Privacy

Don’t Track Me! – Okay Maybe Just a Little

by Mike Borchardt, UMN Law Student, MJLST Managing Editor

Thumbnail-Michael-Borchardt.jpgRecent announcements from Microsoft have helped to underscore the current conflict between internet privacy advocates and businesses which rely on online tracking and advertising to generate revenues. Microsoft recently announced that “Do Not Track” settings will be enabled by default in the next version of their web browser, Internet Explorer 10 (IE 10).

As explained by Omer Tene and Jules Polonetsky in their article in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology 13.1, “To Track or ‘Do not Track’: Advancing Transparency and Individual Control in Online Behavioral Advertising,” the amount and type of data web services and advertisers collect on users has developed as quickly as the internet itself. (For an excellent overview of various technologies used to track online behavior, and the variety of information they can obtain, see section II of their article). The success and ability of online services to supply their products free to users is heavily dependent on this data tracking and the advertising revenue it generates. Though many online services are dependent on this data collection in order to generate revenue, users and privacy advocates are suspicious about the amount of data being collected, how it is being used, and who has access.

And it is in response to this growing environment of unease concerning the amount and types of user data being collected that Microsoft has added these new Do Not Track features (All other major browsers are set to include do not track settings, with Google’s Chrome the last to announce them. These settings, however, will likely not be enabled by default. This, however, may not be the boon for user privacy that some have been hoping for. Do Not Track is a voluntary standard developed by the web industry; it relies on browser headings to tell advertisers not to track users (for a more in depth description of how this technology works, see pgs. 325-26 of Tene and Polonetsky’s article). This is where the problem arises-websites can ignore browser headings and track users anyway. Part of the Do Not Track standard developed by the industry is that users must opt in to Do Not Track-it cannot be enabled by default. In response to Microsoft’s default Do Not Track settings, Apache (the most common webserver application), has been updated to ignore do not track setting from IE 10 users. With one side claiming that “Microsoft deliberately violate[d] the standard,” and the other claiming that the industry is ignoring privacy for profit, the conflict over user data collection seems poised to continue.

A variety of alternatives to the industry implemented Do Not Track settings have been proposed. As the conflict continues, one of the most commonly proposed solutions is legislation. Privacy advocates and web companies, however, have very different views about what Do Not Track legislation should cover. (For differing viewpoints see “‘Do Not Track’ Internet spat risks legislative crackdown). Tene and Polonetsky argue that a value judgment must be made, that policymakers must evaluate whether the “information-for-value business model currently prevailing online” is socially acceptable or “a perverse monetization of users’ fundamental rights,” and create Do Not Track standards accordingly. Unfortunately, this choice between the generally free-to-use websites and web services users have come to expect on one hand, and personal privacy on the other, does not seem like much of a choice at all.

There are, however, alternatives to the standard Do Not Track proposals. One of the best is allowing the collection of user data to continue, but to legally limit the ways in which that data could be used. Tene and Polonetsky recommend a variety of policies that could be enacted which could help to assuage users’ privacy concerns, while allowing web services to continue generating targeted advertising revenue. Some of their proposals include limiting user data use to advertising and fraud prevention, preventing the use of data collected from children, anonymizing data as much as possible, limiting the retention of user data, limiting transmission of data to third parties, and clearly explaining to users what data is being collected about them and how it is being used. Many of these options have been proposed before, but used in conjunction they could provide an acceptable alternative to the strict Do Not Track approach proposed by privacy advocates, while still allowing the free-to-use, advertising-based web to thrive.


Unlocking the Abortion & Evolution Debates:Defining the Essence of Being Human

by Emily Puchalski, UMN Law Student, MJLST Notes & Comments Editor

Thumbnail-Emily-Puchalski.jpgAs scientific research and technological advancement abound in our modern world, often times the law struggles to keep up. The law’s struggle to keep up is evident in debates centering on defining personhood. The question of what it means to be a person/human involves the controversial issues of abortion and evolution, which have divided our nation for decades. Although scientists are helping our understanding of what being human means by studying life at its most basic, controversy abounds regarding not only the results of the studies but also the theoretical underpinnings of even allowing the studies. As our nation becomes more polarized between conservative and liberal thinkers the struggle of defining personhood has come to the forefront in politics.

In his recent article in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Defining the Essence of Being Human, Efthimio Parasidis contemplates how science could aid the law in attempting to define a person and looks at modern examples of the personhood debate. One of the examples Parasidis describes are personhood amendments that are often backed by anti-abortion groups seeking to have life defined as beginning at conception. These so called personhood amendments have begun to spring up in various states and in many instances the groups attempt to get them on ballots for the public’s vote. Interestingly, after Parasidis’s publication an attempt in Ohio to define life as starting with fertilization failed to get the requisite number of signatures to get on the ballot.

The failure of Personhood Ohio to get the requisite number of votes could foreshadow a big issue in the upcoming presidential election, because Ohio is a battleground state for the by all accounts close presidential race between Obama and Romney. Whether the failure of the amendment signals trouble for the Romney-Ryan ticket is unknown. Interestingly, Romney’s position on abortion has been he opposes abortion except in cases where it may be required for the mother’s health or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. While Ryan seems to have tempered his pro-life views during the election.The Romney-Ryan ticket is in a difficult place trying to win the conservative vote while still trying to win Ohio where enough signatures were not garnered.


Unlocking the Abortion & Evolution Debates:Defining the Essence of Being Human

by Emily Puchalski, UMN Law Student, MJLST Notes & Comments Editor

Thumbnail-Emily-Puchalski.jpgAs scientific research and technological advancement abound in our modern world, often times the law struggles to keep up. The law’s struggle to keep up is evident in debates centering on defining personhood. The question of what it means to be a person/human involves the controversial issues of abortion and evolution, which have divided our nation for decades. Although scientists are helping our understanding of what being human means by studying life at its most basic, controversy abounds regarding not only the results of the studies but also the theoretical underpinnings of even allowing the studies. As our nation becomes more polarized between conservative and liberal thinkers the struggle of defining personhood has come to the forefront in politics.

In his recent article in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Defining the Essence of Being Human, Efthimio Parasidis contemplates how science could aid the law in attempting to define a person and looks at modern examples of the personhood debate. One of the examples Parasidis describes are personhood amendments that are often backed by anti-abortion groups seeking to have life defined as beginning at conception. These so called personhood amendments have begun to spring up in various states and in many instances the groups attempt to get them on ballots for the public’s vote. Interestingly, after Parasidis’s publication an attempt in Ohio to define life as starting with fertilization failed to get the requisite number of signatures to get on the ballot.

The failure of Personhood Ohio to get the requisite number of votes could foreshadow a big issue in the upcoming presidential election, because Ohio is a battleground state for the by all accounts close presidential race between Obama and Romney. Whether the failure of the amendment signals trouble for the Romney-Ryan ticket is unknown. Interestingly, Romney’s position on abortion has been he opposes abortion except in cases where it may be required for the mother’s health or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. While Ryan seems to have tempered his pro-life views during the election.The Romney-Ryan ticket is in a difficult place trying to win the conservative vote while still trying to win Ohio where enough signatures were not garnered.


Google Glass: Augmented Realty or ADmented Realty?

by Sarvesh Desai, UMN Law Student, MJLSTStaff

Thumbnail-Sarvesh-Desai.jpgGoogle glasses . . . like a wearable smartphone, but “weighing a few ounces, the sleek electronic device has a tiny embedded camera. The glasses also deploy what’s known as a ‘heads-up display,’ in which data are projected into the user’s field of vision on a small screen above the right eye.”

google-glasses2.jpgThe glasses are designed to provide an augmented reality experience in which (hopefully useful) information can be displayed to the wearer based on what the wearer is observing in the world at that particular moment. The result could be a stunning and useful achievement, but as one commentator pointed out, Google is an advertising company. The result of Google glasses, or as Google prefers to call them “Google Glass”(since they actually have no lenses) is that advertisements following you around and continuously updating as you move through the world may soon be a reality.

With the ever increasing digital age, more of our movements, preferences, and lives are incessantly tracked. A large portion of the American population carries a mobile phone at all times, and as iPhone users learned in 2011, a smartphone is not only a handy way to keep Facebook up to date, it is also a potential GPS tracking device.

With technologies like smartphones, movement data is combined with location data to create a detailed profile of each person. Google Glass extends this personal profile even further by recording not only where you are, but what you are looking at. This technology makes advertising, as displayed in the hit movie, The Minority Report, a reality, while also creating privacy issues that previously could not even be conceptualized outside science fiction.

Wondering what it might look like to wander the world, as context-sensitive advertisements flood your field of vision? Jonathan McIntosh, a pop culture hacker has the answer. He released a video titled ADmented Reality in which he placed ads onto Google’s Project Glass promotional video demonstrating what the potential combination of the technology, tracking, and advertising might yield. McIntosh discussed the potential implications of such technology in the ABC News Technology Blog. “Google’s an ad company. I think it’s something people should be mindful of and critical of, especially in the frame of these awesome new glasses,” McIntosh said.

As this technology continues to improve and become a more integrated part of our lives, the issue of tracking becomes ever more important. For a thorough analysis of these important issues, take a look at Omer Tene and Jules Polonetsky’s article in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, “To Track or ‘Do Not Track’: Advancing Transparency and Individual Control in Online Behavioral Advertising.” The article covers current online tracking devices, the use of tracking, and recent developments in the regulation of online tracking. The issues are not simple and there are many competing interests involved: efficiency vs. privacy, law enforcement vs. individual rights, and reputation vs. freedom of speech, to name a few. As this technology inexorably marches on, it is good to consider whether legislation is needed and, if so, how will it balance those competing interests. In addition, what values do we consider to be of greatest importance and worth preserving at the risk of hindering “awesome new” technology?


FBI Face Recognition Concerns Privacy Advocates

by Rebecca Boxhorn, Consortium Research Associate, Former MJLST Staff & Editor

Thumbnail-Rebecca-Boxhorn.jpgHelen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships, but yours might provide probable cause. The FBI is developing a nationwide facial recognition database that has privacy experts fretting about the definition of privacy in a technologically advanced society. The $1 billion Next Generation Identification initiative seeks to harness the power of biometric data in the fight against crime. Part of the initiative is the creation of a facial photograph database that will allow officials to match pictures to mug shots, electronically identify suspects in crowds, or even find fugitives on Facebook. The use of biometrics in law enforcement is nothing new, of course. Fingerprint and DNA evidence have led to the successful incarceration of thousands. What privacy gurus worry about is the power of facial recognition technology and the potential destruction of anonymity.

Most facial recognition technology relies on the matching of “face prints” to reference photographs. Your face print is composed of as many as 80 measurements, including nose width, eye socket depth, and cheekbone shape. . Sophisticated computer software then matches images or video to a stored face print and any data accompanying that face print. Accuracy of facial recognition programs varies, from accuracy estimates as low as 61% to as high as 95%.

While facial recognition technology may prove useful for suspect identification, your face print could reveal much more than your identity to someone with a cell phone camera and a Wi-Fi connection. Researchers at Carnegie Melon University were able to link face print data to deeply personal information using the Internet: Facebook pages, dating profiles, even social security numbers! Although the FBI has assured the public that it only intends to include criminals in its nationwide database, this has not quieted concerns in the privacy community. Innocence before proof of guilt does not apply to the collection of biometrics. Police commonly collect fingerprints from arrestees, and California’s Proposition 69 allows police to collect DNA samples from all people they arrest, no matter the charge, circumstances, or eventual guilt or innocence. With the legality of pre-conviction DNA collection largely unsettled, the legal implications of new facial recognition technology are anything but certain.

It is not difficult to understand, then, why facial recognition has captured the attention of the federal government, including Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. During a Judiciary Committee hearing in July, Senator Franken underscored the free speech and privacy implications of the national face print database. From cataloging political demonstration attendees to misidentifications, the specter of facial recognition technology has privacy organizations and Senator Franken concerned.

But is new facial recognition technology worth all the fuss? Instead of tin foil hats, should we don ski masks? The Internet is inundated with deeply private information voluntarily shared by individuals. Thousands of people log on to Patientslikeme.com to describe their diagnoses and symptoms; 23andme.com allows users to connect to previously unknown relatives based on shared genetic information. Advances in technology seem to be chipping away at traditional notions of privacy. Despite all of this sharing, however, many users find solace and protection in the anonymity of the Internet. The ability to hide your identity and, indeed, your face is a defining feature of the Internet and the utility and chaos it provides. But as Omer Tene and Jules Polonetsky identify in their article “To Track or ‘Do Not Track’: Advancing Transparency and Individual Control in Online Behavioral Advertising,” online advertising “fuels the majority of free content and services online” while amassing enormous amounts of data on users. Facial recognition technology only exacerbates concerns about Internet privacy by providing the opportunity to harvest user-generated data, provided under the guise of anonymity, to give faces to usernames.

Facial recognition technology undoubtedly provides law enforcement officers with a powerful crime-fighting tool. As with all new technology, it is easy to overstate the danger of governmental abuse. Despite FBI assurances to use facial recognition technology only to catch criminals, concerns regarding privacy and domestic spying persist. Need the average American fear the FBI’s facial recognition initiative? Likely not. To be safe, however, it might be time to invest in those oversized sunglasses you have been pining after.