Privacy matters: Raytheon software that can track your digital life; Flickr’s private photos made public; EU’s data-protection laws

• It probably comes as no surprise that software made by defense contractor Raytheon can easily track people using their digital footprints on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other sites. A Raytheon video obtained by the Guardian shows how the software can determine a person’s habits, whereabouts, friends and associates by looking at check-ins, photos, messages and more. It also says it can predict future behavior based on these things. While the company says it has not sold the Rapid Information Overlay Technology (RIOT) software yet, it says it has shared the technology with the U.S. government and others, according to the Guardian. Massachusetts-based Raytheon says RIOT does not disclose personally identifiable information.

Some will say this is no big deal, that the information Raytheon collects and aggregates is publicly available anyway. But that depends on how the various social networks and other sites share their users’ information, and with whom. And privacy settings can fail. See next item.

• As reported over the weekend, some private Flickr photos were made public between mid-January and last week because of what owner Yahoo says was a software bug that it has since fixed. Yahoo said only a small amount of Flickr users were affected but refused to give specifics, according to the Verge, which also mentioned that Flickr users were complaining that the service “overcompensated” when it tried to fix the problem, changing photos meant to be public to private.

• Speaking of privacy and user data, the European Union’s consideration of reforms to its data-protection and privacy laws could greatly affect U.S. companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft. The Financial Times reports that Europe’s commissioner for justice, Viviane Reding, is talking tough about battling the efforts of U.S. lobbyists working on behalf of the tech companies, which want to water down the reforms. “If companies want to tap into the European market they have to apply European standards,” Reding said. Google and Facebook know; they’ve had privacy-related run-ins with European authorities. The U.S. government has expressed concern that the reforms could stifle innovation, according to the FT. Some Europeans say the United States is more interested in “following the interests of Silicon Valley,” according to a New York Times piece that contrasts the European approach to data protection with that of the United States, where many of the companies that have collected the bulk of online user data were born.

 

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