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Google Faces UK Class Action Lawsuit Over Secret iPhone Tracking

In Big Brother, News, OpBigBrother, Other Leaks, Science & Technology, UK on January 28, 2013 at 11:30 AM

01/27/2013

Google is facing a fresh privacy battle in the UK over its alleged secret tracking of the internet habits of millions of iPhone users.

An estimated 10 million Britons could have grounds to launch a privacy claim over the way Google circumvented Apple’s security settings on the iPhone, iPad and desktop versions of its Safari web browser to monitor their behaviour.

At least 10 British iPhone users have started legal proceedings and dozens more are being lined up, according to Dan Tench, the lawyer behind the action at the London-based firm Olswang.

“This is the first time Google has been threatened with a group claim over privacy in the UK,” he said. “It is particularly concerning how Google circumvented security settings to snoop on its users. One of the things about Google is that it is so ubiquitous in our lives and if that’s its approach then it’s quite concerning.”

A letter before action has been sent to Google executives in the US and UK on behalf of two users, including Judith Vidal-Hall, the privacy campaigner and former editor of Index on Censorship. Another 10 are preparing to launch proceedings, and plans are afoot for a group to form an umbrella privacy action.

The legal action comes just months after Google was hit with a $22.5m (£14m) fine in the US over a privacy breach between summer 2011 and spring 2012.

Google has admitted it intentionally sidestepped security settings on Apple’s Safari web browser that blocked websites from tracking users through cookies – data stored on users’ computers that show which sites they have visited. Security researchers revealed last February that Google’s DoubleClick advertising network intentionally stored these cookies on users’ computers without their consent.

Although the legal bill for Google is likely to be small compared with last year’s profits of $10.7bn, the damage will be significant given the millions of iPhone users in Britain at the time. The exact figure for compensation is not known and will depend on a number of factors.

Alexander Hanff, a privacy campaigner working on the legal claims, said: “This group action is not about getting rich by suing Google, this lawsuit is about sending a very clear message to corporations that circumventing privacy controls will result in significant consequences. The lawsuit has the potential of costing Google tens of millions, perhaps even breaking £100m in damages given the potential number of claimants – making it the biggest group action ever launched in the UK.”

Lawyers for claimants in the UK have ordered Google to reveal how it used the private information it secretly obtained, how much personal data was taken, and for how long. It is understood the claimants are suing Google for breaches of confidence and breach of privacy, computer misuse and trespass, and breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

News of the legal action was first reported by the Sunday Times. Vidal-Hall, who could not be reached by the Guardian, was quoted as saying Google was guilty of “electronic stalking”. She added: “It angers me that our data is either being sold or passed on to third parties.”

A Facebook group called Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking has vowed to hold Google to account for the tracking. It said: “Google deliberately undermined protections on the Safari browser so that they could track users’ internet usage and to provide personally tailored advertising based on the sites previously visited. There was no way to know that Google did this. In fact, they made it clear that they did not do this on the Safari browser.”

It continued: “It could mean for many users that surprises such as engagements, presents and holidays were destroyed when partners looked at their computers and saw display ads based on sites previously visited. There are many examples of the inappropriate consequences of such intrusion.”

Google is no stranger to damaging privacy battles, having being censured for snooping on Wi-Fi users with its StreetView cars and the failed launch of its email social network, Google Buzz.

Google declined to comment. A statement it released at the time of the $22.5m fine last July claimed it had “collected no personal information” with the cookies.

Via TheGuardian

Study Reveals Google & Yahoo Among Top Advertisers at “Pirate Sites”

In News, Other Leaks, Science & Technology on January 3, 2013 at 9:52 PM

01/03/2013

A new report has linked two of the world’s largest search engines to the funding of piracy-related sites. In the University of Southern California’s Advertising Transparency Report both Google and Yahoo stand accused of funneling cash to the sites, which were picked due to their placement in Google’s own Transparency Report. Also admonished in the report is torrent index SumoTorrent for their alleged operation of an advertising network.

One of the anti-piracy complaints of the entertainment companies that appears to be raising its head more frequently is how so-called ‘pirate’ sites are funded by “legitimate” business.

There are many ways that sites can generate revenue in order to keep going, but far and away the most obvious is by the placement of advertising. Most public facing sites carry adverts of some kind and it is the goal of entities such as the MPAA and RIAA to have these removed, either by placing direct pressure on advertisers themselves or through the agencies that handle them.

It will come as no surprise that due to them operating some of the Internet’s largest ad networks, search engines are high on the list for berating.

The latest pressure comes via new study carried out by the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. Released today, the report aims to identify the online ad networks offering the most support to the “major pirate movie and music sites around the world.”

The top 10 list produced by USC notably features Google in the number two position and Yahoo at number six. Topping the chart is OpenX, a Pasadena company described by CrunchBase as “one of the world’s leading providers of digital and mobile advertising technology.” Web analytics and advertising company Quancast appears at position seven.

In order to compile the list of piracy-related sites, USC mined Google’s own Transparency Report for the sites that received the most DMCA takedown notices during the previous month.

In third position on Google’s report for most takedown requests is SumoTorrent. This torrent index also features at position four in USC’s report, with the university claiming that the site operates its own advertising network.

USC’s full list appears as follows:

1. OpenX
2. Google (including Double Click)
3. Exoclick
4. Sumotorrent
5. Propellerads
6. Yahoo (including Right Media)
7. Quantcast
8. Media Shakers
9. Yesads
10. Infolinks

The university says that it used a bot to scrape Ad Network HTML identifiers from each ad in order to identify the advertising network responsible for its placement. Speaking with CNET, Google suggested the methodology might be flawed.

“The complexity of online advertising has led some to conclude incorrectly that the mere presence of any Google code on a site means financial support from Google,” the company said.

The report, which notes that it will continue to list the “top advertising offenders” on a monthly basis, states that major brands are not aware that their money is being spent financing the “piracy industry”.

USC says the aim of the report is to help these innocent companies “steer their ad dollars away from sites that exploit film, TV and music artists for what appears to be criminal gain.”

“Whenever we talk to a brand about the fact that their ads are all over the pirate sites, they’re like, ‘Oh, how did that happen?’” said Jonathan Taplin, Director of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. “We thought it would be easier if they knew what ad networks were putting ads on pirate sites — so they could avoid them.”

“We do not believe that government regulation alone is the answer to the Piracy problem, but rather that the self-regulation of major sectors like the online advertising industry.” Taplin continued. “We look forward to working with advertising agencies and networks in the coming months to address this issue.”

Via TorrentFreak

Google Expected to Pay $22.5 Million Fine for Bypassing Safari Privacy Settings

In Big Brother, News, NWO, Other Leaks, Science & Technology on July 10, 2012 at 9:49 AM

 

07/10/2012

Google expected to pay $22.5 million to settle charges that it bypassed the privacy settings of customers using Apple’s Safari web browser, says The Wall Street Journal.

CA Web Users File Class-Action Lawsuits Against Google & Yahoo Over Privacy

In Big Brother, News, NWO, Other Leaks, Police State, Science & Technology, USA, World Revolution on July 2, 2012 at 5:48 PM

07/02/2012

ABC:

Some California residents have filed two class action lawsuits against Google and Yahoo in Marin County Superior Court. The suits, filed on June 12 and June 28, claim that the web giants illegally intercept emails sent from individual non-Gmail and non-Yahoo subscribers to individual Gmail and Yahoo subscribers, without their knowledge, consent or permission. What’s more, they say the interception takes place before the email reaches its intended target.

 

“We began the investigation quite some time ago when a client came to us,” said F. Jerome Tapley, a lawyer in Birmingham, Ala. who represents the plaintiffs. “They noticed that the ads within their email browser were strangely correlating to the incoming email they were getting from their friends. It creeps people out.”

In the suit, Stuart Diamond, of Marin County; David Sutton, also of Marin County; and Roland Williams of Sonoma County — none of whom have personal Google or Yahoo email accounts, but have sent emails to people who do — allege that Google and Yahoo are violating the California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA), which prohibits anyone from wiretapping or eavesdropping on emails without the consent, knowledge and permission of all parties.

“The invasion of privacy by wiretapping or, in the alternative, eavesdropping, caused by Google and Yahoo’s! continual and pervasive use of such devices seriously threatens the exercise of personal liberties,” the lawyers write

The suit, which is for unspecified financial damages, was filed on behalf of all residents of California who are not Google or Yahoo email subscribers but have sent emails to people who are.

Yahoo did not respond to requests for comment, but in an email statement a Google spokesperson said, “We’re not going to comment on the ongoing litigation. But to be clear, ad targeting in Gmail is fully automated, and no humans read users’ emails or Google account information in order to show advertisements.”

Perry Litchfield, another plaintiffs’ lawyer in San Rafael, Calif., said he is unimpressed.

“It’s fundamental that computers have to be monitored and operated by people,” he said. What’s more, he added, the lawsuit is not about Gmail users — it’s about the people who send them emails. “Who knows how sophisticated they are? Certainly there are sophisticated ways to determine what you’re thinking as far as advertising is concerned.”

Currently, there are no federal laws specifically governing behavioral advertising on the web, nor is there a comprehensive general privacy law. But last week, Facebook agreed to let users know that when they “like” a product on Facebook, their names and photos can be used to endorse the item. Users will be allowed to decline the opportunity to be unpaid promoters; parents of users under 18 will also get the chance to keep their kids out of ads. Facebook also agreed to donate $10 million to charity, and pay $10 million to cover the plaintiffs’ legal fees.

Tapley said he hopes Google and Yahoo do the right thing, too. “I’d like to see them stop this behavior that’s in violation of the penal code and to compensate people whose privacy they violated.”

NSA Refuses to Disclose Links with Google

In Archive, Google, NSA on March 13, 2012 at 1:18 AM

RT:

Wondering if the US government’s shadowy security agents are working behind the scenes with the biggest entity on the Internet? Don’t hold your breath waiting — one advocacy group has to take Uncle Sam to court for an answer.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, is suing the United States National Security Agency to find out the truth behind any partnership between the NSA and Google, the Silicon Valley giants behind the Web’s most popular search engine and a laundry list of other online applications and services. EPIC has been asking for information on an alleged alliance since 2010, but with the NSA refusing to submit to Freedom of Information Act requests, the US District Court of Appeals will hear arguments later this month that the advocacy group hopes will mean that they will soon learn the truth regarding whether or not the two are in cahoots.

In February 2010, DC-based non-profit group EPIC filed a FOIA request with the NSA as reports were unearthed suggesting that the government’s security group was hammering out a deal with Google on the topic of cybersecurity. EPIC was curious at the time about any correspondence between the parties that could concrete rumors of a relationship and filed the necessary paperwork to obtain materials. Although the NSA responded that March, the agency did so by saying that they could neither confirm nor deny any partnership between the two. For failing to disclose information pursuant with the FOIA request, EPIC took NSA to US District Court last July, only for US District Judge Richard Leon to stand with the government and further reject EPIC’s requests.

More than two years after filing their first FOIA request, EPIC and the NSA will face off again this month when the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit will hear arguments on March 20. EPIC is hoping to have Judge Leon’s 2011 decision overruled, in turn approving the non-profit’s motion for summary judgment.

Although the last court ruling granted the NSA the motion for summary judgment that has kept them from having to disclose any documents, EPIC now says that the NSA cannot be entitled to summary judgment when it neglected to even search for the materials requested. “Without first conducting the search, not even the agency can know whether there is a factual basis for its legal position. The decision of the District Court should be reversed and the case remanded with an order requiring the agency to conduct the search for responsive records,” writes EPIC.

EPIC’s attorneys drafted and published their oral arguments in January and will present them before a three-person panel of appeals judges later this month. It will be then in a DC court that they will argue that the NSA is required to conduct a search for responsive agency records before the agency can flatly opine they can neither confirm or deny any partnership, an explanation referred to in legal circles as a Glomar response. Following the initial request from 2010, the NASA invoked Exemption 3 of the Freedom of Information Act to defer acknowledging any assistance — or lack thereof — of NSA records pertinent to the request. EPIC was quick to fire back, however, filing an administrative appeal that May stating that the NSA had failed to provide evidence that the materials in question warranted a response on par with what the agency provided.

In explaining their case now, EPIC’s attorneys write thatThe Glomar response is appropriate where ‘to confirm or deny the existence of records … would cause harm cognizable under a FOIA exception.’” On the contrary, argues EPIC, “The NSA has failed to meet this standard and has failed to perform the segregability analysis required by statute to determine whether non-exempt records may be released.”

“The NSA asserted Glomar, a narrow doctrine for a special category for records, without ever searching for any responsive records within the agency’s possession, without ever attempting to identify materials that could be disclosed, without even creating a record that would allow appellant or the court to evaluate the agency’s position on an agency activity that is widely report in the national media, acknowledged by the former director of the agency, and impacts the interests of millions of Internet users. The agency’s position is contrary to FOIA and prevailing case law,” adds EPIC.

Over their lack of cooperation and assistance in the inquiry, EPIC charges that “While the agency may choose to assert several statutory exemptions if it wishes to withheld records in its possession, acknowledging the existence of unsolicited third-party e-mails sent to the NSA does not reveal any information about the NSA’s functions and activities. Moreover, if records in possession of the agency reveal activities that fall outside of the agency’s proper functions and activities, these too would be subject to disclosure under the FOIA.”

In appealing, EPIC quotes US President Barack Obama, who announced on his first full day in office that FOIA requests “should be administrated with a clear presumption: in the face of doubt, openness prevails.” Although Obama campaigned with the promise of creating an administration more transparent than any other in history, watchdog groups such as EPIC continue to be locked out of FOIA request and whistleblowers, including PFC Bradley Manning and WikiLeak’s Julian Assange, are prosecuted and shunned by the federal government.

EPIC also argues that the NSA has been responsive to FOIA requests in the past, which adds to the intrigue over a possible government-Google alliance. This Court has never granted the broad authority that the NSA seeks in this case, to issue a Glomar response without conducting a search for responsive records, particularly when the agency itself has put so much information about the subject matter of the request in the public record,” claims EPIC.

Calling into question any conspiring between the search engine giants and the government, EPIC adds, “Google provides cloud-based services to consumers, not critical infrastructure services to the government.”

Despite an array of violations identified by the Securities and Exchanges Commission, Google has repeatedly been left off the hook by the federal government with merely a slap on the wrist. Earlier this month, Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom attacked the partnership between Silicon Valley’s private sector and the US federal government for allowing Google to walk over copyright infringement charges while the alleged file-sharing kingpin could end up behind bars for life for similar crimes.

“I’m not Google. I don’t have 50 billion dollars in my account and right now I’ve not a penny on my account. All my lawyers currently are basically working without a penny and they are all still on board and all still doing their job because what they see here is unfair, is unreasonable and is not justice,” Dotcom told New Zealand’s 3news, adding he felt the persecution was “political.”

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Whether the NSA will admit it or not, their ties to Google and all of Silicon Valley for that matter are deep, specifically In-Q-Tel, a venture capitalist firm established by the CIA.

As mentioned above, it’s not only Google. The NSA and Microsoft have close ties as well.

When we look at Facebook, again we see In-Q-Tel and the CIA at the roots of it’s creation.

Stay tuned for more updates on this developing story.

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