Data Privacy Digest: January 30, 2019

January 30, 2019

Californians for Consumer Privacy is launching a weekly round-up of relevant consumer data privacy news. You may subscribe here.


This week, we're checking in on the state of surveillance capitalism. The bad news: Facebook's overreach in the data collection of minors got the boot from Apple's App Store, and in true Bonnie and Clyde form, Google once again appears to be not far behind in replicating this bad behavior. The good news: When the California Consumer Privacy Act goes into effect in 2020, consumers will finally have some recourse to hold these ne'er-do-wells accountable.

It’s time for this week’s Data Privacy Digest:

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"‘Surveillance capitalism’ has gone rogue. We must curb its excesses."
Read Shoshana Zuboff’s op-ed on the far reach of surveillance capitalism in the Washington Post:

“The reality is that we are shifting into a new surveillance-based economic order in which our private experience becomes the free raw material for markets that trade in predictions of our actions.

"Democracy has slept while surveillance capitalism has flourished. Elected officials determined to rein in the digital titans must understand that surveillance capitalism is bigger than any single company. Regulation will require a new framework that strengthens our understanding of privacy rights. We will need to interrupt and in some cases outlaw (1) the unilateral claim to private human experience as a free source of raw material and its translation into data; (2) the exclusive concentrations of knowledge illegitimately gleaned from our behavior; (3) the manufacture of computational prediction products based on the secret capture of our experience; and (4) the sale of behavioral prediction products."

[https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/opinions/surveillance-capitalism-has-gone-rogue-we-must-curb-its-excesses/2019/01/24/be463f48-1ffa-11e9-9145-3f74070bbdb9_story.html]

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Facebook was paying teens to install software that spies on them, Techcrunch reports.
Facebook has been paying people, including minors, to install "Facebook Research" VPN (virtual private network) software to allow collection of all of a user's phone and web activity. "Since 2016, Facebook has been paying users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 per month plus referral fees to sell their privacy by installing the iOS or Android “Facebook Research” app." Apple removed the app from its App Store yesterday.

It's worth noting that among the California Consumer Privacy Act's strict legal controls is an extension of protections to kids under 16 for exactly these types of harms.

[https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/29/facebook-project-atlas/]

However, "It looks like Facebook is not the only one abusing Apple’s system for distributing employee-only apps to sidestep the App Store and collect extensive data on users. Google has been running an app called Screenwise Meter, which bears a strong resemblance to the app distributed by Facebook Research that has now been barred by Apple, TechCrunch has learned."

[https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/30/googles-also-peddling-a-data-collector-through-apples-back-door/]

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Schools are tracking potential students' digital interactions, such as "when prospective students opened an email from the school, how long they spent reading it and whether they clicked through to any links.. to help determine what they call 'demonstrated interest,' or how much consideration an applicant is giving their school.”

One school, (Seton Hall University, in NJ) scores students on “about 80 variables including how long they spent on the school’s website, whether they opened emails and at what point in high school they started looking on the website (the earlier the better)”  

As with online tracking, the article states “many students have no idea they are being tracked, or to what extent.” , yet “Admissions officers say information on demonstrated interest is generally used to decide on borderline candidates."

[https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-data-colleges-collect-on-applicants-11548507602]

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Facebook knowingly duped game-playing kids and their parents out of money.
"Facebook orchestrated a multiyear effort that duped children and their parents out of money, in some cases hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and then often refused to give the money back, according to court documents unsealed tonight in response to a Reveal legal action.

"The records are part of a class-action lawsuit focused on how Facebook targeted children in an effort to expand revenue for online games, such as Angry Birds, PetVille and Ninja Saga."

[https://www.revealnews.org/article/facebook-knowingly-duped-game-playing-kids-and-their-parents-out-of-money/]

About Californians for Consumer Privacy

Californians for Consumer Privacy sponsored the California Consumer Privacy Act ballot referendum signed by 629,000 Californians to qualify for the November ballot. After the initiative qualified, the California State Legislature passed groundbreaking consumer privacy legislation in June, which was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Californians for Consumer Privacy is dedicated to protecting and expanding privacy rights for consumers.

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