company without my explicit, active, consent. Read more…

Comments: 26

Strata Week: Why we should care about what the NSA may or may not be doing

Response to NSA data mining and the troubling lack of technical details, Facebook's Open Compute data center, and local police are growing their own DNA databases.

It’s a question of power, not privacy — and what is the NSA really doing?

PEW graph

Pew Research Center national survey

In the wake of the leaked NSA data-collection programs, the Pew Research Center conducted a national survey to measure American’s response. The survey found that 56% of respondents think NSA’s telephone record tracking program is an acceptable method to investigate terrorism, and 62% said the government’s investigations into possible terrorist threats are more important than personal privacy.

Rebecca J. Rosen at The Atlantic took a look at legal scholar Daniel J. Solove’s argument that we should care about the government’s collection of our data, but not for the reasons one might think — the collection itself, he argues, isn’t as troubling as the fact that they’re holding the data in perpetuity and that we don’t have access to it. Rosen quotes Solove:

“The NSA program involves a massive database of information that individuals cannot access. … This kind of information processing, which forbids people’s knowledge or involvement, resembles in some ways a kind of due process problem. It is a structural problem involving the way people are treated by government institutions. Moreover, it creates a power imbalance between individuals and the government. … This issue is not about whether the information gathered is something people want to hide, but rather about the power and the structure of government.”

Read more…

Comments: 2

Strata Week: Wireless body area networks bring humans into the Internet of Things

Humans as nodes, pills and electronic tattoo password authenticators, NSA surveillance leaks, and hiding data in temporal cloaks.

Collaborative sensor networks of humans, and your body may be the next two-factor authenticator

There has been much coverage recently of the Internet of Things, connecting everything from washers and dryers to thermostats to cars to the Internet. Wearable sensors — things like FitBit and health-care-related sensors that can be printed onto fabric or even onto human skin — are also in the spotlight.

Kevin Fitchard reports at GigaOm that researchers at CEA-Leti and three French universities believe these areas are not mutually exclusive and have launched a project around wireless body area networks called CORMORAN. The group believes that one day soon our bodies will be constantly connected to the Internet via sensors and transmitters that “can be used to form cooperative ad hoc networks that could be used for group indoor navigation, crowd-motion capture, health monitoring on a massive scale and especially collaborative communications,” Fitchard writes. He takes a look at some of the benefits and potential applications of such a collaborative network — location-based services would be able to direct users to proper gates or trains in busy airports and train stations, for instance — and some of the pitfalls, such as potential security and privacy issues. You can read his full report at GigaOm.

In related news, wearable sensors — and even our bodies — may not only be used to connect us to a network, but also to identify us as well. Read more…


Phishing in Facebook’s Pond

Facebook scraping could lead to machine-generated spam so good that it's indistinguishable from legitimate messages.

A recent blog post inquired about the incidence of Facebook-based spear phishing: the author suddenly started receiving email that appeared to be from friends (though it wasn’t posted from their usual email addresses), making the usual kinds of offers and asking him to click on the usual links. He wondered whether this was a phenomenon and how it happened — how does a phisherman get access to your Facebook friends?

The answers are “yes, it happens” and “I don’t know, but it’s going to get worse.” Seriously, my wife’s name has been used in Facebook phishing. A while ago, several of her Facebook friends said that her email account had been hacked. I was suspicious; she only uses Gmail, and hacking Google isn’t easy, particularly with two-factor authentication. So, I asked her friends to send me the offending messages. It was obvious that they hadn’t come from my wife’s account; they were Yahoo accounts with her name but an unrecognizable email address, exactly what this blogger had seen.

How does this happen? How can a phisher discover your name and your Facebook friends? I don’t know, but Facebook is such a morass of weird and conflicting security settings that it’s impossible to know just how private or how public you are. If you’ve ever friended people you don’t know (a practice that remains entirely too common), and if you’ve ever enabled visibility to friends of friends, you have no idea who has access to your conversations.

Read more…

Comments: 5

Strata Week: President Obama opens up U.S. government data

U.S. opens data, Wong tapped for U.S. chief privacy officer, FBI might read your email sans warrant, and big data spells trouble for anonymity.

U.S. government data to be machine-readable, Nicole Wong may fill new White House chief privacy officer role

The U.S. government took major steps this week to open up government data to the public. U.S. President Obama signed an executive order requiring government data to be made available in machine-readable formats, and the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy released a Open Data Policy memo (PDF) to address the order’s implementation.

The press release announcing the actions notes the benefit the U.S. economy historically has experienced with the release of government data — GPS data, for instance, sparked a flurry of innovation that ultimately contributed “tens of billions of dollars in annual value to the American economy,” according to the release. President Obama noted in a statement that he hopes a similar result will come from this open data order: “Starting today, we’re making even more government data available online, which will help launch even more new startups. And we’re making it easier for people to find the data and use it, so that entrepreneurs can build products and services we haven’t even imagined yet.”

FCW’s Adam Mazmanian notes a bit from the Open Data Policy memo that indicates the open data framework doesn’t only apply to data the government intends to make public. Read more…