Author Archives: Franky_Begue

2 weeks? This is 2013 Vudu .

Yesterday, customers of the streaming video service company Vudu began receiving emails to alert them of a theft that occurred in the company’s offices TWO WEEKS ago on March 24. According to Vudu, the hard drives which were stolen definitely contains sensitive personal information, including but not limited to: names, e-mail addresses, postal addresses, phone numbers, account activity, dates of birth, and the last four digits of some credit card numbers.

Obviously, the first thing that strikes strange about this whole situation is the time delay: two weeks? It took them two weeks to notify their customers that a major security issue has occurred. But why was the time delay such a big deal? According to Prasanna Gasneasn – Chief Technology Officer for the company – it’s not huge crisis because their company doesn’t store whole 16-digit credit cards anywhere on their hard drives. However – as we’ve learned from our readings about data-mining and other information collection techniques, you don’t need a lot to take you far. In fact – the ‘basic’ type information that was stolen contains enough information for most people to figure their way into someone’s account, either thru the gathering of other small bits of information or by making do with what they have.

I believe this brings to light a major ethical issue. Was Vudu attempting to cover-up this security breach and that’s why they waited two weeks to alert their customers? If so – I’m curious to what pushed Vudu to suddenly alert their customers? Whistleblowing anyone?

Consumer Protection is hot in Cali

California – already known for their progress in pushing issues surrounding privacy advocacy and consumer protection – are again trying to shift the norm by requiring companies to (upon request by the consumer) to disclose all data they’ve collected on you as part of any producer/consumer transaction. Whether it be a good or service – online or offline – the “Right to Know Act of 2013” would require businesses to keep accurate and detailed records of any customer data that they’re received from you. Particularly important in this proposal was the stipulation that would also require businesses to keep track of who else gets access to your consumer data.
            This may not seem like a huge deal, because at the moment, current Californian law states that customers have the right to request accounting of disclosures of direct marketing purposes (for example, you call and find out your local telephone company has been doing small-time selling of your home phone number to advertising agencies). However, the new proposal sheds light on what is otherwise a very non-descriptive and loose boundary setting law that protects consumers right now. It provides consumers with additional tools and resources too truly see where their data is going – including access to their own information sold to online advertisers, data brokers and third-party apps.
            Although this is doesn’t seem like an enormous move in terms of protecting consumers, California has had a knack for testing good consumer-protection legislation only to be later similarly adopted in other states. It’s important that we as consumers continue to keep up with the ideas that we as consumers are worth more than individual buyers – our power comes from the fact that we are the sum of many parts. How important do you think it is that consumers push to strengthen and further define our rights as capitalism in America becomes more and more digitized?

The ageless issue of privacy at work

A bill amendment proposed yesterday – if passed – would allow potential employers to demand for your Facebook or other social media passwords during company investigations for employees in Washington state. Odd this amendment’s goal is – as one of the original bill’s sole purposes was to bar employers from even requesting for social media passwords during a job interview. Instead, this amendment decided to take the argument in the opposite direction and actually restrict our right to privacy as paid employees even further. Specifically – the amendment allows an employer to ‘require or demand’ access to a personal account if this current employee – or any prospective employees – has allegations of work-place misconduct, where the allegation would require an official investigation to determine legitimacy.

However even the small amount of literature concerning the investigation is spotty and non-specific at best, which in turn has most people worried about the potential for exploitation in this amendment. The general consensus among the opposed is obviously reasoned, “why on earth should employees be held responsible for what they do on a social networking site”, especially as the national trend is moving away from this type of thing. In fact – seven states this year have banned employers from asking applicants/employees social network passwords, and 33 states are considering similar legislation.

So why is this issue so important, and why now? My main question here is why employers all of a sudden deem it necessary rip open your private, digital life in order to meet hiring requirements. How has technology changed in the past couple years, causing this issue to become relevant and important today?  Has there been a ‘low-tech’ (i.e. not an online social) network of this kind to facilitate the breaching of employer-employee privacy in the past?

UK gov now ‘prefers’ open-source development

The government of the United Kingdom has taken the first major step (among the main government superpowers of the world) in creating the prototype for an “open source” country. Okay – maybe that’s a little bit of an overstatement – but when Richard Stallman performed his free software song for the first time, I certainly don’t think he had anything this major in mind.

A little background first: for the past couple years, the UK government has been working hard to create guidelines for governmental software development  – The Digital by Default Service Standard . These guidelines were first developed basically to reduce the amount of cruddy software condoned by the UK government (i.e. software that isn’t easily adaptable or shareable). Another main reason that the UK was seeking to create this resource for governmental software developers was to reduce – if not eliminate – the chance of becoming locked in “to some mad oligopoly outsource” – Liam Maxwell, CTO.

This article caught my attention because I was readying about Richard Stallman at the time and it instantly made me think of the 4 principles of free software.  However – this is the first time an entire country is going to change their mode of operation from commercial to open-source software. While I’d like to say that this is the perfect plan and that everyone should follow suit, a feeling in my gut says that the government’s restriction to use only open-source software might undermine the integrity and flexibility that we all associate with the term ‘open-source’. Maybe commercial software is needed to keep a professional standard to code by while open-source software fills the in-between needs of the people.  Either way – this is going to be a great experiment..  What do you guys think?

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008 . . .2012 . . .2017

By a vote of 73 to 23, the US Senate, on December 29, 2012, voted to extend the FISA Amendments Act for five years a.k.a. until December 31, 2017.

(some history real quick)

In 2008, congress passed The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (abbreviated FISA) Amendments Act.  This act by congress was basically seen by the public as yet another link in a long chain-of-reactions aimed at the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001. At its core, the main function of this amendment was to extend the – similar but not quite carbon copy – provisions encompassed by the Protect America Act of 2007. Similar to how certain components of the Patriot Act – particularly ones condemned by the public – have survived thru bill-rehashing and manipulation; it seems that the Protect America Act of 2007 is also becoming an undead bill.

No matter how we argue or protest, the original intent and purpose of this act have survived by taking on the mask of FISA, FISA amendments and now the FISA amendments extension.  And I’m not saying that the entire act is bad or that every provision is controversial, I just want to point out that our words are not being heard and change is not coming anytime soon.

In its most recent context – a 5-4 vote nation’s highest court that definitively ended the case of a group of individuals who said “said their communications were likely being scooped up by the government’s expanded spying powers in violation of their constitutional rights”.  The court ruled – based on the recent extension of the FISA Amendments – that these groups don’t have the right to sue at all, because they can’t prove they were being spied on.

This is a silent problem that affects few United States citizens – but that’s how every landslide starts. I firmly believe that if we don’t stick up for the little guys, we’ll soon all be in their shoes – cursing our ignorance. What do you guys think? Can you think of any other laws or other political agendas that have been similarly manipulated  by The Man?

Facebook’s Graph Search: You Are Its Product

This article highlights an announcement made by Facebook concerning a new type of search to be appended onto the current search function of Facebook: graph search. According to the article, “Graph Search promises to let us search through our friends’ likes, photos, locations, and any other info they’ve prior elected to share with us and/or the world.”

For most people who are in the least slightly familiar with the workings of mass-advertising on the internet (anyone’s whose ever searched for a book and *poof* an Amazon ad pops up with the ‘lowest’ price on that item), it’s no secret that companies have been tracking our web-browsing for quite some time. And it would seem – even if it’s only passively – that this practice has been generally accepted by everyone who uses the internet. It’s a tradeoff – the cost for having a million items at our fingertips has to be paid by someone – and if it going to be the advertising companies, it would only follow a natural technological trend for them to start actually utilizing the platform that they advertise on.

The article ends by asking, “Will we ever tire of being product-ized?” suggesting that human’s lives are now becoming viable form of information currency because of these new technologies. However, the question I would like to pose concerns the morality of the continuous advancement of this technology: as a society, are we slowly being shepherded by these continuous advancements into accepting our fate of being product-ized? Although it’s our choice to use these Facebook, is it morally right for Facebook to slowly morph this product we depend on and are familiar with into something that supersedes the purpose of the site that proposed to the user?