Internet together with small and inexpensive digital cameras have made us aware of the potential privacy concerns of sharing digital photos. The mobile phone cameras have escalated this development even further. Many people are today carrying a camera with ability to publish photos and videos on the net almost in real-time. Some people can handle that and act in a responsible way, some can’t. Defamatory pictures are constantly posted on the net, either by mistake or intentionally. But that’s not enough. Now it looks like the next revolution that will rock the privacy scene is around the corner, Google Glass.
Having a camera in your phone has lowered the threshold to take photos tremendously. It’s always with you and ready to snap. But you still have to take it out of the pocket and aim it at your object. The “victim” has a fair chance to notice that you are taking photos, especially if you are working at close distance.
Google Glass is a smartphone-like device that is integrated in a piece of headgear. You wear it all the time just like ordinary glasses. The screen is a transparent piece in your field of view that show output as an overlay layer on top of what’s in front of you. No keyboard, mouse or touchscreen. You control it by voice commands. Cool, but here comes the privacy concern. Two of the voice commands are “ok, glass, take a picture” and “ok, glass, record a video”. Yes, that’s right. It has a camera too.
Imagine a world where Google Glasses are as common as mobile phones today. You know that every time you talk to someone, you have a camera and microphone pointed at you. You have no way of knowing if it is recording or not. You have to take this into account when deciding what you say, or run the risk of having an embarrassing video on YouTube in minutes. A little bit like in the old movie RoboCop, where the metallic law enforcement officer was recording constantly and the material was good to use as evidence in court. Do we want a world like that? A world where we all are RoboCops?
We have a fairly clear and good legislation about the rules for taking photos. It is in most countries OK to take photos in public places, and people who show up there must accept to be photographed. Private places have more strict rules and there are also separate rules about publishing and commercial use of a photo. This is all fine and it applies to any device, also the Google Glass. The other side of the coin is peoples’ awareness of these laws, or actually lack thereof. In practice we have a law that very few care about, and a varying degree of common sense. People’s common sense do indeed prevent many problems, but not all. It may work fairly OK today, but will it be enough if the glasses become common?
I think that if Google Glass become a hit, then it will force us to rethink our relationship to photo privacy. Both as individuals and as a society. There will certainly be problems if 90% of the population have glasses and still walk around with only a rudimentary understanding about how the law restricts photography. Some would suffer because they broke the law unintentionally, and many would suffer because of the published content.
I hope that our final way to deal with the glasses isn’t the solution that 5 Point Cafe in Seattle came up with. They became the first to ban the Google Glass. It is just the same old primitive reaction that has followed so many new technologies. Needless to say, much fine technology would be unavailable if that was our only way to deal with new things.
But what will happen? That is no doubt an interesting question. My guess is that there will be a compromise. Camera users will gradually become more aware of what boundaries the law sets. Many people also need to redefine their privacy expectation, as we have to adopt to a world with more cameras. That might be a good thing if the fear of being recorded makes us more thoughtful and polite against others. It’s very bad if it makes it harder to mingle in a relaxed way. Many questions remain to be answered, but one thing is clear. Google Glass will definitively be a hot topic when discussing privacy.
PS. I have an app idea for the Glass. You remember the meteorite in Russia in February 2013? It was captured by numerous car cameras, as drivers in Russia commonly use constantly recording cameras as measure against fraudulent accusations. What if you had the same functionality on your head all the time? There would always be a video with the last hour of your life. Automatically on all the time and ready to get you out of tricky situations. Or to make sure you don’t miss any juicy moments…
Photo by zugaldia @ Flickr
The recent statements from FBI director James Comey is yet another example of the authorities’ opportunistic approach to surveillance. He dislikes the fact that mobile operating systems from Google and Apple now come with strong encryption for data stored on the device. This security feature is naturally essential when you lose your device or if you are a potential espionage target. But the authorities do not like it as it makes investigations harder. What he said was basically that there should be a method for authorities to access data in mobile devices with a proper warrant. This would be needed to effectively fight crime. Going on to list some hated crime types, murder, child abuse, terrorism and so on. And yes, this might at first sound OK. Until you start thinking about it. Let’s translate Comey’s statement into ordinary non-obfuscated English. This is what he really said: “I, James Comey, director of FBI, want every person world-wide to carry a tracking device at all times. This device shall collect the owner’s electronic communications and be able to open cloud services where data is stored. The content of these tracking devices shall on request be made available to the US authorities. We don’t care if this weakens your security, and you shouldn’t care because our goals are more important than your privacy.” Yes, that’s what we are talking about here. The “tracking devices” are of course our mobile phones and other digital gadgets. Our digital lives are already accurate mirrors of our actual lives. Our gadgets do not only contain actual data, they are also a gate to the cloud services because they store passwords. Granting FBI access to mobile devices does not only reveal data on the device. It also opens up all the user’s cloud services, regardless of if they are within US jurisdiction or not. In short. Comey want to put a black box in the pocket of every citizen world-wide. Black boxes that record flight data and communications are justified in cockpits, not in ordinary peoples’ private lives. But wait. What if they really could solve crimes this way? Yes, there would probably be a handful of cases where data gathered this way is crucial. At least enough to make fancy PR and publically show how important it is for the authorities to have access to private data. But even proposing weakening the security of commonly and globally used operating systems is a sign of gross negligence against peoples’ right to security and privacy. The risk is magnitudes bigger than the upside. Comey was diffuse when talking about examples of cases solved using device data. But the history is full of cases solved *without* data from smart devices. Well, just a decade ago we didn’t even have this kind of tracking devices. And the police did succeed in catching murderers and other criminals despite that. You can also today select to not use a smartphone, and thus drop the FBI-tracker. That is your right and you do not break any laws by doing so. Many security-aware criminals are probably operating this way, and many more would if Comey gets what he wants. So it’s very obvious that the FBI must have capability to investigate crime even without turning every phone into a black box. Comey’s proposal is just purely opportunistic, he wants this data because it exists. Not because he really needs it. Safe surfing, Micke
Is this China's digital riot police? A "particularly remarkable advanced persistent threat" has been compromising websites in Hong Kong and Japan for months, according to Volexity. The pro-democratic sites that have been infected include "Alliance for True Democracy – Hong Kong" and "People Power – Hong Kong" along with several others identified with the Occupy Central and Umbrella Revolution student movements behind the massive protests against the Chinese government. Visitors to the sites are being targeted by malware designed for "exploitation, compromise, and digital surveillance". In an analysis on our Labs Blog, Micke notes that it's possible that cybercriminals could be simply piggybacking on the news without any political motivation. However, the Remote Access Trojans (RATs) being used could provide serious advantages to political opponents of the movement. "A lot of the visitors on these sites are involved in the movement somehow, either as leaders or at grassroot level," he writes. "Their enemy could gain a lot of valuable information by planting RATs even in a small fraction of these peoples’ devices." And even leaders aren't compromised, the publicity around the attack will drive users away from the sites. This is a tactic that would definitely benefit those who want these see protests to end ASAP. And it would be a far more effective tactic if not for social networks like Twitter that can be accessed to plan resistance,even if the government blocks them -- as long as you have a VPN solution like our Freedome. If the goal is to cripple the protests by targeting protesters, "you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that China is the prime suspect," Micke writes. The significance a state-sponsored RAT attack -- or even a state-condoned attack carried out by privateers -- would be immense. Criminals use malware to target individuals, businesses and governments themselves. Government-sponsored cyberattacks on citizens practicing civil disobedience could be considered an escalation beyond even likely government-sponsored surveillance malware like Flame, which forces businesses to consider malware attacks from their own governments. Over the last year we've learned just how far suspicious governments will go to play defense against internet users who haven't been accused of any crime. Now we're seeing hints that a government may be willing to play offense too.
Yet another massive user ID and password leak. This time it affects about 7 million DropBox users, even if DropBox denies they were hacked. As usual, such a hack means that the data these users have stored in DropBox is in jeopardy. It also means that those who use the same ID and password on many services have much bigger troubles. Let’s see what we can learn from this: Always use unique passwords on the services you use. This does not prevent password leaks, but it limits the damage when a leak occur. (A password manager you trust makes this much easier.) Be alert and change your password as soon as you hear about a leak like this. Right now, we don’t know which users are affected. But if you have an old and weak password, it’s a good idea to change it NOW anyway. Changing it one time too many is better than having your confidential data all over the Internet. Pay attention to the security-awareness of the cloud providers you use. This may not have been DropBox’s fault, but it could have been. This is a good opportunity to mention our own younited, which is built with security in mind from the ground up, and is located in a country where the authorities doesn’t do mass surveillance. BTW, Edward also thinks you should consider alternatives to DropBox. DropBox claims this leak happened in some other service that connect to DropBox. This is a plausible explanation and reminds us about the danger of connecting services to each other. If you enter the password of any service into another service, you must ask yourself two questions. Will this company refrain from misusing my data and does this company protect my password sufficiently? By replicating the password to several places you increase the risk that it leaks out. Don’t do that unless you get a significant benefit and trust all places where the password is stored. Two-factor authentication is a great feature that increase security. Use it whenever possible. It should by now be clear that this kind of massive password leaks aren’t rare incidents. We see a constant stream of these and there are probably many leaks that remain unnoticed, or are noticed but stay out of the headlines. We all have to realize that a leak like this will hit us sooner or later. Sorry for sounding like a broken record, if you still have the same password on several services, you should be busy changing them by now. Safe surfing, Micke Image: Screen capture from dropbox.com PS. Isn't that screenshot a bit funny? Yes, your data in DropBox could really be ANYWHERE right now. :)