Jul 302010
 July 30, 2010  Posted by  Business, Featured News, Online, Surveillance

Julia Angwin and Tom McGinty have a must-read story in the Wall Street Journal:

The largest U.S. websites are installing new and intrusive consumer-tracking technologies on the computers of people visiting their sites—in some cases, more than 100 tracking tools at a time—a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.


n an effort to quantify the reach and sophistication of the tracking industry, the Journal examined the 50 most popular websites in the U.S. to measure the quantity and capabilities of the “cookies,” “beacons” and other trackers installed on a visitor’s computer by each site. Together, the 50 sites account for roughly 40% of U.S. page-views.

The 50 sites installed a total of 3,180 tracking files on a test computer used to conduct the study. Only one site, the encyclopedia Wikipedia.org, installed none. Twelve sites, including IAC/InterActive Corp.’s Dictionary.com, Comcast Corp.’s Comcast.net and Microsoft Corp.’s MSN.com, installed more than 100 tracking tools apiece in the course of the Journal’s test.

Read more in the Wall Street Journal.

Jul 302010
 July 30, 2010  Posted by  Featured News, Laws, Surveillance, U.S.

From a New York Times editorial:

It is just a technical matter, the Obama administration says: We just need to make a slight change in a law to make clear that we have the right to see the names of anyone’s e-mail correspondents and their Web browsing history without the messy complication of asking a judge for permission.

It is far more than a technical change. The administration’s request, reported Thursday in The Washington Post, is an unnecessary and disappointing step backward toward more intrusive surveillance from a president who promised something very different during the 2008 campaign.

Read more in the New York Times.

Jul 302010
 July 30, 2010  Posted by  Business

Christopher Elliott writes:

Thanks for the birthday card, Southwest Airlines.

The computer-generated missive, complete with signatures of the airline’s executives, landed in my mailbox just before the big day. At first I was flattered by the thoughtful gesture. But then I was troubled.

How did they know my birthday?

And then it occurred to me: Airlines are now requiring passengers to provide their full name as it appears on a government-issued I.D., their date of birth and their gender as part of the Transportation Security Administration’s new Secure Flight initiative.


When I contacted Southwest to say thank you for my birthday card and to find out where the airline had gotten my information, spokesman Chris Mainz said that indeed, the data came from my Rapid Rewards frequent-flier program profile and had “nothing to do with Secure Flight.”

Read more in the Washington Post.

Jul 302010
 July 30, 2010  Posted by  Misc

Caroline McCarthy reports:

Does privacy exist anymore? Do we even know what it is? A conversation between digital academics Jeff Jarvis and Danah Boyd on Friday morning at the Supernova conference capped off a week in which many peoples’ perceptions of the tension between public and private data online were shaken (and stirred).

“We have no definition of privacy,” said Boyd, a charismatic Microsoft researcher who says she has spent the past two months working on a data-intensive analysis of news stories pertaining to Facebook’s ongoing privacy controversy. The massive social network has been criticized by bloggers, advocates, and lawmakers for an allegedly cavalier attitude toward the privacy of its user base–but its astonishing growth has continued, and the social network propelled past 500 million members last week. “We don’t know what we’re talking about, the (members of the) press certainly don’t know what they’re talking about, (and) the spokespeople don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Read more on cnet.