Amazon's being greasy about Alexa user data. Again.

Remember when Amazon introduced the ability for folks easily delete their conversations with any of the Alexa wiretap they'd foolishly allowed into their homes? Boom! Gone! No more voice history! Everyone with one of the company's smart speakers could rest easy knowing that their personal information and shopping habits wouldn't be available for the marketing world to get its grubby meathooks on. HAHAHAAHAHAHA Yeah, that was bullshit. Even if you wipe your conversations with Alexa from your Amazon devices, Amazon still retains some information.

From CNET: ... Amazon noted that for Alexa requests that involve a transaction, like ordering a pizza or hailing a rideshare, Amazon and the skill's developers can keep a record of that transaction. That means that there's a record of nearly every purchase you make on Amazon's Alexa, which can be considered personal information.

Other requests, including setting reminders and alarms, would also remain saved, Huseman noted, saying that this was a feature customers wanted.

It gets better: Amazon says that they use this personal information to train Alexa to be an even better wiretap than it already is. What they don't say, however, is what third-parties, such as outside Alexa skill developers and marketers, are allowed to do with this leftover data.

Apparently, the only way to be sure that all of a customer's user data has been obliterated from the company's servers is for them to call customer service and demand that the personal information be nuked from orbit. Of course, given that the company has already been all kinds of greasy about promising to make personal data deletion a simple task for folks to undertake once, there's no guarantee that they won't quietly screw their users again. Read the rest

Turkish Intelligence developed a smartphone apps that lets its citizens rat each other out

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (also known as the PKK,) has been taking pot shots at the Turkish government, in the name of Kurdish independence, since 1984. In 2013, Turkey's ruling high rollers, the Justice and Development (light on the former and regularly delivering on the latter) Party, managed to agree upon a delicate ceasefire, which lasted for around two years. Since the ceasefire's collapse in 2015, the Turkish government has been hot and horny over the thought of putting the PKK into the ground, permanently. Easier said than done, my son: PKK have proven resilient both in open combat and in less dynamic environments. It's hard to find their people, especially since much of the PKK's membership consists of supporters who provide financial and political support far from Turkey's borders. As a result, Turkey sent their intelligence operatives out across Europe, looking for ways to reign the PKK in. They started off in countries like Iran, Russia and China. But, it was soon found that the German state of Baden-Württemberg was where the out-of-nation action was hottest and heaviest. There's close to three million Turks living in Germany. 15% of that total can be found in Baden-Württemberg. There's no way that the Turkish intelligence community could possibly deploy enough assets to keep abreast of what all those former Turkish citizens were getting up to.

So, they did what the rest of the industrialized world has been doing: they developed a smartphone app that would allow the ex-pats to police themselves.

From IntelNews:

Turkey’s spy agency has developed a smart phone application to enable pro-government Turks living in Germany inform on their compatriots who speak out against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Read the rest

Google changed the settings on Android phones without their owners' permission

A decade ago, Steve Jobs admitted in an interview that Apple had the means to remotely kill core functionalities and apps on iOS devices. Apple purportedly made this possible to ensure that their hardware could not be taken over with malicious apps. I remember being very not OK with this, at the time. But over the years, I completely forgot about it.

Until this week.

From The Verge:

Yesterday a mix of people who own Google Pixel phones and other devices running Android 9 Pie noticed that the software’s Battery Saver feature had been switched on — seemingly all by itself. And oddly, this was happening when the phones were near a full charge, not when the battery was low. As reported by Android Police, initially it was assumed that this was some kind of minor bug in the latest version of Android, which was only released a few weeks ago. Some users thought they might’ve just enabled Battery Saver without realizing.

But it was actually Google at fault.

The company posted a message on Reddit last night acknowledging “an internal experiment to test battery saving features that was mistakenly rolled out to more users than intended.” So Google had remotely — and accidentally — changed a phone setting for a bunch of real-world customers.

Not cool.

Sure, you can argue that it was an honest mistake made by Google's OS development team: they hadn't meant to screw with Android Pie users' handsets. Hell, as soon as it happened, Google hit the interwebz to admit to the mistake. Read the rest

Les Moonves' wife Julie Chen borrows the Camille Cosby playbook

An interesting to subplot to the drama at CBS and the firing/resignation of its president Les Moonves after more sexual misconduct allegations... Read the rest

TSA "Quiet Skies" surveillance program targets innocent U.S. citizens

Assigned to covertly observe and, if necessary, violently protect air travelers on flights which include passengers on a TSA terrorist watch list or on routes that are considered to have a higher probability of coming under attack in a terrorist action, federal air marshals have been a fixture on many flights since the September 11th attacks of 2001. That we seldom hear about the work that air marshals do is a very good thing. It means that we’re safe as we travel and that they’re very good at keeping a low profile as part of doing their job. It’s a gig that anyone should be proud to do. However, the pride that comes with quietly and professionally protecting folks may be in for a bit of tarnish thanks to a disturbing new program launched by the TSA called Quiet Skies.

As part of Quiet Skies, air marshals are being asked to step off of the flights that they’ve been assigned to protect to undertake a new detail: gathering intelligence on civilians who aren’t on a terrorist watchlist – regular folks like you and me. Unlike ICE, which giddily has accepted a larger number of troubling new powers and responsibilities from the federal government, the air marshals are voicing their concern with the new marching orders being given to them.

From The Boston Globe:

Since this initiative launched in March, dozens of air marshals have raised concerns about the Quiet Skies program with senior officials and colleagues, sought legal counsel, and expressed misgivings about the surveillance program, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the Globe.

Read the rest

Canadian mall caught collecting facial recognition data on the sly

When I’m in Calgary, there’s a coffee shop that I like to work at, located in the Chinook Centre Mall. It’s part of a local chain that knows how to make a great iced latte. I’m not in often, but they know me. They know my face.

Apparently, they’re not the only ones.

According to the CBC, the management company that tends to Chinook Center Mall, Cadillac Fairview, has been using facial recognition software to track the sex and age of visitors on the down low.

From The CBC:

A visitor to Chinook Centre in south Calgary spotted a browser window that had seemingly accidentally been left open on one of the mall's directories, exposing facial-recognition software that was running in the background of the digital map. They took a photo and posted it to the social networking site Reddit on Tuesday.

The mall's parent company, Cadillac Fairview, said the software, which they began using in June, counts people who use the directory and predicts their approximate age and gender, but does not record or store any photos or video from the directory cameras.

Cadillac Fairview said the software is also used at Market Mall in northwest Calgary, and other malls nationwide. In Alberta, collecting biometric data, so long as no images are recorded and stored, is allowed, without having to let anyone know that you’re doing it.

That’s frigging greasy.

For their part, Cadillac Fairview says that they aren’t required to let visitors to their property know that they’re being profiled, as the software they use, MappedIn, doesn’t store any photos or biometric information. Read the rest

Creepy new spy camera is so small it could be hiding anywhere

If you're not already wearing a tinfoil hat, it may be a good time to start: a pair of engineers based out of the University of Michigan have figured out a way to create a light-powered camera sensor that's only a millimeter in size: small enough to be practically invisible to a casual observer.

According to a paper published in IEEE Electron Device Letters by Euisik Yoon and Sung-Yun Park, the new camera has the potential to not only be insanely small, but also, self sustaining, thanks to a solar panel placed directly behind the camera's image sensor, which is thin enough that light, in addition to what's needed to create an image, is able to pass right through it. This could provide the camera with all the power it needs to be able to continue to capture images, indefinitely.  At a maximum of 15 frames per second, the images it captures aren't of the best quality, but they're more than adequate for creeping on an unsuspecting subject.

The good news is that, for the time being, the camera is nothing more than a proof-of-concept. In order for it to be deployed in the real world as a near-invisible surveillance device, someone a lot smarter than me will need to figure out how to store image data and transmit it using hardware that's just as discrete as the camera's image sensor and power source are.

Fingers crossed that it'll take them a while to work those issues out.   Image via pxhere Read the rest

Today: '1984' nationwide movie screening to protest current politics

In protest of the current political climate, where alternative facts are the norm and the media is the enemy of the people, nearly 200 theaters across the country are screening the dystopian movie 1984, based on George Orwell's novel of the same name. It will only be showing today, April 4, the date that 1984's protagonist, rebel Winston Smith, begins writing in his forbidden diary.

According to UnitedStatesOfCinema.com:

Orwell's portrait of a government that manufactures their own facts, demands total obedience, and demonizes foreign enemies, has never been timelier. The endeavor encourages theaters to take a stand for our most basic values: freedom of speech, respect for our fellow human beings, and the simple truth that there are no such things as 'alternative facts.' By doing what they do best - showing a movie - the goal is that cinemas can initiate a much-needed community conversation at a time when the existence of facts, and basic human rights are under attack. Through nationwide participation and strength in numbers, these screenings are intended to galvanize people at the crossroads of cinema and community, and bring us together to foster communication and resistance against current efforts to undermine the most basic tenets of our society."

Here is a list of participating theaters nationwide, as well as in the UK, Sweden, New Zealand, Holland, and Croatia. Read the rest

The Snoopers Charter gives these 48 organisations unlimited, secret access to all UK browsing history

With the passage of the Snoopers Charter earlier this month, the UK has become the most-surveilled "democratic" state in the world, where service providers are required to retain at least a year's worth of their customers' browsing history and make it searchable, without a warrant, to a variety of agencies -- and no records are kept of these searches, making it virtually impossible to detect petty vendetta-settling, stalking, or systemic abuses (including selling access to criminals, foreign governments, and institutionalised racism). Read the rest

FBI shuts off thousands of GPS devices after Supreme Court ruling, now having trouble finding them

A recent US Supreme Court ruling that overturned the warrantless use of GPS tracking devices "has caused a 'sea change' inside the U.S. Justice Department." Following the ruling, the FBI turned off an estimated 3,000 GPS tracking devices that were in use. But how to locate the little buggers to take them home?

From the WSJ, quoting FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissmann:

These devices were often stuck underneath cars to track the movements of the car owners. In U.S. v. Jones, the Supreme Court ruled that using a device to track a car owner without a search warrant violated the law.

After the ruling, the FBI had a problem collecting the devices that it had turned off, Mr. Weissmann said. In some cases, he said, the FBI sought court orders to obtain permission to turn the devices on briefly – only in order to locate and retrieve them.

Read the rest