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Offsite Article: Privacy switch...


Link Here 23rd April 2019
Vendors must start adding physical on/off switches to devices that can spy on us. By Larry Sanger

See article from larrysanger.org

 

 

We know where you've been! for most of the last decade...

Google's Sensorvault Can Tell Police Where You've Been. By Jennifer Lynch


Link Here 20th April 2019

Do you know where you were five years ago? Did you have an Android phone at the time? It turns out Google might know--and it might be telling law enforcement.

In a new article, the New York Times details a little-known technique increasingly used by law enforcement to figure out everyone who might have been within certain geographic areas during specific time periods in the past. The technique relies on detailed location data collected by Google from most Android devices as well as iPhones and iPads that have Google Maps and other apps installed. This data resides in a Google-maintained database called Sensorvault, and because Google stores this data indefinitely, Sensorvault includes detailed location records involving at least hundreds of millions of devices worldwide and dating back nearly a decade.

The data Google is turning over to law enforcement is so precise that one deputy police chief said it shows the whole pattern of life. It's collected even when people aren't making calls or using apps, which means it can be even more detailed than data generated by cell towers.

The location data comes from GPS signals, cellphone towers, nearby Wi-Fi devices and Bluetooth beacons. According to Google, users opt in to collection of the location data stored in Sensorvault. However, Google makes it very hard to resist opting in, and many users may not understand that they have done so. Also, Android devices collect lots of other location data by default, and it's extremely difficult to opt out of that collection.

Using a single warrant--often called a geo-fence or reverse location warrant--police are able to access location data from dozens to hundreds of devices--devices that are linked to real people, many of whom (and perhaps in some cases all of whom) have no tie to criminal activity and have provided no reason for suspicion. The warrants cover geographic areas ranging from single buildings to multiple blocks, and time periods ranging from a few hours to a week.

So far, according to the Times and other outlets, this technique is being used by the FBI and police departments in Arizona, North Carolina, California, Florida, Minnesota, Maine, and Washington, although there may be other agencies using it across the country. But police aren't limiting the use of the technique to egregious or violent crimes-- Minnesota Public Radio reported the technique has been used to try to identify suspects who stole a pickup truck and, separately, $650 worth of tires. Google is getting up to 180 requests a week for data and is, apparently, struggling to keep up with the demand.

Law enforcement seems to be using a three-step process to learn the names of device holders (in some cases, a single warrant authorizes all three steps). In the first step, the officer specifies the area and time period of interest, and in response, Google gives the police information on all the devices that were there, identified by anonymous numbers--this step may reveal hundreds of devices.

After that, officers can narrow the scope of their request to fewer devices, and Google will release even more detailed data, including data on where devices traveled outside the original requested area and time period. This data, which still involves multiple devices, reveals detailed travel patterns. In the final step, detectives review that travel data to see if any devices appear relevant to the crime, and they ask for the users' names and other information for specific individual devices.

Techniques like this also reveal big problems with our current warrant system. Even though the standard for getting a warrant is higher than other legal procedures--and EFF pushes for a warrant requirement for digital data and devices--warrants, alone, are no longer enough to protect our privacy. Through a single warrant the police can access exponentially more and more detailed information about us than they ever could in the past. Here, the police are using a single warrant to get access to location information for hundreds of devices. In other contexts, through a single warrant, officers can access all the data on a cell phone or a hard drive; all email stored in a Google account (possibly going back years); and all information linked to a social media account (including photos, posts, private communications, and contacts).

We shouldn't allow the government to have such broad access to our digital lives. One way we could limit access is by passing legislation that mandates heightened standards, minimization procedures, and particularity requirements for digital searches. We already have this in laws that regulate wiretaps , where police, in addition to demonstrating probable cause, must state that they have first tried other investigative procedures (or state why other procedures wouldn't work) and also describe how the wiretap will be limited in scope and time.

As the Times article notes, this technique implicates innocent people and has a real impact on people's lives. Even if you are later able to clear your name, if you spend any time at all in police custody, this could cost you your job, your car, and your ability to get back on your feet after the arrest. One man profiled in the Times article spent nearly a week in police custody and was having trouble recovering, even months after the arrest. He was arrested at work and subsequently lost his job. Due to the arrest, his car was impounded for investigation and later repossessed. These are the kinds of far-reaching consequences that can result from overly broad searches, so courts should subject geo-location warrants to far more scrutiny.

 

 

Guarded Secret...

Google has included a secret microphone in a home alarm system


Link Here 20th February 2019

Google has acknowledged that one of its home alarm products contained a secret  microphone. Product specifications for the Nest Guard, an all-in-one alarm, keypad and motion sensor, available since 2017, had made no mention of the listening device.

Nest Guard is an all-in-one alarm, keypad, and motion sensor but, despite being announced well over a year ago, the word microphone was only added to the product's specification this month.

But earlier this month, the firm said a software update would make Nest Guard voice-controlled. On Twitter, concerned Nest owners were told the microphone has not been used up to this point.

In response to criticism, Google claimed:

The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part. The microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option.

This is the kind of thing that makes me paranoid of smart home devices, commented Nick Heer , who writes the Pixel Envy blog.

If I owned one of these things and found out that the world's biggest advertising company hid a microphone in my home for a year, I'd be livid.

 

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