Google+, we hardly knew ye

I admit, I did use this for a while, but I’m as surprised as others to learn that Google+ made it this far. ( I still miss Google Reader.)

The death of Google+ is imminent, says Google
Google’s decision follows the Wall Street Journal’s revelation. also published on Oct. 8, that the company exposed hundreds of thousands of Google+ users’ data earlier this year, and opted to keep it a secret:

A software glitch in the social site gave outside developers potential access to private Google+ profile data between 2015 and March 2018, when internal investigators discovered and fixed the issue, according to the documents and people briefed on the incident. A memo reviewed by the Journal prepared by Google’s legal and policy staff and shared with senior executives warned that disclosing the incident would likely trigger “immediate regulatory interest” and invite comparisons to Facebook’s leak of user information to data firm Cambridge Analytica.

That doesn’t make them look good, does it? But then, should we be surprised anymore?

Remember the hacking cough?

More hacking schadenfreude, but with an added GDPR element this time.

First, the hapless Tories.

Major security flaw in Tory conference app reveals users’ data
Commentators said the flaw raised questions over the ability of the government to harness technology to solve issues around the Irish border and customs checks. The app may also have breached data laws. Its privacy policy states that it “complies with … the European Union’s general data protection regulation (GDPR)”.

Boris Johnson’s profile immediately vandalised with hardcore pornography in Tory conference app security blunder
The highly serious blunder allowed anyone to access details of hundreds of MPs including Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson – who have police protection and warn regularly of the hacking threat from Russia. But it also gave pranksters an opportunity to have fun with the profiles of prominent Conservatives.

And then Facebook. Again.

Facebook says at least 50 million users affected by security breach
Facebook said the FBI is now investigating. Because users in Europe are also affected, the company said it has informed data protection authorities in Ireland — where the company’s European headquarters are located. The Irish Data Protection Commission has asked Facebook to clarify the breach “urgently.” If Facebook is found to have breached European data protection rules — the newly implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — the company can face fines of up to four percent of its global revenue.

Facebook hack: Here’s what you need to do to secure your account
Critically, for European users, Facebook has been in touch with the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland – where it is registered – to inform it of the breach. This will be the first data protection incident from one of the major tech companies since the enforcement of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May. GDPR gives regulators the power to issue huge fines but this is yet to be tested. In a statement the Irish Data Protection Commission said Facebook hasn’t given it many details yet. It is “concerned” that despite Facebook discovering the breach on Tuesday, it hasn’t been able to “clarify the nature of the breach and the risk for users at this point”.

Follow the data

I’m hearing more and more about data ethics. It wasn’t ‘a thing’ before, was it? But it certainly is now. Here’s a very interesting take on it: flow.

The ethics of data flow
In Privacy in Context, Helen Nissenbaum connects data’s mobility to privacy and ethics. For Nissenbaum, the important issue isn’t what data should be private or public, but how data and information flow: what happens to your data, and how it is used. Information flows are central to our expectations of privacy, and respecting those expectations is at the heart of data ethics.

It’s not what they’ve got, but what they do with it that matters.

The infamous Target case, in which Target outed a pregnant teenager by sending ad circulars to her home, is a great example. We all buy things, and when we buy things, we know that data is used—to send bills and to manage inventory, if nothing else. In this case, the surprise was that Target used this customer’s purchase history to identify her as pregnant, and send circulars advertising products for pregnant women and new mothers to her house. The problem isn’t the collection of data, or even its use; the problem is that the advertising comes from, and produces, a different and unexpected data flow. The data that’s flowing isn’t just the feed to the marketing contractor. That ad circular, pushed into a mailbox (and read by the girl’s father) is another data flow, and one that’s not expected.

[…]

Everyone who works with data knows that data becomes much more powerful when it is combined with data from other sources. Data that seems innocuous, like a grocery store purchase history, can be combined with geographic data, medical data, and other kinds of data to characterize users and their behavior with great precision. Knowing whether a person purchases cigarettes can be of great interest to an insurance company, as can knowing whether a cardiac patient is buying bacon.

The article is written by and for data developers, primarily, and poses more questions than it can answer, especially around the thorny concept of data deletion. It’s an interesting read, but it left me wondering if those GDPR data protection principles will ever be fully put into practice.

Facebook gets away with it

Facebook fined for data breaches in Cambridge Analytica scandal
Facebook is to be fined £500,000, the maximum amount possible, for its part in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the information commissioner has announced.

But talk about good timing.

In the first quarter of 2018, Facebook took £500,000 in revenue every five and a half minutes. Because of the timing of the breaches, the ICO said it was unable to levy the penalties introduced by the European General Data Protection (GDPR), which caps fines at the higher level of €20m (£17m) or 4% of global turnover – in Facebook’s case, $1.9bn (£1.4bn). The £500,000 cap was set by the Data Protection Act 1998.

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, explains her real goal with this fine is to “effect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system.”

“Most of us have some understanding of the behavioural targeting that commercial entities have used for quite some time,” Denham said, “to sell us holidays, to sell us trainers, to be able to target us and follow us around the web.”

“But very few people have an awareness of how they can be micro-targeted, persuaded or nudged in a democratic campaign, in an election or a referendum.

“This is a time when people are sitting up and saying ‘we need a pause here, and we need to be sure we are comfortable with the way personal data is used in our democratic process’.”

I think we’re still some way off that; people just seem not to be bothered.

Facebook’s rise in profits, users shows resilience after scandals
Facebook Inc (FB.O) shares rose on Wednesday after the social network reported a surprisingly strong 63 percent rise in profit and an increase in users, with no sign that business was hurt by a scandal over the mishandling of personal data.

But maybe I shouldn’t be so pessimistic.

The digital privacy wins keep coming
Progress can be difficult to measure; it often comes in drips and drops, or not at all for long stretches of time. But in recent weeks, privacy advocates have seen torrential gains, at a rate perhaps not matched since Edward Snowden revealed how the National Security Agency spied on millions of US citizens in 2013. A confluence of factors—generational, judicial, societal—have created momentum where previously there was none. The trick now is to sustain it.

Let’s hope.

Hong Kong librarian has had enough of your tardiness

Librarian Gone Rogue: Impatient bibliophile accused of accessing library members’ accounts to quicken book returns
Patrons were checking out books that she wanted to read, and the woman was just not having it, according to Apple Daily.

The librarian, a 25-year-old contract employee at the Tseung Kwan O Public Library between 2015 and 2018, reported their cards as lost and changed their account passwords so they had to return their books immediately, according to the report.

Well, that’s one way of dealing with overdue library books.

University data breach

With GDPR still getting attention, here’s news that the Information Commissioner has fined the University of Greenwich over a significant data breach that happened in 2016.

Greenwich University fined £120,000 for data breach
The fine was for a security breach in which the personal data of 19,500 students was placed online. The data included names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, signatures and – in some cases – physical and mental health problems. It was uploaded onto a microsite for a training conference in 2004, which was then not secured or closed down.

The Information Commissioner said Greenwich was the first university to receive a fine under the Data Protection Act of 1998 and described the breach as “serious”.

[…]

In a statement, the university said it would not appeal against the decision.

It said it had carried out “an unprecedented overhaul” of its data protection and security systems since the discovery of the breach in 2016, and it had invested in both technology and staff.

So the personal data was added to a website in 2004 and left there for 12 years until the breach was discovered?

The University of Greenwich fined £120,000 by Information Commissioner for “serious” security breach
The investigation centred on a microsite developed by an academic and a student in the then devolved University’s Computing and Mathematics School, to facilitate a training conference in 2004.

After the event, the site was not subsequently closed down or secured and was compromised in 2013. In 2016 multiple attackers exploited the vulnerability of the site allowing them to access other areas of the web server.

A timely warning for others, I guess. Under GDPR, these fines could be significantly higher.

Happy GDPR Day!

Remember though, 25 May is just the beginning, not the deadline. Don’t panic.

US sites block users in Europe: Why are they ghosting EU? It’s not you, it’s GDPR
Visitors in the bloc trying to load articles from the Tribune, or stablemates the Los Angeles Times – the fifth-biggest daily – and the Orlando Sentinel are shown the same error message from publisher Tronc.

“Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries,” it reads. “We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism.”

The finger is pointed at the General Data Protection Regulation, which, although it is only just being enforced today, was adopted on 14 April 2016 – meaning organisations have had more than two years to prepare.

Help, my lightbulbs are dead! How GDPR became bigger than Beyonce
But the potential of huge fines hasn’t been the only reason for GDPR mania. There’s also a growing market of people working in data protection and offering dubious services related to GDPR. In the UK there are more than 100 registered companies with the GDPR acronym in their titles – and the vast majority of these were formed after the regulation was approved in 2016. Their purpose? To offer advice on how companies can get their data in order and create products that can help organise information.

[…]

In a post on LinkedIn, George Parapadakis who formerly worked at IBM, wrote that technology wouldn’t solve GDPR issues. “The nonsense that I read on a daily basis, defies belief,” Parapadakis wrote. Turner adds: “Don’t get me wrong, we’re all in it to pay the mortgage but I think as the panic has increased, there is something of a feeding frenzy of, ’Let’s see how much we can get before the momentum goes out of the market.’” This may have peaked when GDPR became more popular than Beyonce.

Another day, another GDPR e-mail

GDPR finally comes into force on Friday, and there seems to be no let up in the privacy notice update e-mails we’re all getting. This raised a smile though.

Most GDPR emails unnecessary and some illegal, say experts
What’s more, Vitale said, if the business really does lack the necessary consent to communicate with you, it probably lacks the consent even to email to ask you to give it that consent.

“In many cases the sender will be breaching another set of regulations, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which makes it an offence to email someone to ask them for consent to send them marketing by email.”

I wonder if we’ll still receive these e-mails after 25 May. If we do, are the companies that send them admitting they weren’t compliant initially? I’m sure the ICO won’t be too concerned, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Last-minute frenzy of GDPR emails unleashes ‘torrent’ of spam – and memes
The whole process has inspired the internet to rope in everyone from Julian Assange to Donald Trump to Prince William in an attempt to illustrate their frustration at the electronic onslaught.

Photocopiers have long memories

They say elephants never forget, and it seems neither do photocopiers.

In light of all the attention currently on GDPR and data protection generally, here’s an interesting article from 2010 about the dangers hiding within our photocopiers. For some time now, our digital copiers contain hard drives that store an image of everything it copies, scans or e-mails. That’s potentially a lot of valuable personal data that can stay on the machine long after you’ve thrown it away.

Digital photocopiers loaded with secrets
It took Juntunen just 30 minutes to pull the hard drives out of the copiers. Then, using a forensic software program available for free on the Internet, he ran a scan – downloading tens of thousands of documents in less than 12 hours.

The results were stunning: from the sex crimes unit there were detailed domestic violence complaints and a list of wanted sex offenders. On a second machine from the Buffalo Police Narcotics Unit we found a list of targets in a major drug raid.

The third machine, from a New York construction company, spit out design plans for a building near Ground Zero in Manhattan; 95 pages of pay stubs with names, addresses and social security numbers; and $40,000 in copied checks.

But it wasn’t until hitting “print” on the fourth machine – from Affinity Health Plan, a New York insurance company, that we obtained the most disturbing documents: 300 pages of individual medical records. They included everything from drug prescriptions, to blood test results, to a cancer diagnosis. A potentially serious breach of federal privacy law.

Something to add to our risk registers, perhaps?

GDPR Day’s getting nearer

The EU’s Regulation 2016/679 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data was signed off on 27 April 2016, two years ago. It becomes enforceable from 25 May 2018. Have we been using these last two years to get ready?

This, from a year ago, sums it up, I think.

Concern that schools are not preparing for new rules on personal data
The General Data Protection Regulations are the ‘biggest change in 25 years’ to how organisations must manage personal data, but only a fifth of schools are aware of the May 2018 deadline.

Employers and schools are all certainly busy now, in these last few weeks, reviewing data asset registers and updating privacy notices. The news that the fines for noncompliance could be as high as  £17 million is certainly a motivator, although here’s Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, suggesting they won’t be levying such large fines lightly.

What is GDPR? Data protection law is changing in 2018. Here’s what you need to know
But Denham says speculation that her office will try to make examples of companies by issuing large business-crippling fines isn’t correct. “We will have the possibility of using larger fines when we are unsuccessful in getting compliance in other ways,” she says. “But we’ve always preferred the carrot to the stick”.

[…]

“Having larger fines is useful but I think fundamentally what I’m saying is it’s scaremongering to suggest that we’re going to be making early examples of organisations that breach the law or that fining a top whack is going to become the norm.” She adds that her office will be more lenient on companies that have shown awareness of the GDPR and tried to implement it, when compared to those that haven’t made any effort.

As well as some of us acting as data controllers or data processors, we’re all data subjects too. These are new rules designed to protect our data. I’m sure we’ve all been getting e-mails from companies like Twitter, Instagram and Fitbit and so on, about their revised data and privacy policies.

Here’s a great summary from Danny O’Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, on what to look out for.

Why am I getting all these terms of service update emails?
The EU regulators are certainly paying attention to these email updates. A strongly-worded blog post this week by EU’s head enforcer, European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Giovanni Buttarelli, warned the public and his fellow regulators to be “vigilant about attempts to game the system”, adding that some of these new terms of service emails could be “travest[ies] of the spirit of the new regulation”.

[…]

As Buttarelli says, such “legal cover” might well be against the spirit of the GDPR, but it’s going to take a while for companies, regulators, and privacy groups to establish what the law’s sometimes ambiguous statements really mean. One particularly knotty problem is whether the language that many of these emails use (“by using our service, you agree to these terms”) will be acceptable under the GDPR. The regulation is explicit that in many areas, you need to give informed, unambiguous consent by “a statement or clear affirmative action.” Even more significantly, if the data being collected by a company isn’t necessary for the service it is offering, under the GDPR the company should give covered users the option to decline that data collection, but still allow them to use the service.