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Facebook Plans for WhatsApp Stumble on EU Privacy Concerns

November 30, 2016

Facebook Inc.’s stalled plans to leverage WhatsApp’s user data are about to hit another regulatory bump in Europe.

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, who heads a panel of Europe’s privacy watchdogs, said Facebook will probably face “additional action” over using WhatsApp’s data for its own advertising purposes when the group of regulators meets next month. Facebook has stopped merging some of the messaging service’s data with its own, but not necessarily all of it, she said.

“Looking at the evidence we have, the companies have stopped merging data but possibly not for all WhatsApp services,” Falque-Pierrotin, who also heads France’s data privacy authority CNIL, said in an interview in Paris. “It’s probably a bit more complicated than that.”

Facebook already suspended its policy shift after European privacy regulators warned last month they had “serious concerns” about the sharing of WhatsApp user data for purposes that weren’t included in the terms of service and privacy policy when people signed up to the service. But Facebook’s response to the letter needs a much closer look, said Falque-Pierrotin.

The merging of WhatsApp’s data is the first step by Facebook toward monetizing the platform since the social network’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg bought the company for about $22 billion in 2014. The EU’s 28 privacy commissioners, who meet regularly as the so-called Article 29 Working Party, coordinated their actions against Facebook and in their October letter urged the Menlo Park, California-based technology giant to better explain its plans.

“We told them that such a merging of data is not necessarily welcomed,” said Falque-Pierrotin.

In a statement, Facebook said WhatsApp’s privacy policy and terms updates comply with the law, and explain clearly how the service works and choices regarding how personal data is used.

“The updates also comply with applicable law and guidelines issued by EU regulators,” said Facebook, adding that it hopes to continue conversations with European regulators and remains “open to working collaboratively to address their questions.”

Single Entry
Using WhatsApp’s data combined with its own is important to Facebook because it lets the company offer advertisers a single entry into its several platforms — in other words, improved efficiency, said EMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. But it’s also an opening into new business opportunities, because cross-analyzing data gives advertisers ammunition to better target users on each platform, she said.
“There’s always the specter of regulation when it comes to targeted advertising, privacy is always lurking in the background as a serious concern,” Williamson said. “Anything that happens on WhatsApp could trickle into the rest of Facebook as it tries to put the data from all its services into one giant data warehouse.”

The companies’ August announcement also triggered renewed questions from the EU’s antitrust watchdog, who had cleared the takeover deal two years earlier.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has warned that personal data gathered by searches and online behavior helps pay for web services that people think of as free. Antitrust regulators might see problems if a company holds data that can’t be duplicated by anyone else.

Facebook’s recent suspension of cross-platform sharing of personal data throughout the EU “might be seen as a watershed moment” in European privacy law and regulation, said David Cantor, a Brussels-based lawyer at Telecommunications Law & Strategy. “This, however, is a provisional position, which ensued in reaction to multiple national objections and expressions of concern.”


The case shows that “the only way to address these big companies” is to coordinate actions across Europe, Falque-Pierrotin said.

Since privacy regulators began collaborating in Europe, Falque-Pierrotin said she’s seen “a real change in the behavior of U.S. technology companies with the EU group and national data protection authorities.”

While European watchdogs’ fining powers remain minimal, in some cases even nonexistent, new EU-wide rules will take effect in 2018 that could boost sanctions by any of the bloc’s national regulators to as much as 4 percent of a company’s global annual sales. The rules have also killed once and for all the argument that European privacy laws don’t apply to U.S. companies, said Falque-Pierrotin.

“That argument is dead and the last word’s been said about how seriously these companies should take European privacy laws,” she said. “But this still needs patience. The stakes are extremely high for the companies and I understand that they’re fighting this with tooth and nail.”

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Why we should worry about WhatsApp accessing our personal information Elizabeth Denham

November 21, 2016

Jenny always uses Facebook carefully. She knows the company probably knows more about her than most of her friends – the location settings might show she spent time in hospital last week, for instance – but she’s careful with what she posts. Her WhatsApp is similar. Nothing too sensitive. But the app does have access to her phone contacts, so could see the number of her counsellor, and of the addiction clinic she’s been in touch with. If those two sets of data were put side by side, Jenny’s personal, private information suddenly wouldn’t seem quite so private.

That’s the worry that many could be facing as a result of Facebook’s decision to co-opt some of the data of WhatsApp customers. It’s a worry I share. I don’t think people have been given enough information about what Facebook plans to do with WhatsApp users’ data, and that’s left people concerned about how extensive the data sharing could be. And I don’t think users have been given enough control over what’s happening.

My office has asked both companies to pause what they’re doing, which they have, and we’ve asked them to commit to doing things differently, which so far they have not.

Consumers are protected by the law. The Data Protection Act requires businesses to use people’s information fairly, and in this case that means telling them what is happening. What’s more, we’re clear that WhatsApp needs to get its users’ permission to use the data in some of the ways it plans to, and the “are you happy with our new terms and conditions?” option it has taken so far doesn’t do that.

Clearly our work here is ongoing. As it stands, unless you opt out of data sharing within the first 30 days, the only option if you’re not happy is to delete your account. As a Canadian living in Cheshire who uses WhatsApp to stay in touch with my kids, I know from personal experience how impractical that is.

We all rely on digital services for important parts of our lives. But these apps create rich portraits of who we are, even when we are careful what we post, and the companies have legal responsibilities to treat that data with proper care and respect.

There’s always a concern when personal data becomes an asset to be bought and sold
Of course we could all be more careful ourselves. Most of us would benefit from a quick audit of what access we’re giving to our apps: are location settings turned on? Does it really need access to our contacts? Using the highest privacy settings when you first create a profile, then gradually adjusting them as you feel comfortable is always a good rule of thumb.

In some cases we’re happy to accept making information available. We can appreciate that to get a good service – to get a free service – we sometimes have to share our data. That’s our entry fee, and so long as it’s clear what information is being gathered, and what it’s being used for, then that’s fine.

But what about Jenny’s problem? We might be happy with the data deal we’ve agreed with one service, happy with the deal with a second, but not happy when the two services come together.

This is a growing problem. There’s a clear trend of technology companies buying up smaller services specifically to access their customers’ information. Social media companies are of particular value here. There’s always a concern when personal data becomes an asset to be bought and sold. That concern is greater still when the value of a merger is based primarily on how a company thinks they can match up customer details they’re buying with customer details they hold themselves.

Don’t let WhatsApp nudge you into sharing your data with Facebook
The difficulty with digital services is that because we’re so invested in them, we become dependent on a service that we can’t always easily extricate ourselves from. As big companies buy up their competitors, are there realistic alternative services out there? And even if I can find an alternative messaging service to WhatsApp, that only works for me if my friends and family move service too. In those situations, we need to have better protections for consumers.

And that’s just the consumer angle. Do these deals cause ripples of concern among diplomats and politicians, who are said to rely on tools like WhatsApp?

It’s a problem that overlaps data protection and competition law. We need to start thinking more about the obligations that follow personal data, and how people are being protected. If a company makes a promise, then that promise needs to be honoured, irrespective of corporate manoeuvres.

A successful digital economy is important to us all. The economy wants the jobs it brings, the companies want the profits it offers, and we all want the services that make our lives easier. But the whole building begins to crumble if the foundations aren’t secure. If people feel they are losing control of information that profiles entire aspects of their lives, that should be a very real concern.

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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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Snapchat, Skype, BBM not protecting users’ privacy, says Amnesty International

October 21, 2016

CBC News Posted: Oct 20, 2016 8:01 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 21, 2016 2:37 PM ET

More than 100 million people use Snapchat every day. Amnesty International says the service does not do enough to ensure its users’ privacy, putting its mostly young users at risk. Major messaging services like Snapchat, Skype and BlackBerry’s BBM are not taking basic steps to ensure privacy, according to Amnesty International. The organization said this failure has serious human rights repercussions since it leaves users, and particularly activists, vulnerable to spying from cybercriminals and government agencies.

“If you think instant messaging services are private, you are in for a big surprise,” Sherif Elsayed-Ali, the head of Amnesty International’s technology and human rights team, said in a news release. “Young people, the most prolific sharers of personal details and photos over apps like Snapchat, are especially at risk,” he added.
Skype does not offer encryption for its messaging at all, while Facebook Messenger does on its new ‘secret’ service. (Patrick Sison/Associated Press)

The organization conducted a privacy assessment of the most popular messaging apps in the world. Some of the other apps included in the report are Facebook’s messaging service and WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage and Facetime, Google’s Allo, Duo and Hangouts, Tencent’s QQ and Wechat, and Telegram.

Facebook and Apple scored the highest for having the best security. China-based Tencent came in last, with Blackberry and Snapchat also bringing up the rear.
Encryption should be ‘minimum requirement’

Amnesty’s main concern with many of the services is that they do not have what’s known as end-to-end encryption set as the default.

End-to-end encryption is considered secure because only the people communicating with each other can read a message. Encryption scrambles data and therefore blocks anyone who may try to intercept or surreptitiously read a message (unless they peer over a person’s shoulder).

In some cases, like with BlackBerry, end-to-end encryption is only offered as a paid service. It’s not offered at all on Snapchat, Skype (owned by Microsoft), or on Tencent’s apps.

Amnesty says this should be considered a “minimum requirement” and not just a nice add-on for tech companies.
More than 100 million people use Snapchat every day, and two billion people use Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

The companies were also ranked on how transparent they are when it comes to communicating their security policies to users.

While some companies say they take security seriously, their actions say otherwise.

“Although it has a strong policy commitment towards privacy, in practice [Snapchat] does not do enough to protect its users’ privacy,” said Amnesty International.

‘Secret’ Facebook messages

Facebook scored highest because WhatsApp deploys end-to-end encryption as a default. The company also recently rolled out its new “secret” messages feature which uses end-to-end encryption. But Facebook’s Messenger, when not in “secret” mode, does not encrypt messages.

Apple also scored well because it provides encryption on iMessage and Facetime. But the Amnesty report said the company needs to do more to ensure its users know that SMS messages are less secure than iMessages, which are between two iMessage users.

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SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 24:  Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, delivers his keynote address at the CTIA WIRELESS I.T. & Entertainment 2007 conference October 24, 2007 in San Francisco, California. The confernence is showcasing the lastest in mobile technology and will run through October 25.  (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images)

Facebook Hoax News & Update: Re-Posting Or Sharing Post Doesn’t Protect Your Privacy

October 17, 2016

Facebook is the most popular social media site today. In fact, if you meet someone, chances are high that you will not separate without asking the other person his or her FB account, so you can add him or her to your Facebook friend list. The only downsize with social media site like FB is risking your privacy.

There have been several cases of scandal and controversial posts in Facebook that are meant to be private but have leaked to the public. These FB controversies include nude photos and indecent videos that are meant to be private. Unfortunately, their Facebook account was hacked and their private posts became a threat.

In other cases, some Facebook Users are blackmailed by their exes on FB after an ugly break up. Others are blackmailed by strangers for monetary purposes. Sharing posts on Facebook is very easy and in one click, one’s reputation is at stake.

For years, there are posts making a wave on Facebook that at one time, all your FB posts will be public, unless you copy and paste a certain message and post it on your wall. To make the matter worse, it gives Facebook users a timeline when they should share the said post, otherwise, all their posts will be public and that means goodbye privacy.

However, per Inquisitr, this Facebook post is bogus. Copying and pasting a certain post and sharing it on your FB wall don’t guarantee safety. Your account will always be at risk and you should never put any controversial and indecent posts on your Facebook account, regardless of the privacy setting.

When you open your Facebook account in a public internet cafe, you risk yourself. When you leave your laptop in public while your FB account is online to chit chat with your friend, you risk yourself. So be a responsible Facebook user. You can also filter Facebook hoax reports in the setting.

Aside from keeping yourself away from those deceitful copy-and-paste Facebook posts, you should also be conscious of what you read on the site. There is a number of celebrity death hoax on FB that are wrongly shared a thousand times. Be a responsible Facebook user and don’t share wrong and deceitful posts. Most of all make it a rule to never put anything on your FB account that you don’t want the public to know.

The latest version of a Facebook privacy hoax claims the entire user’s post will become public unless one reposts the same message.

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