Criminal Behavior: How Facebook Steals Your Security Data to Violate Your Privacy

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One of the most fundamental and crucial aspects of proper privacy implementations is the basic concept of “data compartmentalization” — essentially, assuring that data collected for a specific purpose is only used for that purpose.

Reports indicate that Facebook is violating this concept in a way that is directly detrimental to both the privacy and security of its users. I’d consider it criminal behavior in an ethical sense. If it isn’t already actually criminal under the laws of various countries, it should be.

There’s been much discussion over the last few days about reports (confirmed by Facebook, as far as I can determine) that Facebook routinely abuses their users’ contact information, including phone numbers provided by users, to ad target other users who may never have provided those numbers in the first place. In other words, if a friend of yours has your number in his contacts and lets Facebook access it, Facebook considers your number fair game for targeting, even though you never provided it to them or gave them permission to use it. And you have no way to tell Facebook to stop this behavior, because your number is in someone else’s contacts address book that was shared and is under their control, not yours.

This abuse by Facebook of “shadow contacts” is bad enough, but is actually not my main concern for this post today, because Facebook is also doing something far worse with your phone numbers.

By now you’ve probably gotten a bit bored of my frequent posts strongly urging that you enable 2sv (two-step verification, 2-factor verification) protections on your accounts whenever this capability is offered. It’s crucial to do this on all accounts where you can. Just a few days ago, I was contacted by someone who had failed to do this on a secondary account that they rarely used. That account has now been hijacked, and he’s concerned that someone could be conducting scams using that account — still in his name — as a home base for frauds.

It’s always been a hard sell to get most users to enable 2sv. Most people just don’t believe that they will be hacked — until they are and it’s too late (please see: “How to ‘Bribe’ Our Way to Better Account Security” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/02/11/how-to-bribe-our-way-to-better-account-security).

While among the various choices that can be offered for 2sv (phone-based, authenticator apps, U2F security keys, etc.) the phone-based systems offer the least security, 2sv via phone-based text messaging still greatly predominates among users with 2sv enabled, because virtually everyone has a mobile phone that is text messaging capable.

But many persons have been reluctant to provide their mobile numbers for 2sv security, because they fear that those numbers will be sold to advertisers or used for some other purpose than 2sv.

In the case of Google, such fears are groundless. Google doesn’t sell user data to anyone, and the phone numbers that you provide to them for 2sv or account recovery purposes are only used for those designated purposes.

But Facebook has admitted that they are taking a different, quite horrible approach. When you provide a phone number for 2sv, they feel free to use it as an advertising targeting vector that feeds into their “shadow contact” system that I described above.

This is, as I suggested, so close to being criminal as to be indistinguishable from actual criminality.

When you provide a phone number for 2sv account security to Facebook, you should have every expectation that this is the ONLY purpose for which that phone number will be used!

By violating the basic data compartmentalization concept, Facebook actually encourages poor security practices, by discouraging the use of 2sv by users who don’t want to provide their phone numbers for commercial exploitation by Facebook!

Facebook will say that they now have other ways to provide 2sv, so you can use 2sv without providing a phone number.

But they also know damned well that most people do use mobile phones for 2sv. There are very large numbers of people who don’t even have smartphones, just simple mobile phones with text messaging functions. They can’t run authenticator apps. Security keys are only now beginning to make slow inroads among user populations.

So Facebook — in sharp contrast to far more ethical companies like Google who don’t treat their users like sheep to be fleeced — is offering vast numbers of Facebook users a horrible Hobson’s choice — let us exploit your phone number for ad targeting, or suffer with poor security and risk your Facebook account being hijacked.

This situation, piled on top of all the other self-made disasters now facing Facebook, help to explain why I don’t have a Facebook account.

I realize that Facebook is a tough addiction to escape. “All my friends and family are on there!” is the usual excuse.

But if you really care about them — not to mention yourself — you might consider giving Facebook the boot for good and all.

–Lauren–

How Google Documentation Problems Can Lead to Public Relations Nightmares

Views: 818

UPDATE (October 1, 2018): Please Don’t Ask! There Are No “Google Explainers”

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Google has been going through something of a public relations nightmare over the last week or so, all related to a new feature that was added to their Chrome browser — that actually was an excellent, user-positive feature! (Please see: “Ignore the Silly Panic over Google Chrome’s New Auto-Login Feature” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/09/24/ignore-the-silly-panic-over-google-chromes-new-auto-login-feature).

After a massive backlash — which I personally feel was almost entirely uninformed and unnecessary — Google has announced that they’ll provide a way for users to disable this useful feature (my recommendation to users is to leave it enabled).

But how did we get to this point?

This entire brouhaha relates to Chrome browser sync, which enables the synchronization of data — bookmarks, passwords, browsing history, etc. — between multiple devices running Chrome. It’s a fantastically useful feature that unfortunately is widely misunderstood.

Part of the reason for the confusion is that it really is not well documented — the associated help materials can be misunderstood even by hardcore techies, and obviously this can be even more troublesome for non-technical users. This has been exacerbated by some aspects of the associated user interface, but Google documentation and other help resources are primarily at fault.

The triggering event for this Google PR mess was the false assumption by some observers that the new Chrome auto-login feature would automatically enable Chrome sync. It doesn’t, and it never did.

But how many Chrome users realize how much flexibility actually exists in the sync system?

For example, while the default settings will sync all categories of data, there are customization options that permit users to specify exactly which classes of data they wish to sync or not sync. I tend to sync bookmarks and not much else.

The main concern expressed about sync during this controversy relates to Google seeing your synced browsing history (which again, I stress has always been possible for users to disable in the sync system).

But how many users realize that you can choose to sync any or all data classes between your devices without Google being able to interpret them at all, simply by specifying a sync “pass phrase” that encrypts the data so that it only exists in unencrypted form on your own devices — not at Google. Doing this means that Google can’t provide various centralized value-added features, but that’s your choice!

If all of this had been better documented (in ways understandable to a wide variety of users of different technical skill levels) much or all of this entire controversy could have been avoided.

While Google has made significant strides in their help and documentation resources over the years, they still have a long, long way to go, especially when dealing with the non-technical users who make up a large and growing segment of their user population. 

I have long asserted that Google (and its users!) would greatly benefit from a new class of Google-related documentation and help systems, created and maintained specifically to assist all users — including especially non-technical users — to better understand these necessarily complex systems and environments. 

I would suggest that these include textual materials specifically written for this purpose, with supplemental video content as well. Call them “Google Explainers” or whatever, but in Google parlance I would assert that ongoing deficiencies in this area represent a “Code Yellow” (extremely important) class of issues for both Google and its users.

–Lauren– 

Ignore the Silly Panic over Google Chrome’s New Auto-Login Feature

Views: 3193

UPDATE (September 27, 2018): How Google Documentation Problems Can Lead to Public Relations Nightmares

UPDATE (September 25, 2018): In response to complaints about this actually very positive and useful new feature, Google has announced that an upcoming version of Chrome will provide an option for users to disable this functionality. But I recommend that you leave it enabled — I certainly will.

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You may have seen stories going around over the last couple of days with various observers and so-called “experts” going all wacko panicky over a new feature in Google’s Chrome that automatically logs you into the browser when you log into a Google account.

In reality, this is a major privacy-positive move by Google, not any kind of negative as those breathless articles are trying to make you believe!

Over time, many users — especially in situations where multiple people use the same computer — have come to me confused about who was really logged into what. They’d login to their own Google accounts but later discover that the browser was still logged in as someone else entirely, not only causing confusion, but the potential for significant user errors as well.

I applaud Google changing this. It improves user privacy and user security, by helping to assure that the browser and Google Accounts are using the same identities, and that you’re not accidentally screwing around with someone else’s browser data.

Some panicky observers are loudly proclaiming that they never want to login to the browser. They seem on the whole to be rather confused. You can still use the browser as Guest. You can still switch user identities on the browser via the “Manage People” function in settings.

The key functionalities of browser login are to keep track of different users’ browser settings, and to provide sync capabilities. And the sync system isn’t automatically turned on by these new changes. If you want to sync bookmarks or passwords or whatever, you still need to enable this explicitly and you still have complete control over what is being synced, just like before.

Google should be getting applause for this new Chrome auto-login feature, not silly complaints.

Kudos to the Chrome team.

–Lauren–

More Bull from the Google Haters: Search Results and Trump’s Travel Ban

Views: 808

Here we go again. There are new stories today being breathlessly spouted by the alt-right, and being picked up by mainstream media, about internal Google emails showing employees discussing possible ways to “leverage” search results to help push back against Trump’s racist travel ban in January 2017, shortly after his inauguration.

The key aspect to note about this media brouhaha is that NONE of those ideas were EVER implemented. And the discussions themselves include participants noting why they shouldn’t be.

These discussions were the personal thoughts of individual Googlers, who are encouraged by Google to speak as openly as possible internally to help assure that Google has a wide range of opinions as input to decision-making on an ongoing basis.

I experienced this firsthand during the period ending several years ago when I consulted to Google. I had never seen such an open exchange of ideas at any large firm before. I was absolutely in awe of this — and actively participated in many internal discussions — because such interchange is an incredibly important asset — not only to Google, but to its users and to the world at large.

You want to avoid whenever possible having employees self-censoring internally about controversial matters. You want the maximum practicable interchange of ideas, many of which by definition will never actually be implemented.

We’d frankly have a much better world if such open internal discussions took place at all firms and other organizations.

What’s so appalling about this situation is that there are (or were) individuals inside Google who would purposely leak such internal discussions, obviously in the hopes of generating exactly the kinds of fanatical Google hate being demonstrated by the alt-right and their allies, and to try stifle the kinds of open internal discussions that are so important to us all.

–Lauren–

What We See on the Leaked TGIF Video Makes Us Proud of Google

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Ever since an online right-wing rag recently released a leaked copy of a corporate “TGIF” meeting at Google (recorded a couple of days after the election of Donald Trump), I’ve been receiving emails from various Trump supporters pointing at various short, out of context clips from that video to try make the argument that a vast, conspiratorial political bias by Google is on display.

This is utter nonsense. And a viewing of the entire now public meeting recording (https://lauren.vortex.com/g-tgif) not only reveals a lack of bias, but should inspire a completely different set of reactions — namely confidence and pride.

For in this video we see exactly what I for one would have hoped to see from the leaders of a powerful corporation under such circumstances — expressions of personal concern, but a clear determination not to permit personal feelings to skew or bias Google search engine or other services.

As I watched this video, I found myself almost constantly nodding my head in agreement. Frankly, if I had been up there on that stage I would have been sorely tempted to state my concerns regarding the election’s outcome in somewhat stronger language. And let’s face it, events in the ensuing nearly two years since that election have proven these kinds of concerns to have been utterly justified.

The motives of the Google or ex-Googler who originally leaked this TGIF video are obvious enough — to try feed into the alt-right’s false narratives of claimed political bias at Google. 

In this respect that person failed miserably, because any fair-minded individual viewing the entire video cannot fail to see corporate leaders explicitly keeping their personal feelings separate from corporate policies. 

That’s not to say that this nefarious leaker hasn’t done real damage inside Google. Reportedly, internal access to TGIF videos has been greatly restricted in the wake of the leak. That’s bad news all around — open discussion of sometimes controversial issues inside Google is key not only to Google’s success, but is important to Google’s users and the global community as well.

And of course the leaker has now spawned a plethora of additional right-wing articles attacking various Google execs, and a range of new wacky false conspiracy theories, including the bizarre notion that the beanie propeller hats typically worn by new Google employees are actually some kind of creepy cult symbolism. Give me a break! Apparently these conspiracy idiots never saw “Beany & Cecil” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMdReHP9cb0).

Google — like all firms — is made up of human beings, and a person hasn’t walked this planet who qualifies as perfect. But when I watch this video, I see a group of people working very hard to do the right thing, to keep Google firmly on an unbiased and even keel despite personal disappointments.

And yes, that makes me very proud of Google and Googlers.

–Lauren–