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OPLIN 4Cast #308: We are being watched

Posted in 4cast

One of the big news items this week was the resignation of CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus after the FBI monitored his emails and found evidence of an affair. Monitoring an individual’s emails may not seem out of line when the person is under formal investigation, as was the case with Gen. Petraeus. But monitoring emails, cell phones, and other electronic communication happens more often than you might think, and sometimes for disturbing reasons.

  • The spy in your inbox (Ars Technica/Sean Gallagher)  “Using graphics to collect metrics is an old hack, going back to the ‘sprites’ used on many early personal Web pages to track page views. Web request based tracking is also heavily used by both legitimate large-scale e-mailers and spam factories to collect information such as when and where e-mails are opened, and to test the ‘hit rate’ for various subject lines and offer teases. But ContactMonkey gets even more personal about it, because it identifies each recipient explicitly, and reports back directly on them.”
  • Microsoft wants to turn Xbox 360 Kinect into Big Brother! (ReadWriteWeb/Mark Hachman)  “The difference that the patent suggests is that the content would be licensed on a per-user-view basis, so that, for example, a maximum of four people could watch a movie. The patent goes on to suggest that the computing device itself enforce limits on the number of people that could view the movie or game. If the number of viewers exceeds the limit, the viewers could be asked to re-license the movie – paying more for the privilege, one can assume – or risk it being blocked or shut down.”
  • Ad industry calls IE10’s ‘Do Not Track’ setting ‘unacceptable’ (Computerworld/Gregg Keizer)  “The letter was the harshest criticism yet by the advertising industry of Do Not Track in general and Microsoft’s position with IE10 specifically. The ANA [Association of National Advertisers] used phrases like ‘fundamentally bad for consumers,’ ‘undermines consumer interest’ and ‘cheat society’ in its missive. Essentially, the ANA argued that if advertisers could not track users on the Web – and then use that information to deliver targeted online ads to them – the Internet as it’s now known would vanish.”
  • Justice Dept. to defend warrantless cell phone tracking (CNET/Declan McCullagh)  “Federal prosecutors are planning to argue that they should be able to obtain stored records revealing the minute-by-minute movements of mobile users over a 60-day period – in this case, T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers – without having to ask a judge to approve a warrant first. The case highlights how valuable location data is for police, especially when it’s tied to devices that millions of people carry with them almost all the time.”

Fee fact:
Cell phone carriers received over a million requests from law enforcement agencies for cell phone customer records last year, but they also made millions of dollars from those requests. Reportedly, carriers charge fees of about $25 to locate a cell phone, $25 to retrieve a user’s text messages, and $50 for a listing of all the cell phones that interacted with a given cell phone tower at a specific time.