In an effort to strengthen its counterterrorism and counterproliferation measures, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency actively monitors over 5 million of the 140 million tweets posted daily.
The CIA monitors Twitter and Facebook daily, regularly briefing President Obama on popular posts and trends.
The McLean, Virginia-based monitoring team — called the “Vengeful Librarians” — tracks news and social media sources, using language to pinpoint origin.
“The CIA team has also used Twitter to monitor reports of real-time events, and can focus on a few Tweeters who are publishing accurate reports,” reports Digital Trends. “The team found that, in these situations, other Twitter users actively stamp out erroneous information when it is reported, which proves the usefulness of Twitter as a primary source for breaking news.”
In a study conducted by the University of British Columbia Vancouver, 102 bots controlled fake Facebook accounts to send friend requests at random, showing that one in five people were willing to accept requests from strangers.
“If that complete stranger had a mutual friend in common, the success rate went up to about 60 percent,” reports Ars Technica.
Once friends, the bots had access to a large amount of personal information: “…for people directly friended by the bots, availability of e-mail went from 2.4 percent (unfriended) to 71.8 (friended) and postal addresses from 0.9 percent to 19.0 percent.” The bots also gained information about the users’ friends.
The study raises interesting points regarding Facebook’s efforts to create privacy and control. “The site has been criticized for making it too hard to secure personal data, and be too liberal with its default policies,” suggest the article. “In response to these criticisms, it has made the privacy and security system easier to use and with more sensible defaults. But these controls are irrelevant if people are willing to add random bots, and hence give away access to their ‘friends-only’ private information.”
Google announced this week the beta release of Chrome, which “enables users to sync different accounts across multiple computers,” reports ReadWriteWeb. “This allows more than one person to sign into Chrome on a shared computer and have access to all their browser data. It also enables one person to have different Chrome profiles with different email addresses, e.g. work and personal, that can all be accessed from any computer by logging in.”
Chrome already syncs personal settings such as bookmarks, extensions and passwords to a user’s account, but the new beta “makes it possible to use multiple Chrome accounts on any copy of the browser.”
Google acknowledges this feature provides convenience at the cost of privacy.
The Google blog notes that it “isn’t intended to secure your data against other people using your computer,” since “all it takes is a couple of clicks to switch between users.”
In a recent GigaOM article, Matthew Ingram provides a compelling alternative viewpoint to the recently publicized complaints regarding Facebook’s philosophy of “frictionless sharing.”
The concept — which essentially allows apps and online publishers to post a user’s activity to their wall without permission — has raised a legitimate concern in terms of whether the feature is a worthwhile addition or an invasion of privacy.
“Consumer advocacy groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center are arguing the latter, and have even asked the government to step in, while some users have deleted their Facebook accounts in protest,” reports Ingram. “But there’s an argument to be made that Facebook isn’t forcing anyone to share; it’s simply adapting to the increasingly social way that we are living our lives online.”
While it’s easy to see the concerns regarding privacy, there are clear benefits to this type of sharing. Ticker, for example, can often provide “serendipitous experiences” such as finding interesting music, video clips, or articles based on the activity of friends. “It also fits right in with the concept that underlies Facebook and most social networking,” suggests the article, “which is what user-interface designer Leisa Reichelt has called ‘ambient intimacy’: the idea that there’s something to be gained by having transient and lightweight connections to people in your life.”
The article points out that the news feed was also originally heavily criticized when it launched in 2006, but eventually became immensely popular.
Zuckerberg’s “law of social sharing,” which notes that the amount of data people share doubles each year, is a “good predictor of what people will do, regardless of what they say they will do or how much they criticize features like frictionless sharing from social apps.”
“And soon, the idea that apps are sharing a continuous stream of our activity will seem just as commonplace and uncontroversial as the original news feed,” contends Ingram.
The article argues that “social sharing online isn’t going away any time soon; it’s not just the core of Facebook, but the organizing principle of the modern Web — Facebook is just a symptom of that change, not the cause.”
An association of privacy groups, led by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, has asked for a federal investigation into Facebook features that broadcast new information about users. The new partnerships with media platforms allow Facebook to acquire extensive data about user behavior.
“That information could also be made available to marketing companies for use in focusing advertisements, and potentially to government agencies interested in tracking people’s behavior,” suggests The New York Times.
In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, privacy advocates wrote, “frictionless sharing creates several privacy and security problems for users.”
Facebook responded by explaining its users have more control than what is being suggested. “Some groups believe people shouldn’t have the option to easily share the songs they are listening to or other content with their friends,” company spokesman Andrew Noyes communicated via e-mail. “We couldn’t disagree more and have built a system that people can choose to use, and we hope people will give it a try. If not, they can simply continue listening and reading as they always have.”
According to the article, “the FTC does not comment on whether it is investigating any company unless it has some results to release.”
“People who are upset that Facebook is storing all their information should be really concerned that their cell phone is tracking them everywhere they’ve been… The government has this information because it wants to engage in surveillance,” an ACLU staff attorney said.
A newly released Justice Department internal memo reveals the retention policies of Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint.
Verizon seems the most privacy-friendly, but is the only company that retains text message content. Messages are stored for 5 days; other companies don’t retain message content at all.
The retention of “cell-site data” (information of a phone’s movement history based on phone tower usage) varied the most among the four providers.
“Verizon keeps that data on a one-year rolling basis; T-Mobile for ‘a year or more;’ Sprint up to two years, and AT&T indefinitely, from July 2008,” reports Gizmodo.
Senator Patrick Leahy proposed to alter the Electronic Privacy Communications Act to “protect Americans from warrantless intrusions.”
To see your provider’s retention policy, check out the graphic featured in the Gizmodo post.
The Federal Trade Commission ruled Monday that W3 Innovations, the company behind popular mobile applications for kids, including “Emily’s Girl World” and “Emily’s Dress Up,” should pay a $50,000 penalty for collecting personal information from kids without parental permission.
The commission found the company in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, marking the first time that law has been applied to a mobile application.
“The F.T.C.’s COPPA Rule requires parental notice and consent before collecting children’s personal information online, whether through a Web site or a mobile app,” explained Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the commission. “Companies must give parents the opportunity to make smart choices when it comes to their children’s sharing of information on smart phones.”
The decision coincides with a period of increased concern about privacy and mobile technology, as the industry considers new privacy protections to fend off potential federal regulation.