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The Price of Personal Data

Posted in Marketing, Microsoft at 3:11 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Story about blackmail using personal data which goes out of hand; a timely reminder of the general associated risks (new Facebook examples)

A READER sent us the following message this morning:

A Warning About Non Free Software and the Microsoft Ecosystem

A Dell technician helping a woman named Tara recover pictures of her boyfiend helped himself to racy pictures and took her on a year long blackmail and con job with love letters, credit card fraud and her nude pictures posted on a “bitchtara” website.


“She gave the technician permission to access her computer remotely and watched as he found the pictures and downloaded them. ‘I trusted him because he was a Dell technician … I’ve been violated. My life’s been violated’.”

This woman’s story is sad but worse things are probably happening all the time. Non free software can not be inspected for malicious features and Windows is completely insecure, so Microsoft, OEM technicians and botnet owners have full access to people’s private documents if they want it. Newer versions of Windows like Vista/Windows 7 actually make things worse by indexing everything the user does and establishing encrypted communications to Microsoft by default. Apple users should not imagine themselves above these kinds of problems.

The moral is that people should only run community administered, free software like Debian GNU/Linux, and should only have them serviced by trusted, local technicians. Nothing can protect people from violations of trust but free software greatly reduces the odds. The Windows EULA gives Microsoft the right to inspect and delete your files at their their discretion. Free software has excellent remote access capability but the user is always in control. Windows is owned by Microsoft and will always serve Microsoft at the user’s expense. Non free software users have even less privacy than the hapless Winston of 1984 who could hide in a corner and write a private diary.

As a case study, let’s use this month’s news about Facebook because Facebook gives Microsoft its data. A lot of users are unaware of this.

Based on a survey published this month, Facebook scores low in user satisfaction and Facebook has also just been sued by Germany [1, 2, 3]. It faces a fine for privacy violations.

Facebook faces a fine from a German privacy regulator for failing to obtain the consent of the people whose contact details it stores.

In other news, Facebook is expected to start sharing people’s personal data with Amazon, which cannot be trusted, either (we gave many reasons before).

Such a partnership could also lay the groundwork for Facebook to get key pieces of data, so it can start to quantitatively value how social recommendations translate into sales. (The company says it’s not getting purchase history on specific individuals.)

Facebook finally admits giving data to advertisers, but what happens when this sort of data gets ‘leaked’?

PRIVACY SHREDDER Facebook is going into overdrive to convince its users that advertisers are their friends.

“Marketers are downloading data on 100 million Facebook users,” says this headline. This data was harvested, which shows how data ends up going out of control, regardless of laws (like Wikileaks shows).

Facebook’s privacy woes continue. This week a man harvested and published the profile details of 100 million Facebook users. If that weren’t bad enough, he then made the file available for free download. You’d think that a lot of companies would be interested in acquiring such data. And you’d be right.

The harvester speaks out and the MSBBC gives him a platform.

The man who harvested and published the personal details of 100m Facebook users has spoken out about his motives.

The MSBBC is actually in the midst of some British controversy this month because Facebook users were called “saddos” on the main Web site [1, 2], which puts the MSBBC down alongside The Inquirer which says: “BBC insults ‘Facebook Saddos’”

THE BBC appears to have forgotten to take its anti-INQUIRER pills and managed to insult the millions of members of the social notworking service Facebook.

“Facebook decides to protect kids after refusing,” says The Inquirer in another article and ITWire says that “Facebook bans fake nipples”.

Facebook is an easy target because of its scale, but the privacy policy still teaches a lesson and the connections with Microsoft offer room for discomfort (the previous post showed Apple’s serious privacy breach). Microsoft tried to buy Facebook.

“Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.”

Bruce Schneier

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