Convenience vs Privacy

5 03 2012

Google recently announced some significant changes to its privacy policy (changes which took effect a couple of days ago). If you’re a regular user of one of Google’s products (search, Gmail, YouTube, etc.), then you probably saw the news prominently displayed on these sites for the past few weeks. Basically, the company took is 60+ different privacy policies from various products and sites and combined them into one single “easy to use” policy. From Google’s organizational efficiency standpoint, this is probably a welcome change. But this single privacy policy also has a significant business advantage too: now Google can share your data between its services more easily. It’s not that Google is collecting more data, they are just consolidating it; for example, your viewing habits on YouTube can help the company advertise to you better on Gmail.

Not surprisingly, some government regulators and privacy watchdogs have suggested that these changes may be more “user friendly” but they strip away some of the privacy of individual users. There are concerns in the EU that the current policy does not adhere to their “Directive on Data Protection” and here in Canada concerns are being raised by the Privacy Commissioner. Issues include: there doesn’t seem to be a clear way of opting-out of the new policy; the policy does not explain if users can easily set up different accounts with each Google service (to avoid data consolidation); its unclear how long your data will remain in the Google ecosystem even after you’ve asked for it to be deleted. The privacy debate continues…

The CBC has more on the story here.


SOPA explained in plain langugae

19 01 2012

A number of important sites voluntarily went dark yesterday (BoingBoing, Wired, Wikipedia, etc.) to protest SOPA/PIPA legislation in the United States. There are many places to read about this legislation, but if you want a plain language summary of the implications of the legislation, check out Khan Academy’s explanation:

Say “Creep!”

13 01 2012

One of my students sent me a link to a story about a webcam hacker published in GQ magazine. Luis Mijangos, a self-taught coder/hacker, used a variety of malicious hacks to break into people’s computers and look through their harddrives. On the surface that sounds like basic “run-of-the-mill” hacking… but the really creepy part was when he would hack the computer’s webcam to turn it on and off at will. Since a lot of people keep their laptops/desktop machines in their bedrooms, you can imagine the kind of webcam recordings he was able to download (and eventually use to blackmail his victims). The author of the article, David Kushner, does a great job at trying to understand the psychology of the hacker.

Here’s the link to GQ. It’s worth a read – especially if you need a little Friday the 13th paranoia.

Thanks to Dylan T. for the link.

SOPA opera

16 11 2011

The Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) is set to be debated today in the U.S. House of Representatives – and it’s bound to be an interesting discussion. The proposed legislation would give new powers to content producers and copyright owners as they battle against online piracy. One side of the debate features major content producers like the music and film industries, who obviously want more control over how their content is consumed. If this legislation passes as is, then they will be able to seek court orders to make ISPs, search engines and payment processors block access to sites linked to online piracy. The other side of the debate features Internet heavyweights (Google, Twitter, eBay, etc.) who claim that this legislation will wreck the Internet as we know it. Allowing content providers to have this kind of authority in matters of piracy means that some content will be unfairly censored and this practice may stifle longer-term innovation.

Let the lobbying begin (well, let it continue…)

Read a brief update from the BBC here.


The changing nature of piracy

12 01 2011

A recent study by MarkMonitor suggests that popular piracy sites generate billions of visits per year. In fact, their estimate puts the number at over 53 billion visits.  Of course, not every visit constitutes an act of illegal downloading, because many of these sites have links to legitimate and licensed content as well.

What is interesting is that many of the popular sites for piracy are not the typical peer-to-peer networks, they’re upload sites like and Megavideo. For most of these upload sites the “pirates” aren’t actually stealing anything, because they’re not copying media to their own computers; instead, they’re simply streaming it. Once they’ve watched the latest episode of Jersey Shore, they move on. This new generation of pirates just need to watch the booty, they don’t need to take it (sorry!).

Read the story from the BBC.

(In)decent proposal

22 10 2010

One of the “hottest” domain names online sold this week for a reported $13 million dollars. The domain in question was “” Apparently, the owner was unable to profit from the domain name and went bankrupt. The new owner (if the deal is approved) will be a company called Clover Holdings.

Here are some other interesting domain name sales in recent memory: ~ 10 million (2008) ~ 9.5 million (2007) ~ 5.5 million (2010)

Sex, money and gambling…

Read a little more on the saga from

ISPs off the hook (in Australia)

5 02 2010

A judge in Australia recently ruled that Internet Service Providers (like Bell, Rogers, etc.) cannot be held accountable for the actions of their users when it comes to illegal downloading. This case is being watched closely by studio executives around the world (and I’m guessing they’re not pleased). I understand the desire to stop illegal downloading, but trying to force ISPs to be a “Big Brother” is problematic for a number of reasons (encrypted torrents, privacy expectations of customers, proxy servers, etc.). This strategy might reduce illegal downloading, but it won’t eliminate it.

Yes, the Internet can be used for illegal activity, but I’m not sure we want to turn our ISPs into the de facto Internet police. To me this seems more like knee-jerk reaction by studios trying to protect their existing business without thinking about how to use these networks to their advantage.

On a side note, the entire proceedings of the case were posted on Twitter (which is apparently a first for Australia).

You can read more detail from the CBC website.