Posts Tagged ‘Dataminers’


The Washington Post reports today about the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s ongoing inquiry into the online tracking activity of various internet companies. The Post reports that some internet companies have been using targeted-advertising technology without the explicit consent of consumers. More than a third of the 33 companies that received letters have indicated they do not conduct behavioral advertising – advertising based on users’ internet activity based on deep packet inspection.

This investigation started with the Committee sending a letter to Embarq Corporation about a online advertising test conducted with their internet users. The committee also held a hearing on deep packet inspection and it’s privacy implications, which we noted earlier on this blog. The Committee followed this with letters to additional companies, which can be viewed online along with an explanatory press release. The committee has also posted responses that they have received to date. I should note, however, that the link to those letters is not readily available from the Committee’s website – I accessed it through the link in the Washington Post article. Google has made their letter available through their public policy blog.

Wednesday, Aug 20, 2008

The U.S. government has been using its border checkpoints to collect information on citizens that will be stored for 15 years, raising concern among privacy advocates, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials said the collection is part of a broader effort to guard against terrorist threats, the report said, citing a Federal Register notice the agency issued last month.

Officials said the disclosure is among a series of notices to make the department’s data gathering more transparent, the newspaper reported.

A notice by Customs and Border Protection, a DHS agency, said it does not perform data mining on border crossings to search for patterns that could signal a terrorist or law enforcement threat, according to the Post.

But it states that information may be shared with federal, state and local governments to test “new technology and systems designed to enhance border security or identify other violations of law,” the Post reported.

A DHS spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the report.

Full article here

During a national emergency, an illegal surveillance program may classify up to 8 million Americans as “enemies of the state.”

by Satyam Khanna, Think Progress

Last year, former deputy attorney general James Comey revealed that in 2004, he refused to “certify” the legality of certain aspects of the National Security Agency (NSA) spy program. Comey witnessed Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card try to force a bed-ridden John Ashcroft to approve the program. Comey, however, did not publicly give specifics as to what program he opposed.

CAP’s Peter Swire wrote on ThinkProgress at the time that Comey’s testimony implied that “other programs exist for domestic spying” outside of the NSA program. Radar’s Christopher Ketcham suggests that another spy program does exist: “Main Core,” a program that authorizes “computer searches through massive [unspecified] electronic databases” in order to discover “potential threats” in the event of a “national emergency”:

According to a senior government official…”There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” … One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.

These so-called “Continuity of Governance” plans, Radar notes, “are shrouded in extreme secrecy, effectively unregulated by Congress or the courts.” “Main Core is the table of contents for all the illegal information that the U.S. government has [compiled] on specific targets,” said a former military operative. Furthermore, the NSA domestic surveillance program reportedly “suppl[ies] data to Main Core.”

According to Radar, a “number of former government employees and intelligence sources with independent knowledge of domestic surveillance operations” say Main Core is strikingly similar to what Comey refused to authorize at Ashcroft’s bedside:

[T]he program that caused the flap between Comey and the White House was related to a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Sources familiar with the program say that the government’s data gathering has been overzealous and probably conducted in violation of federal law and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

“We are at the edge of a cliff and we’re about to fall off,” said constitutional lawyer and former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein. “To a national emergency planner, everybody looks like a danger to stability.”

Venture Beat:

Google’s much anticipated Android mobile phone operating system, due to launch within the next few weeks, may actually be much more than a mobile OS. Industry sources tell us that although Android will indeed start as a mobile OS, Google intends to expand it to be a sort of universal operating system that will span set-top boxes for televisions, mp3 players and other communication and media devices and services.

Rumors about this plan have actually been circulating since last year. Google “chief internet evangelist” and Internet co-creator Vint Cerf hinted at Google’s larger focus during a talk on innovation journalism that we attended in 2006, before Android existed:

In an internet enabled world, there is no reason that a projector could not be online and downloading images, maybe using the Blackberry as a control device. Surrounded by networked equipment that is reachable anywhere, devices harnessed on a temporary basis to do something for you and then released. I am predicting that during this decade, we will see more systems interacting with other systems like this….

Another clue that Google’ has bigger things in store for Android: Android creator Andy Rubin was working on a digital camera before he started Android; co-worker Rich Miner convinced him to go to mobile in order to make money. Android is built on Linux, the open source software that’s already used in other desktop and mobile operating systems. This allows it to be easily repurposed for devices besides phones.

This is where some of Google’s other initiatives could come in, one source speculates. If the wider-ranging operating system is really what Google is doing with Android, well, the App Engine, Google’s web hosting and support service for developers, wouldn’t just be about helping web developers, it would provide services for Android developers. And, Google is also constantly improving the artificial intelligence capacity of its search engine, its spam filtering in Gmail, and a range of other services — Google is creating a supercomputer, driven by artificial intelligence. Through Android, it could let these developers build applications that use its brain. What’s more, this could explain why Google has been experimenting with free WiFi in Mountain View (which is pretty great, by the way), and with other wireless transmission experiments. It wants to create an ecosystem that relies on communication between any two devices. In some cases, maybe it wants to help your Android phone talk to, say, an Android-connected overhead projector.

Google already faces major competitors. The iPhone, the attention-grabbing leader in mobile software, is already being used as a sort of universal remote for Apple products, including iTunes and Apple TV. But Apple’s SDK gives restricted access to “small” developers. Microsoft, meanwhile, has a similarly grand vision of connecting all your devices with its Live Mesh platform, but it isn’t focusing on mobile, and the realization of this goal is a long way off. [Update: John Furrier has more analysis on Android versus Microsoft and others, on]

To make Android truly valuable, Google needs to have an active ecosystem of third party developers building useful applications, just as what happened with Microsoft’s desktop operating system, and is happening now on the iPhone.

But Google isn’t focused on the rank-and-file developers yet. It’s targeting the mobile operators and handset makers from the Open Handset Alliance — in fact, these partners have been given early access, sources say, to the version of the Android SDK that we’ve heard is slated to launch publicly in a few weeks. It understands it needs to offer them an ecosystem they can live with, before it moves to help smaller players.

Just look at the numbers. There were slightly less than 6 million users before the iPhone 3G launch. In the United States alone, T-Mobile has 30.5 million subscribers. T-Mobile plans to launch its HTC phones in stages, internationally (USA & Europe). From what we hear, Germany will be an early market, so add another 27 million subscribers to the comparison. If the system will work for T-Mobile and HTC, you can be sure others will follow.

For now, Google is in anti-PR mode. “It doesn’t want to have a dead cat found,” as one source puts it. There are many reasons for that. The Android team is small and so secretive, and from what we hear, not many people at Google headquarters know about what it is working on. Google understands that it needs to make its OHA partners look good. It appears to be leaving all press decisions to OHA members, including T-Mobile, which may explain the most recent stories about T-Mobile’s pending Android-powered phone.

So, the Android-powered HTC phone expected to launch in the next few weeks could continue to hurt Google’s standing . The blogosphere hasn’t treated Android well — the SDK has taken many months to get to this stage since it was announced last year. The anti-Android trend will likely continue as commentators compare the HTC and the iPhone (the iPhone is better), and also say the U.S. T-Mobile network is bad (it is). But that’s all besides the point. There will be more phones coming out. The Android SDK appears to be much more powerful, and the distribution possibilities will eventually be better as more mobile operators join the OHA — and as Android expands to other devices.

Bush administration compiling massive database of bank records

The Bush administration has been secretly tapping into a global network of confidential financial transactions and compiling a vast database of bank records. According to an article in the June 23 New York Times, the program was initiated shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and has examined banking transactions involving tens of thousands of individuals in the US and internationally.



Through the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, ordered by Bush 10 days after 9/11, the US Treasury Department has been collecting data from the worlds largest financial communications networkthe Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT. The Bush administration has authorized the program through administrative subpoenas under a little-known authority of the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

Administration officials asked the Times not publish its story. When the Times went ahead with it, the White House denounced the newspaper, implying that by informing the American and international public of the massive and warrentless intrusion of privacy it was aiding and abetting the terrorists. We are disappointed that once again the New York Times has chosen to expose a classified program that is working to protect Americans, Bush administration spokeswoman Dana Perino said. We know that Al Qaeda watches for any clue as to how we are fighting the war on terrorism and then they adapt.

Exposure of the government spying on bank records follows revelations of far-reaching secret spying operations on Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA) involving eavesdropping on telephone calls, emails and faxes without the benefit of court-issued warrants and the assembling of a database, again without court warrants, covering hundreds of millions of domestic telephone calls. The Justice Department has also requested that Internet providers keep two-year records of web sites their customers visit and addresses to which they send email.

As with the previously exposed spying programs, the Bush administration is using the so-called war on terrorism as the pretext for implementing, in the form of the SWIFT program, another unconstitutional and illegal assault on democratic rights. The piecemeal revelation of such programs provides only a glimpse of the vast infrastructure for police-state forms of rule that has been put in place.

Read More

Note: I had to use Firefox browser; IE didn’t work.

Opt Out Link


Google on Thursday rolled out improvements to its ad network and will add DoubleClick tracking across its sites. Google also made it easy to opt out of its double dose of cookies with one click. The larger question is whether users will choose to go cookie free.

Among the key ad network changes as detailed on Google’s blog:

  • Advertisers will control the number of times a user sees ads;
  • Advertisers have more reporting on frequency changes–who saw an ad and how many times they saw it;
  • Conversion data to see if people clicked through to a site.

optout.pngAll of these lovely advertiser features are enabled by adding a DoubleClick cookie (known as DART) across Google’s network. Google



Related articles via Google News:

Google to Update Content Network as Part of DoubleClick Integration
Google Announces New Content Network Features
Google gives advertisers finer controls, better ad accountability
Google Tips DoubleClick Integration Plans
Google doubles its cookie tracking: Will you opt out?

JOHN INNES / Scotsman | March 8 2006

GOOGLE, the internet giant, is planning a massive online facility that could store copies of users’ hard drives – a move set to spark alarm among civil liberties campaigners.

Plans for the “GDrive”, previously the subject of rumour among computer experts, were revealed accidentally after notes in a slideshow were wrongly published on Google’s site.

The device would create a mirror image of data stored on consumers’ computer hard drives, letting users search data stored on other computers via Google accounts.

While offering more convenient access to data, the service will stoke debate about the dangers of storing so much personal data on Google systems. Google recently squared up against the United States Justice Department, which has subpoenaed a limited set of data on Google search habits, drawing an outcry from privacy advocates.

In the presentation notes, the chief executive, Eric Schmidt, made a cryptic comment that one goal of Google was to “store 100 per cent” of consumer information”.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on any specific service, but confirmed that the presentation containing the notes had been mistakenly released on the internet. “We deleted the slide notes because they were not intended for publication,” she said.

“We are constantly working on ways to enhance our products and services for users, but have nothing to announce at this time.”

The new service could save computer users from loss of data by keeping a “golden copy” on Google’s centralised computers. However, the plan could be thwarted by privacy concerns.

Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocate, issued a similarly stern warning to consumers to not use such facilities because it would reduce their level of privacy protection.

Google has been at the centre of privacy row in the United States. Last August, Google rejected US government efforts to access its search logs to prop up a contested 1998 law designed to protect minors from objectionable material on the internet.

Microsoft, Yahoo, and America Online have all since admitted that they have provided the government with some of that data from their logs.

The revelations triggered a privacy rights row in Washington that has placed the administration of the president, George Bush, on the defensive and has sparked at least two investigations in Congress.


Evidence of GDrive in Google Apps
By Tony Ruscoe

Rumors of an online storage solution from Google have been circulating for years. These rumors became stronger in July last year when references to Platypus and GDrive were accidentally made available on the domain. A few months later, Google’s internal Platypus client was leaked and people started to question whether GDrive would ever be made available publicly – especially when it was suggested recently that the GDrive release may have been delayed or canceled.

Earlier today, I stumbled across some more evidence which may further support rumors that GDrive will be made available publicly, possibly as part of Google Apps, though it could just mean that Google uses GDrive internally as part of Google Apps.

Anyone familiar with my previous Google-digging will know that I try to keep track of Google service names used by both Google Accounts and Google Apps. By changing query string parameters on various pages, it’s possible to get a glimpse into what Google might be working on. Many of the service code names I’ve discovered in the past have been released several months or years later, while others are still unreleased or remain to be a complete mystery.

What I discovered today was that Google Apps accounts allow you to change the query string parameter on the page where you can disable services. By changing the “service” parameter, I was given the option to disable GDrive on my account (even though it wasn’t currently enabled):

For anyone with their own Google Apps domain, you can try the following URL after replacing “” with your own domain and signing in:

(Note: This also works for YouTube – service=youtube – and Google Video – service=videoonline – even though those services aren’t readily available to Google Apps accounts.)

In May this year, after being redirected from and prompted to sign in to a service called WWW10, I asked on my blog, “What is Google WWW10?” Upon further inspection, visiting tries to set the following cookie in the 302 response header:

PlatypusData=EXPIRED;Path=/;Expires=Mon, 01-Jan-1990 00:00:00 GMT

So what does this mean exactly? I guess it means that the mysterious WWW10 service is likely to be GDrive or Platypus and that it’s possibly going to be available to Google Apps users. Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Google uses Google Apps themselves, so it’s also possible that GDrive is only enabled for the Google Apps account and is only meant to be used internally.

Of course, it could also mean that we’re one more step closer to GDrive being released to everyone…

Update: It seems that no longer tries to set this cookie or redirect to the WWW10 login page. Is Google trying to hide something? [Thanks Luka!]

Update 2: And now Google has disabled the “DisableService” page for all services that you can’t yet add to your Google Apps account – which includes ah, cf, fensi, jotspot, sitemaps, videoonline, voice, www10 and youtube. The “DisableService” page does, however, still appear for the other services even if you have not yet added them to your account.