Entries Tagged "privacy"

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Differences in App Security/Privacy Based on Country

Depending on where you are when you download your Android apps, it might collect more or less data about you.

The apps we downloaded from Google Play also showed differences based on country in their security and privacy capabilities. One hundred twenty-seven apps varied in what the apps were allowed to access on users’ mobile phones, 49 of which had additional permissions deemed “dangerous” by Google. Apps in Bahrain, Tunisia and Canada requested the most additional dangerous permissions.

Three VPN apps enable clear text communication in some countries, which allows unauthorized access to users’ communications. One hundred and eighteen apps varied in the number of ad trackers included in an app in some countries, with the categories Games, Entertainment and Social, with Iran and Ukraine having the most increases in the number of ad trackers compared to the baseline number common to all countries.

One hundred and three apps have differences based on country in their privacy policies. Users in countries not covered by data protection regulations, such as GDPR in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act in the U.S., are at higher privacy risk. For instance, 71 apps available from Google Play have clauses to comply with GDPR only in the EU and CCPA only in the U.S. Twenty-eight apps that use dangerous permissions make no mention of it, despite Google’s policy requiring them to do so.

Research paper: “A Large-scale Investigation into Geodifferences in Mobile Apps“:

Abstract: Recent studies on the web ecosystem have been raising alarms on the increasing geodifferences in access to Internet content and services due to Internet censorship and geoblocking. However, geodifferences in the mobile app ecosystem have received limited attention, even though apps are central to how mobile users communicate and consume Internet content. We present the first large-scale measurement study of geodifferences in the mobile app ecosystem. We design a semi-automatic, parallel measurement testbed that we use to collect 5,684 popular apps from Google Play in 26 countries. In all, we collected 117,233 apk files and 112,607 privacy policies for those apps. Our results show high amounts of geoblocking with 3,672 apps geoblocked in at least one of our countries. While our data corroborates anecdotal evidence of takedowns due to government requests, unlike common perception, we find that blocking by developers is significantly higher than takedowns in all our countries, and has the most influence on geoblocking in the mobile app ecosystem. We also find instances of developers releasing different app versions to different countries, some with weaker security settings or privacy disclosures that expose users to higher security and privacy risks. We provide recommendations for app market proprietors to address the issues discovered.

Posted on September 29, 2022 at 6:14 AMView Comments

Large-Scale Collection of Cell Phone Data at US Borders

The Washington Post is reporting that the US Customs and Border Protection agency is seizing and copying cell phone, tablet, and computer data from “as many as” 10,000 phones per year, including an unspecified number of American citizens. This is done without a warrant, because “…courts have long granted an exception to border authorities, allowing them to search people’s devices without a warrant or suspicion of a crime.”

CBP’s inspection of people’s phones, laptops, tablets and other electronic devices as they enter the country has long been a controversial practice that the agency has defended as a low-impact way to pursue possible security threats and determine an individual’s “intentions upon entry” into the U.S. But the revelation that thousands of agents have access to a searchable database without public oversight is a new development in what privacy advocates and some lawmakers warn could be an infringement of Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

[…]

CBP conducted roughly 37,000 searches of travelers’ devices in the 12 months ending in October 2021, according to agency data, and more than 179 million people traveled that year through U.S. ports of entry.

More articles. Slashdot thread.

Posted on September 19, 2022 at 6:07 AMView Comments

FTC Sues Data Broker

This is good news:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued Kochava, a large location data provider, for allegedly selling data that the FTC says can track people at reproductive health clinics and places of worship, according to an announcement from the agency.

“Defendant’s violations are in connection with acquiring consumers’ precise geolocation data and selling the data in a format that allows entities to track the consumers’ movements to and from sensitive locations, including, among others, locations associated with medical care, reproductive health, religious worship, mental health temporary shelters, such as shelters for the homeless, domestic violence survivors, or other at risk populations, and addiction recovery,” the lawsuit reads.

Posted on August 30, 2022 at 6:58 AMView Comments

Surveillance of Your Car

TheMarkup has an extensive analysis of connected vehicle data and the companies that are collecting it.

The Markup has identified 37 companies that are part of the rapidly growing connected vehicle data industry that seeks to monetize such data in an environment with few regulations governing its sale or use.

While many of these companies stress they are using aggregated or anonymized data, the unique nature of location and movement data increases the potential for violations of user privacy.

Posted on August 2, 2022 at 6:49 AMView Comments

Ring Gives Videos to Police without a Warrant or User Consent

Amazon has revealed that it gives police videos from its Ring doorbells without a warrant and without user consent.

Ring recently revealed how often the answer to that question has been yes. The Amazon company responded to an inquiry from US Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), confirming that there have been 11 cases in 2022 where Ring complied with police “emergency” requests. In each case, Ring handed over private recordings, including video and audio, without letting users know that police had access to—and potentially downloaded—their data. This raises many concerns about increased police reliance on private surveillance, a practice that has long gone unregulated.

EFF writes:

Police are not the customers for Ring; the people who buy the devices are the customers. But Amazon’s long-standing relationships with police blur that line. For example, in the past Amazon has given coaching to police to tell residents to install the Ring app and purchase cameras for their homes—­an arrangement that made salespeople out of the police force. The LAPD launched an investigation into how Ring provided free devices to officers when people used their discount codes to purchase cameras.

Ring, like other surveillance companies that sell directly to the general public, continues to provide free services to the police, even though they don’t have to. Ring could build a device, sold straight to residents, that ensures police come to the user’s door if they are interested in footage—­but Ring instead has decided it would rather continue making money from residents while providing services to police.

CNet has a good explainer.

Slashdot thread.

Posted on August 1, 2022 at 6:09 AMView Comments

San Francisco Police Want Real-Time Access to Private Surveillance Cameras

Surely no one could have predicted this:

The new proposal—championed by Mayor London Breed after November’s wild weekend of orchestrated burglaries and theft in the San Francisco Bay Area—would authorize the police department to use non-city-owned security cameras and camera networks to live monitor “significant events with public safety concerns” and ongoing felony or misdemeanor violations.

Currently, the police can only request historical footage from private cameras related to specific times and locations, rather than blanket monitoring. Mayor Breed also complained the police can only use real-time feeds in emergencies involving “imminent danger of death or serious physical injury.”

If approved, the draft ordinance would also allow SFPD to collect historical video footage to help conduct criminal investigations and those related to officer misconduct. The draft law currently stands as the following, which indicates the cops can broadly ask for and/or get access to live real-time video streams:

The proposed Surveillance Technology Policy would authorize the Police Department to use surveillance cameras and surveillance camera networks owned, leased, managed, or operated by non-City entities to: (1) temporarily live monitor activity during exigent circumstances, significant events with public safety concerns, and investigations relating to active misdemeanor and felony violations; (2) gather and review historical video footage for the purposes of conducting a criminal investigation; and (3) gather and review historical video footage for the purposes of an internal investigation regarding officer misconduct.

Posted on July 15, 2022 at 6:17 AMView Comments

New Browser De-anonymization Technique

Researchers have a new way to de-anonymize browser users, by correlating their behavior on one account with their behavior on another:

The findings, which NJIT researchers will present at the Usenix Security Symposium in Boston next month, show how an attacker who tricks someone into loading a malicious website can determine whether that visitor controls a particular public identifier, like an email address or social media account, thus linking the visitor to a piece of potentially personal data.

When you visit a website, the page can capture your IP address, but this doesn’t necessarily give the site owner enough information to individually identify you. Instead, the hack analyzes subtle features of a potential target’s browser activity to determine whether they are logged into an account for an array of services, from YouTube and Dropbox to Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and more. Plus the attacks work against every major browser, including the anonymity-focused Tor Browser.

[…]

“Let’s say you have a forum for underground extremists or activists, and a law enforcement agency has covertly taken control of it,” Curtmola says. “They want to identify the users of this forum but can’t do this directly because the users use pseudonyms. But let’s say that the agency was able to also gather a list of Facebook accounts who are suspected to be users of this forum. They would now be able to correlate whoever visits the forum with a specific Facebook identity.”

Posted on July 14, 2022 at 9:31 AMView Comments

Post-Roe Privacy

This is an excellent essay outlining the post-Roe privacy threat model. (Summary: period tracking apps are largely a red herring.)

Taken together, this means the primary digital threat for people who take abortion pills is the actual evidence of intention stored on your phone, in the form of texts, emails, and search/web history. Cynthia Conti-Cook’s incredible article “Surveilling the Digital Abortion Diary details what we know now about how digital evidence has been used to prosecute women who have been pregnant. That evidence includes search engine history, as in the case of the prosecution of Latice Fisher in Mississippi. As Conti-Cook says, Ms. Fisher “conduct[ed] internet searches, including how to induce a miscarriage, ‘buy abortion pills, mifepristone online, misoprostol online,’ and ‘buy misoprostol abortion pill online,'” and then purchased misoprostol online. Those searches were the evidence that she intentionally induced a miscarriage. Text messages are also often used in prosecutions, as they were in the prosecution of Purvi Patel, also discussed in Conti-Cook’s article.

These examples are why advice from reproductive access experts like Kate Bertash focuses on securing text messages (use Signal and auto-set messages to disappear) and securing search queries (use a privacy-focused web browser, and use DuckDuckGo or turn Google search history off). After someone alerts police, digital evidence has been used to corroborate or show intent. But so far, we have not seen digital evidence be a first port of call for prosecutors or cops looking for people who may have self-managed an abortion. We can be vigilant in looking for any indications that this policing practice may change, but we can also be careful to ensure we’re focusing on mitigating the risks we know are indeed already being used to prosecute abortion-seekers.

[…]

As we’ve discussed above, just tracking your period doesn’t necessarily put you at additional risk of prosecution, and would only be relevant should you both become (or be suspected of becoming) pregnant, and then become the target of an investigation. Period tracking is also extremely useful if you need to determine how pregnant you might be, especially if you need to evaluate the relative access and legal risks for your abortion options.

It’s important to remember that if an investigation occurs, information from period trackers is probably less legally relevant than other information from your phone.

See also EFF’s privacy guide for those seeking an abortion.

Posted on July 13, 2022 at 6:00 AMView Comments

Ubiquitous Surveillance by ICE

Report by Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology published a comprehensive report on the surprising amount of mass surveillance conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Our two-year investigation, including hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests and a comprehensive review of ICE’s contracting and procurement records, reveals that ICE now operates as a domestic surveillance agency. Since its founding in 2003, ICE has not only been building its own capacity to use surveillance to carry out deportations but has also played a key role in the federal government’s larger push to amass as much information as possible about all of our lives. By reaching into the digital records of state and local governments and buying databases with billions of data points from private companies, ICE has created a surveillance infrastructure that enables it to pull detailed dossiers on nearly anyone, seemingly at any time. In its efforts to arrest and deport, ICE has ­ without any judicial, legislative or public oversight ­ reached into datasets containing personal information about the vast majority of people living in the U.S., whose records can end up in the hands of immigration enforcement simply because they apply for driver’s licenses; drive on the roads; or sign up with their local utilities to get access to heat, water and electricity.

ICE has built its dragnet surveillance system by crossing legal and ethical lines, leveraging the trust that people place in state agencies and essential service providers, and exploiting the vulnerability of people who volunteer their information to reunite with their families. Despite the incredible scope and evident civil rights implications of ICE’s surveillance practices, the agency has managed to shroud those practices in near-total secrecy, evading enforcement of even the handful of laws and policies that could be invoked to impose limitations. Federal and state lawmakers, for the most part, have yet to confront this reality.

Posted on July 7, 2022 at 1:18 PMView Comments

Tracking People via Bluetooth on Their Phones

We’ve always known that phones—and the people carrying them—can be uniquely identified from their Bluetooth signatures, and that we need security techniques to prevent that. This new research shows that that’s not enough.

Computer scientists at the University of California San Diego proved in a study published May 24 that minute imperfections in phones caused during manufacturing create a unique Bluetooth beacon, one that establishes a digital signature or fingerprint distinct from any other device. Though phones’ Bluetooth uses cryptographic technology that limits trackability, using a radio receiver, these distortions in the Bluetooth signal can be discerned to track individual devices.

[…]

The study’s scientists conducted tests to show whether multiple phones being in one place could disrupt their ability to track individual signals. Results in an initial experiment showed they managed to discern individual signals for 40% of 162 devices in public. Another, scaled-up experiment showed they could discern 47% of 647 devices in a public hallway across two days.

The tracking range depends on device and the environment, and it could be several hundred feet, but in a crowded location it might only be 10 or so feet. Scientists were able to follow a volunteer’s signal as they went to and from their house. Certain environmental factors can disrupt a Bluetooth signal, including changes in environment temperature, and some devices send signals with more power and range than others.

One might say “well, I’ll just keep Bluetooth turned off when not in use,” but the researchers said they found that some devices, especially iPhones, don’t actually turn off Bluetooth unless a user goes directly into settings to turn off the signal. Most people might not even realize their Bluetooth is being constantly emitted by many smart devices.

Posted on June 17, 2022 at 6:06 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.