Ryan Calo's blog

Database Of Privacy Enhancing Technologies

Please visit the Center for Internet and Society's new wiki (cyberlaw.stanford.edu/wiki) and contribute to our privacy enhancing technology (PET) database.

Stanford Law School student Seth Gilmore got us started on a PET wiki. As the name suggests, PETs are technologies or techniques that assist users in protecting their information from abuse. They include software allowing for anonymous surfing, plug-ins that reveal who is tracking you online, and improvements in browser security. Microsoft and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canada cosponsor an award for PETs, and there is a call for papers (due March 2, 2009) for an upcoming PET conference in Seattle. Read more about Database Of Privacy Enhancing Technologies

Ghostery.com: Not Just A Cool Icon

David Cancel just created a wonderful privacy enhancing technology for Firefox---up there with Ad Blocker Plus in my view. In a simple and straightforward way, Ghostery reveals who is tracking your views of a page on the Internet according to a common but under-examined method: web bugs.

As David explains, "[w]eb bugs are used to track your behavior on the web in order to help the sites you visit to understand their own audiences and to allow advertisers to target ads at you." To expand a little, web bugs are tiny (generally one-pixel) pictures on a web page that tell a host or third-party when and by whom they are being loaded, which in turn reveals that the page itself has been loaded. David's elegant plug-in "scans the web pages you visit to find web bugs" and displays their owners in the upper right hand corner of the page. Ghostery is easy to install, use, and shut off. Read more about Ghostery.com: Not Just A Cool Icon

Devices As Themselves Social

Social networks have gotten a lot of play in recent years. What about social devices? I've been thinking about whether/how the nature of computer interfaces is changing—specifically, becoming less passive and more “social.”

My conversations with academics in Stanford's Department of Communications, and the research they've guided me toward, leads me to believe that we are once again at the edge of a shift in the way we communicate. For a variety or reasons, PCs and other computers in cars, mobile devices, etc., are making increased use of voice-driven, natural language interfaces or avatars, moving computing away from the traditional mode of passive information processing toward a more social, "person to person" interaction.

Some quick examples. Google's VP of Search gave a recent interview at Le Web during which she said that Google was exploring a more conversational interface that would allow users to actually ask Google questions out loud as though conversing with a person. Although it has met with (comic) resistance in the past, a trail of Microsoft patents going back ten years shows how serious the company is about developing a social interface, complete with voice, expressions, and gestures. As much as twenty-five percent of Microsoft's research efforts reportedly involve artificial intelligence. Even the U.S. government has gotten into this game: the U.S. Army’s virtual recruiter, SGT Star, responds to questions out loud, changes moods, makes jokes, etc. According to developer statistics, SGT Star has responded to over two million questions since his debut in 2006. Read more about Devices As Themselves Social

E-Books: Who's E-Reading Over Your Shoulder?

Electronic books are a little like flying cars; always right about to catch on. Today the New York Times asks “Could book lovers finally be willing to switch from pages to pixels?” In an interesting piece in Technology, Brad Stone and Motoko Rich interview publishers in an attempt to size this market, concluding that the era of e-books may (finally) have arrived.

Lots could be said on this topic--much praised and much lamented. But we've been discussing a particular angle here at CIS: whether this page to pixel migration might have serious repercussions for reader privacy. Read more about E-Books: Who's E-Reading Over Your Shoulder?

My Buddies App On Facebook: Privacy Extortion?

UPDATE (Dec. 14, 2008): A user has created a Facebook Group against My Buddies. Meanwhile, as Beth says below, My Buddies has mutated into My Friends...

I recently received a series of notifications on Facebook alerting me that friends of mine had answered various personal questions about me. One notification claimed that a high school friend had just answered a specific yes/no question about my sexual orientation. Clicking on the link labeled “What did she say?”, I was invited to join My Buddies – a new Facebook application with an icon identical to the default running man on AIM, implying a connection to AOL that I doubt exists. Read more about My Buddies App On Facebook: Privacy Extortion?

Search Terms May Bolster Case Against Casey Anthony

The United Press International reports that "[n]ewly released documents in Florida's Caylee Anthony case show ominous search words entered on the family computer prior to the child's disappearance." Some thoughts:

1. I've yet to see an investigation wherein the search terms at issue came from the service provider (e.g., Google or Yahoo!). Rather, they appear to be taken from the defendant's computer pursuant to a warrant.

2. I think the introduction of search terms into evidence presents a real danger in the context of inchoate crimes such as attempted murder. Searches can be snapshots of a person's mind, but no more than that. The concern is that a jury will see concrete intentions in Internet searches and not require a showing of a firm will to go through with the crime.

3. As Search Engine Watch points out, searches can lead to convictions in another way -- by allowing citizens to make connections and report them to the police. In one case, a Florida woman reported a man for practicing medicine without a license after an Internet search revealed that his license had been revoked.

4. Why is it always Florida? Read more about Search Terms May Bolster Case Against Casey Anthony

Obama’s Tech Team: Agency Insiders With Silicon Valleyues

A Washington Post tech blogger reports that President-elect Barak Obama has named a team to guide technology policy for the administration: Julius Genachowski (former chief counsel to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, former senior executive at IAC), Sonal Shah (head of global development at Google.org) and Blair Levin (telecommunications policy analyst and consultant). Previous appointments around tech policy include Susan Crawford (Michigan Law School) and Kevin Wernach (World of Wharton), recently named to Obama’s FCC transition team, with more appointments to follow. Obama appears to be striking the right balance between academics, policy wonks, and practitioners. He has hired former insiders who also appear to have the right “Silicon Valleyues” of innovation and openness. Read more about Obama’s Tech Team: Agency Insiders With Silicon Valleyues

Navigenics And 23andMe Commit To Fight Unreasonable Subpoenas

I learned something very interesting in preparing for last evening’s panel (PDF) on consumer genomics we recently co-sponsored with the Center for Law and the Biosciences. It turns out that at least one industry leader – Navigenics – has committed in writing to resisting court orders, subpoenas, and other requests for information about their customers. Specifically, Navigenics promises in its privacy policy that the company “will use reasonable and lawful efforts to limit the scope of any such legally required disclosure.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a commitment to push back against third-party requests in a public legal document before. And the 23andMe panelist's commitment, though oral, was at least as strong. Read more about Navigenics And 23andMe Commit To Fight Unreasonable Subpoenas

Consumer Genomics Panel Monday @ 5:00PM

Consumer Genomics: Law and Policy

November 10, 2008 from 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Stanford Law School, Room 190

With a credit card and a saliva sample, consumers can now unlock the secrets carried in their DNA. Consumer genomics offers direct access to one's genetic code, plus interpretations of health risks, family lineage, opportunities for social networking, and more. But how should consumer genomics be regulated? Join us for a panel discussion with Stephen Moore (General Counsel, Navigenics), Anne Wojcicki (Co-founder, 23andMe), and Alexis Madrigal (Wired), moderated by bioscience and law expert Hank Greely (Stanford Law School). Open to the public.

Brought to you by the Stanford Law School Center for Law and the Biosciences and co-sponsored by the Center for Internet and Society. Read more about Consumer Genomics Panel Monday @ 5:00PM

Packets Vol. 6 No. 1 Now Available

Packets Vol. 6 No. 1 is online here.

Packets is production of the Stanford Center for Internet & Society (CIS). It is written by members of the Stanford Law and Technology Association (SLATA), and edited by CIS staff, fellows and volunteer attorneys. Our purpose is to provide the legal community with a concise description of recently decided cyberlaw-related cases, and where possible, to point to the original decisions. We urge you to forward Packets wherever you please, and to take from it any content you would like. The writers on the Packets Editorial Board are: Jenny Kim, Yuki Ide, José Mauro Decoussau Machado, Matt Kellogg, Robert Orlando Lopez, Allison Pedrazzi Helfrich, Stuart Loh and Evan Berquist. Read more about Packets Vol. 6 No. 1 Now Available

Congress Contemplates Protecting Travelers

As Jennifer Granick noted noted in April, the Ninth Circuit has held that government agents need not have reasonable suspicion in order to search laptops or other digital devices at the border. In apparent response to this practice, legislation has recently been introduced in both chambers of Congress to raise the privacy protections of travelers. The text of the Travelers' Privacy Protection Act, introduced by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and three co-sponsors in the Senate and Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) in the House, has not been released. As I read an ACLU press release, however, the bill would require a warrant before a search can be conducted of a travelers' personal electronic devices. Read more about Congress Contemplates Protecting Travelers

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