WELCOME to Connected Rights, your flea in the ear of digital rights news and analysis.
Enjoy this newsletter? Forward it to a friend or get them to sign up. I’m David Meyer, aka @superglaze on Twitter and @davidmeyerwrites on Facebook. Don’t forget to check out the Connected Rights website and download a copy of my book, Control Shift: How Technology Affects You and Your Rights. Pari yegak!
GOOGLE IS RELEASING A “SMART DISPLAY” for homes that uses facial recognition to figure out who’s looking at it, so it can show them personalised information. Being aware of privacy concerns, the company is promising that it will only perform the facial recognition on the device, rather than in the cloud – the feature will also not be enabled by default.
At the same time, Google is also merging its Nest division’s data with users’ Google accounts. From the FT‘s account: “For some customers, merging Nest data could include years of information on a family’s comings and goings, home energy usage and security camera video recordings. Google says it will not use that information for advertising. ‘That data will never be used for ads personalisation,’ [Nest chief Richi] Chandra said, before being corrected by a member of Google’s public relations team. ‘We can never say never,’ he added hastily, ‘but the commitment we are making is, it is not being used.'”
Well that’s reassuring.
GOOGLE IS ALSO INTRODUCING NEW DATA-MANAGEMENT features that allow users to set certain data for automatic deletion from their accounts after a specified period of time. The time periods are limited to either three or 18 months – and it’s not entirely clear whether Google will delete the data from its servers – but still, not a bad idea. The feature will come to location history first, then web and app activity.
The company is also introducing more privacy for Google Maps users, who will now be able to use incognito mode to avoid saving their searches or directions to their accounts.
WHAT DOES AMAZON KNOW ABOUT YOU? A lot, if you use it a lot, says Axios – and you may be using it a lot, because Amazon owns a lot of companies these days.
As Ina Fried’s piece explains, the data sources include Amazon itself (what you’ve bought, searched for, added to a wishlist, or just browsed), Kindle (what you’ve read and how much you’ve read of it), security firm Ring (the videos from its cameras), Amazon Video and IMDB (your taste in movies), Goodreads (“a social graph of the service’s bookworm members) and Whole Foods (your grocery list). Oh, and Alexa of course (those inadvertently recorded conversations).
How strange that advertising is one of Amazon’s fastest-growing businesses.
SPAIN’S DATA PROTECTION AUTHORITY HAS PUBLISHED a pair of reports about Android privacy. As Politico’s Mark Scott noted, one report says Android “shares people’s data with Facebook, even when users turn off data-collection for ad purposes. Data sent to Facebook includes people’s location, language and other identifiable information.”
FACEBOOK BANNED A BUNCH OF FAR-RIGHT EXTREMISTS all at once, including Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos. As Motherboard editor Jason Koebler noted on Twitter, Facebook previewed the story to a variety of publications with a set embargo time, which was… weird.
“Facebook has gone [to] great lengths to coddle the right and show there is not some anti-right-wing conspiracy at the company. I can think of no better way of undermining this than banning all the high-profile far-right people on your platform at once with a coordinated media release,” he wrote.
FACEBOOK WOULD LIKE YOU TO TELL IT WHO YOU FANCY, via a feature called Secret Crush. If two users add each other to their Secret Crush lists of up to nine friends, Facebook will reveal their names to each other; if only one party adds the other’s name, and their affection is unrequited, their passion remains secret. From the other person, that is, not from Facebook, which is why this is all kind of crazy.
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN HAS SIGNED the country’s controversial “Internet sovereignty” law, which supposedly prepares it for the event of some foreign power cutting Russia off the wider Internet.
The law will see Russia complete its own Domain Name System and force Internet service providers to install special equipment that allows communications regulator Roskomnadzor to route traffic exclusively through Russian exchange points.
As previously noted, critics say the aim here is to centralise the Russian Internet in a way that makes censorship and surveillance easier. Perish the thought, says the Kremlin.
CHINA’S REPRESSIVE POLICIES IN XINJIANG ARE UNDER the spotlight again, thanks to Human Rights Watch having reverse-engineered a mass-surveillance app used by the police there to flag up Muslims who are seen as posing a threat.
From HRW’s report: “The app’s source code… reveals that the police platform targets 36 types of people for data collection. Those include people who have stopped using smart phones, those who fail to ‘socialize with neighbors,’ and those who ‘collected money or materials for mosques with enthusiasm.’
“The IJOP platform tracks everyone in Xinjiang. It monitors people’s movements by tracing their phones, vehicles, and ID cards. It keeps track of people’s use of electricity and gas stations.
Human Rights Watch found that the system and some of the region’s checkpoints work together to form a series of invisible or virtual fences. People’s freedom of movement is restricted to varying degrees depending on the level of threat authorities perceive they pose, determined by factors programmed into the system.”
WHAT HAPPENS ON WIKIPEDIA WHEN a drawn-out, highly controversial event is taking place? Bitter turf wars, if the Brexit page is anything to go by.
From Wired’s story: “The article’s vast size is the least of its problems. In private, and on discussion pages, editors tell tales of turf wars, sock puppet accounts, and anonymous figures hellbent on stuffing the article with information that supports their point of view… ‘Brexiteer-types frequently complain that the page has an anti-Brexit bias because the page simply covers what credible economic research indicates about the likely impact of Brexit,’ says Snoogans Snoogans, who has made 12 per cent of all the edits on the page… ‘I edit a lot of controversial politics pages and have experienced death threats and attempts to doxx me as a result.'”