Friday, May 28, 2010

Tracking of Internet Browser Activity

Web surfing creates a unique fingerprint on browsers that can be traced to nearly 84 percent of users, according to research from the Electronic Frontier Foundation released Monday.

The EFF reached its conclusion via its Panopticlick experiment site which has sampled nearly a million user fingerprints to date since Jan. 27th, 2010. Participants simply click on a red dot and are given a uniqueness score based on the amount of information their browser shares with other sites. A statistical and mathematical breakdown is provided for the empirically driven crowd.

While certain variables may cause unique fingerprints to change or become unstable over time, the EFF determined that in general, user identification remains "overwhelmingly trackable," creating serious "implications both for privacy policy and technical design."

The advocacy group suggests policymakers realize the importance of browser uniqueness and determine limits for the association of online identities to sensitive data. How soon or how serious policymakers take this recommendation remains to be seen. However, the site does make the dangers of Internet tracking tangible and even, fun to learn about.

The EFF also provides tips on its experimental site for users to protect themselves and lessen the chances of involuntarily giving away personal information.

Although the science and technical jargon of the experiment may be much for the average Web user to fully comprehend, the conclusion is not -- following someone and knowing everything about their online habits is rapidly becoming easier for companies as well as anyone interested.

In fact, Google and Facebook are in the news again for releasing usernames and other personal information collected from users to advertisers. Google's Street View cars, which made headlines last week after the company admitted the fleet inadvertently picked up data, also admitted accidentally recording people's Internet activity. Short blurbs worth, but still another method of tracking a browser history and more fodder for political battles over privacy both in America and overseas.

Experienced Internet Attorneys can provide counsel to individuals as well as companies regarding consumer internet privacy issues.

Authored by Taren Fujimoto.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Family Based Social Networking - Pros and Cons.

Gigaom released a video interview Tuesday with CEO Mandeep S. Dhillon about his new family-oriented social networking site Togetherville.



Currently in open beta, Togetherville is intended for children ages six to 10, through 13, and their parents. With an interface similar to Facebook, kids can express themselves through educational games, art, and music. Children and parents are required to use their real identities (although not searchable via search engines) and friend only people they know and trust in real life. Also, the parents are the ones in control of who the children can friend.

Some pros of the site include the real life social network, the relatively safe environment, and parental control while teaching children how to effectively and positively network online. The site is an interesting concept, however, parents can only control their kids' social networking behavior for so long before they branch out to Facebook or any other mature networking site.

Whether the site breeds a generation of positive and careful social networkers remains highly doubtful. However, it does add another means of socialization and learning amongst families and close peers. Internet attorneys will be focusing upon the implications of social networking targeting a younger and more innocent audience.

Authored by Taren Fujimoto, edited by Erik Syverson.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Social Media Presents Issues for Employers and Employees

It's common sense to not to rant about a co-worker, boss, the company you work for, much less post your livid complaints on a social networking site or sites for the world and your said co-worker/boss/company to see. But of course, some miss the simple message or just don't care enough to cover their tracks. Hence the eventual firing or workplace drama.

Employment at-will, basically states that "in the absence of employment contracts (such as collective bargaining agreements) that indicate otherwise, employers generally may fire employees for any reasons, no reasons and even unfair reasons, as long as they are not illegal reasons." Most states are at-will states and can fire employees for almost any reason except "federally protected classes such as race, gender and religion. In other words, you can legally be fired or disciplined for posting anything deemed negative or inappropriate by your employer, even if it's a joke.

While one-fourth of companies disciplined an employee for inappropriate social media usage, only 10 percent have a policy addressing social network sites, according to a 2009 survey of nearly 800 private and public employers by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics and the Health Care Compliance Association. In addition, the results showed workplace monitoring of online activity is underdeveloped.

While most companies are struggling to deal with the explosion of social media outbursts and may take awhile to develop specific company policies, don't think that you're safe.

Think about the situation logically before you tweet your latest lament. It's your place of employment, where you get paid to do a job, which doesn't include changing your status to all the reasons why you're boss is an evil hack. Expressing yourself is likely not as important as keeping your job. For employers, contact a lawyer experienced in the legal issues related to social media. It may be wise for employers to set social media policies to avoid unfair or uneven employee discipline.

Authored by Taren Fujimoto and Erik Syverson.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Google Maps Leeks Private Info on WIFI Networks

A code which mistakenly sampled public WiFi data forced Google to ground its fleet of Street View cars -- meant to collect information for Google Maps and other location-based programs indefinitely, according to the company's official blog last Friday.

Written in 2006 for a separate WiFi experiment and programmed into the cars, the code inadvertently picked up snippets of unencrypted data as the vehicles drove by. Granted, the stream of information changed about five times per second, however, the cars still retained the collected data. Google is being audited by a third-party company and is figuring out how to dispose of the information based on local guidelines.

While Google's quick fess up was commendable considering the recent flack it's been receiving for privacy flubs, it does paint a tale of caution for Internet users who don't use secure and/or password-protected networks. In exchange for using free WiFi (whether from a cafe or your neighbor's gracious generosity) you could be giving up sensitive and personal information to any random creeper -- not just a multibillion dollar corporation being scrutinized and held responsible by the public and private sectors. Luckily Google is getting rid of the information ASAP (or so it claims), but you never know who's collecting data over public WiFi and what purpose they intend to use it for.

It also begs the question of whether Google should continue its quest to map out the world via Google Maps and other programs. While a simple mistake (or series of mistakes) may render the project a no-go and a huge danger/negative in the public opinion, there is something to be said about the educational and informational benefits such detailed programs provide -- such as guiding drivers through a tricky part of town, or showing people a part of the world they could never afford to go to. Internet law expert attorneys will continue to monitor the progress of programs such as Google Maps.

This post authored by Taren Fujimoto. Edited by Erik Syverson.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Geotagging Might Be Dangerous

Within one week of its Feb. 17, 2010, launch, Pleaserobme.com, a site dedicated to raising awareness about over sharing personal information, garnered more than 100,000 tweets, one million unique site visitors, and four million searches on Google.com, according to the site.

Created by concept and idea factory Forthehack, the
controversial project aggregates Twitter updates of people who use geolocation technology to let followers know where they are. It may not seem like a bad idea as the site essentially collects and shares information made public by its creators, but it does point out (by process of elimination and common sense) that those specific users are not home. Basically, advertising prime opportunities for followers to rob them, or at least rummage through their homes.

Forthehack says its only aim is to make people think about sharing certain information, which in its opinion, should be private, and build its brand through means of small hacks, the first of which is Pleaserobme.com.

A recent article on the Citizen Media Law Project suggests that Pleaserobme.com may present a new test of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230(c)(1) provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an "interactive computer service" who publish information provided by others. In other words: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

This is potentially great news for Forthehack, knowing the law more or less weights in its favor. Under this pretense, they can get their message (and other future messages) across without being held liable for placing shared, public information into a thoughtful and ultimately innovative context.

There is an explosion of content aggregation sites out there. Many, such as Pleaserobme.com, populate sites by crawling and indexing social networking sites like Twitter.com. If you pay attention to most social networking terms of use, many expressly prohibit such data aggregation and compilation. Whether Twitter or Facebook would ever sue such companies is doubtful, since Twitter and Facebook presumably already engage in such behavior or would like the option to do so in the future.

Internet lawyers will be struggling with section 230 and the extent of its grant of immunity as it relates to data aggregation sites and social networking sites for many years to come.

Content contributed in part by Taren Fujimoto.