Protecting your digital identity in the era of mass surveillance – before it’s too late

San Francisco has just become the first U.S. city to ban facial recognition technology, to prevent discrimination and the inevitable curtailing of civil liberties that attends this type of artificial intelligence used by municipal agencies. Other cities are following suit, but despite this progress, the tech’s use is growing.   

If you frequent airports, sports stadiums, malls or grocery stores, facial recognition technology may soon be a big part of your life — whether you like it or not.   

Rather than check individual tickets, some airports are now using A.I. to scan faces as people pass the gates; if you’re paid up and your identity checks out, you’re allowed to board your flight.  Convenient, right?  

However, when the private sector uses our biometric data to discriminate their marketing tactics, we enter dangerous territory when it comes to the protection of your digital identity.  

Malls have been caught using facial recognition cameras to guess your age, gender and even mood to advertise accordingly, luring you to certain stores or kiosks where you’re likely to spend money.   

Even grocery stores can identify you in the aisles by your age and gender, displaying products on screens based on your marketing demographic. 

What is biometric data?

Biometric data — fingerprints, retinal scans, gait recognition (the way you walk), voice recognition, DNA, facial scans — are unique to the person, and aim to quickly confirm your identity.   

For individuals, the main benefits of using biometric data such as facial recognition are speed and convenience. You can avoid rummaging in your pockets for your concert or game tickets at a stadium. You can skip the lines, and just walk past scanning tech that can do the work instantly.   

For corporations, the benefits are more to do with the ability to sway purchasing behaviour. And for governments, they get to monitor and control populations by combining biometric and other surveillance data with artificial intelligence. 

Privacy concerns amid surveillance

The convenience of these technologies comes at a steep cost, especially regarding privacy. The most extreme example is China, where the government is known for abusing biometric data collection: they publicly shame people who jaywalk; they can capture facial scans and recognize citizens’ gaits to prevent those with a low social score from flying or from purchasing real estate; they can track anyone’s location at any time, often unfairly targeting ethnic or religious minorities.   

Closer to home, Toronto has been piloting the Sidewalk Labs project, a data-driven smart city initiative that facilitates things like snow removal and traffic planning, and can curb crime by way of sophisticated security cameras. But because Sidewalk Labs have refused to de-identify people, privacy expert Dr. Ann Cavoukian and others have denounced it as little more than a data mine that could cause harm if that data is leaked or abused.  

Glaring flaws in biometrics

Beyond surveillance, biometric identification has a major flaw: you can replace a compromised credit card, but if there’s a breach of your biometric data, you can’t change your face. Not easily, anyway!   

There’s a big possibility of false positives, too. In London last year, the Metropolitan Police misidentified and fingerprinted a 14-year-old black boy, and figures reveal this kind of mistake is no anomaly; in fact, facial recognition software wrongly identified members of the public as criminals 96% of the time.  

In its current iteration, facial scanning can also be racist and sexist; these technologies are prone to error when it comes to recognizing women and people of colour.  

Yet another issue: It can be used to advertise to you without your permission in malls and grocery stores, even in taxis. And with all facial recognition in the public sphere, the individual can never be sure when or how their sensitive data is being used, or whether or where it’s being stored.

The cost of convenience

While there are obvious pros to facial recognition — such as increasing border security and facilitating police efforts to track down dangerous criminals — as a society we need to ask how much of our personal data we’re willing to sacrifice in the name of safety and convenience. If it’s becoming too much, we need to call on legislators to stand up for citizens’ privacy before we become even more accepting of surveillance tech and all the risks that go along with it.   

Awareness training is the first step towards protecting your digital identity. Reach out to the Beauceron team to get informed on how our learning content can support your organization, info@beauceronsecurity.com

Verified.Me app makes proving your identity easy

Last week, banks in Canada announced the launch of Verified.Me, a free app that helps you prove your identity online.   

Because practically every online service requires a different username and password, it can be tough to prove who you are when you’re logging into your various accounts. Not only do you need to remember dozens of these credentials, but you often need to answer security questions, show physical identification — and it’s all getting too complicated.

Security AND speed

The goal of the app is to speed up the process of authentication while maintaining security and privacy. Logging into accounts and juggling passwords and identities is a pain, and people tend to sacrifice security in favour of convenience. Verified.Me aims to provide both. 

sign-in partner.PNG

This kind of service is already used by federal agencies like Canada Revenue Agency where you can log into your personal or business tax account through your bank, also known as a “sign-in partner.”  

How does Verified.Me work?

Think of any online service that requires you to create a username and password; instead, you log into your bank account only, through the Verified.Me app. If the bank deems that particular service to be trustworthy, you can log in automatically.  

You’ve already proven your identity at the bank; it’s the most important — and most tedious — step when opening your account. There are strict regulations in place, you need to show government-issued I.D. and open a real account as the real you. Of all the online entities, banks truly know who you are as a person. 

One identity to rule them all

The idea of a “federated identity” — a way of linking your identity and attributes, stored across multiple identity management systems — is coming up more and more these days, as identity becomes increasingly complex.   

“Single sign-on" (SSO) lets users log in to one service with a single ID and password to gain access to several sites and accounts. SSO is a good idea that has been mismanaged in the past by Google and Facebook and others — companies that have shown they can’t be trusted to manage and secure our digital identities. 

Facebook’s SSO was hacked in 2018, when it was revealed that it had fallen victim to an attack that breached 50 million user accounts. Google’s SSO has issues, too — if someone breaches your Google account, for example, they then have access to your passport information in Expedia, private messages on Tinder, location data on Uber — literally any site or service you access through the Google single sign-on.   

Why trust the banks?

Banks spend more on cybersecurity than any other organization in the country. They’re dealing with huge amounts of money so it makes sense that they have a vested interest in verifying their customers' identity and protecting against fraud.  

Unlike Facebook or Google, their entire business relies on being secure. 

How to get started

Download the Verified.Me app on your phone, open it and choose your bank from the list of options (Scotiabank, RBC, CIBC, TD or Desjardins). You’ll then be redirected to your bank’s app or website, where you can log in using your username or card number and password. Once you’re in, you can add “Connections” to your personal list and use the app to log into all those services.   

You’re in control of how and when your personal information is used, and no personal info is stored in the app — it's a win from all angles!  

To learn more about protecting your identity at home or at work, contact the Beauceron Security Team @ info@beauceronsecurity.com or 1-877-516-9245.  

My McD’s app hack points to importance of securing accounts

It’s not the first “Hamburglar” hack and it probably won’t be the last, but a recent McDonald’s app attack has some lessons to teach us about securing our accounts in the age of digital loyalty programs. 

What happened

A tech writer in Toronto who used the McDonald’s app learned that a scammer had broken into his My McD’s account and purchased more than 100 meals — racking up around $2K in charges. The app was linked to his debit card, and he was oblivious to it all, receiving no notifications from McDonald’s or the bank. 

It’s safe to say that no one could eat that much McDonald’s and survive, so chances are the victim’s username had been reused or compromised, the hacker guessed it or otherwise accessed it, then traded it on the dark web to be exploited by multiple criminals.   

A PR nightmare for Mickey D’s

This looks bad on McDonald’s — especially since similar things have happened in other areas including Quebec and Nova Scotia involving the same app. It’s likely not a widespread issue for McDonald’s specifically, though, but an illustration of what will inevitably happen more and more as these loyalty and rewards programs become more common.

Rewards apps = easy targets

Loyalty programs and apps are attractive targets for cybercriminals: they’re easy to hack, highly profitable, and — let's face it — police don’t care about a $2K McDonald’s bill, so fraudsters can get away with it. We’re seeing many issues with rewards campaigns and users’ accounts being drained  

What should companies do?

Companies could allow users to load the app with a certain amount of money, and set limits, to remove the possibility of a thief racking up a steep bill.  

Corporations could also set up two-factor authentication on their apps, meaning any time someone logs in from a new device that wasn’t previously using the app, it would require them to prove they are who they say they are, and not allow transactions if they can’t validate their identity.   

2FA? We’re lovin’ it!

Two-factor authentication often isn’t built into apps – even though it would be easy enough for these corporations to do – because companies are not subject to any regulatory requirements around security, and because customers just aren’t asking for 2FA.  

The best way to get companies to change their behaviour in Canada is to voice your concerns.  

Supersize your password

If you’re using an app like this, make sure to secure your account by creating long, strong passwords, never reusing passwords, using a password manager, and using two-factor authentication where the app supports it.   

To learn more about protecting your identity at home or at work, contact the Beauceron Security Team @ info@beauceronsecurity.com or 1-877-516-9245 and check out our blog on 7 Reasons to start using a password manager today

Five ways your organization can reduce burnout across your IT team

Beauceron Security ‘s mission is to empower people.

When we do that well, people help their organizations proactively reduce their cyber risk while also improving their ability to respond and recover from cyber incidents.  

Part of that mission involves helping people manage ever-increasing workloads and corresponding stress.

Competing priorities, constant change and financial constraints can create stress in the workplace. When left unaddressed, burnout — long-term, unsolvable job stress — can take over, and that’s bad news for your people and your bottom line.  

Information technology (IT) professionals are no strangers to workplace stress. Small teams of experts are facing increased security risks. In that context, it’s easy to see why so many organizations around the world struggle to build and maintain traditional security awareness programs - they just take too much time in an already too-busy workday.

That’s why we’ve designed a platform that leverages the best aspects of technology to do what computers do best - automate routine tasks and calculate data into meaningful metrics - while letting people focus on what they do best - connecting with other people.

When an organization becomes human-centric, it focuses on connecting and empowering its people and becomes more proactive, reducing the number of incidents and reactive issues teams have to deal with.

That results in less stress for leaders and employees.

Here are some of our tips on how to move to a human-centric approach.

1. Recognize it’s an issue

You can’t solve a problem until you acknowledge it. A  2019 study  that delved into Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) stress levels found that, across 408 CISOs in the United Kingdom and United States, 91 per cent reported to suffer from moderate or high levels of stress. In Canada, the inability to unplug after work hours is reaching pandemic proportions.   

Putting in place the right plan, maximizing the effectiveness of your human and technology resources and prioritizing risk areas are all ways to manage security stress.

When we designed the Beauceron platform, we looked for ways to help security leaders do all of those things through our powerful dashboards, metrics and through engaging every one in an organization to play a greater role in security.

2. Educate and empower your entire team

An educated team throughout your organization will stop security threats before they escalate to your IT department. Beauceron’s library of multilingual courses teaches employees about the important role they play in protecting their organizations.

Employees learn how to identify and report potential attacks, such as phishing e-mails. They also learn steps they can take to protect themselves including account hygiene practices such as using multi-factor authentication and password managers.

If a would-be threat never has the chance to materialize, the potential stressors on already overworked IT professionals can be minimized.  

3. Determine where your risks are

Many CISOs struggle to keep up with ever-changing risks. This can make it tough to pinpoint and address problems.

Beauceron identifies the risky people in your organization and helps them overcome weak points in knowledge and training to better the company’s overall risk score. Assessments are visual and easy-to-understand, helping high-risk employees change their behaviour quickly.  

Beauceron's pioneering approach goes far beyond employee training.

It’s unique scoring system and risk advisor feature helps identify risks not just in people, but in culture, process and technology, providing the world’s most comprehensive human-centric approach to managing cyber risk.

4. Rewarding and recognizing employees

The Beauceron platform comes with built-in rewards and a gamification system designed to get everyone engaged in managing their cyber risk. When education is gamified, people are more motivated to learn, their risk scores are lowered — and your stress is reduced!

Of course, a technology can only do so much. When you’re not spending time doing routine, repetitive tasks, you have time to think about additional proactive ways to help your team.

At Beauceron, we leverage our own technology and others that enable automation so that we can focus on additional ways to reward and recognize our team. That includes professional development opportunities and implementing improved benefits programs such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) that provide counselling and advice on legal, financial and mental health matters.

5. Promote flexibility and fun

 Recognize that individuals within your company have distinct personalities and need different tools in order to succeed.

Some may do their best work remotely, while others need more face-time and collaboration with co-workers.

Some may feel recharged after playing with a furry friend, (did we mention we’re supporting a “Canine Comfort Zone” run by St. John Ambulance?) Therapy dogs are on-site at Atlantic Security Conference in Halifax this month! Show your employees that their uniqueness is valued, and they’ll work harder for you.  

Stress is contagious.

If employees have their needs met, they’ll be more productive and won’t be passing stress along to the higher-ups whose jobs are demanding enough as is.   

Let Beauceron help you educate and empower your team — and reduce stress and burnout!  

Visit our booth at Atlantic Security Conference on April 24 and 25 or reach out to our team to learn more: info@beauceronsecurity.com or 1-877-516-9245. 

 

Seven reasons to start using a password manager today

1) You aren’t alone

If you’re not sure what a password manager is, you’re not alone. And if you’re familiar with password managers but haven’t gotten around to using one, unfortunately you’re in the majority there, too.  

Good news — The Pack Has Your Back. Here’s the rundown! 

2) It’s easier than you think

Think of it as a diary where you’ve written all your secrets. But unlike any diary you kept as a kid, this one has a nearly impenetrable lock, and only you hold the key. In this case, the key is a strong, secure “master password.”  

Most people have weak passwords and use the same passwords on multiple sites and services. (And no, using the same password with a “1” after it does NOT count as a new password!) A password manager does the dirty work for you by generating random, strong passwords for all your logins, and storing them in one place that’s easy for you to access.

3) Less stuff to remember

With a password manager, you only have to remember that one master password. Period. Without a password manager, you have to remember dozens for all of your online accounts and services: phone and internet services, social media pages, banking sites, work and personal email accounts — everything these days requires a password!   

4) We’ve narrowed down the choices

LastPass is widely trusted and offers its best features — like a secure and searchable password “vault” where you can store all passwords, access on all devices, multi-factor authentication, and secure “notes” for files and information beyond just your passwords — for free.  

Other good options include 1Password, Dashlane or Keeper.

Some are free, some come with a small fee. Do your research and see which one best suits your needs. 

5) It’s safer than what you’re doing now

The obvious question people have about password managers is: what if that one master password gets hacked? Then the hacker would have access to all my online services and life as I know it would come to an end!   

Of course no security measure online or in real life is 100% infallible, but your “last password ever” is highly secure. It’s long, it’s complex, it’s got letters, numbers, and other characters that would be almost impossible to crack.   

It’s a lot safer than writing them down on a piece of paper or logging them away in a Google Doc, right? A password manager offers the best combination of security and convenience.

6) Who doesn’t like a good story?

What if I forget my master password? How to beat it: make your password into a story — a memorable phrase or a catchy song lyric.   

Many people don’t realize that a longer password is tougher to crack than a random one. So, for example (don’t use this one!) the password “afd%#T”, though complex and involving symbols as well as upper- and lower-case characters, would be easier to hack than something that tells a story, like “mydog8theblackcat@midnighT.” There are recognizable words in the second one, but it’s longer and therefore harder to crack.   

Make it personal to you.  

7) It’s free and quick

Go to LastPass.com (if that’s the one you choose), click the “Get LastPass Free” button, and enter your email, the master password, and an optional reminder. That’s the basic version. You can add services such as a GB of encrypted file storage and priority tech support if you pay a minor monthly fee.   

Then you just install the extension in your browser — it'll walk you through it, don’t worry — in order to capture and store passwords into its vault as you go about life online.   

It takes seconds. Okay, maybe a minute. But that’s really it!
   

If you want to learn more about how you can reduce your cyber risk at home and at work, contact Beauceron Security to learn more! info@beauceronsecurity.com 

Are you being stalked through your phone?

Tech and science publication Motherboard has been trying for weeks to warn a certain stalkerware company that they’ve been hacked. The app’s services are not secured, so hackers are sitting on a gold mine of exposed pictures, videos, messages and more.  

Motherboard has called out spyware providers for their deplorable security practices many times before, but these companies are all about invading privacy, so naturally they don’t care about the privacy of hacking victims.  

Stalking apps are especially vulnerable because their goal is to operate cheaply, not securely; there are hundreds vying for a slice of this business. And their customers are in no position to complain about their data being leaked – more often than not, they're using the software to commit crimes.  

What is stalkerware?

Stalkerware is what it sounds like: apps and services designed to let you track, without a user’s knowledge, things on their laptop or smartphone such as photos, messages, emails, browsing histories and GPS co-ordinates.  

Stalking apps are scarily salable. According to a study from Cornell University, there are roughly 300 apps on the market for android and iPhone.  

They’re also becoming popular with parents who want to know what their kids are up to online, but stalkerware is still mainly used by people who want to track their significant others – to find out whether a partner is cheating. And they’re commonly used by abusive ex-partners who can stalk their victims with relative anonymity. It’s invasive and creepy, and the data tracked is easy to exploit. 

Part of a bigger stalking issue

These apps and services are part of a major problem in this country, which is stalking in general. 

In just the last five years, data from StatsCan show about two million people have reported being the victims of stalking. Of those victims, only two in five report it to the police, and only a quarter of those reports ever result in charges being laid. Part of the reason for under-reporting is that more stalking is happening online, so it’s harder for police to investigate. 

Parental controls and spyware are not the same thing

Stalkerware and parental controls are very different means to the same end, which is keeping your kids safe online. Parental controls restrict the use of devices to safe situations, and block age-inappropriate websites. Stalkerware, by contrast, violates your kids’ trust by outright spying on them. 

The simplest solution is often the best

Never install stalkerware on your kids’ phones. If you’re tempted to do so, think about what that might be teaching them about what’s acceptable from authorities – it’s a slippery slope leading to an indifference about surveillance. 

 And never, ever stalk your boyfriend or girlfriend! If you care about your partner, don’t put their sensitive data in jeopardy by using these insecure apps. 

Combating the stalkerware industry

On a less personal level, payment processors such as PayPal and credit card companies should stop providing services to stalkerware firms. If they’re fined for accepting money from these apps – especially the ones that track cheating spouses – the offenses would be much harder to commit. When the cash is cut off, so is the crime.  

Services such as Find My Friends on Apple iOS devices should be updated to provide reminders to individuals on a daily, weekly or month basis if that feature is enabled on their device and whenever it is being used. GPS trackers built into modern cars should also provide audio and visual cues when they’re being tracked.

In wake of scandal and tragedy, Facebook privacy crackdown needed

It’s been a year – long enough to have forgotten the details of that Cambridge Analytica story that was all over the news last March.  

A refresher: In early 2018, Canadian-born Christopher Wylie went public with allegations that the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, and shaped that data into social media strategies to support Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The scandal was among the first privacy issues involving Facebook, but it certainly hasn’t been the last. 

A+ for promises, D- for action

Though we have seen some efforts from Facebook to promote transparency – such as a new app to be rolled out in June that will show who paid for political ads and whom they’re targeting – Facebook is well known for making big promises about user privacy and keeping none of them. Remember when they promised a “delete your history” button in May 2018, after the backlash from Cambridge Analytica? It’s still nowhere to be seen. And that lack of follow-through is oh-so typical of Facebook. 

A wasted year

In the last year, legislators in the States have at least started to have serious conversations about what a national privacy law might look like. The American focus is on trying to rein in the power of big tech. But fast-forward 12 months and Canadian politicians have failed to create anything resembling a national data strategy. Probably because they’re more focused on winning the upcoming election than on protecting citizens’ privacy.  

What politicians should do is take Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation and Canadianize it, effectively cracking down on rule-breakers like Facebook with major fines that would have a real impact on their practices.  

Tragedy broadcast on social media

A horrific tragedy unfolded in New Zealand last week, where a terrorist attacked a mosque in Christchurch. Because Facebook is still basically a free-for-all of information dissemination, videos of the deadly shooting were live-streamed millions of times – almost instantly – on social media.  

Once digital data is created and replicated, it’s nearly impossible to control; people have created more data in the last couple of years than in all human history, and criminals are swimming in a sea of personal information that can be easily exploited.  

Who’s accountable?

New Zealand internet service providers actually blocked areas of the internet that continued to host these reprehensible materials. This was one of the most aggressive actions taken by ISPs worldwide, and it raises some thought-provoking questions regarding who should be accountable for data that’s shared online: the platform, or the internet service providers, or solely the individuals sharing it? Is there such a thing as regulated free speech? 

And while we’re on the topic: Is it really necessary for every human being to have the capability to instantly broadcast anything with zero vetting? Facebook should restrict this live-streaming capability to verified news media and individuals, so this kind of thing can’t happen in the future. 

An encouraging reaction

It was heartening to see the numbers of people across the world who refused to watch or share these violent images, in a sort of moral protest. If we really want change, though, we should be pushing our legislators to create laws that crack down on big firms that handle and distribute data. 

Co-op students across province receive cybersecurity awareness training

FREDERICTON — Through a partnership with Opportunities New Brunswick, CyberNB and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD), Beauceron Security is providing cybersecurity awareness training to high school co-op students across the province.

Cybersecurity is a risk that businesses across New Brunswick are facing as more services and information is being provided online.

“This partnership is a collaboration between ONB, the private sector and government as a whole, working together to deliver value for New Brunswickers,” said Honourable Mary Wilson, Minister of Economic Development and Small Business and Minister responsible for Opportunities NB. “We’ve made a significant difference for high school students in the province by providing industry quality awareness training prior to their co-op placements.”

According to the 2018 Verizon Data Breach report, 93% of malicious data breaches came from a form of cyber attack that leverages e-mails, texts, phone calls or even in-person visits, known as social engineering.

The most effective and affordable solution to social engineering is an educated and engaged community. Beauceron was designed to empower people across organizations to make better decisions regarding cybersecurity. It teaches them to ask the right kinds of questions at the right time.

“It’s been fantastic to take the technology we’ve built and deployed to customers around the world to help educate students entering the workforce in our own province,” says Beauceron CEO and co-founder David Shipley. “This partnership helped us develop a new line of potential business that could lead to export opportunities in Canada and around the world in K-12.”

Beauceron Security’s behaviour change platform will give New Brunswick co-op students a leg up when they enter the workforce. They will be educated and empowered to mitigate risk in this growing global concern on behalf of their future employers.

About Beauceron Security Inc.

Beauceron Security empowers behavior change across organizations by providing the right information at the right time, enabling individuals to make better decisions. They accomplish this by providing a unique integrated and highly automated platform that combines phishing simulations, cyber awareness training, surveys, and newsletters with advanced analytics and dashboarding.

Have you been pwned?

If you’ve ever wondered how exposed you are to hacking or how vulnerable your online presence might be, now you can find out in a matter of seconds.  

Here’s what you do: go to the site haveibeenpwned.com and input your email address. Hit enter. Moments later you’ll get either an all-clear saying “Good news – no pwnage found!” or an “Oh no – pwned!” message letting you know how many breached sites that email address has appeared on.  

More spam, more attacks

“Pwn” is an old gaming slang term derived from the verb “own.” According to the Wikipedia page, “pwn” “implies domination or humiliation of a rival, primarily in the internet-based video game culture to taunt an opponent who has just been soundly defeated (e.g., ‘You just got pwned!’).” 

Troy Hunt, a respected security researcher, created the website, which lets you check whether your email and/or passwords have been compromised, and which sites your information was leaked from.   

If you have appeared in any breaches, you will inevitably be getting more spam, and even targeted criminal attacks against you. It’s a good idea to check your work email and personal email against this cool tool to see how exposed you are.  

Hunt’s password service also allows you to securely check whether your passwords are in one of these data breaches. He has compiled a data set of 551 million passwords, and if you use passwords that appear here, you should change them immediately! 

How can you secure yourself?

The site suggests three steps to better security.  

1) Protect yourself using 1Password (or another reputable password manager such as LastPass) to create and save strong passwords for each site you use. Don’t use built-in browser password storage; Google Chrome, for example, will often ask, “Do you wish to remember the password for the site?” But it’s better to use a third-party password manager. It’s more secure and more convenient.  

2) Enable two-factor authentication

3) Subscribe to notifications for any other breaches on haveibeenpwned. This will keep you in the loop and informed on the status of your accounts and passwords. 

Remember: while this site is not a catch-all fix to any vulnerabilities in your online identity, it is a useful tool that can go a long way in boosting your overall security.  

Google: violating home and public privacy

The reasons to install a home security system are obvious: you want to see what’s going on in your house when you’re not there, you want to deter would-be thieves, and in the unlikely event of a break-in, you want to be able to identify the perpetrators. And you just want to feel safe and secure.  

Last month, Google announced that users could now enable Google Assistant virtual assistant technology through their Nest cams. Instead of celebrating, though, users were irate, because Google inadvertently revealed that the cams had contained a built-in microphone the entire time. There was never any indication in the packaging, marketing materials, their website – anywhere – that a mic was part of the deal. 

 Imagine learning that the device you installed to keep you secure may have been secretly recording everything you said? Talk about a betrayal of trust! 

Google denied that the microphone had ever been a secret, but it’s tough to buy that; if it were a feature they intended you to know about, they would have bragged it up from the beginning.

Victim blaming

The Nest cams have been riddled with flaws: last month its indoor and outdoor cameras had a bug that caused the camera to behave as if someone were accessing the “live view” mode when they weren’t. There have been several cases of hackers taking control of the cams; in response, Google blamed the victim and said the fault lay with customers and their weak passwords. 

From smart homes to smart cities

Even if you don’t own any smart-home tech, you may not be safe from Google’s clutches; they’re piloting a project called Sidewalk Labs that has been plagued with privacy and ethics problems.  

Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, wants to create a connected community in Toronto that will measure traffic flow, embed sensors so lights will go on and off more efficiently, track where and when people are out walking in order to plan when it’s best to clear snow, and so on. Again, instead of being thrilled by the advancement, many people are calling this project out as nothing but a big data mine. 

More information about the scale and scope of the project is emerging (they want more real estate and more money, basically) showing that Google’s aspirations for Toronto are far greater than they’d initially let on. This is in keeping with Google’s almost pathological style of hiding the big picture from the public, only releasing details in dribs and drabs. 

Refusal to do the bare minimum

Sidewalk Labs has already squandered a lot of goodwill, first by losing the support of former Ontario privacy commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian with their refusal to implement common-sense tech that would de-identify people from video surveillance installed in public places.  

Surveillance can increase convenience, but unless there are measures in place to protect people from the array of abuses that can arise, as we’re seeing in China, the data collection technology that goes along with surveillance is just waiting to be exploited.  

Whether it’s with Nest smart homes or Sidewalk Labs, Google needs to be clear about what they want from the consumer and the public, and be explicit in how they plan to put privacy at the forefront of all their products and projects. And we need hold them accountable for our own data privacy – if we don’t, no one will.