British spying on Facebook and YouTube? It’s just another Data Privacy Day

Happy — OK, happy may be stretching it — Data Privacy Day!

Before we get to the meaning of the day that’s apparently been celebrated for several years running, we’d like to introduce you to “Squeaky Dolphin,” which reportedly is a British spying program that taps into information about users of Facebook and YouTube without the companies’ knowledge.

An NBC News report published late Monday, based on documents from the Edward Snowden leaks, says GCHQ officials showed their U.S. counterparts that they had the ability to track and analyze social-media and video-watching activity in real-time. Although the program was not meant to track individual users’ information, experts say it was possible for the agency to glean that data, according to the report.

For those keeping track at home, the GCHQ’s Squeaky Dolphin program sounds similar to “Muscular,” an NSA program that supposedly siphoned off Google and Yahoo Internet traffic without the companies knowing.

Now, about Data Privacy Day, which, incidentally, counts companies such as Facebook, AT&T and Microsoft as sponsors: It’s the American and Canadian offshoot of Data Protection Day in Europe, which celebrates the anniversary of the signing of a European privacy treaty in 1981. Data Privacy Day is meant to bring attention to privacy issues in the age of the Internet and Big Data and marketing madness — but lately it seems like Data Privacy Day is every day, doesn’t it?

From the continuing revelations of spying by government agencies — as Brandon Bailey wrote, the spying may extend to mobile apps — to the big privacy breach at Target (and Neiman Marcus, and possibly Michaels), it’s hard to ignore that we’re eminently trackable, and that the intended or unintended sharing of our information can actually be harmful. But are we making real changes in light of all of this? One survey of American consumers says not so far.


Photo: A new report says a British spying program can gather real-time information about YouTube activity. (Reuters archives)


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