Privacy and Security

Guest Post from: Marvi Islam

Let me start it with privacy and link it to security. Well, all of us know about the privacy settings on Facebook and we like them so much as we can hide from our family members, the things we do and the people we’re with. But wait, what about security? How is privacy linked to security?

Let’s leave the digital platform and move our focus towards our daily lives. We need security in our banks, schools, public places and even in our homes and parks. But have you ever wondered what price we pay for this non-existent blanket of security? Privacy.  Let me reiterate –  security at the price of privacy. Those cute little things we see on the ceilings of our school corridors; we call them “CCTV” –  they are installed for our security. But security from? No one bothers to ask. Maybe they (the authorities) want to tape everything in case something bad happens so that they can go through the tapes and catch perps red-handed. But they are taping every single thing and we don’t take this as them breaching our privacy?

A number of times these tapes have been misused causing niggling unpleasantries and yet it’s ok. There’s a famous proverb in Hindi that translates to this,“You have to sacrifice one thing to get another”. Here we sacrifice our privacy to get security. With self-driving cars grabbing all the attention, there goes more data to stay connected and apparently, “secure”.

Similarly, some companies check what their employees are up to and what they are doing on their computers while they are at work. This, from the company’s perspective is to avoid plausible breach of sensitive data but is such constant monitoring even ethical? So, does it really have to be a tradeoff? Security for privacy and vice versa?

Marvi Islam is from Islamabad, Pakistan and studies at Capital University of Science and Technology, Islamabad.

Car Reporting Accidents, Violations

In addition to car’s using network connections to call for assistance, here is a natural consequence — your car may notify police of an accident, in this case a driver leaving a hit-and-run situation. My insurance company offered to add a device to my car that would allow them to increase my rates if they go faster than they think I should.  Some insurance companies will raise your rates if you exceed their limit (70 MPH) even in areas where the legal limit is higher (Colorado, Wyoming, etc. have 75+ posted limits).  A phone company is promoting a device to add into your car to provide similar capabilities (presented for safety and comfort rationale.)

So what are the possibilities?

  • Detect accident situations and have emergency response arrive even if you are unable to act — and as noted above this may also detect hit-and-run accidents.
  • Provide a channel for you to communicate situations like “need roadside assistance” or “report roadside problem”.
  • Monitor car performance characteristics and notify user (shop?) of out-of-spec conditions
  • Using this same “diagnostic port”, taking remote control of car
    • Police action – to stop driver from escaping
    • Ill-intended action, to cause car to lose control

So, in line with the season, your car  is making a list, checking it twice and going to report if you are naughty or nice —


One additional article from the WSJ Dec. 10th on the Battle between car manufacturers and smartphone companies for control of the car-network environment.  The corporate view, from Don Butler, Ford Motor’s Director of Connected Vehicles: “We are competing for mind-share inside the vehicle.”  Or as the WSJ says, “Car makers are loath to give up key information and entertainment links… and potentially to earn revenue by selling information and mobile connectivity.”  In short, the folks directing the future of connected vehicles are not focusing on the list of possibilities and considerations above.


IoT and Healthcare

The July/August Issue of IEEE Internet Computing is focused on applications in Heath care for the Internet of Things (IoT).  This morning, when I hit the home page, it had a birthday cake — and on “hover” – it wished me a “Happy Birthday Jim” — just in case you were wondering if your Google entry page might be customized for you — the answer is “yes”.   How do these two statements intersect? In some (near term?) future, that page may have suggested I needed to visit a doctor – either because I was searching a combination of symptoms, or because the sensors surrounding me (my watch, cell phone, etc.) indicated problematic changes in my health (or some combination of data from such diverse sources.)

Of course this might be followed by a message that my health insurance was being canceled, or my life insurance.

As this Internet Computing issue points out, there are many benefits to be gained from having a network of sensors that can continuously monitor and provide feedback on health data. The first paper addresses barriers — legal, policy, interoperability, user perspectives, and technological.  The second paper focuses on “encouraging physical activity” and the third paper considers “quality of life (QoL)” (physical health, psychological, social relationships and environment (financial, safety, freedom, …)) It is evident that IoT and health care have many points of overlap – some intended (monitoring devices) and some unintended (search analysis) — and all with significant personal and social impact considerations.

Besides my ingrained paranoia (will Google automatically apply for my retirement beneifts and direct the checks to their accounts?) and delusional optimism (“Your financial QoL is below acceptable norms, we have transferred $1 million into your accounts to normalize this situation – have a good day”) there are pros and cons that will emerge.

What issues and opportunities do you see?

FTC, NoMi and opting out

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled charges with Nomi Technologies over it’s opt-out policy on April 23rd. Nomi’s business is putting devices in retail stores that track MAC addresses.  A MAC unique MAC address is associated with every device that can use WiFi –it is the key to communicating with your device (cell phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) as opposed to someone elses device.  Nomi apparently performs a hash ‘encryption’ on this (which is still unique, just not usable for WiFi communications) and tracks your presence near or in participating retail stores world wide.

The question the FTC was addressing is does Nomi adhere to it’s privacy policy, which indicates you can opt out in store, and would know what stores are using the technology. Nomi’s privacy policy (as of April 24) indicates they will never collect any personally identifiable information without a consumer’s explicit opt in — of course since you do not know where they are active, nor that they even exist it would appear that they have no consumer’s opting in.  Read that again closely — “personally identifiable information” … it is a MAC address, not your name, and at least one dissenting FTC commissioner asserted that “It is important to note that, as a third party contractor collecting no personally identifiable information, Nomi had no obligation to offer consumers an opt out.”  In other words, as long as Nomi is not selling something to the public, they should have no-holds-barred ability to use your private data anyway they like. The second dissenting commissioner asserts “Nomi does not track individual consumers – that is, Nomi’s technology records whether individuals are unique or repeat visitors, but it does not identify them.” Somehow this commissioner assumes that the unique hash code for a MAC address that can be used to distinguish if a visitor is a repeat, is less of a individual identifier than the initial MAC address (which he notes is not stored.) This is sort of like saying your social security number backwards (a simplistic hash) is not an identifier whereas the number in normal order is.  Clearly the data is a unique identifier and is stored.  Nomi offers the service (according to their web site) to “increase customer engagement by delivering highly relevant mobile campaigns in real time through your mobile app” So, with the data the store (at it’s option) chooses to collect from customers (presumably by their opting in via downloading an app) is the point where your name, address, and credit card information are tied into the hashed MAC address.  Both dissenting commissioners somehow feel that consumers are quite nicely covered by the ability to go to the web site of a company you never heard of, and enter all of your device MAC addresses (which you no doubt have memorized) to opt-out of a collecting data about you that you do not know is being collected for purposes that even that company does not know (since it is the retailer that actually makes use of the data.)  There may be a need to educate some of the folks at the FTC.

If you want to opt out of this one (of many possible) vendors of individual tracking devices you can do so at .Good Luck.


Who is Driving My Car (revisited)

Apparently my auto insurance company was not reading my recent blog entry.  They introduced a device, “In-Drive” that will monitor my driving habits and provide a discount (or increase) in my insurance rates.

There are a few small problems. The device connects into the diagnostic port of the car, allowing it to take control of the car (brakes, acceleration, etc.) or a hacker to do this (see prior Blog entry). It is connected to the mothership (ET phones home), and that channel can be used both ways, so the hacker that takes over my car can be anywhere in the world.  I can think of three scenarios where this is actually feasible.

  1. Someone wants to kill the driver (very focused, difficult to detect).
  2. Blackmail – where bad guys decide to crash a couple of cars, or threaten to, and demand payment to avoid mayhem (what would the insurance company CEO say to such a demand?)  (Don’t they have insurance for this?)
  3. Terrorism – while many cyber attacks do not yield the requisite “blood on the front page” impact that terrorists seek, this path can do that — imagine ten thousand cars all accelerating and losing brakes at the same time … it will probably get the desired coverage.

As previously mentioned, proper software engineering (now a licensable profession in the U.S.) could minimize this security risk.

Then there is privacy.  The  insurance company’s privacy policy does not allow them to collect the data that their web page claims this device will collect — so clearly privacy is an after thought in this case.  The data collected is unclear – they have a statement about the type of data collected, and a few FAQ’s later, have a contradictory indication that the location data is only accurate within a forty square mile area, except maybe when it is more accurate.  What is stored, for what period of time, accessible to what interested parties (say a divorce lawyer) or with what protections is unclear.  A different insurance company, Anthem, encountered a major attack that compromises identity information (at least) for a large number of persons.  I’m just a bit skeptical that my auto insurance company has done their analysis of that situation and upgraded their systems to avoid similar breaches and loss of data. For those wondering what types of privacy policies might make sense, I encourage you to view the OECD policy principles and examples.  Organizations that actually are concerned with privacy  would be covering all of these bases at least in their privacy statements. (Of course they can do this and still have highly objectionable policies, or change their policies without notice.)

Smart Government: ICT Enabled Social Engagement in Public Organizations

An SSIT Guest Blog provided by: Carlos E. Jiménez; Open & Smart Gov Specialist, IEEE SSIT Sr. Member; Barcelona, Spain.

In a broad sense, we usually use e-Government concept as the ICT adoption by public organizations as helpful tool in order to improve the way they achieve their goals. Key elements in these organizations are elements like efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and citizen-centric oriented.

However, it is important to say that in a more specific sense, there are important differences when we talk about its degrees and elements within this field. Then, we could talk on 4 distinct concepts: e-Administration, e-Government (in a more specific sense), Open Government and Smart Government. These stages are incremental where ICT transform the public organizations at the same time as they produce better services to citizens.

In the table, we can see that e-Administration started with the ICT adoption addressed to automatize workflows in public organizations (1st stage, -Bureaucratic organization) and, later, the e-Government stage (2nd stage, -Professional organization) includes interaction between citizens through the use of electronic tools, as well as bi-directional flows of information allowing citizens to use e-services. Next, technologies contribute and facilitate the move to a 3rd stage (Relational organization) where -Open Government- is achieved, allowing a high degree of the governance paradigm and not only through the use of e-services. In this stage there is a participation of the society in decisions and processes that before, were mainly done exclusively by the organization. A 4th stage and type of public organization (Intelligent organization) after the Relational one, would be based in the optimized IT adoption degree, and how it can transform the public organization as well as society.

Organization  Modernization Level ICT Role
1. Bureaucratic Begin Automatized Workflows  (e-Administration)
Benefit: increased internal efficency
2. Professional Middle Citizenship Interaction (e-Government).
Benefit: efficient public services (filing forms…)
3. Relational Advanced Citizenship participating in governance (Open Government).Benefit: Paradigm of governance
4. Intelligent Optimal:
Adopted completely Interoperability principle and Open Innovation as tool
Interconnected Ecosystem (Smart Government)Benefits: real time, data driven – integration of information, Public-Private-People Partnership…

This 4th “refined” public organization level, would be achieved as a result of ICT as tool that is being used in perfect harmony with: a) Open Government b) the Social & Open Innovation in public organizations and c) a maximized Interoperability Principle [this concept is expanded in a special issue of IEEE Computer Magazine, Oct 2014]. The concept of Smart Government, then, will have all these factors, and the social implications of technology are being key here.

Indeed, we have to understand that territories and cities only will be smarter if and only if are more social, through thinking in the best options for their citizens, specially, avoiding negative impacts of technology. To get a sense for how this looks in practice see, in the case of Barcelona,

What areas of government in your territory are starting to move towards the “Smart Government” level?


Too Close for Comfort? Detecting your presence.

A group of authors in the August 2014 issue of IEEE Computer outline some pros, cons and examples of proximity sensing technology that initiates advertising, action and may report your presence to some data collection process. The article is called The Dark Patterns of Proxemic Sensing.

There are simple examples which most folks have encountered: the faucet that turns on when you put your hands near it, followed by the automated hand dryer or paper towel dispenser.  This paper Identifies some current examples that many of us may not have encountered: the mirror that presents advertising, a wall of virtual “paparazzi” that flash cameras at you accompanied by cheering sounds, and urinals that incorporate video gaming. Some of these systems are networked, even connected to the internet.  Some interact anonymously, others are at least capable of face or other forms of recognition.

The article identifies eight “dark” aspects of this proximity interaction:

  1. Captive Audience – there is a concern of unexpected/undesired interactions in situations where the individual must go for other reasons.
  2. Attention Grabbing – detection and interaction allows these systems to distract the target individual.  Which may be problematic, or just annoying.
  3. Bait and Switch – initiating interaction with an attractive first impression, then switching to a quite different agenda.
  4. Making personal information public — for example, displaying or announcing your name upon recognition.
  5. We never forget – tracking an individual from one encounter to the next, even spanning locations for networked systems.
  6. Disguised data collection – providing (personalized) data back to some central aggregation.
  7. Unintended relationships – is that person next to you related in some way — oh, there she is again next to you at a different venue…
  8. Milk factor – forcing a person to go through a specific interaction (move to a location, provide information …) to obtain the promised service.

Most of these are traditional marketing/advertising concepts, now made more powerful by automation and ubiquitous networked systems.  The specific emerging technologies are one potentially  disturbing area of social impact.  A second is the more general observation that the activities we consider innocuous or even desirable historically may become more problematic with automation and de-personalization.  The store clerk might know you by name, but do you feel the same way when the cash register or the automatic door knows you?

Issues in this area area also discussed in the Summer 2014 issue of Technology and Society – Omnipresent Cameras and Personal Safety Devices being relevant articles in that issue.

Enslaved by Technology?

A recent “formal” debate in Australia, We are Becoming Enslaved by our Technology addresses this question (90 min).  A look at the up side and down side of technological advances with three experts addressing both sides of the question.

One key point made by some of the speakers is the lopsided impact that technology may have towards government abuse.  One example is captured in the quote “a cell phone is a surveillance device that also provides communications”  (quoted by Bernard  Keene)  In this case one who benefits from continuous location, connectivity, app and search presence.

Much of the discussion focuses on the term “enslave” … as opposed to “control”.  And also on the question of choice … to what degree do we have “choice”, or perhaps are trying to absolve our responsibility by putting the blame on technology.

Perhaps the key issue is the catchall “technology”.  There are examples of technology, vaccines for example, where the objectives and ‘obvious’ uses are beneficial (one can envision abuse by corporations/countries creating vaccines.) And then the variations in weapons, eavesdropping, big-data-analysis vs privacy, etc.  Much of technology is double-edged – with impacts both “pro and con” (and of course individuals have different views of what a good impact.)

A few things are not debatable (IMHO):
1. the technology is advancing rapidly on all fronts
2. the driving interests tend to be corporate profit, government agendas and in some cases inventor curiosity and perhaps at times altruistic benefits for humanity.
3. there exists no coherent way to anticipate the unintended consequences much less predict the abuses or discuss them in advance.

So, are we enslaved? …. YOU WILL RESPOND TO THIS QUESTION! (Oh, excuse me…)


Public Domain Treaty Compliance Verification in the Digital Age

Public Domain Treaty Compliance Verification in the Digital Age
T&S Paper by Christopher W. Stubbs and Sidney D. Drell; Winter 2013

Abstract: We explore in this article some of the emerging opportunities, and associated challenges, that the digital age offers for public-domain verification of compliance with international treaties. The increase in data volume, in ever-improving connectivity, and the relentless evolution towards ubiquitous sensors all provide a rapidly changing landscape for technical compliance verification of international treaties. From satellites to cell phones, advances in technology afford new opportunities for verifying compliance with international agreements, on topics ranging from arms control to environmental and public health issues. We will identify some of the engineering challenges that must be overcome in order to realize these new verification opportunities.

Public Open Sensor Data: Revolutionizing Smart Cities

Public Open Sensor Data: Revolutionizing Smart Cities
T&S Paper by Albert Domingo, Boris Bellalta, Manuel Palacin, Miquel Oliver, and Esteve Almirall; Winter 2013

Abstract: Local governments have decided to take advantage of the presence of wireless sensor networks (WSNs) in their cities to efficiently manage several applications in their daily responsibilities. The enormous amount of information collected by sensor devices allows the automation of several real-time services to improve city management by using intelligent traffic-light patterns during rush hour, reducing water consumption in parks, or efficiently routing garbage collection trucks throughout the city [1]. The sensor information required by these examples is mostly self-consumed by city-designed applications and managers.