FCC investigates Google Street View data gathering

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which had asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this year to launch a probe into this, welcomed that Google is under investigation by the FCC to determine whether it violated federal eavesdropping laws by inadvertently harvesting data from unencrypted wireless networks it was gathering images for its Street View service.

In a May 18, 2010 letter to the commission, EPIC’s executive director, Marc Rotenberg, expressed concern that Google’s actions may have violated the federal Wiretap Act as well as Section 705 of the Communications Act, which forbids the interception of radio communications without authorization.

Time will have to tell if this investigation will result in more than a mere slap on the wrist for Google, which is what the Federal Trade Commission FTC was ultimately satisfied with when requiring Google to promise to delete the data it had collected and to improve its privacy training.

For capturing location information of wireless networks, no matter whether they are encrypted or not, it would have been sufficient to simply record the SSID (service set identifier). Given massive difference in data storage space requirements of storing an SSID of up to 32 Bytes length vs. storing a multitude of payload data that may include user names and passwords transmitted while the Google Street View car was within reach of any given wireless network, it stands to reason that this should have raised an internal red flag sooner rather than later.

For assistance in reviewing and updating your current privacy policies and procedures, contact us today.


How to manage privacy on Facebook

I originally started out using Xing (formerly OpenBC) and LinkedIn for social networking and only recently added Facebook into the mix. Initially I thought Facebook, just like MySpace would be geared mostly towards personal contacts rather than professional networking, but as it turns out the same amount, if not more, of my professional contacts are maintaining a presence at Facebook, several of them not even listed at either one of the two more business-oriented sites listed above.

Just today a colleague of mine skyped me to let me know that she’d take me off her friends at Facebook in an effort to keep personal and professional networking separate, since she did not want too many friends of friends knowing about the mundane things in her life. While we were tossing privacy concerns back and forth, she then came upon two links providing helpful information on how to obtain more granular control over your privacy at Facebook than is afforded with the rather limited number of default options available.



Now, if I only could convince Facebook to retain the friends list assignments I am making, instead of forgetting them within minutes without any rhyme or reason to it as to for which users it keeps them and for whom not …


Yahoo’s Web Beacons

As most of you likely are aware, a lot of websites are using cookies not only for your convenience but also for tracking purposes. Yahoo has gone a step further by adding so-called web beacons into the mix, which also track your browsing habits at other sites and lead to targeted advertising (in addition to the apparent profiling).

At least there is an opt-out link more or less hidden on their website:


(this page describes their use of web beacons and features on opt-out link to the left of the page).

If you happen to use the Adblock Plus add-on for Firefox, as I do, you will have to define an exemption in order for the opt-out to work since Yahoo! uses a cookie for opting you out. Quite obviously a cookie-based opt-out also means that you will have to do this on every computer and every account you are using.


Take a good look around before using the ATM

Next time you visit your bank’s ATM, take a closer look at your surroundings, paying special attention to the nice box with pamphlets and the conveniently protruding card reader.

Animated GIF of what looks like a regular ATM with a pamphlet box on the wall next to it. The ATM's card reader has an  additional reader sitting in front of it and the pamphlet box hosts a small wireless webcam powered by a laptop battery, aimed at both the screen and the keyboard.  In combination with the wireless card reader, all necessary information for card fraud can be obtained within range of the wireless network, as long as the batteries last.