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WhatsApp scams: Gold, free money, spying apps and everything else you should worry about

November 4, 2016

Almost everybody uses WhatsApp. That’s what makes it so useful – but it’s also what makes it so dangerous.

As WhatsApp and other chat apps have grown, they’ve also picked up their unfair share of scams. They come in many different forms, and are often very convincing.

But the advice for steering clear and staying safe is the same as it is everywhere else on the internet, really. Just make sure that you stay vigilant and don’t fall for anything that seems too good or too worrying to be true.

Here’s some of the things you should be looking out for.

Voucher scams

This is a tale at least as old as text messages. But it’s lived on into the WhatsApp age and is showing no sign of dying.

It works like this: a message arrives in your WhatsApp from someone who looks like your friend, recommending a deal they’ve found. The deal will usually be good – a voucher for £100 off at Sainsbury’s or TopShop, for instance, usually justified by the fact that the company is changing one of its systems or something.
But it’s barely ever real. The messages usually come with a link that actually takes you to another website and tricks you into giving your personal information over.

Staying safe from these is fairly simple: don’t ever click a link you’re not sure about and certainly don’t ever hand over personal information to a website you haven’t checked.

WhatsApp ending

Other fake messages claim that WhatsApp is going to end, unless enough people share a certain message. It isn’t happening.

The messages often look convincing, claiming to come from the CEO or another official. And they’re written using the right words and phrases, looking like an official statement.

But any official statement wouldn’t need users to send it to everyone like a round robin. If WhatsApp does actually shut down, you’ll either see it in the news or it’ll come up as a proper notification in the app from the actual WhatsApp team.

Or it’s shutting down your account

This is very similar – and a similarly old trick. They will usually say something that looks like an official message that claims that people’s WhatsApp accounts are being shut down for being out of use. Sending the message on will prove that it’s actually being used and

It’s not true. This is the kind of thing that’s been going round the internet for years – and has never actually been the case.

It works very well because it feels like the kind of thing that might happen, and instructs people to share it along.

Or making you pay

This, again, is the same. The only difference is that the message supposedly exempts you from having to pay for your account. It doesn’t, because the company isn’t ever going to force people to pay (and, if it does, it’ll announce it in the normal way).

As with all of these, ignore them and don’t forward them on.

WhatsApp Gold or WhatsApp Premium

This, unlike the other scams, is specific to WhatsApp. But it’s just as wrong.

The claim suggests that people pay for or download a special version of WhatsApp, usually called Gold or Premium. It offers a range of exciting-sounding features, like the ability to send more pictures, use new emoji or add extra security features.

The problem is that it’s far from secure – and is actually entirely made up. Downloading the app infects people’s phones with malware and helps them get used for crime. And sometimes it will force people to pay for something that not only is dangerous, but certainly won’t actually help make WhatsApp any better at all.

Emails from WhatsApp

Emails are dodgy enough. Emails plus WhatsApp are even dodgier.

There’s a range of scams out there that send people emails that look like they’ve come from WhatsApp, usually looking like a notification for a missed voice call or voicemail. But when people click through, they end up getting scammed – either by being tricked into giving over their information or through other means.

Don’t ever click on an email from a questionable sender. And WhatsApp will never send you emails including information about missed calls or voicemails.

Any you do get should be ignored and send to the junk.

Fake WhatsApp spying apps

It’s just not possible to let people spy on other’s conversations on WhatsApp – or at least it shouldn’t be – because the company has end-to-end encryption enabled, which makes sure that messages can only be read by the phones that send and receive them. But the possibility of reading other people’s chats seems very exciting – so exciting that it’s being used for scams.

The apps at their best encourage people to download something that isn’t actually real. At their worst they encourage people to pay money for fake users, install malware, or actually do read your chats once they’ve got onto your phone.

You won’t be able to read anyone else’s chats, unless you actually have their phone. But the makers of spy apps might be able to read yours.

Intruders on your conversations

And this isn’t so much a hoax as a continual worry. WhatsApp is in fact a very secure platform – that’s why many of these things come as messages rather than viruses or anything else – but there are issues.
Last month, when Amnesty said that the app was the safest chat app, security experts rushed to point out that there is actually a range of security problems. Those include the fact that the company is getting increasingly trigger happy about handing data over to its users, and also that its encryption can be got around in various ways.

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Social Media Analytics, Meet Big Brother

November 2, 2016

The American Civil Liberties Union recently uncovered evidence that led Twitter, Facebook and its Instagram subsidiary to stop sharing data with Geofeedia, a firm accused of improperly collecting social media data on protest groups, and sharing that information with numerous law enforcement agencies.

Geofeedia, a developer of location-based analytics, had been marketing its technology to law enforcement agencies. It was used for such purposes as monitoring Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, according to the ACLU.

The ACLU of Northern California uncovered the practice after requesting public records information from 63 law enforcement agencies in California.

The documents revealed that Instagram had provided Geofeedia access to streams of user posts, called the “Instagram API,” until that practice was terminated last month, according to Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties policy attorney for the ACLU of Northern California.

The data also shows that Facebook provided Geofeedia access to its Topic Feed API, which is supposed to be used for media and branding purposes, according to the ACLU. The API gave the firm access to a ranked feed of public posts that mention a specific topic.
API Access

Geofeedia had access to the Facebook’s API source information, said Facebook spokesperson Jodi Seth.

Using APIs the way Geofeedia did is a “violation of our platform policies, which prohibit the sale or transfer of data,” she told TechNewsWorld.

“This developer only had access to data that people chose to make public,” Facebook said in a statement. “Its access was subject to the limitations in our Platform Policy, which outlines what we expect from developers that receive data using the Facebook Platform. If a developer uses our APIs in a way that has not been authorized, we will take swift action to stop them and we will end our relationship altogether if necessary.”

Facebook terminated Geofeedia’s access to its APIs last month, after learning about the infractions, Seth said.

While not providing access to its Firehose technology, Twitter did allow a subsidiary to provide Geofeedia with searchable access to public tweets, the ACLU said.

Twitter earlier this year added contract language designed to protect users against further surveillance techniques, the organization noted.

Based on information in the ACLU report, Twitter suspended @Geofeedia’s commercial access to Twitter data.

The ACLU’s Cagle acknowledges in a post on the organization’s site that “neither Facebook nor Instagram has a public policy specifically prohibiting developers from exploiting user data for surveillance purposes,” Twitter spokesperson Nu Wexler pointed out to TechNewsWorld.

The ACLU post goes on to say that “Twitter does have a ‘longstanding rule’ prohibiting the sale of user data for surveillance as well as a developer policy that bans the use of Twitter data to ‘investigate, track or surveil Twitter users.'”

Twitter this spring cut off U.S. intelligence agencies from access to Dataminr, a firm that scans social media activity for information on potential terrorist attacks and political unrest, Wexler noted, pointing to a Wall Street Journal story published in May.

Targeted Protesters

Facebook severed its agreement with Geofeedia because it violated Facebook’s data-sharing policies, noted Brandi Collins, campaign director of Color of Change, which had joined the ACLU and the Center for Justice in making the document request.

Facebook’s decision to abandon the agreement suggests that the methods Geofeedia was employing were illegal, Collins told TechNewsWorld.

“More broadly, we should be concerned that police departments are wasting critical public resources on monitoring the social media profiles of the people in their communities, they’re supposed to be protecting,” she said.

“Geofeedia brags about its success monitoring protesters in Ferguson,” Collins remarked, “but how does tracking people who are protesting police killings of unarmed black people make any of us safe?”

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Google’s ad tracking is as creepy as Facebook’s. Here’s how to disable it

October 26, 2016

Google in June deleted a clause in its privacy settings that said it would not combine cookie information with personal information without consent.
ince Google changed the way it tracks its users across the internet in June 2016, users’ personally identifiable information from Gmail, YouTube and other accounts has been merged with their browsing records from across the web.

An analysis of the changes conducted by Propublica details how the company had previously pledged to keep these two data sets separate to protect individuals’ privacy, but updated its privacy settings in June to delete a clause that said “we will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent”.

ProPublica highlights that when Google first made the changes in June, they received little scrutiny. Media reports focused on the tools the company introduced to allow users to view and manage ad tracking rather than the new powers Google gained.

DoubleClick is an advertising serving and tracking company that Google bought in 2007. DoubleClick uses web cookies to track browsing behaviour online by their IP address to deliver targeted ads. It can make a good guess about your location and habits, but it doesn’t know your true identity.
Google, on the other hand, has users’ (mostly) real names, email accounts and search data.

At the time of the acquisition, a number of consumer groups made a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission arguing that bringing these data sets together would represent a huge invasion of privacy, giving the company access to more information about the internet activities of consumers than any other company in the world.

Sergey Brin reassured privacy campaigners, saying: “Overall, we care very much about end-user privacy, and that will take a number one priority when we talk about advertising products.”

In 2012, Google made a controversial update to its privacy policy to allow it to share data about users between different Google services, but it kept DoubleClick separate.

In practice, this means that Google can now, if it wanted to, build up even richer profiles of named individuals’ online activity. It also means that the DoubleClick ads that follow people on the web could be personalized based on the keywords that individuals use in Gmail.

Google isn’t the first company to track individuals in this way. Facebook has been tracking logged-in users (and even non-users) by name across the internet whenever they visit websites with Facebook “like” or “share” buttons.

Google says that the change is optional and is aimed at giving people better control over their data.

“Google is actually quite late to this game. By now, most of the websites you visit are already sharing your activity with a wide network of third parties who share, collaborate, link and de-link personal information in order to target ads,” said Jules Polonetsky from Future of Privacy Forum.

“Some users may appreciate relevant advertising, many others may not. What’s critical is that there are easy ways for those who want to avoid the more robust types of data targeting to be able to take easy steps to do so.”
Technology companies argue that such tracking allows them to deliver much more targeted, relevant advertising across the internet. Paul Ohm from the Center of Privacy and Technology at Georgetown law school told Propublica that the fact that Google kept personally identifiable information and DoubleClick data separate was “a really significant last stand”.

“It was a border wall between being watched everywhere and maintaining a tiny semblance of privacy. That wall has just fallen.”

A Google spokeswoman said that its advertising system had been designed before the smartphone revolution, and that the update in June made it easier for users to control their ad preferences across multiple devices.

The company says that more than one billion Google users have accessed the ‘My Account’ settings that let them control how their data is used.

“Before we launched this update, we tested it around the world with the goal of understanding how to provide users with clear choice and transparency,” Google said. “As a result, it is 100% optional – if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged. Equally important: we provided prominent user notifications about this change in easy-to-understand language as well as simple tools that let users control or delete their data.”

Users that don’t want to be tracked in this way can visit the activity controls section of their account page on Google, unticking the box marked “Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services”.

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Health Canada breaches Indigenous patients’ privacy, MDs say

October 11, 2016

Northern Ontario doctors say there is double standard in privacy protection for First Nations people
By Jody Porter, CBC News Posted: Oct 10, 2016 7:00 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 10, 2016 9:57 AM ET

‘What are they doing with the data?’ Dr. Mike Kirlew spoke to a Parliamentary committee earlier this year about his concern over the detailed diagnostic information Health Canada collects about First Nations patients.
‘What are they doing with the data?’ Dr. Mike Kirlew spoke to a Parliamentary committee earlier this year about his concern over the detailed diagnostic information Health Canada collects about First Nations patients. (CBC )

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More than 20 doctors in northwestern Ontario say they will stop following Health Canada policy starting Tuesday, because of concerns over their patients’ privacy.

For years doctors who provide care for First Nations people in remote reserves have been required to provide Health Canada clerks with detailed diagnostic information about their patients for the patients to access medical travel grants.

The doctors say that is an invasion of privacy and leads to a situation where an anonymous clerk at Health Canada can deny access to care.

“I don’t like the fact there could be a list somewhere in Ottawa of all the First Nations people who are medically incapacitated,” said Dr. Mike Kirlew of Sioux Lookout.

Health Canada demands details

Health Canada requires the detailed diagnostic information under the federal non-insured health benefits program that covers First Nations people for drugs, dental and vision care and other benefits not covered by provincial health insurance. Health Canada clerks regularly ask for a patient’s condition when Dr. Kirlew has requested travel for a patient to see a specialist or undergo a diagnostic procedure, he said.
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“They’re not part of the circle of care,” Kirlew said. “What are they doing with that data?”

The patients Kirlew and the other doctors serve live in isolated First Nations where there are no hospitals and no resident doctors. Denying travel for them is denying access to health care, Kirlew said.

The Northern Physicians group wrote a letter to Health Minister Jane Philpott on Sept. 30, outlining their concerns and signalling their intention to stop following Health Canada policies as of Oct. 11.

Health Canada is responsible for the health needs of First Nations people living on reserve in Ontario.

Provincial health travel grants in Ontario require only a doctor’s signature with no further requirement to reveal private medical information, Dr. Kirlew said. But provincial travel grants would not cover the cost of flights from remote First Nations communities.

Double standard

There is also a double standard when it comes to assistance to pay for prescription drugs — Health Canada requires more private information than the provincial drug benefit system, he said.

The root of the problem, according to the northern doctors, is that First Nations people have fewer protections under the Federal Privacy Act than people covered by the provincial Personal Health Information Protection Act, which has much tighter controls on patient information.

NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose Timmins-James Bay riding includes several First Nations, wrote to the federal privacy commissioner about the doctors’ concerns on Thursday.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable that we could have a situation where the relationship between a doctor and a patient could be interfered with and undermined and overridden by some bureaucrat in Ottawa who decides they’ll save money by just denying treatment,” Angus said in an interview with CBC News.

For both Dr. Kirlew and Angus, the privacy issue is just one example of discrimination against Indigenous people within the Canadian health care system.

“How many other provincial safeguards are missing on reserve?” Kirlew asks. “There is so much jurisdictional ambiguity.”

A spokesperson for the Health Minister says she is aware of the doctors’ concerns and working to address them.

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