Breaching Data Privacy for a Social Cause

Breaching Data Privacy for a Social Cause

Data partnerships are increasingly justified as a social good, but in a climate where companies are losing consumer trust through data breaches, privacy concerns begin to outweigh the social benefits of data sharing. 

 

This week, Apple is gaining consumer trust with its revamped Privacy Page. Facebook follows Apple’s lead as they become more wary about sharing a petabyte of data with Social Science One researchers due to increasing data privacy concerns. Also, law enforcement may be changing the genetic privacy game as they gain unprecedented access to millions of DNA records to solve homicide cases and identify victims.

Apple is setting the standard for taking consumer privacy seriously—Privacy as a Social Good

Apple is setting the stage for consumer privacy with its redesigned privacy page. Apple CEO Tim Cook announced, “At Apple, privacy is built into everything we make. You decide what you share, how you share it, and who you share it with. Here’s how we protect your data.” (Source)

There is no doubt that Apple is leveraging data privacy. When entering Apple’s new privacy landing page, bold letters are used to emphasize how privacy is a fundamental part of the company, essentially one of their core values (Source). 

Apple’s privacy page explains how they’ve designed their devices with their consumers’ privacy in mind. They also showcase how this methodology applies to their eight Apple apps: Safari browser, Apple Maps, Apple Photos, iMessage, Siri Virtual Assistant, Apple News, Wallet and Apple Pay, and Apple Health.

A privacy feature fundamental to many of Apple’s apps is that the data on an Apple device is locally stored and is never released to Apple’s servers unless the user consents to share their data, or the user personally shares his/her data with others. Personalized features, such as smart suggestions, are based on random identifiers.

  • Safari Browser blocks the data that websites collect about site visitors with an Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature and makes it harder for individuals to be identified by providing a simplified system profile for users. 
  • Apple Maps does not require users to sign in with their Apple ID. This eliminates the risk of user location and search information history linking to their identity. Navigation is based on random identifiers as opposed to individual identifiers.  

Photos taken on Apple devices are processed locally and are not shared unless stored on a cloud or shared by the user.

  • iMessages aren’t shared with Apple and are encrypted via end-to-end device encryption.
  • Siri, Apple’s voice-activated virtual assistant can process information without the information being sent to Apple’s servers. Data that is sent back to Apple is not associated with the user and is only used to update Siri.
  • Apple News curates personalized news and reading content based on random identifiers that are not associated with the user’s identity. 
  • Apple Wallet and Pay creates a device account number anytime a new card is added. Transactional data is only shared between the bank and the individual.
  • Apple Health is designed to empower the user to share their personal health information with whom they choose. The data is encrypted and can only be accessed by the user via passcodes. 

 

Facebook realizes the ethical, legal, and technical concerns in sharing 1,000,000 gigabytes of data with social science researchers

Facebook has been on the wrong side of data privacy ever since the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 where users’ data was obtained, without their consent, for political advertising. Now that Facebook is approaching privacy with users best interest in mind, this is creating tension between the worlds of technology and social science. 

Earlier this year, Facebook and Social Science One partnered in a new model of industry-academic partnership initiative to “help people better understand the broader impact of social media on democracy—as well as improve our work to protect the integrity of elections.” said Facebook (Source). 

Facebook agreed to share 1,000,000 gigabytes of data with Social Science One to conduct research and analysis but has failed to meet their promises. 

According to Facebook, it was almost impossible to apply anonymization techniques such as differential privacy to the necessary data without stripping it completely of its analytical value.   

Facebook half-heartedly released some data as they approached deadlines and pressure, but what they released and what they promised was incomparable. Facebooks’ failure to share the data they agreed to counters the proposed social benefit of using the data to study the impact of disinformation campaigns. 

Facebook is torn between a commitment to contributing to a socially good cause without breaching the privacy of its users. 

This exemplifies how Facebook may not have been fully prepared to shift its business model from one that involved data monetization to a CSR-driven (corporate social responsibility) model where data sharing is used for research while keeping privacy in mind. 

Will Facebook eventually fulfill their promises?

 

Socially Beneficial DNA Data: Should Warrants be given to access Genealogy website databases?

At a police convention last week, Floridian detective, Michael Fields, revealed how he received a valid law enforcement request to access GEDmatch.com data (Source).

GEDmatch is a genealogy website that contains over a million users’ records. But, does the social benefit accrued outweigh the privacy violation to users whose data was exposed without their consent?

Last year, GEDmatch faced a mix of scrutiny and praise when they helped police identify the Golden State Killer after granting them access to their database (Source).  After privacy concerns surfaced, GEDmatch updated its privacy terms. Access was only permitted to law enforcement from users who opted-in to share their data. Additionally, police authorities are limited to searching for the purposes of, “murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, aggravated rape, robbery or aggravated assault” cases (Source).

This recent warrant granted to detective Fields overrode GEDmatch privacy terms by allowing the detective to access data of all users, even those who did not consent. This was the first time a judge agreed to a warrant of this kind. This changes the tone in genetic privacy, potentially setting precedent about who has access to genetic data. 

 

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Your health records are online, and Amazon wants you to wear Alexa on your face

Your health records are online, and Amazon wants you to wear Alexa on your face

This week’s news was flooded with a wealth of sensitive medical information landing on the internet, and perhaps, in the wrong hands. Sixteen million patient scans were exposed online, the European Court of Justice ruled Google does not need to remove links to sensitive information, and Amazon released new Alexa products for you to wear everywhere you go.

Over five million patients have had their privacy breached and their private health information exposed online. These documents contain highly sensitive data, like names, birthdays, and in some cases, social security numbers. Worse, the list of compromised medical record systems is rapidly increasing, and the data can all be accessed with a traditional web browser. In fact, Jackie Singh, a cybersecurity researcher and chief executive of the consulting firm Spyglass Security, reports “[i]t’s not even hacking,” because the data is so easily accessible to the average person (Source).

One of these systems belongs to MobilexUSA, whose records, which showed patients’ names, date of birth, doctors, and a list of procedures, were found online (Source

Experts report that this could be a direct violation of HIPAA and many warn that the potential consequences of this leak are devastating, as medical data is so sensitive, and if in the wrong hands, could be used maliciously (Source).

According to Oleg Pianykh, the director of medical analytics at Massachusetts General Hospital’s radiology department, “[m]edical-data security has never been soundly built into the clinical data or devices, and is still largely theoretical and does not exist in practice.” (Source

Such a statement signals a privacy crisis in the healthcare industry that requires a desperate fix. According to Pianykh, the problem is not a lack of regulatory standards, but rather that “medical device makers don’t follow them.” (Source) If that is the case, should we expect HIPAA to crackdown the same way GDPR has?

With a patient’s privacy up in the air in the US, a citizens’ “Right to be Forgotten” in the EU is also being questioned. 

The “Right to be Forgotten” states that “personal data must be erased immediately where the data are no longer needed for their original processing purpose, or the data subject has withdrawn [their] consent” (Source). This means that upon request, a data “controller” must erase any personal data in whatever means necessary, whether that is physical destruction or permanently over-writing data with “special software.” (Source)

When this law was codified in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it was implemented to govern over Europe. Yet, France’s CNIL fined Google, an American company, $110,000 in 2016 for refusing to remove private data from search results. Google argued changes should not need to be applied to the google.com domain or other non-European sites (Source). 

On Tuesday, The European Court of Justice agreed and ruled that Google is under no obligation to extend EU rules beyond European borders by removing links to sensitive personal data (Source). However, the court made a distinct point that Google “must impose new measures to discourage internet users from going outside the EU to find that information.” (Source) This decision sets a precedent for the application of a nation’s laws outside its borders when it comes to digital data. 

While the EU has a firm stance on the right to be forgotten, Amazon makes clear that you can “automatically delete [your] voice data”… every three to eighteen months (Source). The lack of immediate erasure is potentially troublesome for those concerned with their privacy, especially alongside the new product launch, which will move Alexa out of your home and onto your body.

On Wednesday, Amazon launched Alexa earbuds (Echo Buds), glasses (Echo Frames), and rings (Echo Loop). The earbuds are available on the marketplace, but the latter two are an experiment and are only available by invitation for the time being (Source). 

With these products, you will be able to access Alexa support wherever you are, and in the case of the EchoBuds, harness the noise-reduction technology of Bose for only USD $130 (Source). However, while these products promise to make your life more convenient, in using these products Amazon will be able to monitor your daily routines, behaviour, quirks, and more. 

Amazon specified that their goal is to make Alexa “ubiquitous” and “ambient” by spreading it everywhere, including our homes, appliances, cars, and now, our bodies. Yet, at the same time as they open up about their strategy for lifestyle dominance, Amazon claims to prioritize privacy, as the first tech giant to allow users to opt-out of their voice data being transcribed and listened to by employees. Despite this, it is clear that “Alexa’s ambition and a truly privacy-centric customer experience do not go hand in hand.” (Source). 

With Amazon spreading into wearables, Google winning the “Right to be Forgotten” case, and patient records being exposed online, this week is wrapping up to be a black mark on user privacy. Stay tuned for our next weekly news blog to learn about how things shape up. 

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Rewarded for sharing your data? Sign me up!

Rewarded for sharing your data? Sign me up!

Companies now starting to pay users for their data, in efforts to be more ethical. Large Bluetooth security flaw detected proving potentially harmful to millions. Blockchain’s future looking bright as privacy-preserving technology booms. Canadian federal elections being ‘watched’ for their history of ‘watching’ public.

Rewarded for sharing your data? Sign me up!

Drop Technologies has secured USD$44 million in investments towards growing a technology-based alternative towards traditional customer loyalty programs. With over three million users signed up already, as well as 300 brands on its platform, such as Expedia and Postmates, the company is headed in the right direction. 

Given that Facebook and other tech giants are monetizing data without user permission, getting paid for it doesn’t seem like a bad idea after all. “I’m a Facebook user and an Instagram user, and these guys are just monetizing my data left and right, without much transparency,” said Onsi Sawiris, a managing partner at New York’s HOF Capital.” At least if I’m signing up for Drop, I know that if they’re using my data I will get something in return, and it’s very clear” (Source).

This alternative to rewards programs basically tracks your spending with all of their 300+ brands, and lets you earn points that you can spend at certain companies such as Starbucks of Uber Eats. If it’s an alternative to credit card rewards, it will be beneficial to consumers looking for extra savings on their purchases. So don’t drop it till you try it!

Bluetooth proving to be a potential data breach vulnerability 

Researchers have discovered a flaw that leaves millions of Bluetooth users vulnerable to data breaches. This flaw enables attackers to interfere while two users are trying to connect without being detected, as long as they’re within a certain range. From music to conversations, to data entered through a Bluetooth device, anything could be at risk. “Upon checking more than 14 Bluetooth chips from popular manufacturers such as Qualcomm, Apple, and Intel, researchers discovered that all the tested devices are vulnerable to attacks” (Source). 

Fortunately, some companies such as Apple and Intel have already implemented security upgrades on their devices. Users are also advised to keep their security, software, and firmware updated at all times. 

Get ready for blockchain advancements like never before

For the past decade, blockchain has been used to build an ecosystem where cryptocurrencies and peer-to-peer transactions are just a few of the many use cases. (Source).

Traditionally, data is shared across centralized networks, leaving systems vulnerable to attacks. However, with decentralization as an added security measure to blockchain, the threat of a single point of failure across a distributed network is eradicated. 

As more and more companies turn to blockchain to gain the benefits of more efficient data sharing and easier data transfers, privacy is overlooked.

In most public blockchains today, transactions are visible to all nodes of a network. Naturally, of course, the issue of privacy is raised due to the sensitive nature of the data, and this transparency comes at a cost. With digital transformation happening all around us, privacy protection cannot be ignored.

To address privacy, many blockchain companies are employing privacy-preserving mechanisms on their infrastructures, from zero-knowledge proofs to encryption algorithms such as Multi-Party Computation (MPC). These mechanisms encrypt data as it’s shared and only reveal the specific elements needed for a specific task (Source).

Costs efficiencies and a better understanding of consumer needs are just a few of the advantages of privacy-preserving mechanisms being introduced. As data and privacy go hand in hand in the future, equitability and trust will be our key to unlock new possibilities that enhance life as we know it (Source).

Upcoming Canadian elections could turn into surveillance problem

Once again, the Canadian federal elections are raising concerns about interference and disruption through the misuse of personal data. In the past, political parties have been known to use their power to influence populations who are not aware of how their data is being used. 

Since data has played a major role in elections, this could become a surveillance issue because experts who study surveillance say that harnessing data has been the key to electoral success, in past elections. “Politicians the world over now believe they can win elections if they just have better, more refined and more accurate data on the electorate” (Source).

A related issue is a lack of transparency between voters and electoral candidates. “There is a divide between how little is publicly known about what actually goes on in platform businesses that create online networks, like Facebook or Twitter, and what supporters of proper democratic practices argue should be known” (Source).

The officials of this upcoming election should be paying close attention to the public’s personal data and how it is being used.

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Avoid Data Breaches and Save Your Company Money

Avoid Data Breaches and Save Your Company Money

Tips on how to avoid privacy risks and breaches that big companies face today. How much data breaches cost in 2019. Why consumers are shying away from sharing their data. Airline phishing scam could prove to be fatal in the long-run.

Stay Ahead of the Privacy Game

The Equifax data breach is another wake-up call for all software companies. There’s so much going on today, with regards to data exposure, fraud and, threats. Especially with the new laws proposed, companies should take the necessary steps to stay away from penalties and breaches. Here are some ways you can stay ahead of the privacy game. 

  1. Get your own security hackers – Many companies have their own cybersecurity team, to test out for failures, threats, etc. Companies also hire outside hackers to uncover any weaknesses in the company’s privacy or security tactics. “Companies can also host private or public “bug bounty” competitions where hackers are rewarded for detecting vulnerabilities” (Source)
  2. Establish trust with certificates of compliance – Earn your customers’ trust by achieving certificates of compliance. The baseline certification is known as the ISO 27001. If your company offers cloud services, you can attain the SOC 2 Type II certificate of compliance.
  3. Limit the data you need – Some companies ask for too much information, for example, when a user is signing up for a free trial in hopes of making easy money. Why ask for their credit card number when you are offering a free trial service? If they love the product or service, they themselves will offer to pay for full services. Have faith in your product or service.
  4. Keep the data for as long as needed only – Keeping this data for long periods of time, when you don’t need it is simply a risk for your company. Think about it: As a consumer yourself, how would you react if your own personal data was compromised because of a trial you signed up for years ago? (Source)

How much does a data breach cost today?

According to a 2019 IBM + Ponemon Institute report, the average data breach costs a company approximately USD$1.25 million to USD$8.19 million, depending on the country and industry.

Each record costs companies an average of USD$148, based on the report’s results, which surveyed 507 organizations and was based on 16 regions in the world, across 17 industries. The U.S. takes first place with the highest data breach, at USD$8.19 million. Healthcare is the most expensive industry in terms of data breach costs, sitting in at an average of USD$6.45 million. 

However, the report isn’t all negative, as it provides tips to improve your data privacy. You can reduce the cost of a potential data breach by up to USD$720,000, through simple mitigating steps such as an incident response team or having encryption in place (Source).

Consumers more and more hesitant to share their data

Marketers and data scientists all over – beware. A survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation indicates that consumers’ will to share data with companies has decreased drastically since last year. “I think the industry basically really needs to communicate the benefits to the consumer of more relevant advertising,” said ARF Chief Research Officer Paul Donato. It is important to remember that not all consumers would happily give up their data for better-personalized advertisements (Source).

Air New Zealand breach could pose long-term effects

Air New Zealand’s recent phishing scam from earlier this week has caused fear among citizens. The data breach exposed about 112,00 Air New Zealand Airpoints customers to long-term privacy concerns. 

Victims received emails requesting them to disclose personal information. They then responded with personal information like passport numbers and credit card numbers. 

“The problem is, the moment things are out there, then they can be used as a means to gain further information,” said  Dr. Panos Patros, a specialist in cybersecurity at the University of Waikato. “Now they have something of you so then they can use it in another attack or to confuse someone else” (Source).

A good practice for situations similar to this is to regularly change your passwords and monitor your credit card statements. Refrain from putting common security question information on your social media such as the first school you attended or your first pet’s name, etc. Additionally, delete all suspicious emails immediately without opening them (Source). 

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Facial Recognition Technology is Shaking Up the States

Facial Recognition Technology is Shaking Up the States

Facial recognition technology is shaking up the States

Many states in America are employing facial recognition devices at borders to screen travelers. However, some cities like Massachusetts and San Francisco have banned the use of these devices, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pushing for a nationwide ban. 

It is still unclear how the confidential data gathered by the facial recognition devices will be used. Could it be shared with other branches of the government, such as ICE? 

ICE, or Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have been in the public eye for some time now, for their arrests of undocumented workers and immigration offenders. 

“Any time in the last three to four years that any data collection has come up, immigrants’ rights … have certainly been part of the argument,” says Brian Hofer, who is part of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission. “Any data collected is going to be at risk when [ICE is] on a warpath, looking for anything they can do to arrest people. We’re definitely trying to minimize that exposure”.

This unregulated data is what is helping ICE locate and monitor undocumented people violating laws (Source).

Now Microsoft is listening to your Skype calls

A new day, a new privacy scandal. This week, Microsoft and Skype employees were revealed to be reviewing real consumer video chats, to check the quality of their software, and its translations. 

The problem is that they are keeping their customers in the dark on this, as do most tech companies. Microsoft has not told its consumers that they do this, though the company claims to have their users’ permission. 

“I recommend users refrain from revealing any identifying information while using Skype Translation, and Cortana. Unless you identify yourself in the recording, there’s almost no way for a human analyst to figure out who you are”, says privacy advocate Paul Bischoff (Source).

Essentially Alexa, Siri, Google Home, and Skype are listening to your conversations. However, instead of avoiding these products, we are compromising our privacy for convenience and efficiency. 

Canadians want more healthcare tech, regardless of privacy risks

New studies indicate that Canadians are open to a future where healthcare is further enhanced with technology, despite privacy concerns. 

The advantages of these innovations include reduced medical errors, reduced data loss, better-informed patients, and much more. 84% of respondents wanted to access their health data on an electronic platform, as opposed to hard copy files. 

Dr. Gigi Osler, president of the Canadian Medical Association, states, “We’ve got hospitals that still rely on pagers and fax machines, so the message is clear that Canada’s health system needs an upgrade and it’s time to modernize”. 

Furthermore, most respondents look forward to the possibility of online doctor visits, believing that treatment could be faster and more convenient (Source).

After all, if we bank, shop, read, watch movies and socialize online, why can’t we get digital treatment too? 

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Protect Your Data Throughout the Pipeline

Protect Your Data Throughout the Pipeline

Organizations all over the world have embraced the opportunity that data and analytics present. Millions of dollars are spent every year in designing and implementing data pipelines that allow organizations to extract value from their data. However, data misuse and data breaches have led government bodies to promote regulations such as GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA, bestowing privacy rights upon consumers and placing responsibilities upon businesses.

Maximizing data value is essential, but, privacy regulations must be satisfied when doing so. This is achievable by implementing privacy-protecting techniques throughout the data pipeline to avoid compliance risks. 

Before introducing the privacy-protecting techniques, it is important to understand the four stages of the data pipeline:

  1. Data Acquisition: first off, the data must be acquired, which can be either generated internally or externally from third parties.
  2. Data Organization: the data is now stored for future use, and needs to be protected along the pipeline to avoid misuse and breaches. This can be achieved using access controls.
  3. Data Analysis: the data must now be opened up and mobilized in order to analyze it, which allows for a better understanding of an organization’s operations and customers, as well as improved forecasting.
  4. Data Publishing: analysis results are published, and/or internal data is shared with another party. 

Now that we have talked about the 4 stages of the data pipeline, let’s go over the sixteen privacy-protecting techniques that can be implemented throughout the pipeline to make it privacy-protected.

These techniques can be categorized based on their function into four groups: randomizing, sanitizing, output, and distributed computing.

Within the randomizing group, there are two techniques: additive and multiplicative noise. In applying these techniques, random noise is added or multiplied on the individual’s record to transform the data. These techniques can be used in the Data Acquisition stage of the data pipeline. 

The sanitizing group has five privacy techniques in it. The first technique is k-anonymity, where identifiable attributes of any record in a particular database are indistinguishable from at least one other record. Next comes l-diversity, which is an extension of k-anonymity. However, this technique solves the k-anonymity shortfall by making sure there is a diversity of sensitive information in each group. Another technique is t-closeness, which makes sure that the distribution of sensitive elements in each group remains the same as the distribution in the whole group. This technique is used to prevent attribute disclosure by maintaining a ‘t’ threshold. Additionally, there is the personalized privacy technique, in which privacy levels are defined and customized by owners. The last technique in this group is ε-differential privacy, which ensures any single record does not affect the overall outcome of the data’s analysis. These techniques can be used in the Data Acquisition stage, Data Organization stage, and the Data Publishing stage of the data pipeline. 

The output group has three techniques, which are used to reduce the inference of sensitive information from the output of any algorithm. The first technique is known as association rule hiding, where information used to exploit privacy can be taken from the rules identified in the data set. Next, there is the downgrading classifier effectiveness technique, where data is sanitized to reduce the classifier’s effectiveness to prevent information from being leaked. Finally, the query auditing and inference control technique, where data queries can output data that can be used to detect sensitive information. These techniques can be applied to the Data Publishing stage of the data pipeline. 

Last but not least, the distributed computing group, made up of seven privacy-protecting techniques. 1-out-of-2 oblivious transfer is where two messages are sent, but only one out of the two messages, are received and encrypted. Another technique in this group is homomorphic encryption, a method of performing a calculation on encrypted information (ciphertext) without decrypting it (to plaintext) first. Secure sum receives the sum of inputs without revealing these inputs to others. Secure set union shares and creates a union of sets without compromising the owners of each set. Secure size of intersection figures out the size of the data set’s intersection without revealing the data itself. The scalar product technique computes the scalar product between two vectors without revealing the input vector to each other’s party. Finally, the private set intersection technique computes the intersection of two sets from each party without revealing anything else. This technique can be used in the Data Acquisition stage, as well. All of the techniques from the distributed computing group prevent access to original, raw data while allowing analysis to be performed. All of these techniques can be applied to the Data Analysis stage and Data Publishing stage of the data pipeline. Homomorphic encryption can also be used in the Data Organization stage of the data pipeline.

These sixteen techniques help protect data’s privacy throughout the data pipeline. For a visual view on the privacy-exposed pipeline versus the privacy-protected pipeline, download our Data Pipeline infographic

For more information, or to find out how to privacy-protect your data, contact us today at [email protected].
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