Blockchain mapping

Shannon Mattern for The Atlantic on how blockchain might be useful in mapping and as a replacement for GPS:

Crypto-cartographers hope to use it for spatial verification—confirming that things are where they say they are, when they claim to be there. How might this be useful? Well, you could know precisely when an Amazon delivery drone drops a package on your doorstep, at which point the charge would post to your account. No more unscrupulous delivery drivers, and no more contested charges for packages lost in transit. Or when opening a new bank account, you could virtually confirm your permanent address by physically being there during a particular verification period, rather than providing copies of your utility bills. You could also submit a photo of your flooded basement or smashed windshield to your insurance company, supplementing your claim with time- and location-verified documentation. Or, as you pass by your local family-owned coffee shop, the owner could “airdrop” some Bitcoin coupons to your phone, and you could stop by to cash in before the offer expires a half hour later.

Oh good.

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When surveillance turns into stalking

Many surveillance apps cater to parents who want to keep tabs on their children who have mobile phones. Many of these apps are used for less parental purposes. Jennifer Valentino-DeVries for The New York Times reports:

More than 200 apps and services offer would-be stalkers a variety of capabilities, from basic location tracking to harvesting texts and even secretly recording video, according to a new academic study. More than two dozen services were promoted as surveillance tools for spying on romantic partners, according to the researchers and reporting by The New York Times. Most of the spying services required access to victims’ phones or knowledge of their passwords — both common in domestic relationships.

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Tracking her boyfriend on Strava

Elizabeth Barber was in a long-distance relationship, and Strava was a way for her to connect with him. It became a point of anxiety when her boyfriend cycled with someone else more and more often.

I was curious, and Strava is a joyless data bank for the insecure. When The Washington Post reported in January that US military bases are visible in the GPS shadows of uniformed Stravites, I was not shocked. I had performed equally fastidious forensics on the cyclist’s Strava maps. Tracing her routes on that anxious morning and days to come, I could see where she lived, where she drank beer and got coffee. I knew how many calories she burned working out, and how often. I knew when and where and with whom she spent time (increasingly, my boyfriend).

Data without much context: enough to drive anyone a little nutty.

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Facebook logs calls and text messages

Woo. Woo. Alex Hern reporting for The Guardian:

In at least one previous version of the Messenger app, Facebook only told users that the setting would enable them to “send and receive SMS in Messenger”, and presented the option to users without an obvious way to opt out: the prompt offered a big blue button reading “OK”, and a much smaller grey link to “settings”.

Nowhere in the opt-in dialogue was it made clear that text histories would be uploaded to Facebook’s servers and stored indefinitely.

This was only on Android devices, as iOS devices don’t provide developers such access.

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What Facebook and Google know about you

Facebook and Google (among other companies) know a lot about you through the services you use. Dylan Curran for The Guardian provides a rundown:

This information has millions of nefarious uses. You say you’re not a terrorist. Then how come you were googling Isis? Work at Google and you’re suspicious of your wife? Perfect, just look up her location and search history for the last 10 years. Manage to gain access to someone’s Google account? Perfect, you have a chronological diary of everything that person has done for the last 10 years.

This is one of the craziest things about the modern age. We would never let the government or a corporation put cameras/microphones in our homes or location trackers on us. But we just went ahead and did it ourselves because – to hell with it! – I want to watch cute dog videos.

We knew this, right? But it’s weird that it took a government-related impetus to bring privacy concerns in social media back into the light. It feels different this time.

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Steve Jobs on data privacy

From 2010, Steve Jobs on data privacy:

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PLOS Criteria for Recommended Data Repositories

0000-0002-8715-2896 PLOS Criteria for Recommended Data Repositories   post-info Post by the PLOS ONE Editors on behalf of the PLOS Data Team Since 2015, the PLOS journals have maintained a list of repositories that we have

Rare Disease Day Spotlight on PLOS Authors: Open Data Repositories in Practice

0000-0002-8715-2896 Science increasingly involves collaborative research groups, program partnerships and shared learnings to encourage transparency, reproducibility and a responsible transition to a more open way of doing science. Open Science policies and best practices are

The personal data you generate when you book a flight

Every time we book a flight, a Passenger Name Record is generated and saved by an outdated system, which links to private travel data. Paz Pena, Leil-Zahra Mortada and Rose Regina Lawrence for the Tactical Technology Collective outline that data and describe the consequences of the system failing to keep data private.

But although the PNR system was originally designed to facilitate the sharing of information rather than the protection of it, in the current digital environment and with the cyber-threats facing our data online, this system needs to be updated to keep up with the existing risks. PNRs are information-rich files are not only of interest for governments; they are also valuable to third parties – whether corporations or adversaries. Potential uses of the data could include anything from marketing research to hacks aimed at obtaining our personal information for financial scams or even doxxing or inflicting harm on activists.

Maybe be more careful next time you post your travel pictures online.

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Secret army bases seen in public fitness tracking map

Last year, fitness tracking app Strava released a high detail map of public activity data. Looking more closely, security student Nathan Ruser noticed activity in various parts of the globe that revealed secret US army bases.

Alex Hern for The Guardian reports:

Zooming in on one of the larger bases clearly reveals its internal layout, as mapped out by the tracked jogging routes of numerous soldiers. The base itself is not visible on the satellite views of commercial providers such as Google Maps or Apple’s Maps, yet it can be clearly seen through Strava.

Outside direct conflict zones, potentially sensitive information can still be gleaned. For instance, a map of Homey Airport, Nevada – the US Air Force base commonly known as Area 51 – records a lone cyclist taking a ride from the base along the west edge of Groom Lake, marked on the heatmap by a thin red line.

While Strava certainly needs to be responsible for what they’re mapping (especially because they know how many of their users publicly share routes by default), the users need to take better care in what they share.

Or maybe this isn’t sensitive information and is blown out of proportion. I don’t know. I feel like it is though. In which case I’d argue that they should avoid public-facing GPS-based services, which are essentially social media for location.

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