Google Maps Coordinate Lets Bosses Spy on Subordinates

I am unsure of what Google actually thinks it is doing with all of these tracking tools. I am also very unsure of the people who actually buy into the “it makes jobs easier, man!” argument that tags along with one of these revolutionary products of Google. However, no amount of privacy advocates’ rhetoric and powerful written oratory removes Google’s resolve to make more and more of these privacy-killing tools.

The latest from Google is Google Maps Coordinate. It is a little bit like Latitude, except, it is always on (more or less) and works inside buildings where, usually, Global Positioning System (GPS) cannot detect the device that it is receiving transmission from.

Google claims that for $15 per month per employee, Coordinate will allow for rapid tracking and deployment of groups of people wherever they are needed. Daniel Chu, Google’s Senior Product Manager said:-

“Imagine you are a call centre operator at an electric utility company. A call comes in reporting a downed powerline in one of the northern suburbs of your city, and an entire neighbourhood is without power. You need to quickly dispatch one of your line repairers to the site, which is almost an hour away. To save time and get the power back up quickly, you want to know which line repairers are already in the area and send them the relevant information about the job. That’s where Google Maps Coordinate comes in.”

So, yes, it helps makes things easier, but at what cost? Chu also said that the workers will be able to turn off tracking as and when they require – for example, while they are at lunch or something of that sort. But turning it off at any time kind of beats the point, does it not? Given a choice, I would keep that thing turned off at all times.

Currently Google Maps Coordinate is Android only, with an iOS version planned for the next year.

Collusion from Mozilla Shows How You Are Being Tracked on the Web

The explosion of personalized web has pretty much clobbered online privacy to its death bed. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, someone or the other is tracking your surfing habits. The worst part is that this practice has become so rampant that most of us have come to accept online tracking as standard affair. Mozilla has been trying to tackle the problem of behavioural tracking on the web for quite some time. Couple of years back, it introduced the “Do Not Track” header, which has already been adopted by Internet Explrer, Safari, and Opera. Now, Mozilla has released an experimental add-on to showcase how personal data is being tracked across the web.

Earlier this month, Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla Corporation, unveiled Collusion. Collusion is a Firefox extension that visualizes the spider-web of interaction between websites and third-party trackers that often track you without your explicit permission. Collusion is essentially a reporting tool whose purpose is to make netizens realize just how grave the situation is. Here’s how my Collusion graph after a brief ten minute browsing session involving Techie-Buzz, TechCrunch, Mashable, and BBC.



My Collusion graph is peppered with third-party tracking website that I never explicitly browsed to. Personalized web isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can increase engagement, reduce user frustration, and improve productivity. However, the mad rush of advertisers to track users without their knowledge and permission is something that is deeply worrying. Kovacs very righty remarked that “with every click of the mouse and every touch of the screen, we are like Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs of our personal information everywhere we travel through the digital woods”.

[ Download Collusion for Firefox ]

Twitter Enables Do Not Track Support

When on one hand Facebook is finding ways to track its users and is gathering their personal information aggressively, Twitter is going the opposite direction with a Do Not Track feature that will let users opt out of cookies that gather personal information. The personal data collected from users is used to display relevant advertisements.


Twitter was in news a few days ago, over a privacy related case, where a court wanted it to hand over the user’s private tweets and Twitter stood up for the First Amendment right of the charged victim. With these two privacy protection incidents, Twitter is setting a new code of conduct for companies that hold massive amounts of user data, and it is a good sign.

Twitter has had a hard time monetizing the vast microblogging empire it has set up, and it has only been two years that Twitter is getting some juice out of its machinery. With ethical acts like this, Twitter has proven time and again that it has its priorities set right, and that users and their privacy comes first.

With privacy becoming a concern, more and more people are getting aware of tracking and user-data-collection policies. All modern browsers have extensions to prevent gathering of personal information and most of them also support the Do Not Track header now. If you are wary of user tracking and want to protect your personal information, you can block tracking scripts using the NoScript Firefox add-on or the Disconnect Google Chrome extension.

(Via: Ars Technica)

Beware of the New Supercookies

An individual’s right to privacy on their computer should be made a law.

Supercookies or flash cookies are not really cookies. They are a method by which your computer is given a unique number that can be read every time you revisit the creator website. They are used by sites like and (as reported by WSJ) to track user activities. Once this invasion of privacy was brought to the notice of these companies, they said that the tracking was unintentional and would be discontinued.

One major issue is that a regular cookie clearing software may be unable to detect and clear these supercookies. Though these supercookies are intrusive, they do not seem to do more than act like unique identifiers for a machine (like cookies). The issue about why companies are storing data, which I cannot delete, on my computer without my permission still requires to be addressed.

These companies may use supercookies for reasons such as determining various patterns of user behavior and so on, but this method of data mining is a balant disregard for an individual’s right of choice about what they can allow to be stored and/or run on their machine by external parties.

Closer to home, Adobe’s Flash Player is another player in this tracking game. Every time you use it, the Flash player writes on your HDD. One clue on the riskiness of this is when we are left performing multiple updates on our Flash players to counter a new bug that the folks at Adobe find in their software every time a new threat is exposed. The issue at this point goes beyond simple privacy and moves into the ‘interference’ domain. These bits of data may cause issues with my computer and may even cause it to be at risk. The problem continues as these super cookies are hard to remove, and when the only way to counter this is by using a new computer every time, it makes it more of an uphill battle.

You can read Fight Identity Theft‘s ‘New Breed of Super Cookie Defies Removal – Almost‘ for details on how to remove flash cookies. Also, you can check how easy it is to identify your browser’s fingerprint using It collects data about your computer using your browser and Javascript to let you know how easily your browser can be identified on the web.

Google’s Expensive Street View Misadventure is One Guy’s Mistake!

Between May 2007 and 2010, Google gobbled up enormous amounts of Wi-Fi data, when it actually set out to capture street-view images. This has been the hottest case of privacy breach in the last decade. For a company that believes in “don’t be evil”, Google made a terrible mistake in doing this. The mishap was discovered by European data-protection authorities. Initially, Google claimed that capturing Wi-Fi data would let it improve location-based services. When under some more pressure, Google jumped in with a clarification, saying it collected only fragments of data. Though finally, in 2010, Google acknowledged that it collected entire payloads from Wi-Fi networks with all kinds of personal data (emails, passwords, internet usage data and alike).

The case has been under investigation, and recently, Google has released an FCC report, where it holds a rogue engineer liable for capturing payload off Wi-Fi networks. The engineer in question wrote a code to capture Wi-Fi data and put it into the Street View code. However, the engineer was not available for talks as he invoked his Fifth Amendment right and refused to comment.

The FCC report also talks of other people at Google who were aware of the intentions of this engineer. The engineer drafted a proposal of his work and presented it to the Street View team in October 2006. Now, managers of the Street View team claim that they never read the document presented to them by the engineer! To add to the confusion, a second engineer who did a peer code review for our rogue engineer’s Street View code found no mechanism to capture Wi Fi data.

Nonetheless, Google has come out of this investigation clean. The FCC declared that Google did not capture Wi Fi data illegally, but fined Google for $25,000 for stalling the investigation.

After thoroughly reviewing the existing record in this investigation and applicable law, the Bureau has decided not to take enforcement action against Google for violation of Section 705(a). There is no Commission precedent addressing the application of Section 705(a) in connection with Wi-Fi communications.

Read the full report on the FCC investigation.

(Via: LA Times)

Microsoft Finally Sees the Evil in CISPA, Backs Out

Earlier this year, a draconian bill called SOPA troubled the Internet for months. After months of protests and pleas, it was finally withdrawn at the last stage. However, that was not the end of it. Now, CISPA has arrived to haunt us. CISPA is a less aggressive version of the SOPA bill that threatens online privacy. It grants unquestionable powers to Internet and telecom companies, allowing them to spy on their users with zero accountability.
CISPA has passed at the House of Representatives, and awaits an approval by the President’s office now. However, President Obama has declared that he will veto the bill.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved CISPA by a 248 to 168 margin yesterday in spite of a presidential veto threat and warnings from some House members that the measure represented “Big Brother writ large”.

Like SOPA, CISPA also saw an array of supporters from big names in the world of technology and just like with SOPA, Microsoft offered the CISPA bill its support earlier. However, in a recent development, Microsoft has decided to back out of support for CISPA. In conversation with CNET, Microsoft said it wants to honor the “privacy and security promises” it makes to its customers.

Dan Auerbach at the EFF appreciates Microsoft’s move, saying-

We’re excited to hear that Microsoft has acknowledged the serious privacy faults in CISPA. We hope that other companies will realize this is bad for users and bad for companies who may be coerced into sharing information with the government.

CISPA is an evil bill. It grants law enforcement agencies powers to spy on people without requiring any provision by the law. This bill puts law enforcement agencies above the law by waiving all privacy laws related to cyber security. This is beyond disastrous. CISPA must be stopped.

Also read: Microsoft’s initial statement of support for CISPA

(Image via)

Facebook Steps Forward to Stop Employers from Asking Candidates’ Passwords

FacebookFacebook has often been criticized for not taking privacy issues seriously. However, for once, it’s being proactive in defending users’ privacy. Earlier in the month, there were disturbing reports that several colleges and companies have begun demanding Facebook passwords during the interview process in the pretext of doing character check. The AP described how Rob MacLeod, a finalist for a police job, was forced to disclose his password to the interviewer. Facebook has now officially reacted to the practice, which was criticized heavily by several groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Facebook is modifying its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to explicitly forbid solicitation or sharing of passwords. Facebook’s announcement also highlights the pitfalls of requesting access to private information from candidates during the hiring process.

We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think its right the thing to do. But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person.

Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, even hinted that Facebook is willing to go beyond changing its policies and issuing advisories if the need arises. “We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges”.

Facebook’s proactive approach needs to be applauded. It’s a refreshing departure from its typical casual approach towards user privacy. However, Facebook also has a lot to lose if the practice of forcing candidates to reveal their passwords catches on. Already, users are becoming more cautious about what they share publicly on Facebook. However, getting candidates to disclose their password bypasses any privacy wall that the user might erect. If it becomes commonplace enough, students and professionals, who form a big chunk of Facebook’s user base, could well be turned off from having a Facebook account.

The White House Crafts A Consumer Bill of Rights for Internet Privacy

The leaders of the United States of America are probably quite a confused lot. First one legislative body drafts up bill after bill that curtails privacy and free speech on the Internet, while the White House issues corporate ‘guidelines’ that increase consumer’s rights to privacy as well as asking the companies to provide opt-out clauses for data collection and analysis.


The Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World document provides clear cut definitions of why privacy is important as a democratic national right.

The White House document basically lays down a good principles path that companies must follow to ensure customer satisfaction and rights are taken care of. Directly from the document:-

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies comprehensive, globally recognized Fair Information
Practice Principles (FIPPs) to the interactive and highly interconnected environment in which
we live and work today. Specifically, it provides for:

Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data
companies collect from them and how they use it.
Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable and accessible information
about privacy and security practices.
Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that companies will collect, use, and
disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers
provide the data.
Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable
formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse
consequences to consumers if the data is inaccurate.
Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that
companies collect and retain.
Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with
appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Personally, it is finally good to see some progress in the line of cyber laws and rights. That too from the country that proposed SOPA and PIPA. What do you guys think?

FBI Disables 3000 GPS Devices after Supreme Court Ruling

Last month, the United States Supreme Court had ordered FBI to turn off all GPS devices that were placed without a warrant.


In accordance with that ruling, FBI has disabled around 3000 GPS devices across United States, reports Wall Street Journal. Quoting Andrew Weissmann, General Counsel of FBI, WSJ states that the order has set a ‘sea change’ inside the Justice Department.

The agency is also considering the implications of the concurring justices – whose arguments were largely based on the idea that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the totality of their movements, even if those movements are in public.

“From a law enforcement perspective, even though it’s not technically holding, we have to anticipate how it’s going to go down the road,” Mr. Weissmann said.

But the issue is not just turning off these devices. FBI is also facing problems in retrieving the GPS devices back after they disabled it. FBI has requested the court to allow them to temporarily turn on the device in order to retrieve it, states Weissmann.

The court order banning the use of warrantless GPS tracking was issued in the case United States vs. Antoine Jones, a case in which, federal agents attached a GPS tracking device to the suspect’s Jeep without a warrant.

All nine Justices of the Supreme Court came to the unanimous conclusion that the Government had violated the fourth amendment.

“The Government’s attachment of the GPS device to the vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. The government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information”, the order said.

You can read the entire ruling here (pdf).

Clear Viewing History and Search History in YouTube

is one of my favorite video players and I usually prefer to listen to my music there. However, like with other Google products, YouTube maintains a history of all the videos you have watched or videos you have searched for to make it easier for you to find and watch those videos again.

Clearing Viewing History in YouTube

Although all of Google’s other products have had an opt-in clause for tracking, YouTube never did or had these options hidden. Although, YouTube is now providing users with an easy option to clear their viewing history as well as their search History along with the ability to pause YouTube from tracking it in their new interface.

Clear Search History YouTube

According to Ghacks, YouTube now has a settings page where you will be able to clear your viewing history and search history along with the ability to pause them from tracking it as well. Users can clear or pause their viewing history by visiting this page and their search history by visiting this page.

Please note that YouTube only tracks history for users if they are logged in with a Google account, so you will have to login to YouTube before you can manage or pause your search or viewing history.