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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

GOOGLE EAVESDROPPING TOOL INSTALLED ON COMPUTERS WITHOUT PERMISSION - The feature is part of Google's Chromium - SAMSUNG'S SMART TV can also eavesdrop on your conversations - See list of devices that may be spying on you IN YOUR OWN HOME

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  • Google secret software can listen in to your conversations.
  • The feature is installed by default as part of Google’s Chrome browser.
  • googleIt also being installed with the open source variant Chromium, because the listening code is considered to be “black box”, not part of the open source audit process.
  • The default install will wiretap your room without your consent, unless you opt out, says expert.
  • Samsung Smart TV can also listen to your conversations.
Privacy advocates claim always-listening component was involuntarily activated within Chromium, potentially exposing private conversations

The Guardian - Privacy campaigners and open source developers are up in arms over the secret installing of Google software which is capable of listening in on conversations held in front of a computer.
First spotted by open source developers, the Chromium browser – the open source basis for Google’s Chrome – began remotely installing audio-snooping code that was capable of listening to users.
Continue reading about this, about Samsung's Smart TV snooping capabilities, and see article listing the many household devices that may be spying on you, and how they do it.

It was designed to support Chrome’s new “OK, Google” hotword detection – which makes the computer respond when you talk to it – but was installed, and, some users have claimed, it is activated on computers without their permission.
“Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room,” said Rick Falkvinge, the Pirate party founder, in a blog post.
“Which means that your computer had been stealth configured to send what was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your consent or knowledge, an audio transmission triggered by … an unknown and unverifiable set of conditions.”
The feature is installed by default as part of Google’s Chrome browser. But open source advocates are up in arms about it also being installed with the open source variant Chromium, because the listening code is considered to be “black box”, not part of the open source audit process.
“We don’t know and can’t know what this black box does,” said Falkvinge.
Google responded to complaints via its developer boards. It said: “While we do download the hotword module on startup, we do not activate it unless you opt in to hotwording.”
However, reports from developers indicate otherwise.
After having identified Chromium as the culprit, developer Ofer Zelig said in a blog post: “While I was working I thought ‘I’m noticing that an LED goes on and off, on the corner of my eyesight [webcam]’. And after a few times when it just seemed weird, I sat to watch for it and saw it happening. Every few seconds or so.”
Google also blamed the Linux distribution Debian for downloading the non-open source component with Chromium automatically, rather than Google Chrome.
“The key here is that Chromium is not a Google product. We do not directly distribute it, or make any guarantees with respect to compliance with various open source policies,” Google developer mgiuca said.
Falkvinge countered Google’s explanations saying:
“The default install will still wiretap your room without your consent, unless you opt out, and more importantly, know that you need to opt out, which is nowhere a reasonable requirement.”
He says a hardware switch to disable the microphone and camera built into most computers is needed.
Voice search functions have become an accepted feature of modern smartphones, but their movement into the home through the smart TV, and now browser, have caused concerns over the possibility of being listened to within the home.
While most services require a user to opt in, privacy advocates have questioned whether their use, which requires sending voice recordings over the internet to company servers for processing, risks unintentionally exposing private conversations held within the home.
A Google spokeswoman said on Wednesday: “We’re sure you’ll be relieved to learn we’re not listening to your conversations – nor do we want to. We’re simply giving Chrome users the ability to search hands free at their computers by saying “OK Google” while on the Google homepage – and only if they choose to opt in to the feature.”



Samsung's voice-recording smart TVs breach privacy law, campaigners claim

February 2015 - The Guardian - Samsung could be investigated by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US following a complaint which claims its smart TVs record private conversations without informing users.
samsung smart tv
US consumer rights organisation the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) accuses Samsung of breaking federal privacy laws including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which both concern the collection and disclosure of electronic communications.
“Samsung routinely intercepts and records the private communications of consumers in their homes. Consumers who have learned of this practice have described it is as both “unfair” and “deceptive”,” said Epic in the complain.
“Samsung’s attempts to disclaim its intrusive surveillance activities by means of a “privacy notice” do not diminish the harm to American consumers. It is incumbent upon the Federal Trade Commission to take action in this matter, and to enjoin Samsung and other companies that engage in similar practices, from such unlawful activities.”
A Samsung spokesperson denied Epic’s claims: “The claims made by Epic are not correct and do not reflect the actual features of our Smart TV. Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously and our products are designed with privacy in mind.”
The debate rages around the collection of personal data including speech by voice recognition systems and how they operate. It was instigated by an “Orwellian” change to Samsung’s privacy policy regarding its smart TVs and where the data recorded by them is sent, in this case to a third-party.
Samsung uses voice recognition specialist Nuance Communications to process speech and return text results.
“When the voice recognition feature is enabled, everything a user says in front of the Samsung SmartTV is recorded and transmitted over the internet to a third party, regardless of whether it is related to the provision of the service,” Epic states in its complaint.
US consumer rights group Epic claims Samsung has breached the privacy of its users, and is demanding an FCC investigation
Samsung clarified its privacy policy, but some of its smart TVs were found to transmit both voice data and the recognised text unencrypted across the internet, despite the company stating that all private data is encrypted when passed between the TV to the voice recognition servers.
Epic is hoping that the FTC investigates not only Samsung’s practices, but those using similar systems to ensure that they comply with privacy laws. But the case demonstrates the complexity of the technology entering the home and the lack of consumer understanding of what it is doing and how it works.
The FTC has not confirmed whether or not it will conduct an investigation. But it highlights issues around privacy which are likely to become more common in the near future.
The internet of things promises to become a reality in the next five years, making everything that was once “dumb” and unconnected to the internet intelligent and able to collect and use private data.



 These Devices May Be Spying On You
(Even In Your Own Home)

By Joseph Steinberg

Image result for pictures technology spying on you
January 2014 - Forbes Magazine - Think you are safe in your own home? These innocent-looking devices may be spying on you, or performing other nefarious actions:
Your television
Televisions may track what you watch. Some LG televisions were found to spy on not only what channels were being watched, but even transmitted back to LG the names of files on USB drives connected to the television.
Hackers have also demonstrated that they can hack some models of Samsung TVs and use them as vehicles to capture data from networks to which they are attached, and even watch whatever the cameras built in to the televisions see.
Your kitchen appliances
Many recent-generation kitchen appliances come equipped with connectivity that allows for great convenience, but this benefit comes at a price – potential spying and security risks.
Information about when you wake up in the morning (as extrapolated from data on your Internet-connected coffee maker) and your shopping habits (as determined by information garnered from your smart fridge) can help robbers target your home.
Furthermore, potential vulnerabilities have been reported in smart kitchen devices for quite some time, and less than a month ago a smart refrigerator was found to have been used by hackers in a malicious email attack.
You read that correctly – hackers successfully used a refrigerator to send out malicious emails.
Your DVR/Cable-Box/Satellite-TV Receiver
 Providers of television programming can easily track what you are watching or recording, and can leverage that information to target advertisements more efficiently.
Depending on service agreements, providers could potentially even sell this type of information to others, and, of course, they are likely to furnish this information to the government if so instructed.
Your Modem (and Internet Service Provider)
If it wanted to, or was asked by the government to do so, your ISP could easily compile a list of Internet sites with which you have communicated. Even if the providers themselves declined to spy as such, it may be possible for some of their technical employees to do so.
Worse yet, since people often subscribe to Internet service from the same providers as they do television service, a single party may know a lot more about you then you might think.
Your Smartphone
Not only may your cellular provider be tracking information about you – such as with whom you communicate and your location – but it, as well as Google GOOG -0.42% (in the case of Android), Apple AAPL +1.07% (in the case of iPhones), or other providers of software on the device, may be aware of far more detailed actions such as what apps you install and run, when you run them, etc.
Some apps sync your contacts list to the providers’ servers by default, and others have been found to ignore privacy settings.
Your webcam or home security cameras
On that note, malware installed on your computer may take control of the machine’s webcam and record you – by taking photos or video – when you think the camera is off.
Miss Teen USA was allegedly blackmailed by a hacker who took control of her laptop’s webcam and photographed her naked when she thought the camera was not on.
Likewise, malware on computers or hackers operating on those machines could potentially intercept transmissions from security cameras attached to the same network as the devices (some cameras transmit data unencrypted), and copy such videos for their own systems. Such information is invaluable to burglars.
Your telephone
It is common knowledge that the NSA has been tracking people’s calls, and even the changes proposed by President Obama won’t truly eliminate the spying.
Of course, phone companies also track phone calls as they need call information for their billing systems. So, even if you use an old, analog phone your calls may be tracked.
If you are receiving phone service from the same provider as you get your Internet and/or television service, phone records are yet another element of information that a single party knows about you.
Your Lights, Home Entertainment System, and Home Alarm System
Various newer lighting, home entertainment, and home security systems can be controlled via Wi-Fi or even across the Internet.
Remote control is a great convenience, but it also raises questions as to whether information is reported to outside parties.
Does your alarm provider get notified every time you come and go? Is information about your choice of audio entertainment relayed to manufacturers of the equipment on which it is played or the supplier of the music?
Could hackers gather information from smart lighting, entertainment, or security devices – or the networks on which they communicate – to determine patterns of when you are home, when you are likely to have company over, and when your house is empty?
Your Thermostat (Heat and/or Air Conditioning)
Various Internet-connected thermostats are now available. They provide great convenience, but might they also be transmitting information about your preferences to others?
Google’s acquisition of Nest has raised interest in this issue – but Nest is not the only provider of such technology.
There are even products distributed by utilities that raise concerns. In my area, for example, the utility company offers a discount to people who install a thermostat that allows the utility to remotely cycle air conditioning on and off in case of excessive power demand. Might that thermostat – or future generations of it – also report information to the utility company?
Your Laundry Equipment
Like kitchen appliances, washers and dryers that connect to the Internet may report information that users may not realize is being shared, and that if intercepted, or misused, could help criminals identify when you are home and when you are not.
Your Medical Devices
It is not news that pacemakers, insulin pumps, and other medical devices can be hacked. But even normal functioning devices may spy on you.
Various pacemakers relay patient status information over the Internet – this may be valuable in some cases, but also creates risks.
Could unauthorized parties obtain information from such data in transmit? What if a criminal sent out phony “pacemaker impersonating” messages stating that a patient is in distress in order to have his physician instruct him to go to the hospital – and leave his home vulnerable?
Your iPod or Other Entertainment Devices.
Yes, there are still millions of people using specialized non-phone-equipped electronic devices, but these devices are often Wi-Fi enabled and pose similar to risks to smartphones as discussed above.
Of course if you are reading books or magazines, watching videos, or listening to audio supplied by an online provider, your choices and preferences are likely being tracked.
Coming Soon… Your Handgun
Millions of Americans keep guns in their homes, so privacy issues surrounding firearms are an issue regardless of one’s position in the perpetual American debate about gun control.
In the near future so-called “smartguns” – firearms that contain computers with various safety capabilities intended to prevent accidents and curtail unauthorized use – are expected to enter the market.
But, will the embedded computers also spy on the firearms’ owners? Do the guns contain circuitry that might allow law enforcement to track – or even to disable – the weapons?
It is hard to imagine that governments would not be interested in adding such “features” to weapons; the US government is alleged to have installed malware onto thousands of networks and placed spy chips into computers, and known to have lost track of weapons it intended to monitor.
Would the government really treat firearms as being less worthy of spied upon than telephones?
Vendors may attempt to address some of the aforementioned concerns, but many of the issues are sure to remain for quite some time. So, if you want to take advantage of the benefits of connectivity and smart devices, keep in mind the privacy risks and act accordingly.

Author:  Joseph Steinberg
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September 2014 - More than a dozen “fake cell phone towers” could be secretly hijacking Americans’ mobile devices in order to listen in on phone calls or snoop on text messages, a security-focused cell phone company claims. It is not clear who controls the devices.
Fake mobile phone towers could be spying on US citizens 
ESD America, which markets heavily-encrypted cell phones built within the body of a Samsung Galaxy S3, said it was able to locate numerous towers intercepting mobile communications – but does not know who is running them.
Speaking to Popular Science, ESD America CEO Les Goldsmith recently said that the company has used its phone – the CryptoPhone 500 – to map 17 different fake cell phone towers, dubbed “interceptors,” across the United States. Locations include New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and more.
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