Archives December 2018

Chinese schools enforce ‘smart uniforms’ with GPS tracking system to monitor students

Chinese schools have begun enforcing “smart uniforms” embedded with computer chips to monitor student movements and prevent them from skipping classes.

Eleven schools in the south-west province of Guizhou have introduced the uniforms, which were developed by local tech firm Guizhou Guanyu Technology.

As students enter the school, the time and date is recorded along with a short video that parents can access via a mobile app.

Facial recognition further ensures that each uniform is worn by its rightful owner to prevent students from cheating the system.

Skipping classes triggers an alarm to inform teachers and parents of the truancy, while an automatic voice alarm activates if a student walks out of school without permission.

A GPS system tracks student movements even beyond the school grounds.

The two chips — inserted into each uniform’s shoulders — can withstand up to 500 washes and 150 degrees Celsius, the company told state media Global Times.

Alarms will also sound if a student falls asleep in class, while parents can monitor purchases their child makes at the school and set spending limits via a mobile app, according to the company’s official website.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Parents are using GPS ankle monitors to track their teenagers like criminals

There’s no shortage of GPS trackers for parents who want to keep tabs on their children’s driving. After all, car accidents are the leading cause of death for American teens. For some parents, that’s enough.

For others, nothing but a full-on ankle monitor—the kind used to track people released on bail or parole—will do.
Frank Kopczynski, the owner of Tampa Bay Monitoring (in fact located in Clearwater, Florida), also runs Action Plus Bail Bonds. He said the biggest challenge in strapping an ankle monitor to teenage non-offenders is whether they can remove it themselves.

“We provide a bracelet that is near-impossible to cut off,” Kopczynski told Quartz. “It also allows us to have two-way communication and gives us the option of sounding a piercing alarm.”

Along with the 95-decibel siren, if a teen is out past curfew, their parents can call Tampa Bay Monitoring’s office, and Kopczynski or one of his employees will activate the ankle monitor’s speaker and tell the child it’s time to get home or the police will be called. Hearing “this god-like voice out of nowhere” is generally effective, said Kopczynski; since the system is two-way, staff can also monitor the teen covertly.

The electronic monitoring industry has more than doubled in size in recent years, and has expanded well beyond its initial market of people on bail or parole. For example, immigrants detained by US authorities and put on an electronic monitoring program are required to pay extremely high fees—$880 for activation plus $420 a month— while they await their hearings.

As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants

Internal documents show that the social network gave Microsoft, Amazon, Spotify and others far greater access to people’s data than it has disclosed.

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

Facebook has been reeling from a series of privacy scandals, set off by revelations in March that a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, improperly used Facebook data to build tools that aided President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Acknowledging that it had breached users’ trust, Facebook insisted that it had instituted stricter privacy protections long ago. Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, assured lawmakers in April that people “have complete control” over everything they share on Facebook.

[Facebook’s strategy in times of crisis: delay, deny and deflect.]

Facebook began forming data partnerships when it was still a relatively young company. Mr. Zuckerberg was determined to weave Facebook’s services into other sites and platforms, believing it would stave off obsolescence and insulate Facebook from competition. Every corporate partner that integrated Facebook data into its online products helped drive the platform’s expansion, bringing in new users, spurring them to spend more time on Facebook and driving up advertising revenue. At the same time, Facebook got critical data back from its partners.

The partnerships were so important that decisions about forming them were vetted at high levels, sometimes by Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, Facebook officials said. While many of the partnerships were announced publicly, the details of the sharing arrangements typically were confidential.

Facebook also allowed Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada to read, write and delete users’ private messages, and to see all participants on a thread — privileges that appeared to go beyond what the companies needed to integrate Facebook into their systems, the records show. Facebook acknowledged that it did not consider any of those three companies to be service providers. Spokespeople for Spotify and Netflix said those companies were unaware of the broad powers Facebook had granted them. A spokesman for Netflix said Wednesday that it had used the access only to enable customers to recommend TV shows and movies to their friends.

A Royal Bank of Canada spokesman disputed that the bank had had any such access. (Aspects of some sharing partnerships, including those with the Royal Bank of Canada and Bing, were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.)

Spotify, which could view messages of more than 70 million users a month, still offers the option to share music through Facebook Messenger. But Netflix and the Canadian bank no longer needed access to messages because they had deactivated features that incorporated it.

These were not the only companies that had special access longer than they needed it. Yahoo, The Times and others could still get Facebook users’ personal information in 2017.

Yahoo could view real-time feeds of friends’ posts for a feature that the company had ended in 2012. A Yahoo spokesman declined to discuss the partnership in detail but said the company did not use the information for advertising. The Times — one of nine media companies named in the documents — had access to users’ friend lists for an article-sharing application it had discontinued in 2011. A spokeswoman for the news organization said it was not obtaining any data.

Facebook’s internal records also revealed more about the extent of sharing deals with over 60 makers of smartphones, tablets and other devices, agreements first reported by The Times in June.

Facebook empowered Apple to hide from Facebook users all indicators that its devices were asking for data. Apple devices also had access to the contact numbers and calendar entries of people who had changed their account settings to disable all sharing, the records show.

Apple officials said they were not aware that Facebook had granted its devices any special access. They added that any shared data remained on the devices and was not available to anyone other than the users.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Amazon error allowed Alexa user to eavesdrop on another home

A user of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in Germany got access to more than a thousand recordings from another user because of “a human error” by the company.

The customer had asked to listen back to recordings of his own activities made by Alexa but he was also able to access 1,700 audio files from a stranger when Amazon sent him a link, German trade publication c’t reported.

On the recordings, a man and a female companion could be overheard in his home and the magazine was able to identify and contact him through the recorded information, according to the report.

Facebook has Filed a Patent To Calculate Your Future Location

Facebook has filed several patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for technology that uses your location data to predict where you’re going and when you’re going to be offline.

A May 30, 2017, Facebook application titled “Offline Trajectories” describes a method to predict where you’ll go next based on your location data. The technology described in the patent would calculate a “transition probability based at least in part on previously logged location data associated with a plurality of users who were at the current location.” In other words, the technology could also use the data of other people you know, as well as that of strangers, to make predictions. If the company could predict when you are about to be in an offline area, Facebook content “may be prefetched so that the user may have access to content during the period where there is a lack of connectivity.”

Another Facebook patent application titled “Location Prediction Using Wireless Signals on Online Social Networks” describes how tracking the strength of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, and near-field communication (NFC) signals could be used to estimate your current location, in order to anticipate where you will go next. This “background signal” information is used as an alternative to GPS because, as the patent describes, it may provide “the advantage of more accurately or precisely determining a geographic location of a user.” The technology could learn the category of your current location (e.g., bar or gym), the time of your visit to the location, the hours that entity is open, and the popular hours of the entity.

Yet another Facebook patent application, “Predicting Locations and Movements of Users Based on Historical Locations for Users of an Online System,” further details how location data from multiple people would be used to glean location and movement trends and to model location chains. According to the patent application, these could be used for a “variety of applications,” including “advertising to users based on locations and for providing insights into the movements of users.” The technology could even differentiate movement trends among people who live in a city and who are just visiting a city.

YouTube’s Top-Earner For 2018 Is a 7-Year-Old

In 2018 the most-downloaded iPhone app was YouTube, reports USA Today, while Amazon’s best-selling item was their Fire TV Stick for streaming video. The No. 1 earner on YouTube this year is 7-year-old Ryan. For all those unboxing videos and playing with toys — and his own new line of toys at Walmart — he and his family will pull in a cool $22 million, according to Forbes. Ryan launched the channel in 2015 — when he was four — and now has 17.3 million followers.

Facebook Privacy Social Networks Internal Emails Show Facebook Weighing the Privacy Risks of Quietly Collecting Call and Text Records From Its Android Users—Then Going Ahead Anyway

Earlier this year, many Android users were shocked to discover that Facebook had been collecting a record of their call and SMS history, as revealed by the company’s data download tool. Now, internal emails released by the UK Parliament show how the decision was made internally.

According to the emails, developers knew the data was sensitive, but they still pushed to collect it as a way of expanding Facebook’s reach. The emails show Facebook’s growth team looking to call log data as a way to improve Facebook’s algorithms as well as to locate new contacts through the “People You May Know” feature. Notably, the project manager recognized it as “a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective,” but that risk seems to have been overwhelmed by the potential user growth.

Initially, the feature was intended to require users to opt in, typically through an in-app pop-up dialog box. But as developers looked for ways to get users signed up, it became clear that Android’s data permissions could be manipulated to automatically enroll users if the new feature was deployed in a certain way.

Thieves Are Boosting the Signal From Key Fobs Inside Homes To Steal Vehicles

According to Markham automotive security specialist Jeff Bates, owner of Lockdown Security, wireless key fobs have a role to play in many recent car thefts, with thieves intercepting and rerouting their signals — even from inside homes — to open and steal cars. According to Bates, many of these thieves are using a method called “relay theft.” Key fobs are constantly broadcasting a signal that communicates with a specific vehicle, he said, and when it comes into a close enough range, the vehicle will open and start. The thief will bring a device close to the home’s door, close to where most keys are sitting, to boost the fob’s signal. They leave another device near the vehicle, which receives the signal and opens the car. Many people don’t realize it, Bates said, but the thieves don’t need the fob in the car to drive it away.

An Eye-Scanning Lie Detector Is Forging a Dystopian Future

Sitting in front of a Converus EyeDetect station, it’s impossible not to think of Blade Runner. In the 1982 sci-fi classic, Harrison Ford’s rumpled detective identifies artificial humans using a steam-punk Voight-Kampff device that watches their eyes while they answer surreal questions. EyeDetect’s questions are less philosophical, and the penalty for failure is less fatal (Ford’s character would whip out a gun and shoot). But the basic idea is the same: By capturing imperceptible changes in a participant’s eyes — measuring things like pupil dilation and reaction time — the device aims to sort deceptive humanoids from genuine ones.

It claims to be, in short, a next-generation lie detector. Polygraph tests are a $2 billion industry in the US and, despite their inaccuracy, are widely used to screen candidates for government jobs. Released in 2014 by Converus, a Mark Cuban-funded startup, EyeDetect is pitched by its makers as a faster, cheaper, and more accurate alternative to the notoriously unreliable polygraph. By many measures, EyeDetect appears to be the future of lie detection — and it’s already being used by local and federal agencies to screen job applicants.

In documents obtained through public records requests, Converus says that the Defense Intelligence Agency and the US Customs and Border Protection are also trialing the technology. Converus says that individual locations of Best Western, FedEx, Four Points by Sheraton, McDonald’s, and IHOP chains have used the tech in Guatemala and Panama within the last three years. (A 1988 federal law prohibits most private companies from using any kind of lie detector on staff or recruits in America.) WIRED reached out to all five companies, but none were able to confirm that they had used EyeDetect.

Google personalizes search results even when you’re logged out

According to a new study conducted by Google competitor DuckDuckGo, it does not seem possible to avoid personalization when using Google search, even by logging out of your Google account and using the private browsing “incognito” mode.

DuckDuckGo conducted the study in June of this year, at the height of the US midterm election season. It did so with the ostensible goal of confirming whether Google’s search results exacerbate ideological bubbles by feeding you only information you’ve signaled you want to consume via past behavior and the data collected about you. It’s not clear whether that question can be reliably answered with these findings, and it’s also obvious DuckDuckGo is a biased source with something to gain by pointing out how flawed Google’s approach may be. But the study’s findings are nonetheless interesting because they highlight just how much variance there are in Google search results, even when controlling for factors like location.