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This is a really fascinating story, which points out the FTC, while motivated, is ill-equipped to track online privacy breaches. (Their technologists can’t get unfiltered computers to use for web surfing, for one.) Although they of course would like the tech industry to think they’re watching everywhere, the FTC has “just a handful of iPhones and Androids that are kept under lock and key in the basement,” the report says.
Kudos to ProPublica for digging out this story:
Jonathan Mayer had a hunch.
A gifted computer scientist, Mayer suspected that online advertisers might be getting around browser settings that are designed to block tracking devices known as cookies. If his instinct was right, advertisers were following people as they moved from one website to another even though their browsers were configured to prevent this sort of digital shadowing. Working long hours at his office,Mayer ran a series of clever tests in which he purchased ads that acted as sniffers for the sort of unauthorized cookies he was looking for. He hit the jackpot, unearthing one of the biggest privacy scandals of the past year: Google was secretly planting cookies on a vast number of iPhone browsers. Mayer thinks millions of iPhones were targeted by Google.
This is precisely the type of privacy violation the Federal Trade Commission aims to protect consumers from, and Google, which claims the cookies were not planted in an unethical way, now reportedly faces a fine of more than $10 million. But the FTC didn’t discover the violation. Mayer is a 25-year-old student working on law and computer science degrees at Stanford University. He shoehorned his sleuthing between classes and homework, working from an office he shares in the Gates Computer Science Building with students from New Zealand and Hong Kong. He doesn’t get paid for his work and he doesn’t get much rest.
If it seems odd that a federal regulator was scooped by a sleep-deprived student, get used to it, because the federal government is often the last to know about digital invasions of your privacy. The largest privacy scandal of the past year, also involving Google, wasn’t discovered by federal regulators, either. A privacy official in Germany forced Google to hand over the hard drives of cars equipped with 360-degree digital cameras that were taking pictures for its Street View program. The Germans discovered that Google wasn’t just shooting photos: The cars downloaded a panoply of sensitive data, including emails and passwords, from open Wi-Fi networks. Google had secretly done the same in the United States, but the FTC, as well as the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees broadcast issues, had no idea until the Germans figured it out.
My PC, I mean. Chris replaced the motherboard and the fan, and put in a great big new honkin’ power supply. He kept showing me the innards and trying to talk to me about core temperatures and heat spreaders, and I said, “Uh, is there any special reason you’re showing me all this? I already believe you that the heat sink is properly seated.” Really, I just care if it works.
“I just want you to know I did everything right, but the core temperatures are all the same and they shouldn’t be. I can’t figure it out.”
Tonight we checked them and they’re all fine. Hallelujah. Thanks to everyone who helped. It really sucks, not having a job.
Virtually Speaking Sundays | 6pm pacific |9pm eastern - Listen live and later
Tonight from our Media Panel: Marcy Wheeler, investigative journalist blogs at emptywheel.net and tweets as @emptywheel. David Waldman, known as KagroX, blogs at DailyKos and Congress Matters and tweets as @KagroX
Virtually Speaking Sundays | 9pm eastern | 6pm pacific
For this VS Sunday special, Stuart Zechman welcomes Paul Newell: New York Democratic District Leader, grassroots community organizer and reformer. They’ll talk about
- Paul’s history in politics and experience running for Assembly;
- his involvement with Downtown Independent Democrats (DID) and his role as (one of two) District Leader;
- some of the dynamics regarding his Occupy-supportive resolution ultimately passed by DID;
- his ideas, proposals and strategies on campaign finance reform;
- differences in perspectives between grass-roots, partisan Democrats and movement liberals.
If you can’t attend Netroots Nation this year, you can watch most of it via livestreaming here.
The reason I put this here is because you will feel better after you watch some of these great panels. Trust me on this.
Here’s the player for the main room. I’ll leave it at the top of the page until it’s over:
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- View our keynotes in Hall A/B, sessions from Ballroom A and special FSTV interviews live here. You can see a schedule of all our keynotes here. You can see a schedule of all panels in Ballroom A here.
- View all sessions in Ballroom B live here. You can see a schedule of all sessions in this room here.
- View all sessions in Ballroom D live here. You can see a schedule of all sessions in this room here.
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Virtually Speaking Sundays | June 3 | 6pm pacific | 9pm eastern