- - Monday, March 21, 2016


With the Apple versus FBI so-called privacy fight in the news, one would think the tech industry is singularly concerned about your privacy rights. Some recent news reminded me, however, not only how blase the tech industry has been about your privacy, but that it is actively engaged in violating it.

Apple continues to fight with the FBI over its refusal to help them unlock one phone of a mass-murdering terrorist. To explain their bizarre refusal, they insist it’s because they’re sure this will only be the beginning of a wholesale assault on your personal privacy by the federal government.

So let’s take a look at this supposed privacy we have courtesy of tech companies. What we find is a whole lot of preening hypocrisy.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission sent a letter to a dozen app developers warning them about using software that can monitor a person’s television surreptitiously. They weren’t telling them not to use this spying software, they were just alerting them about what they had to disclose to any potential users.

PC World reported: “The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has sent warning letters to 12 smartphone app developers for allegedly compromising users’ privacy by packaging audio monitoring software into their products. The software… allows apps to use the smartphone’s microphone to listen to nearby television audio in an effort to deliver more targeted advertisements. … This functionality is designed to run silently in the background, even while the user is not actively using the application.

“Using this technology, SilverPush could generate a detailed log of the television content viewed while a user’s mobile phone was turned on.”

These 12 developers already have apps using the spy software in the Google Play store.

Notable about the FTC’s letter is they’re not telling the developers to not use spy software, they’re just warning them they had better disclose it in some fashion to their users. Something that can be accomplished using very small type I’m sure.

Many, many tech companies have gone on the record against the government spying on your business. The companies themselves spying on you? That must be different. Or something.

Last year, we were all supposed to be reassured about giant tech companies’ commitment to our privacy when many came out against the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA). The Business Software Alliance (BSA) and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), two leading tech industry trade associations represent Apple, Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Oracle, CloudFlare, Netflix, Dish, PayPal, eBay, Amazon, Sprint, Samsung, Symantec, TrendMicro and many other companies, and came out swinging against the legislation, The Hill reported.

“BSA made clear that it does not support CISA or either of the two information-sharing bills that passed the House of Representatives. BSA’s stated opposition is rooted in privacy concerns; the trade association noted that it “has consistently advocated for strong privacy protections in all information sharing bills currently pending before the Congress.

“CCIA explained that it could not support CISA because “CISA’s prescribed mechanism for sharing of cyber threat information does not sufficiently protect users’ privacy or appropriately limit the permissible uses of information shared with the government,” the newspaper noted.

I, too, am opposed to the federal government having warrantless, sweeping access to our data. Unless there is a specific, warrant-based reason for the access, like the San Bernardino terrorist phone.

Samsung, notable in the list of companies opposed to CISA, has had its own little problem about spying. In February 2015, just eight months before the laudable tech company condemnation of CISA, it was revealed Samsung SmartTVs spy on their owners.

CNN reported, “Since the television is always listening for your voice, Samsung has warned its SmartTV customers that every word is being captured and sent over the Internet.”

“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition,” Samsung posted in its SmartTV privacy policy.

“Samsung says it needs to send your voice commands to a third party, because that company converts your speech to text. But Samsung also collects your voice commands to perform research and determine whether it needs to make improvements to the feature,” CNN reported.

Samsung insists it’s not listening to overall conversations in your living room, but CNET is still not sure given a change in Samsung’s privacy policy:

“What remains unclear is whether the microphones can, indeed, capture background living-room conversations. The wording about ‘personal or other sensitive information’ seems to have been removed. But what does this mean? Although Samsung’s blog post insists that the software doesn’t ‘monitor’ living-room conversation, the question remains whether it does still record it, however inadvertently.”

So much for being concerned about your privacy.

Facebook has also faced accusations of invading the privacy of its users. Kim Komando at USA Today recently outlined all the ways Facebook tracks and monitors your activity online, which it then shares with third parties.

So as tech companies stand up on a mountain top, declaring their moral superiority in refusing to help unlock a terrorist’s phone for the sake of your privacy, reflect on all the ways they directly violate your privacy on a daily basis. Their collective hypocrisy is not only absurd, it’s dangerous.

Tammy Bruce is a radio talk show host and a Fox News contributor.



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