Blown To Bits

All the news on the privacy front

Thursday, May 20th, 2010 by Harry Lewis

Lots of news items today on the privacy front.

The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in England has launched a remarkably aggressive campaign to unwind the ubiquitous surveillance that was put in place through the years of the Labour government. The deputy prime minister refers to a “culture of spying on its citizens” and says “It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding citizens get treated as if they have got something to hide.” In the U.S. the politics of surveillance seem to be the reverse of the attitudes in England. Here it is the left that complains about the violations of individual liberty occasioned by surveillance, either governmental or commercial, and it is the right that defends surveillance, either as an aid to law enforcement and national defense, or as a free exercise of unrestrained capitalism.

Here, thanks to Larry Denenberg, is a terrific CBS News segment on the privacy risks due to copy machines, which in the modern era are nothing more than scanners attached to computers — with hard drives. Those hard drives hold huge amounts of data, which doesn’t get deleted between jobs. Just as in the case we report in Blown to Bits about the data that can be recovered from the hard drives of used personal computers, a LOT can be recovered from the disk drives of used copiers. I feel rather foolish that this never occurred to me. What happens to your office copier when it breaks down and is replaced, or worse, is traded in for a newer model? Do years of office documents go with it, unencrypted? Among the more interesting things about this video is the revelation that there actually is a proper auto-delete feature available on Sharp copiers — a few extra lines of code for an extra $500, which is about the price of an entire PC today, with Windows installed.

Thanks to Hanspeter Pfister for pointing me to this terrific graphic on how Facebook’s privacy policies have become weaker over the years, and this site that helps you check and modify your own Facebook privacy settings. The New York Times graphic from a few days ago on Facebook privacy also is worth a thousand words (or 5,830, which is actually how long Facebook’s privacy policy now is).

Finally — I was on Emily Rooney’s Greater Boston show last night with Tim Wong, until recently of the Berkman Center, talking about the backlash against Facebook’s new privacy model.

One Response to “All the news on the privacy front”

  1. Jess Austin Says:

    Viewing the NYT graphic, I was struck by the superiority of hierarchical configuration like that implemented by Apache httpd and Zope. Sure, FB can imagine a use case for each particular vector in that humongous config space, but it would be MUCH more user friendly to have the “five suboptions” settable at the account level, with all sublevels inheriting those options unless the user intentionally indicates otherwise. The usability gurus wouldn’t be totally satisfied with such a solution for FB, but they’d certainly see it as an improvement from now.