Privacy SOS

Tech news bites


From the New York Times: The Follower Factory

On January 27th, the New York Times released a report on the sale of bots and social media identity theft. The investigation found that Devumi, a social media “influence” company, routinely sells followers to customers who seek to boost their social media presence. The Times investigation found that many of these follower bots steal real users’ names, profile pictures, and biographies, and are then mobilized to retweet and like Devumi customers’ tweets. These kinds of bots were widely used during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Though buying followers and retweets is technically against Twitter’s policy, the company has not done much to prevent the surge of these fake accounts. It doesn’t even require accounts to belong to a real person. A former Twitter engineer who focused on user safety said, “Twitter as a social network was designed with almost no accountability.” The day after the report’s release, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman announced that he was launching an investigation into Devumi.



From Verge: Facebook begins privacy push ahead of touch new European law

Facebook will update its privacy measures in response to the EU’s landmark General Data Protection Regulation. The GDPR requires tech companies to report data breaches within 72 hours, allow users to export and delete their data, and take down information that users don’t want online. Violation of the GDPR will yield a fine of at least $24.8 million. Facebook plans to release a new privacy center which will make it easier for users to monitor and control their privacy settings. Facebook, which earned nearly $28 billion in 2016, has also published videos that explain how users can take advantage of current privacy settings.



From Axios: Trump team considers nationalizing 5G network

Fearing China’s technological superiority, Trump administration officials are reportedly considering the creation of a nationalized 5G network within the next three years. Documents obtained by Axios reveal two options: the US government builds a single network, or wireless providers build their own 5G networks. According to the report, insiders believe that one network would be the only sufficient protection against China. This could give way to a scenario in which major carriers work together to build the network, in which case the companies would sacrifice substantial revenue. Regardless of how it’s done, the memo writers seem convinced that one 5G network is required for technological advancement and American protection from Chinese economic and cyber-security threats. Unsurprisingly, FCC chairman Ajit Pai released a statement vehemently opposing a nationalized 5G network. If discussions continue, they’re sure to be animated.



From the Electronic Frontier Foundation: EFF and ACLU Ask Court to Allow Legal Challenge to Proceed Against Warrantless Searches of Travelers’ Smartphones, Laptops

On Friday, the ACLU and the EFF filed a brief requesting to continue a case against unwarranted searches of travelers’ devices. In September, the ACLU and EFF filed the lawsuit Alasaad v. Nielsen on behalf of 11 Americans whose devices were searched as they attempted to reenter the county. The lawsuit asks the court to order that the government must obtain a warrant before searching travelers’ devices, and that agents must have probable cause before they take a device. The government, in asking the court to dismiss the civil liberties groups’ case, argues that the plaintiffs do not have standing to file a case, and that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to border searches. The ACLU and EFF responded that the plaintiffs do have standing because several have been subjected to multiple searches on different occasions, and they are at risk of having their devices searched again the next time they travel. Further, they argue that the Fourth Amendment applies to boarder searches based on the precedent of Riley v. California. In that case, the Supreme Court determined that police officers cannot search an arrestee’s phone without a warrant because phones hold the “privacies of life.”



From Verge: Strava’s fitness tracker heat map reveals the location of military bases

Strava, the owner of an app which uses phones’ GPS to track users’ exercise, recently released a heat map illustrating user activity around the world. An analyst at the Institute for United Conflict Analysts pointed out that looking at the map and cross referencing it with locations of military installments reveals information about US military activities. He posted pictures of areas which he thought were regular jogging routes, patrols, and forward operating bases in Afghanistan. Locations of many military installments are already readily accessible. But this map poses a new potential security threat by allowing people to determine the number of personnel assigned to particular areas as well as how often particular locations are frequented. The US government has argued, most recently in the ACLU’s Carpenter litigation before the Supreme Court, that cell phone users have no privacy interest in our cell phone location information. Congress has not passed substantial electronic privacy law since 1986.

This edition of Tech News Bites was written by Iqra Asghar, an intern with the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Technology for Liberty Program.

© 2024 ACLU of Massachusetts.