Facebook, Google Donate Heavily To Privacy Advocacy Groups

Few companies have more riding on proposed privacy legislation than Alphabet’s Google and Facebook. To try to steer the bill their way, the giant advertising technology companies spend millions of dollars to lobby each year, a fact confirmed by government filings. Not so well-documented is spending to support highly influential think tanks and public interest groups that are helping shape the privacy debate, ostensibly as independent observers. Bloomberg Law examined seven prominent nonprofit think tanks that work on privacy issues that received a total of $1.5 million over a 18-month period ending Dec. 31, 2018. The groups included such organizations as the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Future of Privacy Forum and the Brookings Institution. The actual total is undoubtedly much higher — exact totals for contributions were difficult to pin down. The tech giants have “funded scores of nonprofits, including consumer and privacy groups, and academics,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democracy, a public interest group that does not accept donations from Google or Facebook. Further, he says, their influence is strong. The companies have “opposed federal privacy laws and worked to weaken existing safeguards,” Chester said. Accepting donations from these “privacy-killing companies enable them to influence decisions by nonprofits, even subtly,” he said.

Next in Google’s Quest for Consumer Dominance–Banking

The project, code-named Cache, is expected to launch next year with accounts run by Citigroup and a credit union at Stanford University, a tiny lender in Google’s backyard. Big tech companies see financial services as a way to get closer to users and glean valuable data. Apple introduced a credit card this summer. Amazon.com has talked to banks about offering checking accounts. Facebook is working on a digital currency it hopes will upend global payments. Their ambitions could challenge incumbent financial-services firms, which fear losing their primacy and customers. They are also likely to stoke a reaction in Washington, where regulators are already investigating whether large technology companies have too much clout.

The tie-ups between banking and technology have sometimes been fraught. Apple irked its credit-card partner, Goldman Sachs Group, by running ads that said the card was “designed by Apple, not a bank.” Major financial companies dropped out of Facebook’s crypto project after a regulatory backlash. Google’s approach seems designed to make allies, rather than enemies, in both camps. The financial institutions’ brands, not Google’s, will be front-and-center on the accounts, an executive told The Wall Street Journal. And Google will leave the financial plumbing and compliance to the banks — activities it couldn’t do without a license anyway.

Google’s Secret ‘Project Nightingale’ Gathers Personal Health Data on Millions of Americans

Google is teaming with one of the country’s largest health-care systems on a secret project to collect and crunch the detailed personal health information of millions of Americans across 21 states, WSJ reported Monday, citing people familiar with the matter and internal documents.

The initiative, code-named “Project Nightingale,” appears to be the largest in a series of efforts by Silicon Valley giants to gain access to personal health data and establish a toehold in the massive health-care industry. Amazon.com, Apple and Microsoft are also aggressively pushing into health care, though they haven’t yet struck deals of this scope. Google launched the effort last year with St. Louis-based Ascension, the country’s second-largest health system. The data involved in Project Nightingale includes lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete health history, complete with patient names and dates of birth.

Neither patients nor doctors have been notified. At least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients, according to a person familiar with the matter and the documents.

Google in this case is using the data in part to design new software, underpinned by advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Google appears to be sharing information within Project Nightingale more broadly than in its other forays into health-care data. In September, Google announced a 10-year deal with the Mayo Clinic to store the hospital system’s genetic, medical and financial records.

Google co-founder Larry Page, in a 2014 interview, suggested that patients worried about the privacy of their medical records were too cautious. Mr. Page said: “We’re not really thinking about the tremendous good that can come from people sharing information with the right people in the right ways.”

Researchers Tricked Google Home and Alexa Into Eavesdropping and Password Phishing

What if Google and Amazon employees weren’t the only ones who’d listened through your voice assistant? Ars Technica reports:

The threat isn’t just theoretical. Whitehat hackers at Germany’s Security Research Labs developed eight apps — four Alexa “skills” and four Google Home “actions” — that all passed Amazon or Google security-vetting processes. The skills or actions posed as simple apps for checking horoscopes, with the exception of one, which masqueraded as a random-number generator. Behind the scenes, these “smart spies,” as the researchers call them, surreptitiously eavesdropped on users and phished for their passwords…

The apps gave the impression they were no longer running when they, in fact, silently waited for the next phase of the attack…. The apps quietly logged all conversations within earshot of the device and sent a copy to a developer-designated server. The phishing apps follow a slightly different path by responding with an error message that claims the skill or action isn’t available in that user’s country. They then go silent to give the impression the app is no longer running. After about a minute, the apps use a voice that mimics the ones used by Alexa and Google home to falsely claim a device update is available and prompts the user for a password for it to be installed….

In response, both companies removed the apps and said they are changing their approval processes to prevent skills and actions from having similar capabilities in the future.

Mozilla is Sharing YouTube Horror Stories To Prod Google For More Transparency

Mozilla is publishing anecdotes of YouTube viewing gone awry — anonymous stories from people who say they innocently searched for one thing but eventually ended up in a dark rabbit hole of videos. It’s a campaign aimed at pressuring Google’s massive video site to make itself more accessible to independent researchers trying to study its algorithms. “The big problem is we have no idea what is happening on YouTube,” said Guillaume Chaslot, who is a fellow at Mozilla, a nonprofit best known for its unit that makes and operates the Firefox web browser.

Chaslot is an ex-Google engineer who has investigated YouTube’s recommendations from the outside after he left the company in 2013. (YouTube says he was fired for performance issues.) “We can see that there are problems, but we have no idea if the problem is from people being people or from algorithms,” he said….

Mozilla is publishing 28 stories it’s terming #YouTubeRegrets; they include, for example, an anecdote from someone who who said a search for German folk songs ended up returning neo-Nazi clips, and a testimonial from a mother who said her 10-year-old daughter searched for tap-dancing videos and ended up watching extreme contortionist clips that affected her body image.

Voice From ‘Nest’ Camera Threatens to Steal Baby

Jack Newcombe, the Chief Operating Officer of a syndication company with 44 million daily readers, describes the strange voice he heard talking to his 18-month old son:
She says we have a nice house and encourages the nanny to respond. She does not. The voice even jokes that she hopes we don’t change our password. I am sick to my stomach. After about five minutes of verbal “joy riding,” the voice starts to get agitated at the nanny’s lack of response and then snaps, in a very threatening voice: “I’m coming for the baby if you don’t answer me….” We unplug the cameras and change all passwords…

Still helpless, I started doing the only thing I could do — Googling. I typed “Nest + camera + hacked” and found out that this happens frequently. Parent after parent relayed stories similar to mine — threatening to steal a baby is shockingly common — and some much worse, such as playing pornography over the microphone to a 3-year-old… What is worse is that anyone could have been watching us at any time for as long as we have had the cameras up. This person just happened to use the microphone. Countless voyeurs could have been silently watching (or worse) for months.

However, what makes this issue even more terrifying is a corporate giant’s complete and utter lack of response. Nest is owned by Google, and, based on my experience and their public response, Google does not seem to care about this issue. They acknowledge it as a problem, shrug their shoulders and point their fingers at the users. Their party line is to remind people that the hardware was not hacked; it was the user’s fault for using a compromised password and not implementing two-step authentication, in which users receive a special code via text to sign on. That night, on my way home from work, I called Nest support and was on hold for an hour and eight minutes. I followed all directions and have subsequently received form emails in broken English. Nobody from Google has acknowledged the incident or responded with any semblance of empathy. In every email, they remind me of two-step authentication.

They act as if I am going to continue to use Nest cameras.

YouTube Gets Alleged Copyright Troll To Agree To Stop Trolling YouTubers

Alleged copyright troll Christopher Brady will no longer be able to issue false DMCA takedowns to other YouTubers, according to a lawsuit settlement filed today. The Verge reports:

Under the new agreement, Brady is banned from “submitting any notices of alleged copyright infringement to YouTube that misrepresent that material hosted on the YouTube service is infringing copyrights held or claimed to be held by Brady or anyone Brady claims to represent.” Brady agreed to pay $25,000 in damages as part of the settlement. He is also prohibited from “misrepresenting or masking their identities” when using Google products, including YouTube. “This settlement highlights the very real consequences for those that misuse our copyright system. We’ll continue our work to prevent abuse of our systems,” a YouTube spokesperson told The Verge.

“I, Christopher L. Brady, admit that I sent dozens of notices to YouTube falsely claiming that material uploaded by YouTube users infringed my copyrights,” he said in an apology, shared by YouTube with The Verge. “I apologize to the YouTube users that I directly impacted by my actions, to the YouTube community, and to YouTube itself.” YouTube claimed the investigation caused the company to “expend substantial sums on its investigation in an effort to detect and halt that behavior, and to ensure that its users do not suffer adverse consequences from it.” YouTube also said that the company may be “unable to detect and prevent similar misconduct in the future,” as a result of the various methods Brady took to cover up his identity.

Google Chief: I’d Disclose Smart Speakers Before Guests Enter My Home

After being challenged as to whether homeowners should tell guests smart devices — such as a Google Nest speaker or Amazon Echo display — are in use before they enter the building, Google senior vice president of devices and services, Rick Osterloh, concludes that the answer is indeed yes. The BBC reports:

“Gosh, I haven’t thought about this before in quite this way,” Rick Osterloh begins. “It’s quite important for all these technologies to think about all users… we have to consider all stakeholders that might be in proximity.” And then he commits. “Does the owner of a home need to disclose to a guest? I would and do when someone enters into my home, and it’s probably something that the products themselves should try to indicate.”

To be fair to Google, it hasn’t completely ignored matters of 21st Century privacy etiquette until now. As Mr Osterloh points out, its Nest cameras shine an LED light when they are in record mode, which cannot be overridden. But the idea of having to run around a home unplugging or at least restricting the capabilities of all its voice- and camera-equipped kit if a visitor objects is quite the ask.

The concession came at the end of one-on-one interview given to BBC News to mark the launch of Google’s Pixel 4 smartphones, a new Nest smart speaker and other products. You can read the full conversation on the BBC’s article.

YouTube is Experimenting With Ways To Make Its Algorithm Even More Addictive

While YouTube has publicly said that it’s working on addressing problems that are making its website ever so addictive to users, a new paper from Google, which owns YouTube, seems to tell a different story.

It proposes an update to the platform’s algorithm that is meant to recommend even more targeted content to users in the interest of increasing engagement. Here’s how YouTube’s recommendation system currently works. To populate the recommended-videos sidebar, it first compiles a shortlist of several hundred videos by finding ones that match the topic and other features of the one you are watching. Then it ranks the list according to the user’s preferences, which it learns by feeding all your clicks, likes, and other interactions into a machine-learning algorithm. Among the proposed updates, the researchers specifically target a problem they identify as “implicit bias.” It refers to the way recommendations themselves can affect user behavior, making it hard to decipher whether you clicked on a video because you liked it or because it was highly recommended. The effect is that over time, the system can push users further and further away from the videos they actually want to watch.

To reduce this bias, the researchers suggest a tweak to the algorithm: each time a user clicks on a video, it also factors in the video’s rank in the recommendation sidebar. Videos that are near the top of the sidebar are given less weight when fed into the machine-learning algorithm; videos deep down in the ranking, which require a user to scroll, are given more. When the researchers tested the changes live on YouTube, they found significantly more user engagement. Though the paper doesn’t say whether the new system will be deployed permanently, Guillaume Chaslot, an ex-YouTube engineer who now runs AlgoTransparency.org, said he was “pretty confident” that it would happen relatively quickly.

Politicians Can Break Our Content Rules, YouTube CEO Says

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said this week that content by politicians would stay up on the video-sharing website even if it violates the company’s standards, echoing a position staked out by Facebook this week.

“When you have a political officer that is making information that is really important for their constituents to see, or for other global leaders to see, that is content that we would leave up because we think it’s important for other people to see,” Wojcicki told an audience at The Atlantic Festival this morning. Wojcicki said the news media is likely to cover controversial content regardless of whether it’s taken down, giving context to understand it. YouTube is owned by Google. A YouTube spokesperson later told POLITICO that politicians are not treated differently than other users and must abide by its community guidelines. The company grants exemptions to some political speech if the company considers it to be educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic in nature.

Google Loans Cameras To Volunteers To Fill Gaps in ‘Street View’

Kanhema, who works as a product manager in Silicon Valley and is a freelance photographer in his spare time, volunteered to carry Google’s Street View gear to map what amounted to 2,000 miles of his home country. The Berkeley, Calif., resident has filled in the map of other areas in Africa and Canada as well.

“We start in the large metropolitan areas where we know we have users, where it’s easy for us to drive and we can execute quickly,” says Stafford Marquardt, a product manager for Street View.

He says the team is working to expand the service’s reach. To do that, Google often relies on volunteers who can either borrow the company’s camera equipment or take photos using their own. Most images on Street View are collected by drivers, and most of these drivers are employed by third parties that work with Google. But when it comes to the places Google hasn’t prioritized, people like Kanhema can fill in the gaps.

“It’s so conspicuous to have a 4-foot contraption attached to the roof of your car,” Kanhema says. “People are walking up and asking questions about, ‘Is that a camera? What are you recording? What are you filming? It is for Google Maps? Will my house be on the map? Will my face be on the map?'”

Google doesn’t pay him or the other volunteers — whom the company calls “contributors” — for the content they upload. Kanhema, for example, spent around $5,000 of his own money to travel across Zimbabwe for the project.

Google currently has no plans to compensate its volunteers, adding that it pays contributors “in a lot of other ways” by offering “a platform to host gigabytes and terabytes of imagery and publish it to the entire world, absolutely for free.”

Ex-Google Engineer Says That Robot Weapons May Cause Accidental Mass Killings

“A former Google engineer who worked on the company’s infamous military drone project has sounded a warning against the building of killer robots,” reports Business Insider.

Laura Nolan had been working at Google four years when she was recruited to its collaboration with the US Department of Defense, known as Project Maven, in 2017, according to the Guardian. Project Maven was focused on using AI to enhance military drones, building AI systems which would be able to single out enemy targets and distinguish between people and objects. Google canned Project Maven after employee outrage, with thousands of employees signing a petition against the project and about a dozen quitting in protest. Google allowed the contract to lapse in March this year. Nolan herself resigned after she became “increasingly ethically concerned” about the project, she said…

Nolan fears that the next step beyond AI-enabled weapons like drones could be fully autonomous AI weapons. “What you are looking at are possible atrocities and unlawful killings even under laws of warfare, especially if hundreds or thousands of these machines are deployed,” she said…. Although no country has yet come forward to say it’s working on fully autonomous robot weapons, many are building more and more sophisticated AI to integrate into their militaries. The US navy has a self-piloting warship, capable of spending months at sea with no crew, and Israel boasts of having drones capable of identifying and attacking targets autonomously — although at the moment they require a human middle-man to give the go-ahead.

Nolan is urging countries to declare an outright ban on autonomous killing robots, similar to conventions around the use of chemical weapons.

How America’s Tech Giants Are Helping Build China’s Surveillance State

The OpenPower Foundation — a nonprofit led by Google and IBM executives with the aim of trying to “drive innovation” — has set up a collaboration between IBM, Chinese company Semptian, and U.S. chip manufacturer Xilinx. Together, they have worked to advance a breed of microprocessors that enable computers to analyze vast amounts of data more efficiently. Shenzhen-based Semptian is using the devices to enhance the capabilities of internet surveillance and censorship technology it provides to human rights-abusing security agencies in China, according to sources and documents. A company employee said that its technology is being used to covertly monitor the internet activity of 200 million people…

Semptian presents itself publicly as a “big data” analysis company that works with internet providers and educational institutes. However, a substantial portion of the Chinese firm’s business is in fact generated through a front company named iNext, which sells the internet surveillance and censorship tools to governments. iNext operates out of the same offices in China as Semptian, with both companies on the eighth floor of a tower in Shenzhen’s busy Nanshan District. Semptian and iNext also share the same 200 employees and the same founder, Chen Longsen. [The company’s] Aegis equipment has been placed within China’s phone and internet networks, enabling the country’s government to secretly collect people’s email records, phone calls, text messages, cellphone locations, and web browsing histories, according to two sources familiar with Semptian’s work.

Promotional documents obtained from the company promise “location information for everyone in the country.” One company representative even told the Intercept they were processing “thousands of terabits per second,” and — not knowing they were talking to a reporter — forwarded a 16-minute video detailing their technology. “If a government operative enters a person’s cellphone number, Aegis can show where the device has been over a given period of time: the last three days, the last week, the last month, or longer,” the Intercept reports.

Can Google Ads Change Your Beliefs?

There are advertisers in the digital marketing industry who want to find out how effective this new form of social engineering is. One of those advertisers is Google. Redirect Method was a Google-incubated project that used redirect ads to deradicalize would-be extremists. In the first eight weeks of 2016, some 320,000 people — all of whom were believed to harbor sympathy toward the Islamic State — clicked on ads designed to reflect an interest in extremist content. Instead of arriving at a page that supported their views, Islamic State sympathizers who clicked the ads found themselves directed to a playlist of videos debunking the terror group’s recruitment narratives. Most of the visitors stuck around. Together, they watched more than half a million minutes of video.

After the ISIS campaign ended, Google left behind a blueprint.

The blueprint shows, step by step, how you can create your own redirect ads to sway any belief or opinion — held by any Google user, anywhere in the world — of your choice. You don’t have to be a marketer with years of experience to do this. You just need to follow the instructions and put up a credit card (a few hundred bucks will suffice). Recently, I followed the blueprint and created a redirect campaign of my own… The goal of my first redirect campaign was to sway the ideology of suicidal people.

Nearly one in three apparently suicidal searchers who viewed his ad then dialed his hotline number — which then forwarded the calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. But he expressed surprise that Google “let me run the ads with no issue… I didn’t need qualifications to be a conduit of peoples’ fates.” He later tried creating another campaign for prospective school shooters, “but the conversion rates were low. These prospective shooters were reluctant to speak with someone.”

Yet one study found that more than 50% of people using Google couldn’t distinguish between ads and “organic” results on Google.

Google Chrome ‘Has Become Surveillance Software. It’s Time to Switch’

“You open your browser to look at the Web. Do you know who is looking back at you?” warns Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler.

Over a recent week of Web surfing, I peered under the hood of Google Chrome and found it brought along a few thousand friends. Shopping, news and even government sites quietly tagged my browser to let ad and data companies ride shotgun while I clicked around the Web. This was made possible by the Web’s biggest snoop of all: Google. Seen from the inside, its Chrome browser looks a lot like surveillance software…

My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality… And that’s not the half of it. Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail.

Chrome is even sneakier on your phone. If you use Android, Chrome sends Google your location every time you conduct a search. (If you turn off location sharing it still sends your coordinates out, just with less accuracy.)

The columnist concludes that “having the world’s biggest advertising company make the most popular Web browser was about as smart as letting kids run a candy shop,” and argues that through its Doubleclick and other ad businesses, Google “is the No. 1 cookie maker — the Mrs. Fields of the web.”

Millions of Business Listings On Google Maps Are Fake — and Google Profits

Google’s ubiquitous internet platform shapes what’s real and what isn’t for more than two billion monthly users. Yet Google Maps is overrun with millions of false business addresses and fake names, according to advertisers, search experts and current and former Google employees. The ruse lures the unsuspecting to what appear to be Google-suggested local businesses, a costly and dangerous deception. Once considered a sleepy, low-margin business by the company and known mostly for giving travel directions, Google Maps in recent months has packed more ads onto its search queries. It is central to Google parent Alphabet’s hope to recharge a cresting digital-advertising operation.

Often, Google Maps yields mirages, visible in local business searches of U.S. cities, including Mountain View, Calif., Google’s hometown. Of a dozen addresses for personal-injury attorneys on Google Maps during a recent search, only one office was real. A Viennese patisserie was among the businesses at addresses purported to house lawyers. The fakes vanished after inquiries to Google from The Wall Street Journal. The false listings benefit businesses seeking more customer calls by sprinkling made-up branches in various corners of a city. In other cases, as Ms. Carter discovered, calls to listed phone numbers connect to unscrupulous competitors, a misdirection forbidden by Google rules but sporadically policed by the company. Hundreds of thousands of false listings sprout on Google Maps each month, according to experts. Google says it catches many others before they appear.

Do Google and Facebook Threaten Our ‘Ambient Privacy’?

Until recently, ambient privacy was a simple fact of life. Recording something for posterity required making special arrangements, and most of our shared experience of the past was filtered through the attenuating haze of human memory. Even police states like East Germany, where one in seven citizens was an informer, were not able to keep tabs on their entire population. Today computers have given us that power. Authoritarian states like China and Saudi Arabia are using this newfound capacity as a tool of social control. Here in the United States, we’re using it to show ads. But the infrastructure of total surveillance is everywhere the same, and everywhere being deployed at scale….

Because our laws frame privacy as an individual right, we don’t have a mechanism for deciding whether we want to live in a surveillance society. Congress has remained silent on the matter, with both parties content to watch Silicon Valley make up its own rules. The large tech companies point to our willing use of their services as proof that people don’t really care about their privacy. But this is like arguing that inmates are happy to be in jail because they use the prison library. Confronted with the reality of a monitored world, people make the rational decision to make the best of it.

That is not consent…

Our discourse around privacy needs to expand to address foundational questions about the role of automation: To what extent is living in a surveillance-saturated world compatible with pluralism and democracy? What are the consequences of raising a generation of children whose every action feeds into a corporate database? What does it mean to be manipulated from an early age by machine learning algorithms that adaptively learn to shape our behavior? That is not the conversation Facebook or Google want us to have. Their totalizing vision is of a world with no ambient privacy and strong data protections, dominated by the few companies that can manage to hoard information at a planetary scale. They correctly see the new round of privacy laws as a weapon to deploy against smaller rivals, further consolidating their control over the algorithmic panopticon.

Google Uses Gmail To Track a History of Things You Buy — and It’s Hard To Delete

CNBC’s Todd Haselton has discovered that Google saves years of information on the purchases you’ve made, even outside Google, and pulls this information from Gmail.

A page called “Purchases” shows an accurate list of many — though not all — of the things I’ve bought dating back to at least 2012. I made these purchases using online services or apps such as Amazon, DoorDash or Seamless, or in stores such as Macy’s, but never directly through Google. But because the digital receipts went to my Gmail account, Google has a list of info about my buying habits. Google even knows about things I long forgot I’d purchased, like dress shoes I bought inside a Macy’s store on Sept. 14, 2015.

But there isn’t an easy way to remove all of this. You can delete all the receipts in your Gmail inbox and archived messages. But, if you’re like me, you might save receipts in Gmail in case you need them later for returns. There is no way to delete them from Purchases without also deleting them from Gmail — when you click on the “Delete” option in Purchases, it simply guides you back to the Gmail message. Google’s privacy page says that only you can view your purchases. But it says “Information about your orders may also be saved with your activity in other Google services ” and that you can see and delete this information on a separate “My Activity” page. Except you can’t. Google’s activity controls page doesn’t give you any ability to manage the data it stores on Purchases.

Google says you can turn off the tracking entirely, but when CNBC tried this, it didn’t work.

Google Home calls the Police, always listening

According to ABC News, officers were called to a home outside Albuquerque, New Mexico this week when a Google Home called 911 and the operator heard a confrontation in the background. Police say that Eduardo Barros was house-sitting at the residence with his girlfriend and their daughter. Barros allegedly pulled a gun on his girlfriend when they got into an argument and asked her: “Did you call the sheriffs?” Google Home apparently heard “call the sheriffs,” and proceeded to call the sheriffs. A SWAT team arrived at the home and after negotiating for hours, they were able to take Barros into custody… “The unexpected use of this new technology to contact emergency services has possibly helped save a life,” Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III said in a statement.

“It’s easy to imagine police getting tired of being called to citizen’s homes every time they watch the latest episode of Law and Order,” quips Gizmodo. But they also call the incident “a clear reminder that smart home devices are always listening.”

Amazon and Google Fight Bill That Prohibits Secretly Recording You

On Wednesday, the Illinois State Senate passed the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act, a bill that would ban manufacturers of devices that can record audio from doing so remotely without disclosing it to the customer. But after lobbying from trade associations that represent the interests of Google, Amazon — makers of the microphone-enabled Google Home and Alexa smart speakers, respectively — and Microsoft, among other companies, the interests of big tech won out… In its current, neutered form, the bill provides exclusive authority to the Attorney General to enforce the Act, which means regular citizens won’t be able to bring forward a case regarding tech giants recording them in their homes.

Ars Technica notes the move comes after Amazon admitted thousands of their employees listen to Alexa recordings — “something not mentioned in Echo’s terms of service or FAQ pages.”

Vice points out that sometimes those recordings are shared “even after users opt out of having their data used in the program.”