Sleuthing for birth dates, with just TikTok profiles as clue

TikTok user notkahnjunior figures out people’s birth dates through the psuedo-privacy of the internet. People give her their TikTok profile, and she takes it from there.

@notkahnjunior Replying to @knoughpe ♬ original sound – kahn

No special tools required. Just web searches coupled with interactions among those who don’t know or care about privacy on the internets. It seems too easy. But it is also entertaining.

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Luxury surveillance

Chris Gilliard, for The Atlantic, describes self-surveillance that people pay for in exchange for small conveniences at the expense of privacy:

The conveniences promised by Amazon’s suite of products may seem divorced from this context: I am here to tell you that they’re not. These “smart” devices all fall under the umbrella of what the digital-studies scholar David Golumbia and I call “luxury surveillance“—that is, surveillance that people pay for and whose tracking, monitoring, and quantification features are understood by the user as benefits. These gadgets are analogous to the surveillance technologies deployed in Detroit and many other cities across the country in that they are best understood as mechanisms of control: They gather data, which are then used to affect behavior. Stripped of their gloss, these devices are similar to the ankle monitors and surveillance apps such as SmartLINK that are forced on people on parole or immigrants awaiting hearings. As the author and activist James Kilgore writes, “The ankle monitor—which for almost two decades was simply an analog device that informed authorities if the wearer was at home—has now grown into a sophisticated surveillance tool via the use of GPS capacity, biometric measurements, cameras, and audio recording.”

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Border enforcement data collection

Drew Harwell, for The Washington Post, reporting on a growing database and who has access to the records:

The rapid expansion of the database and the ability of 2,700 CBP officers to access it without a warrant — two details not previously known about the database — have raised alarms in Congress about what use the government has made of the information, much of which is captured from people not suspected of any crime. CBP officials told congressional staff the data is maintained for 15 years.

Details of the database were revealed Thursday in a letter to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who criticized the agency for “allowing indiscriminate rifling through Americans’ private records” and called for stronger privacy protections.

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Open cameras and AI to locate Instagram photos

Dries Depoorter recorded video from open cameras for a week and scraped Instagram photos. Then he used AI to identify the people in the photos and their locations. Depoorter calls it The Follower.

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Tracked while reading about being tracked at work

While reading this NYT article, by Jodi Kantor and Arya Sundaram, on the drawbacks of activity and time tracking for work, the article itself tracks your reading behavior. You see counters for the time you spend reading and scrolling, clicks, keystrokes, idle time, and active time. It comes complete with snippy comments and a final grade — and a bitter taste for productivity tracking.

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Where the data from your car flows

Jon Keegan and Alfred Ng, for The Markup, identified 37 companies that collect data from connected cars. On where it goes and how the companies profit:

Once a driver gets into a car, dozens of sensors emit data points that flow to the car’s computer: The driver door is unlocked; a passenger is in the driver’s seat; the internal cabin temperature is 86° F; the sunroof is opened; the ignition button is pressed; a trip has started from this location.

These data points are processed by the car’s computers and transmitted via cellular radio back to the car manufacturer’s servers.

As the trip continues, additional information is collected: the vehicle location and speed, whether the brakes are applied, which song is playing on the entertainment system, whether the headlights are on or the oil level is low.

The data then begins its own journey from the car manufacturer to companies known as “vehicle data hubs” and on through the connected vehicle data marketplace.

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Period trackers and legal implications

Given the current restrictions in the U.S., Kendra Albert, Maggie Delano, and Emma Weil discuss data privacy for those who track their periods:

In their investigation, police try to find evidence that someone intended to miscarry, or was otherwise endangering the viability of their pregnancy. This is because a medical abortion presents the same way as a miscarriage, and prosecutors must prove intent or willful endangerment of an embryo or fetus in order to convict someone (though being arrested at all is traumatizing and can cause severe health consequences). Prosecutors must be able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt — data from a period tracker app is not enough on its own to prove this, even if it’s relevant.

I think there’s understandably been nervousness around tracking your period, but it seems that from a legal perspective, there’s little risk? Albert, Delano, and Weil also recommend privacy-centric apps and discuss the more technical aspects in a companion article.

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Facebook doesn’t seem to fully know how its data is used internally

Lorenzo Franceschi reporting for Motherboard on a leaked Facebook document:

“We do not have an adequate level of control and explainability over how our systems use data, and thus we can’t confidently make controlled policy changes or external commitments such as ‘we will not use X data for Y purpose.’ And yet, this is exactly what regulators expect us to do, increasing our risk of mistakes and misrepresentation,” the document read. (Motherboard retyped the document from scratch to protect a source.)

In other words, even Facebook’s own engineers admit that they are struggling to make sense and keep track of where user data goes once it’s inside Facebook’s systems, according to the document. This problem inside Facebook is known as “data lineage.”


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Tracking the CIA to demo phone tracking

Sam Biddle and Jack Poulson for The Intercept reporting on Anomaly Six, a company that knows a lot about a lot of people through phone data:

To fully impress upon its audience the immense power of this software, Anomaly Six did what few in the world can claim to do: spied on American spies. “I like making fun of our own people,” Clark began. Pulling up a Google Maps-like satellite view, the sales rep showed the NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. With virtual boundary boxes drawn around both, a technique known as geofencing, A6’s software revealed an incredible intelligence bounty: 183 dots representing phones that had visited both agencies potentially belonging to American intelligence personnel, with hundreds of lines streaking outward revealing their movements, ready to track throughout the world. “So, if I’m a foreign intel officer, that’s 183 start points for me now,” Clark noted.

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Tax services want your data

Taxes are due today in the U.S. (yay). Geoffrey A. Fowler for The Washington Post on the part when tax services like TurboTax and H&R Block ask for your data:

What he discovered is a little-discussed evolution of the tax-prep software industry from mere processors of returns to profiteers of personal data. It’s the Facebook-ization of personal finance.

America’s most-popular online tax-prep service, Intuit’s TurboTax, also asks you to grant it additional access to the data in your return to “enrich your financial profile, communicate with you about Intuit’s services, and provide insights to you and others.”


The good news is because of Internal Revenue Service rules, this is one data request you can actually say “no” to while continuing to do your taxes online. And if you already clicked “agree” and now have changed your mind, there are some steps you can take, too.

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