Despite the sheer wackiness of some people claiming that your microwave could be taking pictures of you (I’m more worried that it might call immigration if I nuke a burrito), there are privacy concerns with technology that aren’t always obvious.
And yes, I own a Samsung Smart TV — but it’s a great TV and I speak to it gently, so we’re OK.

Did you ever wonder how news reporters could focus on postings from someone’s Facebook page? Didn’t we all try to restrict access? But there they are, quoting posts and commenting on pictures (remember the news comments on Dylann Roof’s pictures of himself and the Confederate flag that showed up on the evening news after the Charleston, S.C., shootings?) And they’re not “friends.”

It turns out that Facebook, along with Twitter and Instagram, provides developers access to users’ feeds. This can be used to track trends and public events. That’s not all bad, since the American Red Cross used social media data to get information during Hurricane Sandy. Of course, companies also used it to track people’s comments on their products, something that strikes me as more intrusive.

This came to light after a lawsuit changed Facebook’s policies, which now say that developers cannot “use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance” — which means that in the past, they could. Lovely. They barred Geofeedia, the location-based analytics platform, among others, that had been feeding data to law enforcement that used it to track activists after the death of Freddie Gray, in Baltimore, and Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo.

Facebook will still cooperate with the police on a case-by-case basis to help solve specific crimes. Obviously, we all would be happy if they shared information when someone posts a selfie of their lighting up a police car, but blanket access will be restricted.
Up until now, developers were not asked what they did with your data, which could include your friend list, location, birthday, profile pictures, education, relationship status and political affiliation. That’s a lot of stuff to work with to help define who you are and what you’re doing, which is what prompted the original lawsuit that complained about the tracking of protestors. It’s enough to make you go back to writing letters.
Or maybe not. We all love our social media.

 

More Eyeballs
Intel, which has been making less money on its core chipmaking business, has bought Mobileye, an Israeli “self-driving technology” firm, for $15.3 billion. Rival chip merchants Qualcomm and Nvidia (best known, so far, for their video chips) have also invested heavily in creating driverless components and systems. The competition among suppliers and car manufacturers will continue to increase, since Goldman Sachs has projected that the market for driver assistance functions, as well as driverless cars, could increase 30-fold in the next decade.

Intel’s role could include cameras, in-car networking and mapping functions and cloud software to tie it all together.
And doesn’t anyone buy anything for a few million anymore? Does it always have to be billions? There’s too much money out there.

Another thought: Google has been working very deliberately to test driverless cars in stages, racking up miles carefully and with few incidents. The arrival of all sorts of competitors, some of which will want to be first in the game above all else, will no doubt set back the whole concept with a few widely publicized crashes and probable fatalities.

It’s probably better to work on assisted braking and lane-following technology first.

 

‘Can You Hear Me Now?’

A new variation on an old scam: A spam caller will ask a seemingly innocuous yes/no question, such as “Can you hear me?” or “Are you the homeowner who pays the utility bills?” —then they record the “yes” and use it to authorize charges on your phone or utility bill or credit card.
As always, just hang up. Being too polite to do so is not a good idea.

Ransomware Update
In February, Spanish police busted an international ring that was netting more than a million euros a year using ransomware. Ransomware, as you probably know, encrypts the contents of your hard drive and demands a payment to unencrypt it, usually using bitcoins or gift cards that cannot be traced. Eleven people from Russia, Georgia and the Ukraine were arrested, most in a money-laundering cell in Costa del Sol. The malware paraded as coming from the police and demanded paying a “fine” of 100 euros for viewing “illegal” websites.

Similar schemes in the U.S.-pretend to be from the FBI and usually demand $500, threatening to expose you for viewing porn. All are bogus, of course, but the encryption is real and usually impossible to break. The Spanish group also stole credit card numbers and info they used at Spanish ATMs.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately.

 

Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing and does PC troubleshooting, data retrieval and network setups for small businesses, when not talking carefully to his appliances. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at cliff@feldwick.com. Older columns online at http://feldwick.com.