February 1st, 2024

All of a sudden, privacy seems to matter. Well, it’s not entirely out of the blue, and we’ll have to wait to see whether anything really changes, but online privacy and safety are generating a lot of headlines these days. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized in a Senate hearing to victims of online abuse. “I’m sorry for everything you have all been through,” he said after a roasting by Missouri’s senior senator. Legislators are considering a stack of bills aimed at stopping online child abuse, though the proposed bills are hardly universally popular and it’s anyone’s guess whether they will a) get passed and b) be effective. Apple has introduced a new virtual reality headset, but critics are skeptical. The Washington Post called it a “privacy mess waiting to happen.” And Amazon, the makers of Ring doorbell cameras, announced it would no longer allow police departments to request camera footage directly from customers. Is it a new era for privacy concerns? Unlikely. Still, nice to see these issues getting some attention in the news.

January 5th, 2024

Everywhere there are eyes, there will be cameras. That’s the future Meta—with other big tech companies in hot pursuit—are envisioning. What does that mean for privacy? Nothing good. Meta recently introduced a pair of smart glasses made in partnership with Ray-Ban. Unlike Google Glass, introduced in 2010s, they’re not ugly. Cool, even. It’s not hard to imagine people actually wanting to wear them, especially since they don’t look like a weird piece of tech. That’s the problem. As Brian X. Chen of the New York Times noted warily, “Sleek, lightweight and satisfyingly hip, the Meta glasses blend effortlessly into the quotidian. No one — not even my editor, who was aware I was writing this column — could tell them apart from ordinary glasses, and everyone was blissfully unaware of being photographed.”

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December 5th, 2023

If you’ve ever questioned the wisdom of sharing detailed information about yourself and your family—information spanning generations—with a faceless tech company, well, points for you. 23andMe recently announced a breach of data belonging to nearly 7 million people, equal to the population of Massachusetts. And that’s not just aggregate data about what links users clicked on a website; it’s deeply personal information, including family connections, names, and addresses. Incidents like this underscore the need to be especially careful about what we share online and with whom. Read more about it via the link below.

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October 10th, 2023

We steer clear of politics here at Privacy Parent—our focus is entirely on building a world in which technology prioritizes safety and security for the people who use it—but you don’t have to get into blue vs. red to see it’s a problem when Alexa is culling its answers from random internet commenters. The Washington Post reports Alexa, Amazon’s smart speaker, is telling people Donald Trump won Pennsylvania during the 2020 election (he didn’t), and citing Substack, where anyone can publish newsletters, as its source.

Regardless of how one feels about the way the 2020 election unfolded, it isn’t difficult to see why this kind of thing is a problem. How many query their smart speakers for information? What if it turns out that information comes from unreliable sources? A chilling thought.

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October 3rd, 2023

Is there a way to reverse the outflow of personal data? To somehow vacuum up the countless bits of digital debris that companies have made vast sums of money collecting? According to the Washington Post, yes. Sort of. Geoffrey Fowler, who covers digital privacy issues for the Post, has written about a new app from Consumer Reports that, in his words, “makes it super simple to order companies to delete your personal information and secrets.” The app, Permission Slip, is free and works for Android and iPhone. It’s far from a cure-all, but it’s a start. And it might be a welcome sign of things to come.

August 31st, 2023

Do you use Venmo to pay the babysitter? Do your kids use it to buy snacks or payback their friends? Then check your privacy settings. According to a recent article in the New York Times, Venmo is notorious for gathering your personal information and sharing it far and wide. Your contact lists, past purchases, and lots else, are scooped up and made available for just about anyone on the app to see. The reporter who wrote the piece decided to delete his Venmo app. You might opt not to go that far. But you should, at the very least, dig into the app’s privacy settings and lock them down. The piece explains how.

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August 23rd, 2023

In what really should not be a surprise to anyone, it turns out ads on YouTube videos intended for kids may have allowed tech companies to track those kids “across the internet.” That’s not supposed to happen. A recent article in the New York Times reports that lawmakers are asking questions of Google, YouTube’s parent company, and trying to find out whether the tech giant violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. “This behavior by YouTube and Google is estimated to have impacted hundreds of thousands, to potentially millions, of children across the United States,” Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee told the paper.

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June 21st, 2023

There was a time when creating a phony image required at least a bit of skill. That time has passed. With the help of AI, just about anyone can fake a photo—and a fairly convincing one at that. Photoshop, which takes considerable study to master, is incorporating AI technology that will make it and its many capabilities accessible to just about anyone with a laptop and an imagination. It might be fun! (See the fish in the image above.) But it also presents some serious problems. You don’t have to think too long to conjure ways in which an otherwise benign photo of a friend can be edited to change it into something embarrassing, compromising, or merely insulting. The privacy and security implications are significant. And entirely real. Read more about it from the Washington Post.

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June 14th, 2023

Thanks to your phone, your web-browsing, and the rest of your e-habits, the government knows a whole lot about you and can track your clicks (and steps) without much trouble. Your whereabouts, who you hang out with, your search history—that’s all data that’s compiled and packaged for sale. Can you guess who’s buying it? Law enforcement and intelligence agencies, for starters. And they don’t need a warrant. Most of us have nothing to hide from the government, but, still, a bit creepy. Maybe now you’ll turn off your phone’s location services?

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June 2nd, 2023

Here’s an encouraging story from the New York Times: The Metaverse is kind of flopping. In a new story about Apple finally entering the Meta-scene, the Times reports that, so far, investments in the Metaverse have, largely, been a bust, costing Meta (nee Facebook), Microsoft, and others many billions of dollars. And what do they have to show for it? A whole lot of nothing. For those of us with a preference for the real world, that’s comforting news.