Listening wasn’t bad enough?

Owners of Samsung’s “smart” TVs are now reporting that streaming apps running on the TVs are inserting Pepsi ads into user-owned content stored locally on their PCs and NAS drives.  In nearly identical stories, GigaOm and Ars Technica report that this happens for Plex and Foxtel apps running on the TVs.

In addition to the obvious privacy implications, this renders visible a new category in the monetization field: legalized theft of intellectual property.

If you recall the arguments around web search, framing and deep linking, the damage claims arose from money made on the value of the content by people who did not own the content and without permission of the content owners.  It was, according to various legal arguments, theft of intellectual property rights, conversion, dilution of the market, etc.

In this case, Samsung is monetizing content you stream locally without regard to who owns the content.  There is every reason to believe the content is yours since every smart phone made today takes movies.  It’s a point of pride for Samsung who tout their high quality cameras and sensors made to do exactly that.  Samsung unquestionably understands the concept of user-generated content and the high probability that the content into which they are inserting commercials is home movies of your cat(s), your kid(s), someone’s birthday party, or your vacation.  Maybe you are showing home movies of your recently departed loved one at the wake and suddenly Samsung inserts the Pepsi commercial.  (One only hopes it is at least the “Pepsi brings you back alive” campaign from years past.)

The point is, Samsung has no way of knowing anything about the content or the context, only that you find it interesting enough to watch therefore it is valuable enough to monetize, and Samsung believes they have the right to do so.

Because they manufactured the display.

I realize suggesting that Samsung believes they have a right to impose these ads on you may sound a bit hyperbolic, so let’s look at their Privacy Policy–AdHub Supplement:

When you use a Samsung service that includes ads provided by AdHub, AdHub receives certain information about your device. This information may include the device’s hardware model, IMEI number and other unique device identifiers, MAC address, IP address, operating system version, and settings.

In addition, the first time you visit a service that displays ads by AdHub, Ad Hub will assign your device a random ID number, which will be sent back to AdHub each time your device gets a new ad from AdHub.

When AdHub displays an ad to you, AdHub logs the fact that your device received that ad, as well as the webpage or other place where you viewed it.

This leaves no doubt that Samsung is assigning unique tracking IDs to each device capable of rendering content and ads.  In order to access the features of the phone, tablet, smart TV or whatever, you are required to have a Samsung account.  This attaches your personally identifiable data to each Samsung smart device and correlates those devices under a single umbrella account.  Everything that is trackable on the devices is personally identifiable back to the device owners.

Whether or not you trust Samsung as custodian of your private data, the real question is how much you trust the advertisers and publishers that Samsung invites into your device through their AdHub.  Though Samsung doesn’t share with them the information collected by Samsung, they do something even better.  Samsung gives these third parties direct access to your device, tells you up front that your data will be collected by these third parties, then disclaims any responsibility for what those third parties might do with that privileged access.  Samsung remains cozily wrapped within a cloak of anonymity and a blanket liability shield:

Third-party advertisers may use web beacons in their ads in order to collect information about users who view their ads, including through cookies, beacons and similar technologies. Samsung does not control the data collection and use practices of these companies.

Samsung next states their right – there’s that word again – to impose these terms on you.  The last part of the policy supplement states that “you can opt out of receiving targeted advertising from AdHub” but notes that that if you do “you will continue to see ads, but they may be less relevant to you because they will not be based on your interests.”  In other words, haven’t opted out of any of this data collection, only whether it is used to deliver targeted ads.  Everything upstream of that, including the personally identifiable data collection and all the various uses to which that may be put, both by Samsung and it’s army of anonymous advertisers, is protected under the contract.  Should you choose to operate the device without registering it to a Samsung account, the piece that makes your use of the device personally identifiable and provides the context of all your other devices, you don’t get to use the features for which you purchased the device.

Let’s be real clear about this.  You unquestionably own all rights to content that you create, including the right to monetize that content or to make the choice to not monetize it.  You are watching the content in the privacy of your own home.  It is running over cables, switches, routers and NAS devices that you personally own.  You are the one paying for the electricity and bandwidth.  But if the smart device on which you render the content bears a Samsung nameplate, they can force you to watch ads as a prerequisite to render that content, whether you like it or not.  Not only is Samsung monetizing your content, they are monetizing your viewing of your content.  

Whatever we may think of this, we need to be asking what’s next?  Will Motorola, Linksys and Netgear claim a right to insert ads into your privately owned, user-created, streamed content because they manufactured the cable modem, switch and router, respectively?  Will Western Digital, Buffalo, or Synology claim a right to insert their ads into your privately owned streamed content because they made the NAS drive?

All of these “smart” components are in the path between where your content is stored and where it is displayed.  All are essential for the content streaming to work.  All have the processing capacity to insert ads into your content, and all come with Terms of Service and Privacy Policies that you agreed to sight unseen.  Samsung may render the content but there is no content to render without all of these other components.  Samsung was merely the first to stake their claim but every device in the chain has no better or worse standing to claim a right to insert ads into your streamed content than does Samsung.  Do you believe none of them will assert that right once Samsung establishes it?  What, exactly, do you believe will stop them?

Let’s do the chess thing and think ahead a move or two.  What happens if someone figures out how to disable the ads and distributes a root kit or firmware patch?  If that qualifies as anti-circumvention under the DMCA it would be a felony.  Will we not have the right to root our TV, just like we do/don’t have the right to root our phone?  What happens if a downstream device like the TV happens to interrupt the stream right in the middle of the ad being inserted by an upstream device like the switch or NAS drive?  Will Linksys start charging Samsung and Synology for access to your in-home network, the same way that ISPs want to charge Netflix, Amazon and Hulu for bandwidth that has already been paid for at both ends?  Because if you are not the ultimate arbiter of what happens on your private home network, then it is up to the courts and corporations to say what happens there.

Let’s think another chess move ahead.  US law sets a pretty high bar before law enforcement officers can invade the sanctity of your home.  True, these are greatly eroded lately, but your home is where you enjoy the most privacy protection against being recorded in video or audio, and physically searched.  But if your TV, phone, game console, robots, toys, appliances, baby monitors and security systems are all live-streaming to corporate entities, law enforcement no longer have to clear that high hurdle.  Most companies, especially small start-ups, won’t stand up to government information requests.  Do you worry that “this call may be recorded for quality assurance”?  Now everything you say in your living room, bedroom, bathroom, car, and your side of every phone call will be recorded for quality assurance and delivered to law enforcement during discovery, even if you aren’t the target of the investigation.  You will have more privacy in your front yard than in your own home.

None of these scenarios are all that farfetched in a world where manufacturing a device confers the right to mediate the content transmitted or rendered on that device in a private setting.  We consumers don’t read the contracts to which we are bound when we buy these devices and it doesn’t seem likely we’ll start any time soon.  We keep buying the devices despite frequent news stories detailing ever more invasive privacy invasions and it doesn’t seem likely we’ll stop buying them any time soon, either.  These practices generate net-new revenue for the device manufacturers so, short of them stepping on one another, there’s no chance they will stop voluntarily any time soon or, for that matter, ever.

When you can be forced to watch an ad before viewing content you personally created, there is no neutral, no middle ground, no shred of privacy left to give up that isn’t already being taken from you without your consent.  The only options left are to accept the commoditization of our intimate lives, or else to actively protest and demand regulatory protection of our privacy rights and strong enforcement.

If you believe that there is anything at all in the world to which you have a right of privacy, this moment in our time is the last chance you will ever have to demand it before the window of opportunity slams shut and you are rendered effectively naked in the panopticon of life.  Anything short of active opposition now is acquiescence.  We need to be angry and we need to hold our elected officials accountable to represent our interests for once.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll start doing that any time soon, either.

Open Letter to Chris Cox and Facebook

2015-02-14_13-58-05It was nice of Chris Cox to post an explanation of Facebook’s name policy and apologize to “the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks.”

Except that the post doesn’t honestly explain Facebook’s name policy.  The real purpose of the policy is to force you to use a name on Facebook that can be matched to the name you use to make transactions – such as the one on your credit card – so they can correlate the ads you’ve been shown to purchases you make in the real world and charge the advertiser more money.  This is why in the old wording of the policy they asked for the same documents they match against – driver license, credit card, etc.

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What is your definition of personal?

Over at the Cloud Ramblings blog, John Mathon provides his list of Breakout MegaTrends that will explode in 2015.  There’s an entry in there about Personal Cloud rising to prominence.  Yay!  John and I often see eye to eye on our visions of the near future of computing and Personal Cloud is definitely huge in that future.  But it seems that once you get past the name “Personal Cloud,” our visions begin to diverge.  I’d like to explain how they diverge, why my vision is better, and beseech John and all the other pundits, analysts and trade journalists out there to adopt a slightly stricter interpretation of what, exactly, constitutes “personal.”

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What the Dark Web going mainstream means for you

Need some hacking done? Penetration testing for your web site? Change your college grades? Hack your ex’s email and social media accounts? Now you too can hire a hacker because marketplaces for freelance hackers are no longer the province of the dark web. Today they operate openly alongside the likes of other freelance sites offering more traditional work like graphic design, web site building, or fixing that shutter that’s about to fall off the house. In fact, there are now enough freelance hacker sites that at least one meta site, Hacker For Hire Review, has sprung up to review and rate them. Whether your company operates the legacy or the VRM model, there are a few takeaways here.

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Guest spot on The Allan Handelman Show

Yesterday I was a guest on The Allan Handelman Show for an hour, then stuck around a bit to talk with Steve Weisman of Scamicide.com.

Here are links from the show segments:

You can listen to my segments of the show on Soundcloud:

Online advertising is the new digital cancer

cancer cellMany news reports of late have described malware being delivered through advertising networks. But that leaves the impression that the AdTech itself is benign and being hijacked for nefarious purposes. While it may have started out that way, that is definitely not the case today. Kaspersky Labs mention several times in their latest report that the adware has become so aggressive, intrusive, and exhibits such bad behavior that they are now classifying the adware code itself as malicious.

According to AdWeek, global advertising revenues have reached $512B and they forecast declines in revenue growth for 2015.  Meanwhile, cybercrime is estimated to cost the global economy $445B annually and that cost is increasing steadily due to advances in technology and in part because victims pay the price over many years so the victim pool grows relentlessly year over year.

Online advertising has escaped its digital Hayflick limits and is spreading out of control. Online advertising is the new digital cancer.

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Online privacy as a policy issue

I’ve been spending a lot of time working with Qredo which is a company and a technology that seeks to provide in code many of the online privacy protections we fail to provide (or fail to enforce) in policy and law.  While I believe this is a Good Thing and necessary, it doesn’t eliminate the need to fix the policy and legal framework for online privacy.  In fact, it makes these things even more urgent.

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Busting the myth that people don’t care about privacy

There’s a fundamental disconnect in the discussion about online privacy.  We are told that people don’t care about their online privacy.  Evidence of people not reading terms of service, blindly accepting all permissions on their apps, and even filling out detailed questionnaires in return for an actual cookie, seem to support this position.  But in the aftermath of a breach, or simply a news story pointing out how invasive the Facebook Messenger permissions are, the reaction implies a strong expectation of better privacy.  It is as if people have an expectation of privacy but a contradictory expectation of not being required to do anything to get it.  These two things seem mutually exclusive and yet they exist simultaneously.  How can that be?  As with most mysteries of the universe, the answer involves some physics.

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Identity as a weapon

Writing about the recent phenomenon that is #Gamergate, Kirk Hamilton makes some interesting points about identity:

It makes sense that doxxing—sharing someone’s address and other personal information against their will—is one of the primary instruments wielded in this battle. Doxxers use identity as a weapon, and so much of this conflict is, at its core, about identity. There’s the stated claim that the gamer identity is under attack, and also the pervading sense that this “war” is less about journalistic ethics and more about the murk of entrenched identity politics. Video games have hugely informed our generation’s cultural identity, and so cultural criticism of games feels somehow personal, like we’re the ones being criticized. I get it. I do.

He’s describing a tectonic shift in gamer culture as gaming goes from being largely white, male and young, to being increasingly diverse of race, gender and age. The cultural realignment of broadly defined identity can be expected to set off aftershocks that ripple through adjacent populations and disciplines. In this case, there was an identity quake of about 6 on the Richter scale in the gamer subculture that is rippling through journalism, hardware manufacturing, marketing, law enforcement, and on down to individual people. Among the results is a much wider public perception of the danger one’s personal details represents when in the hands of people you don’t trust.

Gaming is a very geeky subculture. It is assumed by many that the Gamergaters would have no trouble getting anyone’s personal information. Another result then is a social laboratory environment in which we get to see how that assumption affects behavior. Certainly Felicia Day held this belief when she wrote:

I haven’t been able to stomach the risk of being afraid to get out of my car in my own driveway because I’ve expressed an opinion that someone on the internet didn’t agree with.

HOW SICK IS THAT?

I have allowed a handful of anonymous people censor me. They have forced me, out of fear, into seeing myself a potential victim.

And that makes me loathe not THEM, but MYSELF.

Within moments of posting this, someone tweeted Felicia’s address.

From its beginnings, the Internet was designed and built functionality first, with security and privacy a very distant second, if at all.  SSL was an afterthought.  DNSSEC was an afterthought.  The original Internet anticipated how functions would work, not how they could be exploited.

Then we built Internet commerce on that shaky foundation and following the same template.  There is a strong parallel between the architecture of the commercial web and toxic waste dumping of the late 20th century.  Both involved the externalization of costs extracted from a manufacturing process.  The manufacturing of things based on atoms resulted in escrowing those costs as time capsules of toxic waste that would become the problem of some future people in return for larger profits today.   In the case of bits, widespread failure to implement even basic security to protect personal data generates larger profits today but also creates a situation in which the incremental cost of retrofitting security into large established systems is cost prohibitive.  Since that personal data can be used as easily to harm people as to help them, large databases of personal information which lack adequate security are akin to undiscovered pools of toxic waste – cheaper to build today, someone else’s future problem if it is abused.

We are now in the stage where the toxicity of bad security is leaking into the digital groundwater.  Those regular reports of massive breaches on high-profile web sites are today’s digital version of yesterday’s cancer clusters.  They are the early warning signs that a Security Cleanup Superfund is needed.  Except that the maps we draw will have corporate names like Hannaford, Sony, Target and Lowe’s instead of geographic names like Love Canal and Lemon Lane.

We ramping up quickly to build the Internet of Things according to the same old template.  We hear about a new “smart” version of an ordinary device just about every day.  Just as rapidly we hear about these same devices being hacked, or that the security is so bad that no hacking is required.  Since the prevailing model is that the devices are modern Trojan Horses, built first as a portal to your most intimate data and second with the functionality for which you bought it, they represent simultaneously our greatest opportunity and our greatest threat on the network to date.

So when I write about false parallels between the worlds of atoms and bits, or the need to build privacy-protecting or privacy-enhancing architectures, I feel a sense of urgency.  I am very aware that the work underway at IIW, NSTIC, OIX and elsewhere in the Identity world potentially powers the world of tomorrow.  As Dave Birch says, identity is the new money.

But I’m also keenly aware that identity can be turned into a weapon.  I’m generally lonely in that view but the Gamergaters have demonstrated how effective even a small amount of identity information can be as a weapon.  People are taking notice.  If we embark to build Personal Clouds using the same template we’ve always used, if we assume that privacy and security are legal and policy rather than technical problems, if the individual does not have sovereign ownership of their personal data, then we might as well be honest about what it is we are building.  Research into personal data technologies without design goals of privacy, sovereignty and agency, and lacking state of the art security controls would be a digital Manhattan Project.  The commercially successful implementation of such a security-free Personal Cloud would be Cyberspace’s atomic bomb, capable of devastating millions of lives at one shot.

So, yeah, identity is the new money.  We definitely need to figure out the functionality of identity and the benefits it will bring to the digital world.  But the systems must be designed first for security, privacy, and personal sovereignty because it is from these attributes that functionality arises, not the other way around.

The latest malvertising incident and why you should care

Today’s news from Net-Security.org is that newly discovered malware was found on Google’s ad network and its purpose is to hijack your router’s DNS settings causing all devices behind your firewall to use poisoned DNS resolvers. That means even if *you* run NoScript, AdBlockPlus, HTTPS Everywhere, Ghostery, anti virus and avoid sketchy sites, a visitor on your guest network or even some anonymous neighbor leaching off your wireless signal can compromise your router.

Awesome.

Article: Attackers change home routers’ DNS settings via malicious code injected in ads

If all my ads were not so personalized and relevant, I’d be upset about this. But it’s SO worth it, right?

The funny thing is that the attackers have FAR more privileged access to your device and your data than do the malvertisers and yet so far they just want to take over your device and empty your bank account. If the attackers ever decide to go after your *data* they’ll not only find out your daughter is pregnant before you do, they’ll make her pay $100 to not tell you about it. Then you get an email asking what your conservative employer might think of your risque purchase history. They clean out your bank account and ruin you, it’s a 1-time profit. But if they blackmail you with your data they get a long-term income stream. They get a pension fund. Forget about calf-cow relationships. Start thinking ant-aphid.

But we’re good because there are lines – somewhere – that even creepy, invasive, malvertising adtech won’t cross and that will stop the spread of cybercrime over advertising infrastructure. Right? We’re good because the adtech industry is hard at work distancing themselves from organized crime and building security, accountability and user choice into the advertising system.

“Wake up T.Rob, you’re daydreaming again!”

Oh, right. I live in Bizarro World where adtech doesn’t acknowledge any responsibility for building the rails malware rides in on. They would side with us in our battle against against organized cybercrime, except they are too busy making advertising even more invasive: Targeted Online Marketing Got Creepier Again!

Note the exclamation point at the end.  Almost seems like the author is excited about this in a good way.  In fact, that’s the case.

So if you think of it – yes, it is very creepy. It goes to the extent that marketers will start knowing more about you than you do yourself.

But on the other hand we think it’s a great step forward. First of all it means that marketers are interested in finding out what we want to be offered. They are actually listening to us. Secondly this also means more targeted communications. Instead of being bombarded with advertisements you have zero interest in, you may find that eventually you start enjoy advertising as it fits seamlessly into what you are looking for.

But the Adtech folks aren’t stopping with impressively better tech, they are hitting new efficiency levels as well, as noted in Obama-Grade Ad Tech Coming to a Local Campaign Near You. “It’s been a challenge for even mid-range campaigns to be able to afford these online advertising capabilities. Today, it doesn’t matter if you’re running for city council or congress, because now you can reach voters in one of the most effective ways possible regardless of your campaign budget.”

Or if you go to Ad:Tech NYC next week, you can learn about the new frontier of tracking consumers offline in  Behavioral Breadcrumbs: New Tools to Read Digital Signals:

Most traditional digital tracking and measurement only works as long as a consumer sits in front of a browser. What happens when they disconnect? A new breed of technologies helps extend scalable insight into consumer behaviors beyond the screen. From RFID to Wifi to optical tracking, this panel will discuss methods that identify consumer behaviors, help test and ultimately measure.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Market to consumers using signals they’re pushing.
  2. Track behaviors using consumer signals.
  3. Create a type of interactivity and measurability in your campaigns.

I’m sorry, but I’m not PUSHING signal to your RFID reader, WiFi access point, or optical recognition tracker.

If you want to know what consumers pushing signals looks like, go talk to the folks at Customer Commons, whose QR-coded badges broadcast the intention to not be tracked in exactly these ways.  Does your optical tracker honor these signals?  I’m guessing not.

If you want to know what consumers pushing signals looks like, talk to the Respect Network who are building a platform specifically to exchange user-generated signal with marketers and businesses.

If you want to know what consumers pushing signals looks like, talk to me or my colleagues at Qredo who are building out the world’s first and best fully-encrypted, end-to-end communications and Personal Cloud platform that is mutually authenticated at the endpoints and yet the data and metadata are completely anonymous in the cloud servers.  We’re all about quality signal.

Most of all, if you want to know what consumers pushing signals looks like, read The Intention Economy.  Here’s a hint: when we customers push signals, it’s intentional, deliberate, and we like you for receiving them. If you have to hunt for the signal, if we don’t like that you received it, if stealth is involved, if it feels at all creepy to any of the participants, it probably isn’t being pushed.

I’m not going to reach anyone who honestly believes that signals received over passive RFID scans, Wifi hotspot scanning, and optical recognition tracking are being “pushed” by consumers.  However, there must be some marketing and advertising people who realize how incredibly wrong that characterization is and why.  To those people I plead: please side with the consumers against organized cybercrime.  Quit acting as the R&D arm of cybercrime who watch you lay the tracks, then ride them direct to your audience, poisoning the well for all involved.

We are on the verge of computerizing the consumer side of commerce.  When we computerized the supply side 30 or so years ago, it transformed the world.  But the consumer side is much larger and the transformation potentially that much richer.  Consumers want to build systems that send you signal.  Stop trying to sneak in and steal it and just partner with us.  Once we have some trust and accountability between us, organized cybercrime will have to do their own R&D.  And if you are wondering how to make those connections you’re in luck.  The next Internet Identity Workshop is next week.  The place is practically littered with common ground for us to meet on.

Marketers and advertisers, now you get to choose who you want to work with and for.  The customers, entrepreneurs, and identity geeks in the VRM community at IIW?  Or organized cybercrime?  Choose wisely because you’re running out of Mulligans on these compromised ad networks.