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EU: data-harvesting tech firms are ‘sweatshops of connected world’ | Technology

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The European data protection supervisor has hit out at social media and tech firms over the recent constant stream of privacy policy emails in the run up to GDPR, calling them them the “sweatshops of the connected world”.

With the tough new General Data Protection Regulations coming into force on 25 May, companies around the world are being forced to notify their users to accept new privacy policies and data processing terms to continue to use the services.

But Giovanni Buttarelli, the European data protection supervisor (EDPS), lambasted the often-hostile approach of the recent deluge of notifications.

“If this encounter seems a take-it-or-leave it proposition – with perhaps a hint of menace – then it is a travesty of at least the spirit of the new regulation, which aims to restore a sense of trust and control over what happens to our online lives,” said Buttarelli. “Consent cannot be freely given if the provision of a service is made conditional on processing personal data not necessary for the performance of a contract.”

“The most recent [Facebook] scandal has served to expose a broken and unbalanced ecosystem reliant on unscrupulous personal data collection and micro-targeting for whatever purposes promise to generate clicks and revenues.

“The digital information ecosystem farms people for their attention, ideas and data in exchange for so called ‘free’ services. Unlike their analogue equivalents, these sweatshops of the connected world extract more than one’s labour, and while clocking into the online factory is effortless it is often impossible to clock off.”

The European Union’s new stronger, unified data protection laws, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), will come into force on 25 May 2018, after more than six years in the making.

GDPR will replace the current patchwork of national data protection laws, give data regulators greater powers to fine, make it easier for companies with a “one-stop-shop” for operating across the whole of the EU, and create a new pan-European data regulator called the European Data Protection Board.

The new laws govern the processing and storage of EU citizens’ data, both that given to and observed by companies about people, whether or not the company has operations in the EU. They state that data protection should be both by design and default in any operation.

GDPR will refine and enshrine the “right to be forgotten” laws as the “right to erasure”, and give EU citizens the right to data portability, meaning they can take data from one organisation and give it to another. It will also bolster the requirement for explicit and informed consent before data is processed, and ensure that it can be withdrawn at any time.

To ensure companies comply, GDPR also gives data regulators the power to fine up to €20m or 4% of annual global turnover, which is several orders of magnitude larger than previous possible fines. Data breaches must be reported within 72 hours to a data regulator, and affected individuals must be notified unless the data stolen is unreadable, ie strongly encrypted.

While data protection and privacy has become a hot-button issue in part thanks to the Cambridge Analytica files, Buttarelli is concerned that it is simply being used as part of the “PR toolkit” of firms. He said that there is “a growing gulf between hyperbole and reality, where controllers learn to talk a good game while continuing with the same old harmful habits”.

A new social media subgroup of data protection regulators will be convened in mid-May to tackle what Buttarelli called the “manipulative approaches” that must change with GDPR.

“Brilliant lawyers will always be able to fashion ingenious arguments to justify almost any practice. But with personal data processing we need to move to a different model,” said Buttarelli. “The old approach is broken and unsustainable – that will be, in my view, the abiding lesson of the Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica case.”



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MPs threaten Mark Zuckerberg with summons over Facebook data | News

MPs threaten Mark Zuckerberg with summons over Facebook data | News


MPs have threatened to issue Mark Zuckerberg with a formal summons to appear in front of parliament when he next enters the UK, unless he voluntarily agrees to answer questions about the activities of his social network and the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Damian Collins, the chair of the parliamentary committee that is investigating online disinformation, said he was unhappy with the information the company had provided and now wanted to hear evidence from the Facebook chief executive before parliament went into recess on 24 May.

Saturday 17 March

The Observer publishes online its first story on the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, written by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison.

Former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie reveals how the firm used personal information taken in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters.

The data was collected through an app, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge University, through his company Global Science Research (GSR).

Sunday 18 March

As the Observer publishes its full interview with Wylie in the print edition, the fallout begins. US congressional investigators call for Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix to testify again before their committee.

Monday 19 March

Channel 4 News airs the findings of an undercover investigation where Cambridge Analytica executives ​boast of using honey traps, fake news campaigns and operations with ex-spies to swing election campaigns.

Tuesday 20 March

​A former Facebook employee claims​ hundreds of millions of Facebook users may have had their private information harvested by companies in similar methods.

Wednesday 21 March

UK MPs summon Mark Zuckerberg to appear before a select committee investigating fake news, and accuse Facebook of misleading them at a previous hearing. 

Thursday 22 March

It emerges Facebook had previously provided Kogan with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. Zuckerberg breaks his silence to call the misuse of data a ‘breach of trust’.

Friday 23 March

Brittany Kaiser, formerly Cambridge Analytica’s business development director, reveals the blueprint for how CA claimed to have won the White House for Donald Trump by using Google, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.


Photograph: Antonio Olmos

“It is worth noting that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK parliament, he will do so the next time he enters the country,” Collins wrote in a public letter to Facebook. “We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but, if not, the committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK.”

Collins referred to an unconfirmed report by Politico that Zuckerberg planned to appear in front of the European parliament this month, suggesting it would be simple for the Facebook chief to extend his trip to attend a hearing in the UK.

The committee has repeatedly invited Zuckerberg to give evidence but Facebook has sent more junior executives to answer questions from MPs.

Facebook declined to comment on the possibility of a formal summons. In theory, Zuckerberg could be found in contempt of parliament if he refuses one.

When Rupert Murdoch and his son James resisted appearing in front of a select committee in 2011 it was speculated that potential punishments could include “fines and imprisonment”. In reality it is likely that, at worst, the punishment for ignoring such a summons would include an arcane process resulting in little more than a formal warning.

Collins said last week’s five-hour evidence session by Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, was unsatisfactory and his answers “lacked many of the important details” needed.

Collins’ committee formally issued a list of 39 supplementary questions they wanted answered following Schroepfer’s session, in which Facebook was labelled a “morality-free zone”.

Zuckerberg did make time to appear in front of the US Congress, where politicians were allocated five minutes each to ask questions. British select committee hearings allow politicians more time to ask follow-up questions, potentially making it a more testing experience.



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Online streaming services face ‘30% made in Europe’ law | Media

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Netflix, Amazon and other online streaming services will have to dedicate 30% of their output to TV shows and films made in Europe, which they must subsidise, under the terms of a new EU law agreed in Brussels on Thursday.

As well as the “Netflix quota”, the streaming services will have to fund European TV series and films, either by directly commissioning the content or contributing to national film funds, under the terms of an outline deal on EU broadcasting rules reached by legislators.

MEPs and the Council of Ministers, who are responsible for agreeing the law, struck a deal on a final version of the EU’s audio-visual services directive – a breakthrough in the legislative process.

The law falls into a longstanding tradition of EU lawmakers protecting European film and drama against the encroachments of Hollywood and US TV and online shows.

Industry groups have criticised cultural quotas as “outdated” and “counterproductive”, but lost the argument to European politicians who see them as vital to protect local languages and culture.

The European commission’s original proposal was for a 20% “Netflix quota” but MEPs said that was not enough.

The European parliament says the law means companies such as Netflix will face the same rules as traditional TV channels, not only on European content but also limits on advertising and product placement.

Video-sharing websites, such as Google and Facebook, will also have to intensify work to clamp down on content “inciting violence, hatred and terrorism”. Under the law, platforms need to create a “transparent, easy-to-use and effective mechanism” to allow users to report hateful content.

The EU is also banning product placement from children’s programmes, although member states can decide whether they want to outlaw corporate sponsorship of under-18’s TV shows.

Advertisers will only be allowed 20% of screen time during the prime-time hours of 6pm to midnight.

“We have now made European media regulation fit for the digital era by applying similar rules to similar services, whether online or offline,” said Sabine Verheyen, a German centre-right MEP who was one of the parliament’s lead negotiators.

The rules on product placement and sponsorship were “a great achievement for the protection of consumers, especially children and minors”, she added.

The law has to jump over several procedural hurdles before it is passed, a process not expected to be completed until September.

Also on Thursday a draft EU regulation was published that would force Amazon, Google, eBay and other tech firms to be more transparent in their dealings with third-party businesses that sell goods on their sites.

Thousands of companies use the platforms to sell goods online, allowing a sole trader working from home to reach millions of potential customers. But many complain that the big firms are opaque about their rankings, which mean some get top billing, while others struggle to be seen. App designers report similar problems when listing on Google’s and Apple’s stores.

Under the draft regulation, large platforms would have to rewrite their terms and conditions to ensure third-party sellers knew how to influence their online ranking, for example, if payment is required for a top spot.

Platforms would also have to explain any decision to suspend a third-party business from their site, and set up a system to handle complaints.

Legislators hope for agreement between European ministers and MEPs on the law by early next year, which would see the law come into effect from autumn 2019.

The draft regulation follows a pan-European survey by the commission, which found that 46% of businesses using online platforms encounter problems, rising to 75% for those that generated more than half of their turnover via the platform. One-third of heavy users complained about lack of transparency, while 22% thought terms and conditions were unfair. The most frequently cited problems were technical ones and lack of support from the platform.

“You see things like user conditions being changed from day to day,” said Mariya Gabriel, the European commissioner for digital economy and society. “We are saying to the platforms you need to have transparency with regard to your conditions for use, data access and so on, to provide businesses with the opportunity to know what their criteria are and to create an environment based on rules that everyone is familiar with.”



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Website linked to cyber-attacks against UK banks is shut down | Technology

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A website linked to more than 4m cyber-attacks worldwide, including against some of Britain’s biggest banks, has been shut down following a UK- and Netherlands-led operation.

Webstresser.org had 136,000 registered users and could be rented for about £10 to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which high volumes of internet traffic are launched at target computers to disable them.

Following an investigation led by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Dutch national police, servers were seized at 11.30am on Wednesday in the Netherlands, the US and Germany, effecting a takedown of the website.

Suspected members of the group were arrested on Tuesday in Scotland, Croatia, Canada and Serbia, the NCA said. The operation was supported by Europol and Police Scotland, as well as law enforcement in 11 countries.

NCA officers also raided a property in Bradford, where the agency believed a suspect linked to the address used the Webstresser service to target seven of the UK’s biggest banks in attacks in November last year. The banks, which have not been named by investigators, were forced to reduce their operations or shut down entire systems, incurring costs in the hundreds of thousands.

Jo Goodall, senior investigating officer at the NCA, said: “A significant criminal website has been shut down and the sophisticated crime group behind it stopped as a result of an international investigation involving law enforcement agencies from 11 countries.

“The arrests made over the past two days show that the internet does not provide bulletproof anonymity to offenders and we expect to identify further suspects linked to the site in the coming weeks and months as we examine the evidence we have gathered.”

Individuals with little or no technical knowledge could use the Webstresser service to launch crippling cyber-attacks across the world.

Other targets have included government institutions and police forces, as well as victims in the gaming industry.

Gert Ras, the head of the national hi-tech crime unit at the Dutch police, said: “By taking down the world’s largest illegal DDoS seller in a worldwide joint law-enforcement operation based on NCA intelligence, we have made an unprecedented impact on DDoS cybercrime. Not only were the administrators of this illegal service arrested, but also users will now face prosecution and civil liability for caused damage.

“This is a warning to all wannabe DDoS-ers: do not DDoS because, through close law-enforcement collaboration, we will identify you, bring you to court and facilitate that you will be held liable by the victims for the huge damage you cause.”

Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-Cat) supported the investigation by assisting the exchange of information between all partners. A command-and-coordination post was set up at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague, in the Netherlands, on the action day.



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WhatsApp raises minimum age to 16 for Europeans ahead of GDPR | Technology

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WhatsApp is raising the minimum user age from 13 to 16, potentially locking out large numbers of teenagers as the messaging app looks to comply with the EU’s upcoming new data protection rules.

The Facebook-owned messaging service that has more than 1.5 billion users will ask people in the 28 EU states to confirm they are 16 or older as part of a prompt to accept a new terms of service and an updated privacy policy in the next few weeks.

How WhatsApp will confirm age and enforce the new limit is unclear. The service does not currently verify identity beyond requirements for a working mobile phone number.

WhatsApp said it was not asking for any new rights to collect personal information in the agreement it has created for the European Union. It said: “Our goal is simply to explain how we use and protect the limited information we have about you.”

WhatsApp’s minimum age will remain 13 years outside of Europe, in line with its parent company. In order to comply with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force on 25 May, Facebook has taken a different approach for its primary social network. As part of its separate data policy, the company requires those aged between 13 and 15 years old to nominate a parent or guardian to give permission for them to share information with the social network, or otherwise limit the personalisation of the site.

WhatsApp also announced Tuesday that it would begin allowing users to download a report detailing the data it holds on them, such as the make and model of the device they used, their contacts and groups and any blocked numbers.

GDPR is the biggest overhaul of online privacy since the birth of the internet, giving Europeans the right to know what data is stored on them and the right to have it deleted. The new laws also give regulatorsthe power to fine corporations up to 4% of their global turnover or €20m, whichever is larger, for failing to meet the tough new data protection requirements.

WhatsApp, founded in 2009 and bought by Facebook for $19bn in 2014, has come under pressure from some European governments in recent years because of its use of end-to-end encryption and its plan to share user data with its parent company.

In 2017 European regulators disrupted a move by WhatsApp to change its policies to allow it to share users’ phone numbers and other information with Facebook for ad targeting and other uses. WhatsApp suspended the change in Europe after widespread regulatory scrutiny, and signed an undertaking in March with the UK Information commissioner’s office to not share any EU citizen’s data with Facebook until GDPR comes into force.

But on Tuesday the messaging firm said it wanted to continue sharing data with Facebook at some point. It said: “As we have said in the past, we want to work closer with other Facebook companies in the future and we will keep you updated as we develop our plans.”



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Russia blocks millions of IP addresses in battle against Telegram app | World news

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Russia’s internet watchdog has blocked an estimated 16m IP addresses in a massive operation against the banned Telegram messaging app that could set a new precedent for Russian online censorship.

The “battle for Telegram” pits one of Russia’s most popular messaging apps – with more than 13 million users – against the internet censor Roskomnadzor, in a public cat-and-mouse game to block traffic that has put the agency’s reputation on the line.

Telegram is widely used by the Russian political establishment, and prominent politicians and officials have openly flouted or criticised the ban. Data from the app showed several Kremlin officials had continued to sign in on Tuesday evening, four days after a court ordered the service to be blocked over alleged terrorism concerns.

Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower living in Russia, also came out in support of Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, on Tuesday, tweeting: “I have criticized @telegram’s security model in the past, but @Durov’s response to the Russian government’s totalitarian demand for backdoor access to private communications – refusal and resistance – is the only moral response, and shows real leadership.”

Edward Snowden
(@Snowden)

I have criticized @telegram‘s security model in the past, but @Durov‘s response to the Russian government’s totalitarian demand for backdoor access to private communications—refusal and resistance—is the only moral response, and shows real leadership. https://t.co/KtZDpu33wh


April 17, 2018

Backed by Russia’s federal security service (FSB) and a court decision, Roskomnadzor has pushed forward, banning subnets, totalling millions of IP addresses, used by Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, two hosting sites that Telegram switched to over the weekend to help circumvent the ban.

Several other Russian companies have become collateral damage, with users reporting outages for the social network Odnoklassniki, the Viber messenger app, an online English language school, a courier service and others.

While the estimated 16m IP addresses are still a very small portion of the total number used, the effort to shut down a messaging service such as Telegram through brute force remains unprecedented.

Andrei Soldatov, the co-author of The Red Web, an authoritative account of internet surveillance in Russia, said the campaign showed a no-holds-barred approach unconcerned with political fallout.

“They’ve decided the political costs of blocking Telegram and millions and millions of IP addresses used by Amazon and Google are not that high,” Soldatov said. “Once you cross the line, you can do anything. I think it means that they could move on from Telegram to big services like Facebook and Google.”

The contest has taken place in public, with Roskomnadzor officials and Telegram employees trading barbs and estimates of the service’s functionality, as Russian media and bloggers chart the fallout.

The Roskomnadzor head, Aleksandr Zharov, told the independent Russian business outlet the Bell: “Telegram’s degradation is now at 30%.”

But data published by the Bell suggested views of Russian-language channels on the service had risen by 30m, or 17%, on the day it was blocked.

So far, neither Amazon nor Google have commented publicly on the blocking of their hosting’s IP addresses.

Durov, the Russian tech entrepreneur who founded Telegram, said the effect on Telegram’s operations was minimal. He also noted that users could continue to use the service if they installed Virtual Private Networks, or used internet proxies, on their devices.

“Despite the ban, we haven’t seen a significant drop in user engagement so far, since Russians tend to bypass the ban with VPNs and proxies,” Durov, who now lives outside Russia, wrote in a message to Telegram users on Tuesday evening.

He also announced he would donate millions of dollars in cryptocurrency to companies helping to promote VPNs and proxies, calling it the “digital Resistance”.

Russia last year also passed legislation forcing VPNs to block sites blocked by the government. Many have not complied, and the law has not been widely enforced.





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How Europe’s ‘breakthrough’ privacy law takes on Facebook and Google | Technology

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Despite the political theatre of Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional interrogations last week, Facebook’s business model isn’t at any real risk from regulators in the US. In Europe, however, the looming General Data Protection Regulation will give people better privacy protections and force companies including Facebook to make sweeping changes to the way they collect data and consent from users – with huge fines for those who don’t comply.

“It’s changing the balance of power from the giant digital marketing companies to focus on the needs of individuals and democratic society,” said Jeffrey Chester, founder of the Center for Digital Democracy. “That’s an incredible breakthrough.”

Here’s a simple guide to the new rules.

What is GDPR?

It is a regulation that requires companies to protect the personal data and privacy of residents of EU countries. It replaces an outdated data protection directive from 1995 and restricts the way businesses collect, store and export people’s personal data.

“Consumers have been abused,” said David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York. “Marketers have succeeded in making people feel powerless and resigned to getting the short end of the bargain. GDPR gives consumers the chance to renegotiate that very unfair deal.”

Does it only affect European companies?

No. It applies to all companies that process the personal data of people residing in the European Union.

What counts as personal data?

Any information related to a person that can be used to identify them, including their name, photo, email address, IP address, bank details, posts on a social networking site, medical information, biometric data and sexual orientation.

What new rights do people get?

Under GDPR, people get expanded rights to obtain the data that a company has collected about them for free through a “data subject request”. People will also have the “right to be forgotten”, which means companies must delete someone’s data if they withdraw their consent for it to be held. Companies will only be able to collect data if there’s a specific business purpose for it, rather than collecting extra information at the point of sign-up just in case.

“It makes companies become much more thoughtful and rigorous about the data they collect and what they use it for,” Carroll said.

Companies will have to replace long terms and conditions filled with legalese with simple-to-digest consent requests. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as to give it. Finally, if a company has a data breach, it must inform users within 72 hours.

“What makes this a potential game changer is the amount of power it places into the hands of the public,” said attorney Jason Straight, who is chief privacy officer at legal services company UnitedLex.

What about people outside of Europe?

Although it only applies to residents of the EU, the new rules will probably put pressure on companies offer further protections for the rest of their users. Facebook, for example, has pledged to offer GDPR privacy controls globally.

“This will be good for everyone,” said Kris Lahiri, co-founder at the cloud-sharing company Egnyte, pointing out that global customers will demand the same rights as their European counterparts.

Which companies have the most work to do?

The big data-hungry technology platforms like Amazon, Google and Facebook and advertising technology companies such as Criteo, whose technology powers those ads featuring products you’ve browsed online that follow you around the internet.

What is Facebook doing to comply?

Having said it would follow GDPR “in spirit”, Facebook’s actions tell a different story. On Wednesday Reuters reported that the company would change its terms of service so that its 1.5 billion non-European users would no longer be covered by the privacy law. Until now, all users outside of the US and Canada have been governed by terms of service agreed with the company’s international headquarters in Ireland. Since any user data processed in Ireland will soon fall under GDPR, Facebook is changing the agreement so users in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America are governed by more lenient US privacy laws.

Where it needs to comply with GDPR, Facebook seems to have focused its efforts on getting user consent for its data collection practices (including facial biometric data) rather than reducing the data it collects. It has developed a sequence of consent requests that explicitly outline how each type of data will be used. However, as TechCrunch highlighted, the company has designed these requests in a way that makes it harder to opt out than opt in.

What about startups who don’t have the same resources?

Complying with GDPR may be a little onerous for companies that don’t have the engineering resources of Facebook or Google. According to a PwC survey, 68% of US companies expect to spend between $1m and $10m to comply with GDPR.

And there’s another way they’ll get stung: GDPR consultants charging enormous fees for patchy advice.

What are the penalties for companies that don’t comply?

Companies can be fined up to 4% of annual global revenue, but it will come down to how regulators in individual countries choose to enforce the law.

When does it come into effect?

The twenty-fifth of May 2018. That’s too early for some: “There’s a panic mode setting in as everyone is getting closer to this deadline,” said Lahiri.



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Facebook to start asking permission for facial recognition in GDPR push | Technology

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Facebook has started to seek explicit consent from users for targeted advertising, storage of sensitive information, and – for the first time in the EU – application of facial recognition technology as the European general data protection regulation (GDPR) is due to come into force in just over a month.

The company is only required to seek the new permissions in the European Union, but it plans to roll them out to all Facebook users, no matter where they live. The move follows Mark Zuckerberg’s stated goal to apply the spirit of GDPR worldwide.

When Facebook users log in during the coming weeks, they will be asked to agree to the company’s updated terms of service, and to make specific choices in a number of areas defined by the new law.

In a blogpost, Facebook executives Erin Egan and Ashlie Beringer said users would be asked to review information about targeted advertising, and to choose whether or not they want the social network to use data from partners to show them ads; to explicitly confirm whether they’re happy to share “political, religious, and relationship information”, which is defined as specially protected data under EU law; and to agree to the use of facial recognition technology, which Facebook says will be used to detect which pictures users are in and help protect them against strangers using their photos.

Some users, however,say Facebook is attempting to railroad them in to giving consent under the new laws, rather than making it easy to make a meaningful choice.

If users want to decline the new permissions, they are not able to simply click “no”. Instead, all of the options are presented with a blue button reading “accept and continue” and a white button labelled “manage data settings”. The “manage data settings” button takes them to a second page where Facebook gives more information pushing them into accepting the change, and then a third page where they are able to opt out.

“Overall, it seems like Facebook is complying with the letter of GDPR law, but with questionable spirit,” wrote TechCrunch’s Josh Constine. “The subtly pushy designs seem intended to steer people away from changing their defaults in ways that could hamper Facebook’s mission and business.”

Facial recognition is a particular watershed for Facebook. The company withdrew an earlier facial recognition feature called tag suggestions from the EU and Canada in 2012 over concerns that it was not compatible with data protection laws in those jurisdictions. Now, however, the company believes it can roll out the features worldwide if it secures active consent from users before applying facial recognition technology to their photos.

A California judge allowed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook on Monday over tag suggestions. Users in Illinois are suing the company, arguing that the feature violated state law.



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‘Big bitcoin heist’ suspect escapes prison and flees Iceland ‘on PM’s plane’ | Technology

‘Big bitcoin heist’ suspect escapes prison and flees Iceland ‘on PM’s plane’ | Technology


The suspected mastermind behind the theft of 600 computers used to mine bitcoin in Iceland has escaped from prison and fled to Sweden on an aeroplane reportedly carrying the Icelandic prime minister.

Sindri Thor Stefansson escaped through a window of the low-security Sogn prison in rural southern Iceland before boarding a flight to Sweden at the international airport in Keflavik located 59 miles from the prison on Tuesday. Police said he travelled under a passport in someone else’s name, but was identified via surveillance video.

“He had an accomplice,” police chief Gunnar Schram told local news outlet Visir. “We are sure of that.”

Guards at the prison, which has no fences and where inmates have access to the internet and phones, did not report him missing until after the flight to Sweden had taken off. Stefansson had been in custody since February, but was moved to the low-security prison 11 days ago.

An international warrant has since been issued for his arrest, but Swedish police spokesman Stefan Dangardt said no arrest has been made in Sweden.

The plane that Stefansson took was reported to have been carrying the Icelandic prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, to a meeting with India’s prime minister in Stockholm on Tuesday.



The plane that Stefansson took was reported to have been carrying the Icelandic prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, to a meeting with India’s prime minister in Stockholm on Tuesday. Photograph: Claudio Bresciani/EPA

The prison break is yet another twist in a criminal case without parallel on the peaceful island nation with a population of 340,000 and one of the world’s lowest crime rates.

Dubbed by local media as the “big bitcoin heist”, Stefansson was among 11 people arrested for allegedly stealing the cryptocurrency mining equipment in what is thought to be Iceland’s biggest theft. The computers, which were stolen in four thefts and have yet to be found, have been valued at 200m kronur (£1.45m), described as “a grand theft on a scale unseen before” by Icelandic police commissioner Olafur Helgi Kjartansson.

Police have arrested 22 people altogether, including a security guard, without solving the burglaries.

Helgi Gunnlaugsson, a sociology professor at the University of Iceland, said keeping a high-profile prisoner in such low-security surroundings was unusual but more so was his organised escape.

“Prison breaks in Iceland usually mean someone just fled to get drunk,” he said. “The underworlds are tiny and it is extremely difficult to hide, let alone flee the country.”

Iceland has become a hotspot of for data centres and cryptocurrency mining thanks to its abundance of renewable energy and cold climate, which provides low electricity prices and lower cooling costs for the high-powered computer equipment. The low costs have made it easier for cryptocurrency miners to turn a profit, but have also led to the operators within Iceland consuming more electricity with their intensive computing endeavors than households.

Owners of the stolen computers have, in a rare public outreach, promised a $60,000 reward to anyone who can lead detectives to the stolen computers.



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Has a Russian intelligence agent hacked your wifi? | Technology

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Another day, another hacking attack – or, in Monday’s case, another few million hacking attacks. Russia has been blamed by the US and the UK for a global hacking campaign that involves breaking into millions of computers and other devices, including wifi routers.

Tens or hundreds of thousands of the devices they have targeted are reportedly in the UK – so why is Vladimir Putin apparently so keen to break into your internet connection?

First, it is highly unlikely that Putin or his intelligence agents are trying to break into your Amazon account or nick your broadband connection – although criminal hackers might want both, either to steal money from you or to use your devices to mine for Bitcoin.

Intelligence agency hacks are different. Thankfully, experts say they are less worrying for most of us – in the short term, at least. Agencies with the ability to hack on a large scale will often allow an attack to spread to any vulnerable device, in the hope of hitting the home computer of a useful intelligence target (or their family).

That doesn’t mean that you are fine if you don’t work for MI6, however: there is a much bigger pool of intelligence targets than you may think. If you work for a major computing company or a utilities network or in another area of key infrastructure, you may be more interesting than you think. Countries hack each other so that if they ever go to war they can disable important systems: if they are inside the systems of a power plant, for example, they can disrupt the grid before an attack.

It is not just Russia that gets up to this kind of activity, though: some of the biggest culprits in these information-fishing trips are Israel, the US, and, er, the UK.

In short, a global, invisible, low-level conflict is taking place across the internet and it is possible that your router has been conscripted as a foot soldier. Maybe it is worth getting your firewall and antivirus checked out after all.



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