New York Attorney General Looks Into Zoom’s Privacy Practices – The New York Times

 

“Zoom, the videoconferencing app whose traffic has surged during the coronavirus pandemic, is under scrutiny by the office of New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, for its data privacy and security practices.

On Monday, the office sent Zoom a letter asking what, if any, new security measures the company has put in place to handle increased traffic on its network and to detect hackers, according to a copy reviewed by The New York Times.

While the letter referred to Zoom as “an essential and valuable communications platform,” it outlined several concerns, noting that the company had been slow to address security flaws such as vulnerabilities “that could enable malicious third parties to, among other things, gain surreptitious access to consumer webcams.”

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Over the last few weeks, internet trolls have exploited a Zoom screen-sharing feature to hijack meetings and do things like interrupt educational sessions or post white supremacist messages to a webinar on anti-Semitism — a phenomenon called “Zoombombing.

es to a webinar on anti-Semitism — a phenomenon called “Zoombombing.”

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Opinion | How Technology Saved China’s Economy – By Ruchir Sharma – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Sharma is an author, global investor and contributing opinion writer.

Credit…China Network/Reuters

“Landing in Shanghai recently, I found myself in the middle of a tech revolution remarkable in its sweep. The passport scanner automatically addresses visitors in their native tongues. Digital payment apps have replaced cash. Outsiders trying to use paper money get blank stares from store clerks.

Nearby in the city of Hangzhou a prototype hotel called FlyZoo uses facial recognition to open doors, no keys required. Robots mix cocktails and provide room service. Farther south in Shenzhen, we flew the same drones that are already making e-commerce deliveries in rural China. Downtown traffic flowed smoothly, guided by synced stoplights and restrained by police cameras.

Outside China, these technologies are seen as harbingers of an “automated authoritarianism,” using video cameras and facial recognition systems to thwart lawbreakers and a “citizen score” to rank citizens for political reliability. An advanced version has been deployed to counter unrest among Muslim Uighurs in the inland region of Xinjiang. But in China as a whole, surveys show that trust in technology is high, concern about privacy low. If people fear Big Brother, they keep it to themselves. In our travels along the coast, many expressed pride in China’s sudden rise as a tech power.

China initiated its economic miracle by opening to the outside world, but now it is nurturing domestic tech giants by barring outside competition. Foreign visitors cannot open Google or Facebook, a weirdly isolating experience, and the trade deal announced Wednesday by President Trump defers discussion of those barriers.”

What You Need to Know About 5G in 2020 – by Brian Chen – The New York Times

“In the simplest terms, 5G is a new cellular standard. Phone carriers have jumped to a new wireless standard roughly every decade. About 10 years ago, 4G, the fourth-generation network, arrived with significantly faster speeds and stronger reliability than 3G. About a decade before that, 3G arrived and was much faster and more robust than 2G. You get the picture.

Unfortunately, 5G is more complicated. There are a few flavors of 5G described with deeply technical jargon.

To make 5G easier to swallow, let’s rename the jargon into ice cream flavors:

  • The much-hyped, ultrafast variant of 5G is known as “millimeter wave,” but let’s call it rocky road. It lets carriers transmit data at incredibly fast speeds — the kind that would let you download an entire movie in a few seconds.

    The problem with rocky road is that its signals travel shorter distances, covering a park in New York but not a broad swath of the city, for example. It also has trouble penetrating obstacles like walls. So Verizon and AT&T have focused deployment of rocky road in large spaces like sports stadiums and outdoor amphitheaters.

    Because of the technical limitations of rocky road, we are unlikely to see it deployed nationwide anytime soon (if ever), meaning we won’t be getting these incredible speeds in the vast majority of places.

  • Instead, this year our cellular networks will broadly shift to a version of 5G that is less exciting. Let’s call this vanilla 5G.”

Opinion | Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy – By Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel – The New York Times

EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers.

After spending months sifting through the data, tracking the movements of people across the country and speaking with dozens of data companies, technologists, lawyers and academics who study this field, we feel the same sense of alarm. In the cities that the data file covers, it tracks people from nearly every neighborhood and block, whether they live in mobile homes in Alexandria, Va., or luxury towers in Manhattan.

One search turned up more than a dozen people visiting the Playboy Mansion, some overnight. Without much effort we spotted visitors to the estates of Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, connecting the devices’ owners to the residences indefinitely.

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Great report, “horrible, but great,” to quote Olivander, the wand seller, in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter #1. I have a great thirst for more specifics on: 1. As an iphone user, if I use google maps, allowing my location, am I screwed. Am I condemned to their resalable bulletin board of movement, or am I protected. Can I use directions from here to there and still have privacy?
And 2. which apps are to blame, including which functions on them, and what are the trade offs. 3. What legislation is needed to give us a modicum of privacy? thank you for this horrible, but magnificent report.
(David blogs at InconvenientNews.net.)

Opinion | I Invented the World Wide Web. Here’s How We Can Fix It. – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Berners-Lee is a co-founder of the World Wide Web Foundation.

Credit…Wren McDonald

“My parents were mathematicians. My mother helped code one of the first stored-program computers — the Manchester Mark 1. They taught me that when you program a computer, what you can do is limited only by your imagination. That excitement for experimentation and change helped me build the World Wide Web.

I had hoped that 30 years from its creation, we would be using the web foremost for the purpose of serving humanity. Projects like Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap and the world of open source software are the kinds of constructive tools that I hoped would flow from the web.

However, the reality is much more complex. Communities are being ripped apart as prejudice, hate and disinformation are peddled online. Scammers use the web to steal identities, stalkers use it to harass and intimidate their victims, and bad actors subvert democracy using clever digital tactics. The use of targeted political ads in the United States’ 2020 presidential campaign and in elections elsewhere threatens once again to undermine voters’ understanding and choices.

We’re at a tipping point. How we respond to this abuse will determine whether the web lives up to its potential as a global force for good or leads us into a digital dystopia.”

“, , ,I’m introducing a new approach to overcome that stalemate — the Contract for the Web.

The Contract for the Web is a global plan of action created over the past year by activists, academics, companies, governments and citizens from across the world to make sure our online world is safe, empowering and genuinely for everyone.

The contract outlines steps to prevent the deliberate misuse of the web and our information. For example, it calls on governments to publish public data registries, so that they are no longer able to conceal from their own citizens how their data is being used. If governments are sharing our data with private companies — or buying data broker lists from them — we have a right to know and take action.”

Opinion | How to Be a Whistle-Blower – By Charlie Warzel – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Warzel is an Opinion writer at large.

Credit…Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile, via Getty Images

This article is part of a limited-run newsletter. You can sign up here.

“Last week, at a conference in Portugal, I met John Napier Tye. He is a former State Department employee, a whistle-blower and a co-founder of Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit law firm that represents individuals trying to expose wrongdoing. As you may have noticed, whistle-blowers are very much in the news these days, and Tye is very much in the center of that world.

Today’s newsletter is a Q. and A. with Tye. We talked about whether it’s possible to stay anonymous in 2019, how to protect your privacy like a spy, whether regular people are at risk of becoming targets and how to become a whistle-blower if you’re a witness to something troubling.

This is a condensed and edited version of our conversation:

What are the biggest threats right now to privacy for normal citizens?

It’s useful to distinguish between bulk collection and targeted surveillance. Both are threats. The average citizen is likely already caught up by bulk collection, although the proliferation of targeted surveillance technologies are increasingly threatening whistle-blowers, journalists and others that find themselves on the wrong side of unaccountable governments and security agencies.

Bulk collection affects everyone. A number of governments and companies have the goal of building databases with detailed profile information for every person on earth, or at least every internet user — including where you are at any given moment, who your friends are, what kind of messages and photos you are creating and how you think about the world. They are closer than you might expect.”

How Laws Against Child Sexual Abuse Imagery Can Make It Harder to Detect – The New York Times

“Child sexual abuse photos and videos are among the most toxic materials online. It is against the law to view the imagery, and anybody who comes across it must report it to the federal authorities.

So how can tech companies, under pressure to remove the material, identify newly shared photos and videos without breaking the law? They use software — but first they have to train it, running repeated tests to help it accurately recognize illegal content.

Google has made progress, according to company officials, but its methods have not been made public. Facebook has, too, but there are still questions about whether it follows the letter of the law. Microsoft, which has struggled to keep known imagery off its search engine, Bing, is frustrated by the legal hurdles in identifying new imagery, a spokesman said.

The three tech giants are among the few companies with the resources to develop artificial intelligence systems to take on the challenge.

One route for the companies is greater cooperation with the federal authorities, including seeking permission to keep new photos and videos for the purposes of developing the detection software.

But that approach runs into a larger privacy debate involving the sexual abuse material: How closely should tech companies and the federal government work to shut it down? And what would prevent their cooperation from extending to other online activity?

Paul Ohm, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s computer crime and intellectual property section, said the laws governing child sexual abuse imagery were among the “fiercest criminal laws” on the books.

“Just the simple act of shipping the images from one A.I. researcher to another is going to implicate you in all kinds of federal crimes,” he said.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comments.
I’ve worked with computer clients since 1991 who shaked with anger about how hard it is to master their computers.They still do. I say to them, what I say about this article, “Just think, in a hundred years, people will write comedies about how we struggled in the early, dark ages of computer science. Nothing is seemless. Nothing works as promised.”
Plug and play still hasn’t happened everywhere for everyone, and you get absurd stories like this one, where the government expects big tech companies to clean out child porn, but they aren’t allowed to store or share the photos they are targeting to remove from the internet. We are living through a comedy, every day.
The best way to deal with the pain is to laugh, and keep working to slowly improve interconnectivity with some respect for privacy. (David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion” on 18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.net.)

Opinion | Democrats, Avoid the Robot Rabbit Hole – By Paul Krugman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

CreditHilary Swift for The New York Times

“One of the less discussed parts of Tuesday’s Democratic debate was the exchange that took place over automation and how to deal with it. But it’s worth focusing on that exchange, because it was interesting — by which I mean depressing. CNN’s Erin Burnett, one of the moderators, asked a bad question, and the debaters by and large — with the perhaps surprising exception of Bernie Sanders — gave pretty bad answers.

So let me make a plea to the Democrats: Please don’t go down the robot rabbit hole.

Burnett declared that a recent study shows that “about a quarter of U.S. jobs could be lost to automation in just the next 10 years.” What the study actually says is less alarming: It finds that a quarter of U.S. jobs will face “high exposure to automation over the next several decades.”

But if you think even that sounds bad, ask yourself the following question: When, in modern history, has something like that statement not been true?”

Opinion | We Talked to Andrew Yang. Here’s How He’d Fix the Internet. – By Charlie Warzel – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Warzel is an Opinion writer at large.

CreditCreditMark Makela/Reuters

“This week’s Privacy Project newsletter is a pre-debate conversation with the former entrepreneur and current presidential candidate Andrew Yang. I wanted to speak to Yang since he’s the only candidate to address data privacy as a campaign policy issue. He’s a proponent of an idea that’s somewhat controversial among privacy professionals, which is that we should own our own data.

Our short conversation turned out to be pretty sprawling, touching on subjects like data dignity, whether Facebook should be able to run political ads, whether any of us have free will and what his proposed Department of the Attention Economy might look like.

This is a condensed and edited version of our conversation:

You’re the only candidate who has decided to make privacy a campaign issue. How’d you get there?

I’m an avid user of the internet and I understand that users are completely at the mercy of tech companies in terms of what happens to our data. They pretend it’s our choice. In reality, 99.9 percent of people scroll down and hit “I agree.” The trade we’re making is for cost and convenience, but in return we’re forfeiting our data.

That data is packaged and sold and resold and we are none the wiser. We occasionally get notifications of a data breachClose X and think, “Oh, snap, should I change my password?” That’s an irritation but what’s going on with our data is much bigger than that.”