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Saturday, April 23, 2011
Senator Al Franken wants answers from Apple CEO Steve Jobs on reports that the devices can track users’ location. Google Android Phones Apparent track and receive transmissions of data from Android devices.
I am actually not very concerned about tracking accept when it is being used for marketing purposes. Google has a direct pecuniary interest in mining this data while Apple's interest is a good bit more murky plus there is no evidence that Apple is actually being transmitted this data where Google is being transmitted this data.
- Google denies 'traceably' tracking Android devices (news.cnet.com)
- Your Android Phone is Tracking You (pcworld.com)
Image via CrunchBaseDropbox addresses privacy concerns | Storage | MacUser | Macworld
Cloud-storage service clarifies who has access to your files
Posted on Apr 21, 2011 1:03 pm by Dan Moren, Macworld.com
In the wake of recent changes to the wording of its terms of service, cloud-storage service Dropbox has come under fire for claims it made about exactly who has access to your files. On Thursday, Dropbox took to its blog and attempted to clarify details about its security and privacy practices.
Concerns first arose after Dropbox recently reworded the section of its terms of service about compliance with law enforcement. According to Dropbox, that change was made to narrow the scope of that section, and to specify the situations in which the company might reveal information about its users. Itʼs worth noting, as the company does, that this clause isnʼt unique to Dropbox: Google, Skype, Twitter, and Apple all have terms of service that say they are required to comply with government investigations if requested.
Private lives However, as the new terms clearly say that Dropbox will give law enforcement access to usersʼfiles stored in Dropbox when legally required to do so, thereʼs a question of exactly who has access to those files.
Prior to Thursday, the features page on Dropboxʼs Website contained the pretty straightforward claims that “All files stored on Dropbox are encrypted (AES-256)” and “Dropbox employees are unable to view user files [emphasis added].”
ThatDropbox's features page prior to Thursday (left) and on Thursday (right).
sentiment is reinforced by a Dropbox help center document, which states that both “Nobody can see your private files in Dropbox unless you deliberately invite them or put them in your Public folder” and “Dropbox employees arenʼt able to access user files, and when troubleshooting an account they only have access to file metadata (filenames, file sizes, etc., not the file contents).”
Those claims suggest that technological factors prevent Dropbox employees from accessing user files. However, that would seem to conflict with Dropboxʼs statement that it will provide access to files for law enforcement—after all, what good are files that canʼt be viewed?
In a statement provided to Macworld, Dropbox Chief Technology Officer Arash Ferdowsi said the claim that Dropbox employees couldnʼt access files “is not an intentionally misleading statement —it is enforced by technical access controls on our backend storage infrastructure as well as strict policy prohibitions. The contents of a file will never be accessed by a Dropbox employee without the userʼs permission.”
However, Ferdowsi acknowledged that the claim could be misinterpreted, especially in the context of Dropboxʼs statement that it encrypts all files. As a result, Ferdowsi said the company would change the text to read “Dropbox employees are prohibited from accessing user files.”
As of Thursday, the features page has been updated to remove the statement about employees not being able to access files; the updated version of the text has yet to appear, though. The help center document remains unchanged for the moment, though Dropboxʼs blog post says that it
will be updated with more details as well. Keys to the kingdom Still, the fact that Dropbox can access files to provide to law enforcement means that the keys to those encrypted files are held not by the user, but by Dropbox itself. Ferdowsi confirmed that in a statement to Macworld:
The keys are known to Dropbox alone—Dropbox servers must be able to decrypt files in order to allow users to view their own files on our website. As with almost every other online service, there are a limited number of employees who must be able to access user data when legally required to do so, and to help troubleshoot usersʼ accounts with their consent.
Without possession of the decryption keys, the security of usersʼ files depends on just how much you trust Dropbox; itʼs a bit like your landlord having a key to your apartment. Dropbox claims, though, that itʼs only received about one government request per month over the last year—thatʼs 12 requests for more than 25 million users—and that its legal team vets all requests before taking any action.
So, is there reason for concern? It depends on your level of comfort. As always, convenience and security exist in a balance—the more you get of one, the less you get of the other. Certainly, nothing has materially changed between yesterday and today: Itʼs just as hard (or easy) to access Dropbox files now as it was then.
Overall, though, the concerns are less about the security of Dropbox than it is about the misleading claims—intentional or not—that the company made, versus the reality of the situation. In the case of a service on which many users store personal and private information, that lack of transparency may not exactly be reassuring.
Those who do store sensitive information on their Dropbox—and would rather that really only they can access it—should consider encrypting the files before putting them into Dropbox (for example, by using Mac OS Xʼs Disk Utility feature to create an encrypted disk image). That has its own drawbacks though, since it interferes with some of Dropboxʼs features, like easy access to versioning control—youʼll have multiple versions of the disk image, but not individual files— and you wonʼt be able to view those files via the serviceʼs mobile applications.
In the end, though, it all comes down to one of the cardinal rules of the Internet: If youʼve got something you donʼt want to see on the front page of The New York Times, then donʼt let it out of
Updated at 11:23 a.m. PT to clarify the downsides of encrypted disk images.
Image via CrunchBaseThe New York Times reports more than 100,000 digital subscribers | Web | iOS Central | Macworld
The Gray Lady may start to see a bit more green, thanks to its recently introduced digital subscription plans. On Thursday, The New York Times reported that it amassed more than 100,000 subscribers since March 28—the day the Times began instituting a limit on the number of articles visitors may read on its Website each month.
The Times’s paywall works like this: Readers can freely read 20 articles each month at the Website, and certain articles (like those linked from Twitter and Facebook) don’t count against your quota. To avoid that limit, you need to pay a minimum of $15 per month, which gets you unlimited access on the Website and via its smartphone apps (available for the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android devices). iPad app-based access to the Times costs $20 per month, and also includes full Website access—but not smartphone access. And if you simply want to consume Times content no matter what device you’re using, you need the $35 per month All Digital Access plan. (There will be no quiz later.)
If you’re playing along at home, you may be calculating 100,000 subscribers times a minimum of a $15 monthly subscription fee—but that would be a mistake. As the Times itself notes, “most subscribers have paid a discounted introductory rate of 99 cents for four weeks of access.” But the paper adds that Janet L. Robinson, chief executive of the Times Company, says that the number of full-price renewals is strong.
The paper reports that the 15 percent drop in its site’s overall traffic (in light of the article limits for non-paying readers) is consistent with its expectations.
There’s a lot riding on the Times’s digital subscription plans; the company reported that—thanks to ever-declining print advertising rates—net income fell 57.6 percent, to $5.4 million, compared to $12.8 million in the year-ago quarter. The company hasn't yet reported specifically on digital subscription revenue.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Image via CrunchBaseReport: Google, Too, Is Collecting Location Information From Phones : The Two-Way : NPR
by EYDER PERALTA
Two days after researchers discovered that Apple's iPhone keeps an unencrypted log of everywhere you go, The Wall Street Journal reports that Google is also collecting location information from Android devices:
In the case of Google, according to new research by security analyst Samy Kamkar, an HTC Android phone collected its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour. It also transmitted the name, location and signal strength of any nearby Wi-Fi networks, as well as a unique phone identifier.
Google declined to comment on the findings.
Until last year, Google was collecting similar Wi-Fi data with its fleet of StreetView cars that map and photograph streets world-wide. The company shut down its StreetView Wi-Fi collection last year after it inadvertently collected e-mail addresses, passwords and other personal information from Wi-Fi networks. The data that Mr. Kamkar observed being transmitted on Android phones didn't include such personal information.
Google's passive collection of data has come under scrutiny before. In response, it has said the data they collect is anonymous and at least for the data used for traffic information on Google Maps, Google says it deletes the start and end point of each trip.
Google even has a page explaining how to opt out of sending your GPS coordinates to the Google Maps' My Location. When you first setup an Android phone, it specifically asks if you'd like to send anonymous data to Google. A user has the ability to turn off location services.
Here's the rub: Turning off location services would in essence take away what makes mobile devices so appealing. It means you couldn't
find your nearest pizza joint on Yelp! or use Google Maps to find your way back home.
Google took issue with the Journal's use of the word "unique phone identifier." The number Google receives is random, they say, and it is only used in order for the servers to be able to adequately communicate with the phone.
"All location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user" read a statement released by Google. "We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user."
On the Apple front, yesterday, Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Apple's CEO Steve Jobs.
"I am concerned about this report and the consequences of this feature for individuals," Markey wrote.
Markey then asks several questions from Jobs. Among them: Did Apple notify its users that iPhones were recording location and Wi-Fi information and then copying a backup file with that info onto the computer with which the device is synchronized? What is Apple using this information for and is it for commercial reasons? What is Apple doing to protect the underage users who own their devices?
- Google's Android Phones Also Collecting User Location Data (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Report: Apple, Google collecting location data on users - USA Today (news.google.com)
Monday, April 18, 2011
Image via CrunchBase
Dropbox has just announced that it reached a milestone 25 million users for its cloud-based storage service that lets users stream their own music from the web. The service is available in 175 countries and Monday also marks its newfound availability in Spanish, German, French and Japanese in addition to English. The company grew significantly since just four million subscribers one year and three months ago.
The company's founders also plan to bring out Dropbox-branded hardware over the course of the next 12 months. While nothing is set, the gadgets that could make the most of the Dropbox service include printers, scanners, cameras and TVs.
Dropbox offers a free service that includes storage of up to 2GB, while $20 per month allows 100GB of file storage. Ease of use is a big reason for the growing popularity, Dropbox believed, as it mainly involves dragging and dropping files.