To Play With The Oculus Rift You Pay With Your Privacy

We all love the idea of virtual reality and augmented reality, the idea that technology can send us to the deepest parts of the earth or the farthest reaches of space inspires us to enjoy things we will never get to do in the real world, all from the comfort of our sitting rooms. The question is how much we are willing to give in exchange for this “freedom”, with the enjoyment the Oculus Rift requiring you to pay with your privacy.

What do we mean by “pay with your privacy”? When you first install the software required to run the Rift on your PC a process called “OVRServer_x64.exe” is created, something normal given that it detects when the Rift is connected, on your Facebook and actually turned on. If you check the Privacy Policy (something we all know, including the companies that write them, is rarely checked) there are a few other things that the process can do.

The full section regarding “information collected about you when you use our services” states:

Information Automatically Collected About You When You Use Our Services. We also collect information automatically when you use our Services. Depending on how you access and use our Services, we may collect information such as:

  • Information about your interactions with our Services, like information about the games, content, apps or other experiences you interact with, and information collected in or through cookies, local storage, pixels, and similar technologies (additional information about these technologies is available at https://www.oculus.com/en-us/cookies-pixels-and-other-technologies/);
  • Information about how you access our Services, including information about the type of device you’re using (such as a headset, PC, or mobile device), your browser or operating system, your Internet Protocol (“IP”) address, and certain device identifiers that may be unique to your device;
  • Information about the games, content, or other apps installed on your device or provided through our Services, including from third parties;
  • Location information, which can be derived from information such as your device’s IP address. If you’re using a mobile device, we may collect information about the device’s precise location, which is derived from sources such as the device’s GPS signal and information about nearby WiFi networks and cell towers; and
  • Information about your physical movements and dimensions when you use a virtual reality headset.

Worrying parts about this is the mention of “pixels” in the first section, stating that they could find out what you are viewing and even go so far as to take a copy of your interaction. Full information about the games and everything you install are also fair and open to them with information going so far as your physical movements and dimensions being tracked as well, these seem a little bit further than just idle curiosity.

The policy continues to state how this information is used, with one section clarifying their marketing approach with this information:

To market to you. We use the information we collect to send you promotional messages and content and otherwise market to you on and off our Services. We also use this information to measure how users respond to our marketing efforts.

With Oculus now in partnership with Facebook, a move that raised concerns when it was first announced, people were concerned about privacy and tracking, something these conditions seems to allow. Going further the agreement states that “third parties may also collect information about you through the Services”, meaning that the agreement doesn’t limit but, in fact, allows apps to be created on the basis of tracking and monitoring your actions.

Thanks to Woofington over at Reddit who spotted this, if you’re interested in finding out how deep this goes you can read the full privacy policy here.

Egypt Blocks Facebook’s Internet Service After Being Denied The Ability To Spy On Users

Facebook have been keen on allowing countries access to Free Basics, their low-cost internet system designed at giving people the ability to create a Facebook account and access a limited number of sites at no cost. Free internet sounds great doesn’t it? Some countries don’t believe so, with India already banning the platform and the system being suspended within Egypt, over what now seems to be because the government was denied the ability denied the ability to spy on users.

The Free Basics platform in Egypt was suspended officially on December 30th, 2015, with sources now stating the reason for the suspension was that Facebook wouldn’t allow the government to circumvent the systems security, thereby allowing surveillance to be conducted on users of the platform. Etisalat, the mobile carrier that provided the service when it started in October 2015, hasn’t responded to comment while Facebook has declined to comment while the Egyptian government has declined to say what kind of surveillance or changes they wanted to be made to the service.

Officially the line given is that the service was considered “harmful to companies and their competitors”, a tale that while believable may be as well be an April fools joke to cover what can only be considered a request to invade and monitor everyone’s internet access. With limited access already and concerns about net neutrality for the scheme, if it was found to provide monitoring and tracking the “free” basics program would almost certainly see counties drop the system.

FTC Warns Apps Could Be Invading Your Privacy

We all love downloading that new app. Be it a game or something more practical for everyday use, we love exploring it and finding out what it does. Seems like some Apps may be returning the favour and not even telling us about it as several apps could be invading your privacy.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have warned several developers for mobile software that their apps may, in fact, be invading their customers privacy without even their notice. The Silverpush framework and several overs don’t request permission to use your microphone but still do. It only gets worse as it appears that the apps are capable of “producing a detailed log of the television content viewed while a user’s mobile device was turned on for the purpose of targeted advertising software and analytics”. So by having your phone near you when you watch TV means you could be advertising your favourite shows to third parties without even knowing it!

Silverpush is already known to listen for ultrasonic sounds to check for multiple devices within the vicinity such as your laptop or tablet. By knowing what devices you have around you the company is able to pick up and generate more detailed advertising profiles, some of which you are never even aware was being generated.

Silverpush, an India-based company, states that the techniques aren’t used domestically but the FTC want apps having to specifically request access to your device’s microphone.

Pigeons With Backpacks Are Monitoring Pollution In London

The environment and technology are often seen at odds with one another, with the advance of technology coming at the cost of the environment. While green technology like solar panels get more efficient and generate more electricity with the same resources, people are worried about the pollution and issues we’ve already generated. In the latest attempt to alert people about pollution a selection of pigeons with backpacks patrolling London reporting on the pollution in their area.

The scheme was created by Plume Labs, a firm that focuses on tracking and reducing exposure to air pollution. The scheme, pigeon air patrol, see’s a selection of pigeons equipped with air sensors on their back measuring everything they need to help raise “awareness of this problem and helps Londoners understand the impact of pollution in an accessible, tangible and immediate way” as reported by Romain Lacombe, the CEO of Plume Labs.

Lacome states that “Air pollution is a huge environmental health issue, killing 10,000 people every year in London alone”, before mentioning that a similar system was being created that would allow humans to wear and track the air quality around them.

With the pigeons reporting the air quality around them by tweeting the information, the system is accessible to everyone. Tweeting your location to the account returns a report detailing the air quality in your area as well.

Hexoskin Smart Shirt Monitors Your Health

As a race, we seem drawn to making things smarter, from self-driving cars to watches designed to interact with our mobile phones. One thing that everything from smart watches to phones includes on an all too regular basis is health apps, tracking everything from your steps for the day and calories burned to your heartbeat and temperature. Hexoskin is known for their smart clothing, with you now being able to go so far as buying a smart shirt.

Hexoskin offers everything from men and women’s tank tops to long sleeve shirts, all with the added bonus of being made from lightweight, stretchy and breathable materials. With each top containing a small zipped pocket for you to connect up the battery to the shirt, the tops look all but identical to the same thing you would already wear when you hit the gym. With 14 hours of monitoring from a single charge, and 150 hours of standby you could easily get a few days of heavy exercise before having to plug in the battery pack. With sensors to monitor heart rates and your breathing rate, you may find out something useful when you start using the Hexoskin top, but at $399 for a single shirt, battery pack, Bluetooth sensors and a charging cable

With 14 hours of monitoring from a single charge, and 150 hours of standby you could easily get a few days of heavy exercise before having to plug in the battery pack. With sensors to monitor heart rates and your breathing rate, you may find out something useful when you start using the Hexoskin top, but at $399 for a single shirt, battery pack, Bluetooth sensors and a charging cable, it probably isn’t something you’ll be filling your wardrobe with.

With companies looking for more and more ways to help us do everything from exercising to taking out the rubbish, it comes as no surprise that the sensors could help you find out something quite useful during your exercises, sadly though the price will probably put off more people than it will attract.

Uber Trials Phone Monitoring of Its Drivers

Uber is well-known for problems. The popular app allows drivers to charge as if they were taxi’s, getting notifications that someone is requesting a lift and then offering their services at a charge. Uber, like many companies, suffer from bad press and actions like stolen accounts being sold and even having its leaders in France arrested. In order to combat their drivers though Uber looks to employ the same technique that some insurance companies now use, monitoring of its drivers.

Uber announced that it will be rolling out a trial in Houston, Texas, to check on drivers who have received complaints about their driving standards. The system will use a combination of the phone’s accelerometers, GPS and gyroscopes to record actions such as excessive speeding or even if you decided to check your phone and send a text while at the wheel.

Uber made it clear that they would only access this information though if the driver had a complaint made against them, although the possibility of always-on monitoring is still on the cards.

While monitoring is often frowned upon, when you are placing your trust in a driver who is monitored in very few ways, with some instances of drivers being accused or committing crimes, a little extra safety for passengers and road users can’t be a bad thing.

Best of CES 2016 – NZXT CAM Software

CES 2016: NZXT has been working hard on making their CAM software the ultimate one stop shop for monitoring and getting the most out of your desktops performance. Previous versions of the software were certainly impressive, but with CAM 3 and what we’ve seen is to come in updates throughout 2016 and beyond, it’s already the best of the best.

After speaking with NZXT, they told us how they’ve focused on pushing new features to the software, doubled the number of staff working on its development and the end results are certainly starting to show. There’s still a stigma in the community that you need NZXT products, such as Hue lighting, Kraken coolers and more to use the software, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth, as it’s compatible with any desktop Windows system. However, if you do own other connected NZXT products, they can all be controlled from extra tabs that will appear in the software, giving you even more control over your system.

Innovative features such as the average temperature monitoring are really cool. If you have a GTX 980Ti and 5000 other users of the software do, you can see what the average idle and load temperatures for that card are amongst other users, allowing you to better detect if your card is really reaching its full capabilities in terms of performance and cooling. Another in development feature looks to do the same for overclocking, monitoring what other models of the same card achieved and allowing a one-click apply of the average; super easy overclocking for all.

Colour customisation, customisable in-game performance overlays, performance logging so you can compare your per-game, daily, weekly, monthly figures to see how your system is doing, or if updates and overclocks have made a real world difference. There’s also a rather fantastic full-screen mode, great for tracking performance on multiple display systems.

The list goes on and on for features of CAM, and we highly recommend you try it out. If you’re still a little sceptical, we’ll be bringing you an in-depth review in the very near future.

NZXT CAM Software

Check out all our latest NZXT CES 2016 content, news and reviews right here.

Snoopers Charter Could Have Harmful Effect on Smaller Businesses

Previously we’ve reported on the Snooper Charter (the official name of which is the Investigatory Power Bill). The focus for the snooper charter has been on large companies, with groups like Facebook and Microsoft coming out with some observations over just how bad an impact the charter might have on companies working in the UK. Even  the NSA’s ex-director warned that it could “kill people”. Worst may be yet to come, with Theresa May clarifying not only the extent, but also that the Snooper Charter could cost a lot more than initially thought.

Theresa May stated the cost of the snooper charter may, in fact, exceed the original estimate of 240 million pounds. With companies like EE and Vodaphone saying that the cost to them may be that figure alone in order to meet the bill’s requirements.

One of the initial thoughts regarding the bill was that small-scale internet providers might be excluded from the requirement, but this isn’t the case. The defence and security industries, alongside the information commissioner, asked for a “sunset clause”. This clause would mean that after five to seven years the bill would be revisited because of the rapid pace of technological change, May rejected this thought saying that the bill was fit for a rapidly changing world and was “technology neutral”.

An issue brought up by groups like Facebook and Microsoft was the dealing of extra-territorial warrants. In the current bill, a notice could be provided to a company with employees in the UK for data stored abroad, a topic which has been at the forefront of data request issues for years now.

It was then asked if the government would have a limit on the finances available, the answer to which was that they were going to work on a “cost recovery basis”. This means that  companies could seek back the cost for installing the hefty systems needed and that they will “have reasonable cost recovery when we require these companies to provide these capabilities”. Not only could the bill mean worrying levels of powers and data stored about people, but it also seems like we will also be footing the bill for it.

Smart me up Demos Real-Time Face Recognition Analysis @ CES 2016

CES 2016: Smart Me Up is a French company which created a highly advanced software suite to monitor a person’s age, gender, head pose and other essential statistics. This is also completed in real time and constantly updates as the software learns more about your facial characteristics. During a hands on demo, the software initially misread my age by a decent margin but as time progressed, the age score became almost perfect. Apparently, the face recognition is designed to be an integral part of smart technology in the home and provide a way to personalize various devices. It could also be used in robotics, medicine and other vital industries.

It’s still fairly unclear when the facial recognition software will be implemented and its wider appeal, although it certainly captured people’s imaginations during CES.

Would you like to see this kind of facial analysis become a part of modern homes?

Snowden Leak Reveals How Microsoft Helped the NSA Bypass Encryption

Privacy, spying, hacking, monitoring, tracking, just some of the words that people around the world have become frighteningly familiar with over the last few years. Edward Snowden uncovered many details of how our governments treat our data and he’s showing no sign of slowing down. His latest revelation reveals how Microsoft worked closely with the US Government, namely the NSA, to bypass encryption mechanisms that are intended to protect the privacy and data of the millions of users of Microsoft software such as Windows.

According to his article in The Guardian, NSA memos show that Microsoft helped the find a way to decrypt messages sent over various platforms, including Outlook, Hotmail and Skype, effectively handing them a backdoor into the data we entrusted them with.

While it’s no secret (anymore) that big tech companies were under pressure from various agencies to provide them with data on users, both with and without a warrant or similar legal document to back up their demands. However, the new leaks suggest Microsoft actively went out of their way to assist federal investigators, such as helping to circumvent encrypted chat messages via Outlook.com, prior to the product being launched to the public!

How Microsoft will react from this, especially given the privacy concerns of many in regards to Windows 10, remains to be seen.

Thank you RT for providing us with this information.

Edward Snowden Joins Twitter – Only Follows NSA

“Can you hear me now?” The stark words of Edward Snowdens first tweet as he joins social media platform Twitter. The account went live recently, gaining 160,000 followers in less than an hour, a number that has skyrocketed to almost 900,000 in less than a day and continues to grow exponentially.

The simple message was retweeted 93,928 times, so it’s obviously something that resonates with his followers. He’s since been a little more vocal too, and given his nature of challenging the order of things, you can bet he’s not going to be a passive user of the platform.

As a slight tongue-in-cheek jab, Snowden only follows one Twitter page, @NSAGov; I’m sure they heard his message and any others loud and clear.

Even better, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Anonymous, WikiLeaks and more have started tweeting at him, sparking a few conversations that have sent Twitter into overload, making Edward Snowden one of the most interesting people to follow on the social media platform right now.

I’m looking forward to more updates from Snowden, if you want to stay tuned to the latest, you can follow him here @Snowden.

Amnesty International Tracked By UK Goverment

Amnesty International is an organisation dedicated to promoting human rights and defends victims who have been abused. They have recently forayed into the world of digital rights, with the release of an Anti-spyware programme  designed to track down and alert you to common signs that your computer may be observed or accessed remotely. Ironically, the latest news is that members of Amnesty International have been observed by GCHQ (the Governmental branch within the UK that overlooks digital security).

On Wednesday, Amnesty International announced they received an email outlining that their information had been intercepted, accessed and recorded. The time frame that this information was obtained from and stored from has yet to be disclosed. The revelation was revealed by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), who are in charge of monitoring and making sure that government agencies follow the policies involved in surveillance. Following from these investigations Amnesty International has requested that the IPT hold a public hearing into the claims, allowing for the scope and detail of the surveillance to be revealed in the open.

With the scope of the surveillance unknown and the detail unclarified to both the public and Amnesty International itself, it’s hard to disagree that there should be more open and public discussions when it comes to the level that digital surveillance is used (even illegally).

Thank you Amnesty International for the information and the image.

Public Record Request Reveals Stingray Used 303 Times Without Legal Reason

Digital privacy is a concept that is being contested with government monitoring. With section 215 of the Patriot act set for renewal in America, with reviews and discussions pushing the talks to the last possible minute, the concept of acquiring data illegally is almost considered taboo, or at least admitting to it is.

I’ve previously written an article about Stingrays, no not the creatures that swim around the ocean, but the device used by the Government to mimic a cell tower and intercept mobile communication data. The topic of Stingrays has once again been raised with a Public Record Request in San Bernardino County (East of Los Angeles County) has revealed that since acquiring a stingray in 2012, in the period between January 1st, 2014 and May 7th, 2015, the stingray has been deployed 303 times.

This would not be a problem normally, I mean they are just using a device to help fight crime and do their duty, right? With the public record request, Ars Technica was able to get an example of a template for a “pen register and trap and trace order” used to deploy the stingray.  This piece of paperwork was typically used to collect metadata in almost real-time from a telephone company about the activity on a landline, obviously before the mass adoption of mobile phones by the public. The order itself, however, does not mention in any way the Stingray device.

The public awareness of Stingrays has rocketed in recent years, given that previously a Non-Disclosure Agreement (an agreement between the creators of the Stingray and the companies that use them to prevent the spread of information regarding the devices), has caused cases to be dropped, rather than breach the NDA with both the FBI and the Harris Corporation (the creators of the Stingray Device). In April 2015, a women accused of being a getaway driver changed her guilty plea and refused to testify against her three co-defendants after a police detective was challenged during a deposition and they refused to provide further information. The case was then dropped, this is not the first time that legal action has been muddied by the use of stingrays.

In an email exchange between Sarasota Police Department and North Port Police Department, the departments hid the use of Stingrays from judges and defendants at the request of the US Marshal Service (who the devices were on loan from at the time). The advice given to the departments from the U.S. Marshalls Task Force was to state that they “received information from a confidential source regarding the location of the suspect”. This means they were advised to lie regarding how information was gathered in order to hide the use of Stingrays, possibly in accordance with the NDA surrounding the device.

The non-disclosure agreement was revealed by Erie County, New York, and has been seen as stating that the FBI would rather drop a legal case rather than disclose information regarding the Stingray devices. This is however in contrast to a statement the FBI released stating that the NDA should not stop legal action based on the fact that a Stingray was used in the case.

Stingrays have been controversial devices since their public appearance, and with the court cases dismissed due to their use and most recently the awareness that the devices are being deployed with little to no legal oversight, they will continue to be a highly contested device until either legislation is implemented to protect the public from what is essentially the same meta-data mass collection that the national security agencies are currently being sued and debating.

What are your thoughts? Should devices like these be allowed to help fight crime, do they require more legal oversight or has their development been overshadowed with too many legal gray areas and cloak and dagger deployments?

Thank you Ars Technica for the information.

Image courtesy of Infosec Institue.

UK Government Changes Law Covering Digital Surveillance

Edward Snowden exposed a world which some speculated, but few publically acknowledged. A world where every piece of information we send, be it through phone or computer, is monitored and recorded among thousands of others all searching for that one thing. The public has since been in an up cry about it, asking if it was even legal due to the severe invasion of privacy it entailed in order to do the most basic monitoring without legally requesting permission from a judge. From the use of the stingrays to intercept mobile communication, to the ruling stating that the mass collection of phone data in America was illegal, the law and digital monitoring has been at heads for a while now. The UK government has a simple answer, change the law.

GCHQ is the UK government’s digital branch in charge of monitoring electronic communications. It would seem that the Computer Misuse Act, one of the biggest pieces of legislation regarding hacking and the legality of using computers to access networks, was quietly rewritten on the 3rd of March 2015. The change in the legislation would essentially make the intelligence services exempt from legal action regarding hacking because they would be exempt from the legal areas outlining what is legal hacking.

Several large companies, including internet and communication services, filed complaints back in 2014 stating that the GCHQ’s activities would be considered unlawful under the Computer Misuse Act and that there was no legal authority that could be used to make their practices in line with the law.  This is a problem, especially given that hacking is an invasion of privacy, something considered a fundamental human right.

The legislation involved is called the Serious Crime Bill 2015, and came into effect on the 3rd May 2015, only two months after it was quietly passed amongst government groups without any public consultation. So not only does GCHQ now have the ability to hack people, they are practically immune to legal action regarding this (even though they have been found to be in breach of several sections of Law), this also means however that all current cases against GCHQ would be rendered null given that they now covered under a separate law. Also given that the code has not be subject to parliamentary process such as debates or discussions the changes have effectively rendered their illegal practises legal and their control over hacking (even those who have not been found as a threat to national security or suspected in a crime) exempt from legal process in what is turning out to be the biggest threat to the rights and laws of the 21st Century.

What do you think of this? I will refrain from commenting for fear that this post will be intercepted and my communications monitored. Personally, I really dislike that they have done this.

Thank you Privacy International for providing us with this information.

Image Courtesy of Reuters.

UK Solicitor Will Defend You Free Against Copyright Trolls

More and more customers of UK ISPs have received letters from copyright trolls in recent weeks, demanding settlement fees for alleged illegal downloads and threatening with lawsuits if not paid. Both Sky Broadband and Virgin Media customers are affected, but not exclusively.

The companies behind it all, GoldenEye International also known as Mircom, had monitored torrents and then forced the ISPs to hand out the personal details based on those logs and now they hope that the people receiving the letters will be too scared to go to court and just pay up to get peace. But that’s generally a bad idea, as paying is the same as admitting guilt and they’ll drag you into the courtroom anyway.

But there is good news for the receivers of these letters as the Southampton-based Micheal Coyle of the Lawdit Solicitors told TorrentFreak that he would give his time free to defend them. Coyle is one of the most experienced UK-based solicitors in the file-sharing arena. Since 2008 he has spoken with or acted for more than 700 individuals who have received so-called Letters of Claim, including those involved in the infamous ACS:Law case that ended with solicitor Andrew Crossley being severely disciplined.

“I am a Copyright Solicitor and regularly enforce copyright where it has been infringed. People should respect the copyright of third parties. However, are some copyright holders abusing the great British public?” Micheal Coyle questions. “The amounts are quite staggering. In the most recent campaign 2500 letters were sent out. Typical sums demanded are in the range of £500 to £1000. If everyone pays say £700.00 this would generate £1,750,000 which is not bad even for the porn industry.”

There is one minor string attached, but it’s a good one. Coyle is a regular runner of the London Marathon and has raised thousands for children’s charities while doing so. If people want his help in these cases they’re going to have to get generously via this year’s donation page.

Thanks to TorrentFreak for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of DieTrollDie

EU Developing Remote Shutdown Tech For All Cars

Recent reports show that European Union officials have been meeting to develop a system to help law enforcement remotely kill any cars engine. The tech would rely on a central control facility which would effectively send a kill code to the car’s engine, shutting it down entirely.

This technology is nothing new of course, many car companies offer a remote vehicle shut-down feature, but the efforts of the EU police officials is to make this kind of technology a standardized feature that would be controlled by the police, not by the car manufacturer.

Of course a standardised system like this would take years to integrate and would no doubt raise many concerns with the general public. Even members of parliament are not happy about the project and stated that “the price we pay for surrendering our democratic sovereignty is that we are governed by an unaccountable secretive clique.”

Liability could be a big issue, what if the systems are triggered by mistake while a car is travelling at speed? What about invasion of privacy, could this be the beginning of more monitoring of drivers, perhaps even location monitoring software would be used to not only shut-down a car, but to track its location “in case of theft”. Some of the thoughts that spring to mind are a little tinfoil hat brigade, but in light of many spying revelations of the last few years, it’s hardly a big stretch to come to some wild conclusions.

On an engineering level the technology already exists, so it’s not too hard to believe that it can be scaled up and standardised. It will no doubt do wonders for reducing car thefts on newer cars, but it seems it will come with a whole new set of problems for car owners.

Thank you The Verge for providing us with this information.