Welcome back to a new series where we explore some of the most important stories from across the fields of privacy, cybersecurity, surveillance and general internet goings-ons. Think that we’ve missed out on some bigger stories? If so, let us know what your top picks would be on the ‘What’s up today’ thread in the forum or @ us on Twitter.
Censorship in China is not new news. In fact, since Xi Jinping became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in 2012, censorship has been “significantly stepped up”. Major sites like Facebook have been banned since July 2009 as has Google’s stack (although they did attempt to tip their toes the regime by prototyping a censorship-friendly prototype search engine called Dragonfly). But the censorship shows no sign of slowing down. A couple of days after the 30th anniversary of the deadly Tiananmen Square protests, people in China began reporting that they could not access the websites of The Intercept, The Guardian, the Washington Post, HuffPost, NBC News, the Christian Science Monitor, the Toronto Star, and Breitbart News. It seems some in the East are determined to block the West.
Following in China’s footsteps, Russia and Iran are championing internet fragmentation, with both countries setting up domestic internet services. However, what is important here that, at some level, the Great Firewall of China is somewhat superficial. They still rely on the existing web architecture but alter the way that traffic is managed — so back door strategies are continually evolving to get around the wall. What Russian and Iran are doing however is something much more sinister. They are hoping to reduce their country’s reliance on the World Wide Web and instead rely on an intranet that can be domestically operated, therefore in essence, separating them from the global network. And this move, just like traditional forms of censorship across mediums such as TV and newspapers, could be catastrophic for the protection of human rights of Iranian and Russia citizens.
Facebook is looking for ways to finally pay you for your data. Who would have thought it?! Remember earlier this year, Facebook was caught out secretly paying children (and adults) to install a VPN which essentially sucked data from your phone to see what you were doing outside the FB app? So guess what they’ve now done. They’ve released “Study by Facebook” which is…essentially what they were running with the only difference being that it’s no longer a secret. OK, so one thing has changed: it’s only now available to those over 18. Also, they have *promised* that they won’t snoop on user ID’s, passwords or any of participants’ content (including photos, videos or messages). They claim they won’t sell your information to third parties, use it to target ads or add it to the account or behaviour profiles that they keep on every user.
Do you believe them? We don’t.
Once again MI5 are in the dock, accused of handling large amounts of the British public’s data in an ‘undoubtedly unlawful’ way. The BBC reported that various stakeholders including the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and civil rights groups have pointed out that the mass collection of data (messages, calls, browsing history, user locations) was being stored insecurely and for too long.
There are too many issues to dive into here But from a high level, do we really need to collect all this data? There’s scant evidence connecting mass data collection with the successful prevention of terrorist attacks for example. World-renowned security expert Bruce Schneier says: “When you are watching everything, you are not seeing anything”. Or as the American Civil Liberties Union pointed out:
“The best way to avoid breaches of sensitive personal data is not to collect and retain such data in the first place”
And finally, another government agency bodging things up. This time, the US Customs and Border Protection were the latest guys to be hacked. This breach included photos of travelers entering and exiting the country, including jpegs of car registration plates. This isn’t comforting when facial recognition is becoming more prevalent at many US airports and the news that visitors entering the country will have to hand over social media account names. If they can’t keep images of registration plates safe, how will they manage with even more personal and sensitive information?
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