Location Tracking – Spotlight #322

Good Monday morning. It’s December 23rd. Hanukkah started last night, Wednesday is Christmas, and Kwanzaa begins Thursday. 

Today’s Spotlight takes about 5 minutes to read. Want to chat about something you see here? Here’s a contact form exclusively for you.

1. News To Know Now

1. Apple, Amazon, and Google are partnering with technology and furnishings companies to create standard protocols for smart homes. The move will help consumers avoid an Apple-DOS or Betamax-VHS conflict regarding interoperability of smart home devices in the future.

Smart link: Connected Home over IP announcement.

2. Microsoft users reused hacked login credentials 44 million times in 2019. You have to stop reusing passwords. Every data breach that you learn about leads to more login credentials being traded and sold. Most people don’t need to worry about some kid hiding in a bedroom pecking out passwords. You have to worry about sophisticated programs that criminals use to try many passwords at once. Don’t make it easier for them.

3. A Facebook investigation found that a pro-Trump group with ties to China and criminal organizations used doctored identities and profile pictures created automatically by computers. Facebook removed The Epoch Times and eighty groups related to Epoch Group. More than 900 accounts were created in batches a few minutes apart with content focused at U.S. and Vietnamese Facebook users. Even more frightening was the organization’s use of $9 million in advertising to continue spreading disinformation. At the time of its takedown, the network had 55 million followers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter but the administrative work was automated.

Smart links: Coverage at Wired, The New York Times, and the Graphika report detailing the findings.

2. Location Tracking 

Nearly half of all Americans attempt to control the amount of location data that they provide apps and websites. Yet we also know that less than half of people delete an app when they post their location data. Instad, they attempt to fix the problem some more.

Location tracking is a critical part of the Internet’s cash-free economic model. Nearly every advertising campaign has a geographic component, which can be as encompassing as a country or as narrow as a retail store. The chance of your physical location being tracked while you interact online or have a phone or connected car is excellent.

Americans believe they are constantly being tracked, and they are correct. Game app Pokemon Go was used by 150 million people worldwide and captured location data every five seconds. Use a coffee shop or hotel’s Wi-Fi, and you may have given them permission to match your device’s unique MAC id to your identity. And if you sign on to that company’s app with the same device, your digital visit can be matched to the record of your physical visit creating a rich location tracking record. Google even has the ability to track Android phones by Bluetooth after the user turns off Bluetooth.

An anonymous source gave The New York Times a file with 50 BILLION records from the phones of 12 million Americans over a several month period. The Times analyzed the data and created a stunning interactive feature that was published last week: One Nation, Tracked.

Excerpts from this must-read piece:

  • One search turned up more than a dozen people visiting the Playboy Mansion, some overnight. Without much effort we spotted visitors to the estates of Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, connecting the devices’ owners to the residences indefinitely.

  • We spotted a senior official at the Department of Defense walking through the Women’s March, beginning on the National Mall and moving past the Smithsonian National Museum of American History that afternoon. His wife was also on the mall that day, something we discovered after tracking him to his home in Virginia. Her phone was also beaming out location data, along with the phones of several neighbors.

  • The official’s data trail also led to a high school, homes of friends, a visit to Joint Base Andrews, workdays spent in the Pentagon and a ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall with President Barack Obama in 2017 (nearly a dozen more phones were tracked there, too).

  • In one case, we observed a change in the regular movements of a Microsoft engineer. He made a visit one Tuesday afternoon to the main Seattle campus of a Microsoft competitor, Amazon. The following month, he started a new job at Amazon. It took minutes to identify him as Ben Broili, a manager now for Amazon Prime Air, a drone delivery service.

The Times says that they are as concerned as the source that gave them the data. They will only say that the data source is not a telecom or Big Tech company nor is it a government agency. That doesn’t narrow the field as much as you think because there are literally dozens of data brokers operating in this area. And while everything involved in this data capture and subsequent sale and resale is legal, we agree with the authors that location tracking only remains legal because most consumers don’t fully understand what is available to any business willing to buy the data.

Smart links
Most American Think They’re Constantly Being Tracked at MIT Tech Review
The State of Location Tracking Mobile Apps in 2019 at The Manifest
The Creators of Pokemon Go Mapped the World at Kotaku
Santa isn’t the Only One Tracking You This Holiday Season at Recode
Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy at The New York Times

3. Google Search Updates

Bing search results contain an “alarming amount of disinformation” according to a new report authored by Stanford’s Internet Observatory. The report faults Bing for publishing disinformation and misinformation at a much higher rate than Google. In analyzing 600 search results from each, researchers found that Bing reported 125 bad sources while Google reported 13 including anti-Semitic theories, vaccine misinformation, and white supremacist conspiracy theories. The study also found that student essay sites were shown as authoritative sites more often in Bing results than in Google.

Separately, SEO Roundtable published the results of an informal poll showing that only a small percentage of marketing agencies share Bing search performance with clients. You can add us to that group. We have the data, but it’s so small for our clients that we never highlight it.  

4. Debugged: RFK, Jr. Advertising Anti-Vax Information

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is leading the organizations responsible for more than half of the Facebook advertising that promotes misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccines. His siblings including a former lieutenant governor and current member of Congress wrote an open letter in May stating that their brother “has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.”

Again, no link between autism and vaccines. Here’s the RFK Jr. info.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Causing a Seizure on Twitter

Writer Kurt Eichenwald suffered a seizure three years ago when someone angered by his tweet about recently-elected Donald Trump sent him a direct message tweet with a flashing pattern and a message. “YOU DESERVE A SEIZURE FOR YOUR POSTS.”

The man who sent the message is expected to plead guilty in a criminal case next month. He knew from Eichenwald’s writings that the writer has epilepsy and wrote others to tell them what he had done in the hopes of harming the writer remotely.

The Washington Post has the full story.

6. Great Data: Tracking the President’s Location

As part of its amazing coverage last week, the Times found a data set that it tracked to a Secret Service agent traveling with the president. The Times then mapped the agent’s movements and compared them to the president’s movements that day. 

The data is mind boggling, and the Times shows the same thing at military bases, nuclear plants, and the C.I.A.

Check it out here.

7. Protip: AVG & Avast Removed by Google

Google took a very public step and removed four Chrome anti-virus extensions using AVG and Avast, which are owned by the same company. A security researcher says that the programs collect more information than necessary or expected. They join Kaspersky as anti-virus programs you don’t want to risk using.

Read more at 9 to 5 Google.

8. Following Up: Influencers & Ring Cameras

We told you the Truth about Influencers at the beginning of this month. Now Instagram has banned advertisers from paying influencers to promote vaping or guns, according to NBC News.

And we told you last week that Ring was blaming user error for security problems related to its popular cameras. Motherboard’s article last Tuesday disputes that notion. It’s headline: We Tested Ring’s Security. It’s Awful.

9. ICYMI — Top links from the past 30 days

Tinder Lets Known Sex Offenders Use The App at ProPublica.

Securing Smart TVs at the FBI’s Portland Oregon office.

The Fried Chicken-Scented Fire Log at KFC.

10. Coffee Break: The Deep Sea

Start scrolling and you’ll immediately see images of a salmon and a manatee. Around 132 meters, you’ll see a snapper and a stingray. Other creatures of the deep await: the wolf eel, gummy shark, and sea angel.

Have fun with this final frontier, Cap’n.

When you’re done, click here for a free Spotlight subscription.

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