Privacy, security watch: LinkedIn, Airtime

• Talk about a double whammy. LinkedIn is investigating a claim that hackers have stolen more than 6 million LinkedIn user passwords — on the same day that mobile security researchers were scheduled to present their findings that the Mountain View company’s iOS mobile app is sending information from users’ calendars to its servers, according to the New York Times.

First, the password issue. The Next Web reports, citing a Norwegian IT website, that 6.5 million passwords were posted to a Russian hacker site, and that 300,000 of them have been decrypted so far. The more than 160 million users of the professional social network are being urged to change their passwords, although mostly by news reports and not by LinkedIn, which says on Twitter that it is still working to confirm a breach.

On to the app issue. In a blog post Wednesday, LinkedIn attempted to clarify what it is and what it does with users’ information. The company says the “great” feature, which syncs iOS calendar information with the mobile app, is opt-in and can be turned off. Its only purpose, the company says, is to “provide information about the people you are about to meet by showing you their LinkedIn profile,” and the information is not stored on its servers. In addition, LinkedIn says it will no longer transmit possibly sensitive information from the Notes section of users’ calendars, something the researchers who discovered the issue were particularly concerned about, according to the NYT article.

Last year, LinkedIn co-founder and Chairman Reid Hoffman said “good Internet companies don’t ambush their users.” (See Quoted: Reid Hoffman on data and ‘ambushing’ users.) For a long time, the professional social network seemed to have avoided the privacy and security slip-ups that have become all too familiar, from those by Google and Facebook to Path to Twitter to CarrierIQ. (See Twitter, Path and the privacy controversy over contact info and apps and Smartphone tracking: Who’s affected? Is it legal?) Now we’ll see whether people buy the company’s response and attempt to be more transparent about its practices.

LinkedIn shares are down less than 0.5 percent to $92.65 as of this post.

• Airtime, the video-chat service launched by Napster founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning with much fanfare — and embarrassing glitches — Tuesday, is being met with questions about whether there’s a need for it. And surprise, there’s a privacy issue, too. Kashmir Hill of Forbes reports that Airtime also could record video chats (with permission) and takes still photos of participants “periodically,” according to a company representative. The surveillance is supposed to be a feature. Airtime, which connects to Facebook, is being painted as less creepy than Chatroulette, a once-popular video-chat service that is now mostly known for its chatters’ aversion to staying fully clothed.


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