June 2010 Archives

On Friday, June 25th OMB released M-10-22, Guidance for Online Use of Web Measurement and Customization Technologies, the long awaited update to it's federal cookie policy.  The new policy rescinds OMB M-00-13, Privacy Policies and Data Collection on Federal Web Sites and updates OMB M-03-22 Guidance for Implementing the Privacy Provisions of the E-government Act of 2002 Section III(D)(2)(v) and Section VII(B). The new policy allows agencies to use both session and persistent cookies; however, it puts forward three tiers of acceptable use and five appropriate use prohibitions.

First and foremost I want to highlight the somewhat expanded definition of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that the new policy puts forward.  While the memo still inherits the standard definition of PII from OMB M-07-16 it has added an excellent addendum: "The definition of PII is not anchored to any single category of information or technology. Rather, it demands a case-by-case assessment of the specific risk that an individual can be identified. In performing this assessment, it is important for an agency to recognize that non-PII can become PII whenever additional information is made publicly available - in any medium and from any source - that, when combined with other available information, could be used to identify an individual." Privacy professionals have been saying this for years, great to see it finally codified in policy.

Below is an analysis of the privacy impact of the new memo and a break down of the new requirements.  I will warn you it is a bit lengthy...
Matt Blaze (Associate Professor of Computer and Information Science at University of Pennsylvania and cool geek guy) testified at the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil
Liberties Hearing on ECPA Reform and the Revolution in Location Based Technologies and Services on June 24, 2010.

Original Source:

Archived PrivacyWonk Copy:

I'll update the post with my thoughts once I get a chance to thoroughly read it instead of just skimming...
"August 4, 2006, the personal search queries of 650,000 AOL (America Online) users accidentally ended up on the Internet, for all to see. These search queries were entered in AOL's search engine over a three-month period. After three days AOL realized their blunder and removed the data from their site, but the sensitive private data had already leaked to several other sites.

I love Alaska tells the story of one of those AOL users. We get to know a religious middle-aged woman from Houston, Texas, who spends her days at home behind her TV and computer. Her unique style of phrasing combined with her putting her ideas, convictions and obsessions into AOL's search engine,  turn her personal story into a disconcerting novel of sorts.

Over a period of three months, a portrait of a woman emerges who is diligently searching for likeminded souls. The list of her search queries read aloud by a voice-over reads like a revealing character study of a somewhat obese middle-aged lady in her menopause, who is looking for a way to rejuvenate her sex life. In the end, when she cheats on her husband with a man she met online, her life seems to crumble around her. She regrets her deceit, admits to her Internet addiction and dreams of a new life in Alaska." ~http://www.minimovies.org/documentaires/view/ilovealaska

"Amid this growth, Sagan sees a looming challenge for cloud service providers in sorting out privacy issues. Growing pools of data raise the questions of how it got there, who owns it, who has rights to it -- and who's responsible for protecting it. As a result, government will probably step in. "Government is out there wanting to help," said Sagan. But in contrast with the Internet, governments are "all about states and borders."

At this point, Sagan says the cloud services industry should take a proactive stance. "We need to be pretty transparent about what we're doing, and engage in the discussions," he said. At a time when some industries are finding themselves in the position of saying, "Senator, let me explain myself," cloud players should take that as a warning. "It's probably not the most productive conversation at that point after you've raised your hand and been sworn in." ~
Source: http://gigaom.com/2010/06/24/structure-2010-akamai-doing-terabit-events-thanks-world-cup

Watch live streaming video from gigaomtv at livestream.com

Note: emphasis is mine.

There has been a lot of press about Apple's latest update to two key policies.  Apple updated its privacy policy and its iTunes Terms of Service, with some new language about location information. When you agree to the changes, you agree to let Apple collect, store, and share "precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device."  The changes must be accepted in order to download anything from the iTunes store.  Note that it is not only Apple who has access to this information but also "partners and licensees."

Apple says that the data is "collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you." There does not appear to be any way to opt-out of this data collection without giving up the ability to download apps, which severely limits the iPhone/iPad use.

Below is the text from the Terms of Service / Privacy Policy update.  Emphasis is mine:

"Location-Based Services

To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.

Some location-based services offered by Apple, such as the MobileMe "Find My iPhone" feature, require your personal information for the feature to work."

As previously discussed on this blog (Geotagging, Geolocation, and your Privacy) the iPhone has been leaking location information for a long time. There are various privacy concerns with all of this despite the "anonymous" data.  Research has demonstrated that large data sets (e.g. the entire iPhone/iPad user base) of supposedly anonymized data can be linked back to specific users. Real world example: AOL Search Data Scandal.