LinkNYC Improves Privacy Policy, Yet Problems Remain



  • Since first appearing on the streets of New York City in 2016, LinkNYC’s free public Wi-Fi kiosks have prompted controversy. The initial version of the kiosks’ privacy policy was particularly invasive: it allowed for LinkNYC to store personal browser history, time spent on a particular website, and lacked clarity about how LinkNYC would handle government demands for user data, among others issues. While CityBridge, the private consortium administering the network, has thankfully incorporated welcome changes to its use policy, several problems unfortunately remain.

    What is LinkNYC?

    The LinkNYC system, announced by the Mayor’s office in November 2014 after inviting competitive bids from private industry, includes over 1,000 public kiosks spread across all five boroughs of New York City. Each kiosk offers free high-speed wifi, phone calls, a charging station for mobile devices, and a built-in tablet capable of accessing various city services, such as emergency services, maps, and directions. Funded by advertisers who pay for time on the two 55” displays on either side of each kiosk, the system requires no payment from users or taxpayers.

    On the one hand, the spring 2017 revisions to the CityBridge privacy policy substantially improved it over the original 2016 version, which allowed nearly limitless retention of user data, including browsing history. In particular, the adoption of limits on the time during which CityBridge will retain user data, and the commitment not to track browsing histories for users who use their own devices, render the LinkNYC service today far more respectful of privacy than it was when the system was first launched.

    In the wake of its 2017 policy changes, LinkNYC still collects what it describes as “Technical Information,” including information such as IP addresses, anonymized MAC addresses, device type, device identifiers, and more, for up to 60 days. Additionally, the LinkNYC kiosks have cameras that store footage for up to 7 days.

    Despite the positive privacy-minded revisions, the policy still fails to provide a pathway for public participation and includes no reference to remedies for potential violations. The story underlying the activation of LinkNYC cameras provides an illustration of these overlapping concerns.

    Opaque Processes Precluding Public Participation in Policy

    Beyond the welcome updates to the CityBridge privacy policy, there appears neither any process allowing public participation in the governance of the kiosk system, nor a redress mechanism for potential violations.

    The process of setting policy remains thoroughly opaque. Even CityBridge’s welcome spring 2017 revisions prove the point: our colleagues at NYCLU wrote a letter to the Mayor’s office, which then engaged in negotiations with the private companies who together comprise the CityBridge consortium. Thankfully, the back door process between the Mayor’s office and the companies produced a better result than the previous policy.

    Going forward, however, there is no means for New Yorkers to participate in decisions about how data from Link kiosks will be used, with whom it will be shared, for how long it will be retained, or whether the parameters under which it is initially collected might conceivably expand in the future.

    Separate from privacy and freedom of expression, but closely related to them, are principles of transparency and public process. Without opportunities to participate in the construction of policies that affect them, New Yorkers and visitors who use the kiosks are reduced to the position of being sources of data, rather than users with needs to be served.

    Unspecified Remedies and Redress

    The transparency and public process problem is most poignant looking forward. In the wake of any potential violation or breach of the CityBridge policies, however, there is a parallel problem with respect to the lack of any process for resolving problems in the past.

    Data breaches are a reality that we must consider. 2016 was a record year for data breaches, reflecting an increase of 40% from the year before, according to the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. CityBridge fortunately collects and stores much less information than it did when the LinkNYC system first launched, which mitigates the potential impact of a data breach and renders the possibility far less threatening than other recent examples.

    Beyond the event of a data breach is the possibility of CityBridge data being misused. Even if a CityBridge data center is never hacked by a malicious actor or foreign intelligence agency, what happens if a LinkNYC employee sells user information to third parties in violation of the consortium’s commitments?

    LinkNYC’s failure to create a process, acknowledge any rights, or permit any remedies for potential violations all remain problematic. As noted by Rethink Link NYC, a local community organization in the Electronic Frontier Alliance, “Even the best privacy policy is worthless without oversight or accountability.”

    Those Cameras Prove the Point

    In addition to collecting and retaining some data about users’ interactions with the kiosks, the LinkNYC towers also include sensors and cameras. Apart from their role in normalizing everyday surveillance, the story underlying their activation demonstrates the lack of process undermining public accountability.

    An initial 2016 disclosure that the kiosks “may” have cameras somehow evolved—without a public mandate, and without any public process—into a 2017 policy allowing the cameras to operate and record users. CityBridge retains the footage for 7 days.

    The emergence of constant surveillance through a program ostensibly extending public services, without any apparent public oversight, suggests the need to be vigilant when programs that claim to make cities “smart” fail to respect privacy.

    While the privacy policy has improved, it still allows CityBridge to disclose retained video data to “…improve the services,” which could include any number of uses invisible to end users. Also, it isn’t clear to what kind of law enforcement requests will cause the footage to be disclosed, or what process CityBridge will undertake to potentially resist such requests that undermine speech, dissent, other constitutional rights, or the rights of discrete minority groups.

    Some New Yorkers, such as activists working with Rethink Link NYC, and opera singer Judith Barnes, have creatively drawn attention to these concerns, and others they have raised beyond those shared by EFF. For instance, Rethink Link NYC argues that “the city is getting paid because third-parties (unaccountable to this privacy policy) are getting unprecedented information from passers-by,” and notes that “bridging the digital divide doesn’t require turning the whole city in the one massive corporate surveillance network.”

    We encourage everyone concerned about digital rights to raise their voices, and applaud these New Yorkers for taking creative action to raise awareness among their neighbors and visitors.

    We also appreciate the efforts that CityBridge and the City of New York have made to improve LinkNYC’s privacy policies and practices. That said, we invite them to do more by providing a pathway for public participation and constructing remedies for potential breaches or misuse.

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/09/linknyc-improves-privacy-policy-yet-problems-remain





Tmux Commands

screen and tmux

A comparison of the features (or more-so just a table of notes for accessing some of those features) for GNU screen and BSD-licensed tmux.

The formatting here is simple enough to understand (I would hope). ^ means ctrl+, so ^x is ctrl+x. M- means meta (generally left-alt or escape)+, so M-x is left-alt+x

It should be noted that this is no where near a full feature-set of either group. This - being a cheat-sheet - is just to point out the most very basic features to get you on the road.

Trust the developers and manpage writers more than me. This document is originally from 2009 when tmux was still new - since then both of these programs have had many updates and features added (not all of which have been dutifully noted here).

Action tmux screen
start a new session tmux OR
tmux new OR
tmux new-session
screen
re-attach a detached session tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
screen-r
re-attach an attached session (detaching it from elsewhere) tmux attach -d OR
tmux attach-session -d
screen -dr
re-attach an attached session (keeping it attached elsewhere) tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
screen -x
detach from currently attached session ^b d OR
^b :detach
^a ^d OR
^a :detach
rename-window to newname ^b , <newname> OR
^b :rename-window <newn>
^a A <newname>
list windows ^b w ^a w
list windows in chooseable menu ^a "
go to window # ^b # ^a #
go to last-active window ^b l ^a ^a
go to next window ^b n ^a n
go to previous window ^b p ^a p
see keybindings ^b ? ^a ?
list sessions ^b s OR
tmux ls OR
tmux list-sessions
screen -ls
toggle visual bell ^a ^g
create another window ^b c ^a c
exit current shell/window ^d ^d
split window/pane horizontally ^b " ^a S
split window/pane vertically ^b % ^a |
switch to other pane ^b o ^a <tab>
kill the current pane ^b x OR (logout/^D)
collapse the current pane/split (but leave processes running) ^a X
cycle location of panes ^b ^o
swap current pane with previous ^b {
swap current pane with next ^b }
show time ^b t
show numeric values of panes ^b q
toggle zoom-state of current pane (maximize/return current pane) ^b z
break the current pane out of its window (to form new window) ^b !
re-arrange current panels within same window (different layouts) ^b [space]
Kill the current window (and all panes within) ^b killw [target-window]
  • Criteo is an ad company. You may not have heard of them, but they do retargeting, the type of ads that pursue users across the web, beseeching them to purchase a product they once viewed or have already bought. To identify users across websites, Criteo relies on cross-site tracking using cookies and other methods to follow users as they browse. This has led them to try and circumvent the privacy features in Apple’s Safari browser which protects its users from such tracking. Despite this apparently antagonistic attitude towards user privacy, Criteo has also been whitelisted by the Acceptable Ads initiative. This means that their ads are unblocked by popular adblockers such as Adblock and Adblock Plus. Criteo pays Eyeo, the operator of Acceptable Ads, for this whitelisting and must comply with their format requirements. But this also means they can track any user of these adblockers who has not disabled Acceptable Ads, even if they have installed privacy tools such as EasyPrivacy with the intention of protecting themselves. EFF is concerned about Criteo’s continued anti-privacy actions and their continued inclusion in Acceptable Ads.

    Safari Shuts out Third Party Cookies…

    All popular browsers give users control over who gets to set cookies, but Safari is the only one that blocks third-party cookies (those set by a domain other than the site you are visiting) by default. (Safari’s choice is important because only 5-10% of users ever change default settings in software.) Criteo relies on third-party cookies. Since users have little reason to visit Criteo’s own website, the company gets its cookies onto users’ machines through its integration on many online retail websites. Safari’s cookie blocking is a major problem for Criteo, especially given the large and lucrative nature of iPhone’s user base. Rather than accept this, Criteo has repeatedly implemented ways to defeat Safari’s privacy protections.

    One workaround researchers detected Criteo using was to redirect users from sites where their service was present to their own. For example, if you visited wintercoats.com and clicked on a product category, you would be first diverted to criteo.com and then redirected to wintercoats.com/down-filled. Although imperceptible to the user, this detour was enough to persuade the browser that criteo.com is a site you chose to visit, and therefore a first party entitled to set a cookie rather than a third party. Criteo applied for a patent on this method in August 2013.

    …And Closes the Backdoor

    Last summer, however, Apple unveiled a new version of Safari with more sophisticated cookie handling—called Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)—which killed off the redirect technique as a means to circumvent the cookie controls. The browser now analyzes if the user has engaged with a website in a meaningful way before allowing it to set a cookie. The announcement triggered panic among advertising companies, whose trade association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, denounced the feature and rushed out technical recommendations to work around it. Obviously the level of user “interaction” with Criteo during the redirect described above fails ITP’s test, which meant Criteo was locked out again.

    It appears that Criteo’s response was to abandon cookies for Safari users and to generate a persistent identifier by piggybacking on a key user safety technology called HSTS. When a browser connects to a site via HTTPS (i.e. a site that supports encryption), the site can respond with an HTTP Strict Transport Security policy (HSTS), instructing the browser to only contact it using HTTPS. Without a HSTS policy, your browser might try to connect to the site over regular old unencrypted HTTP in the future—and thus be vulnerable to a downgrade attack. Criteo used HSTS to sneak data into the browser cache to produce an identifier it could use to recognize the individual’s browser and profile them. This approach relied on the fact that it is difficult to clear HSTS data in Safari, requiring the user to purge the cache entirely to delete the identifier. For EFF, it is especially worrisome that Criteo used a technique that pits privacy protection against user security interests by targeting HSTS. Use of this mechanism was documented by Gotham City Research, an investment firm who have bet against Criteo’s stock.

    In early December, Apple released an update to iOS and Safari which disabled Criteo’s ability to exploit HSTS. This led to Criteo revising down their revenue forecasts and a sharp fall in their share price.

    How is Criteo Acceptable Advertising”****?

    "… w__e sort of seek the consent of users, just like we had done before_."__1_ - Erich Eichmann, CEO Criteo

    _"Only users who don’t already have a Criteo identifier will see the header or footer, and it is displayed only once per device. Thanks to [the?] Criteo advertisers network, most of your users would have already accepted our services on the website of another of our partner. On average, only 5% of your users will see the headers or footers, and for those who do, the typical opt-out rate is less than .2%._" - Criteo Support Center

    Criteo styles itself as a leader in privacy practices, yet they have dedicated significant engineering resources to circumventing privacy tools. They claim to have obtained user consent to tracking based on a minimal warning delivered in what we believe to be a highly confusing context. When a user first visits a site containing Criteo’s script, they received a small notice stating, _"_Click any link to use Criteo’s cross-site tracking technology." If the user continues to use the site, they are deemed to have consented. Little wonder that Criteo can boast of a low opt-out rate to their clients.

    Due to their observed behaviour prior to the ITP episode, Criteo’s incorporation into the Acceptable Ads in December 2015 aroused criticism among users of ad blockers. We have written elsewhere about how Acceptable Ads creates a clash of interests between adblocking companies and their users, especially those concerned with their privacy. But Criteo’s participation in Acceptable Ads brings into focus the substantive problem with the program itself. The criteria for Acceptable Ads are concerned chiefly with format and aesthetic aspects (e.g. How big is the ad? How visually intrusive? Does it blink?) and excludes privacy concerns. Retargeting is unpopular and mocked by users, in part because it wears its creepy tracking practices on its sleeve. Our view is that Criteo’s bad behavior should exclude its products from being deemed “acceptable” in any way.

    The fact that the Acceptable Ads Initiative has approved Criteo’s user-tracking-by-misusing-security-features ads is indicative of the privacy problems we believe to be at the heart of the Acceptable Ads program. In March this year, Eyeo announced an Acceptable Ads Committee that will control the criteria for Acceptable Ads in the future. The Committee should start by instituting a rule which excludes companies that circumvent explicit privacy tools or exploit user security technologies for the purpose of tracking.

    1. http://criteo.investorroom.com/download/Transcript_Q3+2017+Earnings_EDITED.pdf

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/12/arms-race-against-trackers-safari-leads-criteo-30

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  • Have you ever sent a motivational text to a friend? If you have, perhaps you tailored your message to an activity or location by saying “Good luck in the race!” or “Have fun in New York!” Now, imagine doing this automatically with a compuuuter. What a great invention. Actually, no. That’s not a good invention, it’s our latest Stupid Patent of the Month.

    U.S. Patent No. 9,069,648 is titled “Systems and methods for delivering activity based suggestive (ABS) messages.” The patent describes sending “motivational messages,” based “on the current or anticipated activity of the user,” to a “personal electronic device.” The patent provides examples such as sending the message “don’t give up” when the user is running up a hill. The examples aren’t limited to health or exercise. For example, the patent suggests sending messages like “do not fear” and “God is with you” when a “user enters a dangerous neighborhood.”

    The patent’s description of its invention is filled with silly, non-standard acronyms like ABS for “activity based suggestive” messages or EBIF for “electronic based intelligence function.” These silly acronyms create an illusion of complexity where plain, descriptive language would reveal the mundane nature of the supposed invention. For example, what the patent grandly calls EBIF appears to be nothing more than standard computer processing.

    The ’648 patent is owned by Motivational Health Messaging LLC. While this may be a new company, at least one of the people behind it has been involved in massive patent trolling campaigns before. And the two named inventors have both been inventors on patents that trolls have asserted hundreds of times. One is also an inventor listed on patents asserted by infamous patent troll Shipping and Transit LLC. The other named inventor is the inventor on the patents asserted by Electronic Communication Technologies LLC. Those two entities (with their predecessors) brought over 700 lawsuits, many against very small businesses. In other words, the ’648 patent has been issued to Troll Co. at 1 Troll Street, Troll Town, Trollida USA.

    We believe that the claims of the ’648 patent are clearly invalid under the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, which held abstract ideas do not become eligible for a patent merely because they are implemented in conventional computer technology. Indeed, the patent repeatedly emphasizes that the claimed methods are not tied to any particular hardware or software. For example, it states:

    The software and software logic described in this document … which comprises an ordered listing of executable instructions for implementing logical functions, can be embodied in any non-transitory computer-readable medium for use by or in connection with an instruction execution system, apparatus, or device, such as a computer-based system, processor-containing system, or other system that can fetch the instructions from the instruction execution system, apparatus, or device and execute the instructions.

    The ’648 patent issued on June 30, 2015, a full year after the Supreme Court’s Alice ruling. Despite this, the patent examiner never even discussed the decision. If Alice is to mean anything at all, it has to be applied to an application like this one.

    In our view, if Motivational Health Messaging asserts its patent in court, any defendant that fought back should prevail under Alice. Indeed, we would hope that the court would strongly consider awarding attorney’s fees to the defendant in such a case. Shipping & Transit has now had two fee awards made against it for asserting patents that are clearly invalid under Alice. And the Federal Circuit recently held that fee awards can be appropriate when patent owners make objectively unreasonable argument concerning Alice.

    In addition to the problems under Alice, we believe the claims of the ’648 patent should have been rejected as obvious. When the application was filed in 2012, there was nothing new about sending motivational messages or automatically tailoring messages to things like location. In one proposed embodiment, the patent suggests that a “user walking to a hole may be delivered ABS messages, including reminders or instructions on how to play a particular hole.” But golf apps were already doing this. The Patent Office didn’t consider any real-world mobile phone applications when reviewing the application.

    If you want to look for prior art yourself, Unified Patents is running a crowdsourcing contest to find the best prior art to invalidate the ’648 patent. Aside from the warm feelings that come from fighting patent trolls, there is a $2000 prize pool.

    Despite the weakness of its patent, Motivational Health Messaging LLC might still send out demand letters. If you receive such a letter, you can contact EFF and we can help you find counsel.

    We have long complained that the Patent Office promotes patent trolling by granting obvious and/or abstract software patents. The history of the ’648 patent shows how the Patent Office’s failure to properly review applications leads to bad patents falling into the hands of trolls.

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