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Advertising, Chinese Regulation, Administrative Subpoenas, Fixing Loopholes, and New Orleans

Surveil-links for the week of March 29, 2021.


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#120: This Group Wants to ‘Ban Surveillance Advertising’

March 22, 2021 | Wired by Gilad Edelman | ~ 940 words

One year ago, Wired Senior Writer Gilad Edelman wrote a piece with a “somewhat cheeky” headline, “Why Don’t We Just Ban Targeted Advertising?” Well, now Edelman writes of a coalition calling for exactly that. Comprised of 38 groups, the coalition wrote an open letter in which they say that “Big Tech platforms amplify hate, illegal activities, and conspiracism…because that’s what generates the most engagement and profit.”

Edelman notes that when he wrote his initial piece a year ago, supporters of the idea were comprised mostly of journalists and lawyers. However, 2020 put the problem on display for the whole world, from COVID-19 conspiracy theories that led to anti-masking and anti-vaccine rhetoric to political conspiracy theories leading to the raid on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists. Now, a poll of 1,000 registered voters this past January showed that 81% of its respondents support the idea.

The letter was likely timed to align with congressional hearings that the CEOs of Google, Facebook, and Twitter were participating in that same week. While it’s unclear if she was influenced by the letter, Representative Anna Eshoo of California said the advertising model is dangerous and that her and Representative Jan Schakowskey from Illinois “are doing a bill that is going to ban this business model of surveillance advertising.”

#121: China to ban apps from collecting excessive user data starting May 1

March 22, 2021 | TechCrunch by Rita Liao | ~345 words

Chinese government regulators are barring apps from “[forcing] users into providing excessive personal data,” according to Liao. Apparently, it is common for Chinese software developers to deny users access to the app if they do not provide it with certain permissions. However, this may no longer be the case starting May 1 when the ban goes into affect.

This is the second time in recent months that Chinese regulators have shown concern over excessive data collection by mobile applications. In December 2020, Liao also reported for TechCrunch that the Chinese government began seeking comment on the issue and also is set to pass a law further regulating data collection.

#122: This is what happens when ICE asks Google for your user information

March 24, 2021 | The Los Angeles Times by Johana Bhuiyan | ~1,652 words

Bhuiyan highlights the strange feeling one user might have when “scrolling through your Gmail inbox and [seeing] an email with a strange subject line: A string of numbers followed by ‘Notification from Google.’” She notes that it may seem like a phishing attempt, but it’s actually Google notifying the user that their data has been requested by law enforcement. In a particular email reviewed by the LA Times, the Department of Homeland Security was the requester and Google was giving the user seven days to file a motion to quash the subpoena. Upon requesting further information, the user learned it was an administrative subpoena from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Bhuiyan frames the injustice beautifully by juxtaposing the efforts of ICE to issue the order and the efforts a user must go through to refute the order. Administrative subpoenas do not require approval of a judge or the burden of probable cause. Whereas, in order to stop it, a user must retain an attorney who in turn needs to file a motion to quash in federal court arguing why it is not warranted. This process can be very intimidating, especially to undocumented residents that ICE is try to track.

It’s worth noting that administrative subpoenas only allows ICE to obtain basic information, such as the IP addresses used to log into the account. But that would be enough information to map out the user’s travel and confirm their place of residence.

#123: T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T Stop SMS Hijacks After Motherboard Investigation

March 25, 2021 | Motherboard by Joseph Cox | ~629 words

In surveil-link #110, I highlighted the fantastic reporting by Joseph Cox at Motherboard showing just how easy it is to re-route someone’s text messages. In the story, Cox paid a hacker $16 and within a short period of time, the hacker had re-routed Cox’s messages and logged into his Bumble, Postmates, and WhatsApp accounts.

On Thursday, Cox reported that the loophole that allowed for this attack has been patched by the three major cellular service providers in the United States: T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T. This is fantastic news and a great example of how quality investigative reporting such as Cox’s can have real world effects.

#124: How Musicians and Sex Workers Beat Facial Recognition in New Orleans

March 26, 2021 | Motherboard by Caroline Sinders | ~1,131 words

Sinders documents the path that activists in New Orleans, a city with one of the largest incarcerated populations in the country, took to ban facial recognition, predictive policing, and cellular site simulators. In 2017, a bill requiring surveillance cameras be installed in any establishment serving alcohol was proposed and caught the attention of the city’s entertainers. Shortly thereafter, in January 2018, police raided eight strip clubs in the name of “anti-trafficking.”

When trying to find out the placement and use for surveillance cameras in certain locations through public records requests, they were met with vague responses. Then they created an interactive map that anyone could place camera locations on. This helped raise awareness and eventually led to New Orleans dancers, musicians, and community organizers working together to pass the bans this passed December.


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