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  1. Exclusive: Fearing data privacy issues, Google cuts some Android phone data for wireless carriers NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Alphabet Inc’s Google has shut down a service it provided to wireless carriers globally that showed them weak spots in their network coverage, people familiar with the matter told Reuters, because of Google’s concerns that sharing data from users of its Android phone system might attract the scrutiny of users and regulators. FILE PHOTO: Google signage is seen at Google headquarter in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon The withdrawal of the service, which has not been previously reported, has disappointed wireless carriers that used the data as part of their decision-making process on where to extend or upgrade their coverage. Even though the data were anonymous and the sharing of it has become commonplace, Google’s move illustrates how concerned the company has become about drawing attention amid a heightened focus in much of the world on data privacy. Google’s Mobile Network Insights service, which had launched in March 2017, was essentially a map showing carriers signal strengths and connection speeds they were delivering in each area. The service was provided free to carriers and vendors that helped them manage operations. The data came from devices running Google’s Android operating system, which is on about 75% of the world’s smartphones, making it a valuable resource for the industry. It used data only from users who had opted into sharing location history and usage and diagnostics with Google. The data were aggregated, meaning they did not explicitly link any information to any individual phone user. It included data relating to a carrier’s own service and that of competitors, which were not identified by name. Nevertheless, Google shut down the service in April due to concerns about data privacy, four people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. Some of them said secondary reasons likely included challenges ensuring data quality and connectivity upgrades among carriers being slow to materialize. Google spokeswoman Victoria Keough confirmed the move but declined to elaborate, saying only that changing “product priorities” were behind it. Google’s notice to carriers when it shut down the service did not specify a reason, two of the four people told Reuters. “We worked on a program to help mobile partners improve their networks through aggregated and anonymized performance metrics,” Keough said. “We remain committed to improving network performance across our apps and services for users.” CLOSER SCRUTINY The loss of Google’s service is the latest example of an internet company opting to end a data-sharing service rather than risk a breach or further scrutiny from lawmakers.The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, introduced last year, prohibits companies sharing user data with third parties without users’ explicit consent or a legitimate business reason. U.S. and European lawmakers have stepped up their focus on how tech companies treat user data after a series of large-scale data security failures and the revelation that Facebook Inc improperly shared data on 87 million of its users with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. In April, Google shut down its Video Checkup service from its YouTube operation, which it launched in mid-2017 to let customers in Malaysia compare their provider’s streaming capability in a specific spot with other carriers. YouTube spokeswoman Mariana De Felice cited “relatively low user engagement” with Video Checkup for its retirement, which has not been previously reported. Facebook has begun reviewing data deals with app developers and the four big U.S. wireless carriers recently stopped selling data on customers’ real-time locations to marketers and other firms. WALKING TIGHTROPE Internet companies now walk a tightrope in trying to generate revenue or improve their services by supplying user data to other companies because they risk compromising – or appearing to compromise – data privacy. And companies including Google and Facebook have curtailed access to data by outside companies over the past two years. Google’s Mobile Network Insights service was not the only source of detailed customer data used by carriers to determine where cell tower upgrades are needed, but it was useful because of the sheer volume of Android phones in the market. It was an “independent reference from the horse’s mouth, so you couldn’t get any better than this,” said Mushil Mustafa, a former employee at Dubai-based carrier du. “But the carriers have investment in other tools, obviously.” Facebook offers a similar service, called Actionable Insights. Facebook appears committed to continuing the service but declined to comment when asked. Data-sharing arrangements between tech companies became common over the past decade as the use of smartphones and apps exploded, but what data is collected and how it is shared is not always clear to users. Companies often are not explicit about their data sharing. Google’s data policy that Android users agree to states that it may collect and share network connection quality information. Wireless carriers had not been specifically mentioned as recipients. As users demand greater transparency, what constitutes a violation of consumer trust is not clear. Facebook’s Actionable Insights service for carriers also includes information about users’ gender, age and other characteristics collected from its apps, which helps carriers spot demographic trends to target their marketing, but it does not tie data to specific individuals. “We have publicly announced this program and carefully designed it to protect people’s privacy,” said Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne, in a statement. Google said it shared neither aggregated nor individualized data on user demographics and app usage. The company rejected requests to give equipment vendors any data, it said. Source: Exclusive: Fearing data privacy issues, Google cuts some Android phone data for wireless carriers
  2. To the delight of binge-watchers everywhere, it’s no longer prohibitively expensive to purchase a giant television. And those devices are also getting smarter, with features like voice commands, personalized recommendations, and built-in apps for Netflix and other streaming services. It’s almost impossible to buy a TV without them. The average consumer might ascribe the declining price to a variant of Moore’s law. But this isn’t entirely true. “Right now, you’re paying with your data, but you don’t know the price,” says Casey Oppenheim, CEO of Disconnect, a privacy-focused software company. While most consumers now know the game when they use Facebook (keep in touch with old classmates in exchange for your data) or a smart home assistant (check the weather hands-free in exchange for your data), the exchange is not so transparent with smart TVs. Now “your television is essentially a big computer,” Oppenheim says. Just like any other computer you have let into your house, this one is collecting data. The reason is simple. “It allows Internet service providers and television manufacturers to make more money,” he says. Viewing habits can be used to build a rich consumer profile, which is extremely valuable to advertisers, insurance companies, and other parties. And being computers, smart TVs are now also hackable. Some TV manufacturers, like Samsung, have even recommended customers scan their TVs for malware—something most users don’t even do with their personal computers. Source
  3. Microsoft continues to face data-privacy obstacles in Europe over its core cloud-based products. A new report for the Netherlands Ministry of Justice and Security warns the country's agencies that using Microsoft Office Online, Office mobile apps, and Windows 10 Enterprise carries privacy risks. The report comes from EU-based Privacy Company, which carried out three data-protection impact assessments (DPIAs) for the Dutch government in late 2018, covering Office and Windows 10, which are used by key agencies in the country. Netherlands authorities last year cited eight undocumented privacy issues with ProPlus versions of Office 2016 and Office 365 that allowed Microsoft to collect Dutch-created user content from the apps that was stored on US servers and potentially exposed to US law enforcement. Among the Dutch users are employees from the Tax and Customs Administration, the police, the judiciary, and independent administrative bodies. Microsoft in February pledged to fix the ProPlus issues by April. However, in May, shortly after the EU began vetting Microsoft contracts for violations of Europe's new GDPR privacy laws, the company appeared to admit it was running late in meeting those objectives. According to the new report, Microsoft has dealt with the eight issues previously identified with Office 365 ProPlus, but the changes agreed to between the Dutch government and Microsoft haven't been applied to Windows 10 Enterprise, Office Online, or Microsoft's mobile Office apps. Because of this, the Netherlands is recommending agencies avoid Office Online and Office mobile apps while restricting Windows 10 data collection to the "lowest possible level". "Moreover, certain technical improvements that Microsoft has implemented in Office 365 ProPlus are not (yet) available in Office Online. From at least three of the mobile apps on iOS, data about the use of the apps is sent to a US-American marketing company that specializes in predictive profiling," Privacy Company wrote. "The Dutch government will continue to negotiate with Microsoft to bring Windows and the mobile apps within the scope of the new privacy terms and to implement the same technical improvements for Office Online." "Therefore, SLM Rijk [division dealing with Microsoft procurement] advises government institutions to, for the time being, refrain from using Office Online and the mobile Office apps, and to opt for the lowest possible level of data collection in Windows 10, namely Security." Microsoft hasn't been targeted in the high-profile trans-Atlantic data-transfer case headed up by Max Schrems, the Austrian lawyer suing Facebook over transferring EU residents' data to the US. But it is facing obstacles from publicly-funded customers in Europe. Schools from a German state have been banned from using Office 365 by its data-protection commissioner because the standard setup exposes information about students and teachers to US laws, such as the CLOUD Act and the USA Freedom Act, which give US agencies wide-ranging powers to access user data from US tech firms. In an interview with ZDNet last month, Schrems stressed that data sent to Microsoft's servers in the US are subject to US mass-surveillance laws, which conflict with EU privacy law. The report's authors also encourage private-sector organizations in the Netherlands to negotiate "privacy guarantees similar to those of the national government", though it suggests these are done via umbrella agreements. The report notes that the Netherlands now has contractual guarantees from Microsoft for all online services and Office 365 ProPlus. These guarantees reduce the number of purposes for which Microsoft can use EU data, from eight to three, covering all diagnostic data and a promise never to use the data for profiling, analytics, market research or advertising without user consent. "Microsoft acknowledges that it may only act as a data processor for the data it receives about the use of Office 365 ProPlus, most Connected Experiences and the cloud services, and that these data are personal data," the report says. "Microsoft may only process the data for three authorized purposes, and only if this is proportional. The purposes are: (1) to provide and improve the service, (2) keeping the service up to date, and (3) secure. Previously, Microsoft processed the data for eight purposes, including any purposes that they themselves considered to be compatible with the other specified purposes." Source
  4. COVID-19 Data Privacy & Security Survey As COVID-19 quickly spreads across the globe and has now been officially declared a pandemic, many companies are facing difficult business and legal challenges and are required to make some urgent decisions in order to keep their workforce safe and ensure business continuity. Data plays a crucial role in containing the spread of the virus but not every data processing can be justified on that basis. A balance must be found between protecting public health and personal privacy. April 3 update: Our latest edition includes updates for 12 jurisdictions in EMEA, Latin America and Asia Pacific. As COVID-19 continues to quickly spread across the globe and has officially been declared a pandemic, many companies are facing difficult business and legal challenges and are required to make some urgent decisions in order to keep their workforce safe and ensure business continuity. Data plays a crucial role in containing the spread of the virus but not every data processing can be justified on that basis. A balance must be found between protecting public health and personal privacy. Baker McKenzie is pleased to provide you with a guide designed to help employers assess whether or not certain data processing they may consider in light of COVID-19 is compliant with data privacy regulation. SOURCE
  5. Opinion: Do you know where your data is? Tough new laws are on their way. Consumer data is fast becoming an expensive liability, and it could even lead to jail for executives. It's only a few weeks before California's strict data law takes effect January 2020, and there are others in the pipeline in other states including proposals to jail executives that fail to protect people's data from a breach. Data is fast becoming a business liability rather than a benefit. I go to a lot of media roundtables organized by computer security companies, and they all say that 100% protection is not possible and that every company has to prepare for a security breach. Yet that's assuming that the organization knows where all its data is located, which is unlikely. Companies are constantly making copies of their production database for many reasons and especially for their developers so that they can to test software. These database copies often are not stripped of sensitive data because it is needed for testing. And the data is often used outside of the main IT environment and with different access controls. Developer testing setups are often easy entry points for intruders with nefarious intent. If you don't need to store the data, why collect it and collect the legal liabilities? Companies have been collecting mountains of personal data, but few of them have figured out what to do with it. They assume data is valuable -- like oil -- but like oil, it becomes a slippery thing to work with, and if you slip up and leak your data, you'll face massive fines and damage to brand reputation. BIG DATA BIG LIABILITIES The past couple of years the IT industry talked about the value that can be found in big data -- now it's better described as risky data. Companies will ask themselves, "What's the point of having it and risk losing it if we aren't using it?" The boards of companies and investors will likely recommend dumping any data that increases legal liabilities. Unless the lobbyists for Google, Facebook, and other tech companies manage to persuade Washington to pass weak federal data laws to trump strict state laws. RISKY AD TECH There is currently a big clash of ideas around consumer data privacy and security. Politicians, the media, and the tech industry are trying to define the problem and how best to mitigate problem activities. Data breaches by hackers are certainly a big problem, but there's a much bigger issue at play: Allowing ad technologies to collect and create massive data warehouses of highly sensitive personal data. If the personal data isn't there, there's nothing for hackers to steal. Ad tech makes it all possible. Ad technology is in danger of being severely restricted. Marketers use people's data to save a few cents on the costs of selling services and products. This exact same data is used to judge people's beliefs and leave them exposed to hidden political and ideological manipulation by unknown parties. WHY DOES YOUR SOAP POWDER NEED TO KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT YOU? Procter & Gamble used to sell plenty of soap powder without using targeted data. Contextual advertising is very effective, and it doesn't require collecting personal information. Contextual advertising enables media sites to reclaim their readers from the programmatic dashboards that steal them and follow them wherever they go. It would increase advertising revenues for publishers creating original content and allow them to reinvest rather than layoff people. Over the short term, the winners will be Google and Facebook, because they don't have to sell people's data directly, and they can afford the costs of complying with any new legal regulations. They will essentially become vendors of metadata about personal data. That way they shelter ad clients from any data liabilities because they don't need to handle sensitive data themselves. But over the long term, there are serious problems: Trying to persuade people to buy a product is the same as trying to persuade people to buy an idea -- advertising works and targeted messages work even better for political and ideological ends. It's why it's inevitable that societies will place strict limits on ad technologies and the use and collection of personal data, in my opinion. Source: From big data to risky data: Will companies dump their liabilities? (via ZDNet)
  6. In July 2018, when Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) agreed to a deal with state-owned telco China Telecom to move users' iCloud data belonging to Apple's China-based users to the latter's servers, the shift raised concerns that it could make user data vulnerable to state surveillance. Now, according to a deep-dive report from The New York Times, Apple's privacy and security concessions have "made it nearly impossible for the company to stop the Chinese government from gaining access to the emails, photos, documents, contacts and locations of millions of Chinese residents." The revelations stand in stark contrast to Apple's commitment to privacy, while also highlighting a pattern of conceding to the demands of the Chinese government in order to continue its operations in the country. Apple, in 2018, announced iCloud data of users in mainland China would move to a new data center in Guizhou province as part of a partnership with GCBD. The transition was necessitated to abide by a 2017 regulation that required all "personal information and important data" collected on Chinese users "be stored in the territory." "iCloud in China mainland is operated by GCBD (AIPO Cloud (Guizhou) Technology Co. Ltd). This allows us to continue to improve iCloud services in China mainland and comply with Chinese regulations," the iPhone maker's support document states. Although iCloud data is end-to-end encrypted, Apple is said to have agreed to store the encryption keys in the data center, when before all iCloud encryption keys were stored on U.S. servers, and therefore subject to U.S. laws around requests for government access. While U.S. law forbids American companies from turning over data to Chinese law enforcement, the New York Times report reveals that Apple and China entered into an "unusual arrangement" to sidestep U.S. legislation. To that effect, the company ceded legal ownership of its customers' data to GCBD, in addition to granting GCBD physical control over the servers and complete access to all information stored in iCloud, thereby allowing "Chinese authorities ask GCBD — not Apple — for Apple customers' data." In the wake of the law's passing, Apple has provided the contents of an unspecified number of iCloud accounts to the government in nine cases and challenged three government requests for data, the report added. However, there's no evidence to suggest that the Chinese government gained access to users' data with the help of digital keys. What's more, Apple reportedly eschewed hardware security modules (HSM) made by Thales by building its own in-house HSMs after China refused to certify the devices for use. HSMs house one or more secure crypto processors and are used to perform encryption and decryption functions and store cryptographic keys inside a tamper-resistant environment. The company told The New York Times that it "never compromised" the security of users or user data in China "or anywhere we operate," adding its Chinese data centers "feature our very latest and most sophisticated protections," that are expected to be rolled out to other countries. "Apple asked a lot of people to back them against the FBI in 2015," security researcher and Johns Hopkins professor Matthew Green said in a series of tweets. "They used every tool in the legal arsenal to prevent the U.S. from gaining access to their phones. Do they think anyone is going to give them the benefit of the doubt now?" "Apple is clearly being forced to give the Chinese government more control over customer data. The current compromise may even be 'ok', in the sense that some end-to-end encryption is allowed. But sooner or later the Chinese government is going to ask Apple for something that it doesn't want to give up, and Apple is going to have to make a choice. Maybe they already have," Hopkins added. Source
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