The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Privacy

RIM Mobile Fusion to add BlackBerry security tools to Android, iOS

Apple iPhone 4S

Research In Motion announced on Tuesday that it will soon launch software that will bring security and management features once only found on BlackBerrys over to Android and iOS phones and tablets.

The new tools, which RIM is calling BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, will allow businesses to set up and control Apple's iPhone and iPad, as well as smartphones and tablets running Google's Android operating system, as they have done for years with BlackBerry phones and more recently, the slow-selling PlayBook tablet.

"We are pleased to introduce BlackBerry Mobile Fusion — RIM's next generation enterprise mobility solution — to make it easier for our business and government customers to manage the diversity of devices in their operations today," said Alan Panezic, RIM's vice president of enterprise product management and marketing, in a statement.

"BlackBerry Mobile Fusion brings together our industry-leading BlackBerry Enterprise Server technology for BlackBerry devices with mobile device management capabilities for iOS and Android devices, all managed from one web-based console," Panezic said. "It provides the necessary management capabilities to allow IT departments to confidently oversee the use of both company-owned and employee-owned mobile devices within their organizations."

In announcing Mobile Fusion, RIM touted itself as "the leading provider of enterprise mobility solutions with over 90 percent of the Fortune 500 provisioning BlackBerry devices today," a nod to its still-large market share of the business market for smartphones.

But the Canadian company also acknowledges that when it comes time for consumers to buy phones and tablets for themselves, they're increasingly choosing rival devices and then bringing those gadgets into the workplace.

"The enterprise market for smartphones and tablets continues to grow in both the company-provisioned and employee-owned (Bring Your Own Device or BYOD) categories," RIM said. "BYOD in particular has led to an increase in the diversity of mobile devices in use in the enterprise and new challenges for CIOs and IT departments as they struggle to manage and control wireless access to confidential company information on the corporate network. This has resulted in increased demand for mobile device management solutions."

Among the features RIM said Mobile Fusion will offer for Android and iOS phones and tablets is the management and configuration of devices, as well as security features such as remote locking and data wiping, the creation of multiple user profiles on shared devices, app management and control over how a device connects to the Internet, among other settings.

While some would seem to love having an iPhone or an Android that's as secure and easy to manage at the scale a large business would require, others such as ReadWriteWeb has asked if RIM isn't "shooting itself in the foot with Mobile Fusion?"

GigaOm described RIM's stance with Mobile Fusion as "If you can't beat iOS and Android devices in the market, you might as well secure them."

Currently, Mobile Fusion is in "early beta testing with select enterprise customers," RIM said. But the company is accepting "customer nominations for the closed beta program which will start in January." The commercial rollout of Mobile Fusion isn't expected until late March.


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Photo: An Apple iPhone 4S. Credit: Robert Galbraith / Reuters

Facebook settles privacy complaint with Federal Trade Commission


Facebook has settled charges with the Federal Trade Commission that it deceived users by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private and then repeatedly making it public, according to the agency.

The settlement of an eight-count complaint requires Facebook to warn users about privacy changes and to get their permission before sharing their information more broadly, according to the FTC. Facebook has agreed to 20 years of privacy audits, it said.

"Facebook is obligated to keep the promises about privacy that it makes to its hundreds of millions of users," Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, said in a written statement. "Facebook's innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not."

In a blog post, Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook is committed to giving its users "complete control" over what they share and with whom.

"I also understand that many people are just naturally skeptical of what it means for hundreds of millions of people to share so much personal information online, especially using any one service.  Even if our record on privacy were perfect, I think many people would still rightfully question how their information was protected. It's important for people to think about this, and not one day goes by when I don't think about what it means for us to be the stewards of this community and their trust," he wrote. "I'm committed to making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy."

Facebook also has created two new positions to make sure it takes privacy seriously, Zuckerberg said.

Erin Egan, a former partner with Covington & Burling, will become chief privacy officer for policy. Michael Richter, Facebook’s chief privacy counsel, will take on a new role as chief privacy officer for products.

Privacy watchdog Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said the settlement shows that Facebook "has long misled users and the public."

But another frequent critic, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), applauded the settlement.

"The settlement's privacy protections will benefit Facebook users and should serve as a new, higher standard for other companies to follow in their own efforts to protect consumers' privacy online," Markey said in a written statement. "When it comes to its users' privacy, Facebook’s policy should be: ‘Ask for permission, don’t assume it."


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-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg greets a student as he arrives to speak at Harvard University. Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard in 2004, met with students as part of an East Coast trip to recruit for the social networking company. Photo credit: Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg 

AT&T says attempted hacking was unsuccessful


AT&T Inc., the nation's second-largest wireless carrier, reportedly said it was the victim of an attempted hack attack.

The Dallas company sent an email to its customers Monday, stating that it was looking into an organized attempt to hack into the information of its wireless customers but that it had found no data breaches so far, according to a number of news outlets. Officials from AT&T were unavailable for comment Monday afternoon.

"We recently detected an organized and systematic attempt to obtain information on a number of AT&T customer accounts, including yours," AT&T said in its email, obtained by Bloomberg News. "We do not believe that the perpetrators of this attack obtained access to your online account or any of the information contained in that account."

AT&T also said in its message to subscribers that the attempted hack was going after the account information of less than 1% of its 100 million customers, according to the Associated Press.

The suspected attack appears to have used automated programs to try to match cellphone numbers with login information that could have been used to get into user accounts.

AT&T told Bloomberg the reported attack was not connected to but did follow a successful hacking of AT&T servers that resulted in the stealing of personal data from about 120,000 Apple iPad 3G users in June 2010.


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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo: AT&T signage at a company store in Chicago. Credit: Tim Boyle / Bloomberg

Lawmaker wants hearing on Facebook tracking

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said Wednesday he would hold a hearing to look into reports that Facebook tracks its users on the Web after they log out.

"No company should track customers without their knowledge or consent, especially a company with 800 million users and a trove of unique personal data on its users," Rockefeller said in a statement. "If Facebook or any other company is falsely leading people to believe that they can log out of the site and not be tracked, that is alarming."

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the company uses cookies to personalize content and keep accounts secure.

"When someone logs off of Facebook, we delete certain cookies and reduce the amount of information we receive when the person visits websites that contain social plug-ins such as the Like button," he said in an emailed statement. "We have made these practices clear in our Privacy Policy and Help Center since the launch of social plug-ins. We appreciate Sen. Rockefeller's interest in protecting consumer privacy and look forward to discussing this with him."

He also said that Facebook does not sell users' information to third parties and deletes or anonymizes data within 90 days.

In September, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other privacy watchdogs asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook's tracking of users after they log off the service to see if it harms consumers and invades their privacy.

At the time two other lawmakers, Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) raised concerns in a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. The two lawmakers, who have aggressively pursued Facebook on privacy issues, said at the time they were concerned that Facebook is tracking users without their permission.

The issue surfaced again Wednesday in USA Today.


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Facebook close to privacy settlement with FTC


Facebook may be preparing to settle charges with the Federal Trade Commission that it deceived users when it changed its privacy settings, a person with knowledge of the settlement, who was not authorized to discuss it, told The Times.

The proposed settlement would require Facebook to get consent from users if it makes changes that are retroactive. The Wall Street Journal first reported the settlement Thursday.

As part of the settlement, which is in part based on a complaint from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Facebook would have to submit to independent privacy audits for 20 years. (EPIC also filed a supplemental complaint).

The settlement is awaiting final approval from the agency commissioners. Google agreed to a similar settlement in March and agreed to audits.

Spokesmen for Facebook and the FTC declined to comment.

The investigation began in December 2009 when Facebook changed its privacy settings, making parts of users' profiles -- such as name, photo, gender and friends -- public by default.

Continue reading »

Most teens have seen bad behavior on social media sites:survey

Teens report kindness and cruelty on social network websites in a new study by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project
The majority of teenagers who use social networking websites say their peers are mostly kind to one another online, but 88% still say they've witnessed people being mean and cruel on such sites, according to a new study. Fifteen percent say they've been the target of bad behavior on social media sites.

The findings come from a report called "Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American teens navigate the new world of 'digital citizenship,'" which is based on seven focus groups with teens and a survey of 799 youths 12 to 17 and their parents.

The study, conducted by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, found that social media use is widespread among teens, with 95% of 12- to 17-year-olds in the survey saying they use the Internet. Of those, 80% said they use social media sites.

When it comes to bad conduct online, 80% of teen social media users in the survey said they have defended a victim of meanness and cruelty and 79% said they have told someone to stop mean behavior on a social network site. However, 21% said they have joined in on the harassment.

"Social networking sites have created new spaces for teens to interact, and they witness a mixture of altruism and cruelty," said Amanda Lenhart, the study's lead author. "For most teens, these are exciting and rewarding spaces. But the majority have also seen a darker side."

Teens in the survey said they received advice about online safety from a variety of people. Parents were the top source, with 86% saying they have received advice from their parents about how to use the Internet safely and responsibly, and 70% said they have received advice from a teacher or other adult at school.

Teens in the survey reported that parents were also the biggest influence on shaping what they think is appropriate or inappropriate behavior when going online or using a cellphone. At the same time, 18% saidthat no one has influenced them about their attitudes toward online behavior.


FTC settles privacy complaints against Web firms

Worried about your kids' safety online? You should be

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-- Andrea Chang

Photo: High school students try out iPads in Watsonville, Calif., last year. Credit: Robinson Kuntz / Santa Cruz Sentinel

FTC settles privacy complaints against Web firms


The Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday that it settled complaints alleging that two online companies  deceptively collected personal information from consumers, including children.

The founder of Skid-e-kids, a social networking site for preteens, was accused of violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by gathering the names, ages, and email addresses from 5,600 children without obtaining prior parental approval.

In a separate case, the FTC alleged that online advertiser ScanScout Inc. used deceptive practices to track consumers’ behavior online even when they followed the company's instructions to block the data-gathering. The company uses information to deliver targeted advertisements to the consumer.

The FTC vowed early this year to take a tougher stance on protecting consumers’ privacy online. In March, the commission began cracking down on behavioral ads, which collect personal data from a user’s computer browser and then send targeted ads based on their interests.

In addition, federal regulators are looking to update rules regarding children’s privacy to reflect the changing online landscape in which social networks and smartphone apps are becoming more prevalent.

Last month, the FTC proposed tougher privacy protections for children younger than 13, broadening requirements covering the collection of personal information by websites and online apps, as well as how they obtain parental approval.

In the complaint against Jones O. Godwin, the operator of Skid-e-kids, the FTC alleged that he allowed children to register without seeking permission from their parents. The company’s online privacy policy says that children must provide a valid parent’s email address in order to register on the website. But the FTC found that the 5,600 children who registered were able to provide personal information, including their birthday, email address, first and last names, and city of residence without parental consent.

Godwin was ordered to pay a $100,000 civil penalty, which can be reduced to $1,000 if he complies with oversight provisions.

In the ScanScout case, the FTC alleged that the online advertiser deceptively claimed that consumers could opt out of targeted ads by changing their computer’s Internet settings to block cookies. What ScanScout used were so-called Flash cookies, which could not be blocked.The FTC ordered ScanScout to provide a user-friendly way for consumers to opt out of being tracked.


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Survey: Parents lie to help preteens get on Facebook

Millions of kids under the age of 13 have signed up for Facebook.

And their parents helped them lie to do it.

That's the conclusion of a new survey from Microsoft and university researchers.

Facebook sets the minimum age for using its service at 13 to comply with federal laws that shield children's online privacy. But parents help preteens get around the age limit so they can interact online with relatives and friends.

The survey found that more than half of all parents with 12-year-olds and 1 in 5 parents of 10-year-olds knew their kids were using Facebook. Nearly 7 in 10 parents admitted they helped their kids set up the accounts. Consumer Reports had previously reported that 7 million underage users were on Facebook.

"'At what age should I let my child join Facebook?' This is a question that countless parents have asked my collaborators and me. Often, it's followed by the following: 'I know that 13 is the minimum age to join Facebook, but is it really so bad that my 12-year-old is on the site?' " Danah Boyd wrote.

Boyd, a senior researcher with Microsoft Research, teamed up with Eszter Hargittai from Northwestern University, Jason Schultz from UC Berkeley and John Palfrey from Harvard to take a closer look at the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, COPPA, which restricts websites from collecting information from kids under the age of 13. 

Regulators are considering updating COPPAto reflect the new era of social networks and smartphone apps. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission proposed tougher privacy protections for children younger than 13, broadening requirements covering the collection of personal information by websites and online apps, as well as how they obtain parental approval.

Boyd says the researchers wanted to find out if COPPA "empowered" parents. The survey drew from a random sampling of 1,007 parents with children ages 10 to 14.

"The status quo is not working if large numbers of parents are helping their children lie to get access to online services," Boyd said.

That conclusion didn't sit well with privacy watchdogs who say parents are not aware of the reams of data websites like Facebook collect about their kids, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

"This was corporate-funded research aimed at undermining the FTC's upcoming decision that will expand COPPA safeguards to include mobile and behavioral targeting," Chester said.


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-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg shows off the social network's new "time line" feature at its annual developers conference in San Francisco in September. Photo credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg.


New Google feature tries to explain ads in search, Gmail [Video]

Google ads

A lot of people still don't understand why certain advertisers target them while they are searching the Web. 

Google is rolling out a new feature that explains why its users see certain ads when they search Google or check their Gmail.

The move comes as Google, like other Internet companies, finds itself in the political cross hairs as lawmakers and regulators scrutinize how they collect and use consumers' personal information. Google says it tries to be transparent about the information it collects and show consumers the most relevant ads. If Google knows what ads to show you then it might even show you fewer ads, the logic goes.

"Our advertising system is designed to show the right ad to the right person at the right time. Because ads should be just as useful as any other information on the web, we try to make them as relevant as possible for you," Susan Wojcicki, Google's senior vice president of advertising, wrote in a blog post.

Wojcicki says the new feature, called "Why these ads," helps users learn more about why they see certain ads and gives them the ability to block advertisers or opt out of ads that are personalized to them.

For example, Google search users who click on "Why these ads?" next to ads that show up in search results will get an explanation such as "this ad is based on your current search terms." Users can then decide if they want to block that advertiser or turn off ad personalization altogether.

Users of Gmail, Google's email service, will also be able to block advertisers. Google serves up ads based on the contents of emails (although Google does not "read" your emails).

Google derives the vast majority of its revenue from advertising, chiefly search ads, which are popular because businesses can track the effectiveness of their ad dollars.

What Google still does not do: Let users stop Google from collecting information based on their search history.

Privacy watchdogs remain skeptical.

"For every little tool Google provides to help users protect their data, they create a host of new digital marketing apps to capture it," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "The test of this new tool will be to see if it really enables you to control your information."



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Google+ opens to Google Apps users

Google+ Hangouts with extras

Google+ is now open to users of Google Apps, the tech giant's suite of cloud-based business applications that are challenging Microsoft Office for workplace dominance.

But Google's new social network, itself a challenger to Facebook, will work a bit differently for those using Google+ with a Google Apps account versus a personal Google account. 

For one, Google Apps users will be using email addresses that are tied to their workplace -- whether a business or an educational institution -- to get onto Google+. As such, Google is allowing businesses to have administrative control over all Google+ accounts integrated with Google App accounts.

"Because you're signing up for Google+ with your corporate email address, your Google Apps administrator retains the right to access your Google+ data and modify or delete it at any time," Google said in a suggestion of text to send out via email that Google Apps users who want to use Google+ for work too. Google does advise that businesses "edit based on your organization's policies," so it's up to a business as to how they handle this ability. 

Social networks are, of course, about sharing, among other things. And Google is also advising businesses to tell their employees to keep that in mind when using Google+ with a Google Apps account and to not share stuff that only the company itself should see -- something a Google employee recently did.

"Google Apps users will have access to the same set of features that are available to every Google+ user, and more," Ronald Ho, a Google product manager, said in a blog post. "In addition to sharing publicly or with your circles, you'll also have the option to share with everyone in your organization, even if you haven't added all of those people to a circle."

One new tool added for Google Apps users in Google+ is Hangouts with extras, "which combines multi-person video chat with screen sharing and collaboration in Google Docs."

Google also said that it would soon roll out a migration tool that will allow users with a personal Google+ account to move them over to a Google Apps integrated Google+ account.

"With this tool, you won't have to rebuild your circles, and people who've already added you to their circles will automatically be connected to your new profile," Ho said. "We expect this migration option to be ready in a few weeks, so if you'd like, you can go ahead and get started with your Apps account today and merge your connections once the tool is available."


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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Image: A screen shot of Google+ Hangouts with extras, which combines video chatting with Google Doc sharing. Credit: Google


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