Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘Privacy’

RFT Ep 235 – Pseudo-scientist Take-down Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on December 4, 2013

Download the episode here! 


Don’s Rant is about the Harper Governments silence about  how the American Home Land Security seem have complete access to Canadian private medical records. Is this a sign of weakness, incompetence, arrogance or is the Harper Government breaking the law by willingly sharing this information.


Find out more:


We discuss an exchange between Jerry Coyne and Deepak Chopra at The New Republic. Coyne does a great take-down of Pseudo-scientist paranoia, a irrelevant rebuttal by Deepak and Coynes take-down of Deepak’s rebuttal.

Find out more:



Posted in Show notes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Departing privacy

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 4, 2012

The Canada Border Services Agency is in the process of deploying new hi-rez cameras in customs-controlled areas of airports across the country.  What makes these cameras different is that they will also be equipped with a microphone so that not only will security agents be keeping a watchful eye on actions but will also be able to listen in on your conversation; that seems one intrusion too many.

Now, as a society we have given up a lot in the name of ‘security’ from terrorism. However at a some point you have to ask, what is the point of being secure in a country that has eliminated the meaning of freedom? Okay, that may be slightly overstating the situation but there is a great need for a cost benefit analysis on what we have given up for what gain in security. The money spent globally on enhanced security could have literally wiped out hunger, the climate change with enough left over to put a manned station on Mars.

We have been told by our current government that we need to cut back on luxuries like health care for refugees, the environments, and retirement because there is just not enough money to go around and yet the Harper government found enough to deploy this Orwellian security enhancement.

Now on the surface, this may not sound such a big deal. However it takes an ominous turn when you hear that the first airport to have this new invasive surveillance is Ottawa’s MacDonald Cartier Airport. If you are attempting to avert terrorist type attacks you would have chosen Vancouver or Toronto airports, the nation’s busiest. Ottawa’s is Canada’s 6th busiest…but only 6th…at least for people, for politicians it is our busiest.

We have seen that politics in this country have taken a dramatic and worrying turn since our last election. So much so that what I am about to say would have sounded like a crazy conspirator’s theory at one time but not so much now.

I don’t think I would be wrong if I said every MP at one time or another has taken a flight out of Ottawa Airport and likely more often than less. Now that government security forces have the ability to listen in on these conversations, it leaves open the possibilities at least for sensitive information being leaked to the public or perhaps to foreign nationals. And at worst, provides the overseer of the border agency, the Minister of Public Safety, with a channel to listen in on opposition MP’s conversations at the airport…perhaps to help in their election campaigns? Not that the Conservatives have ever been accused of breaking the rules to win an election.

As a skeptic, I would normally not give in to such theories and if this was an isolated event I would have dismissed it…well as a conspiracy, but this is yet another piece of data and one must go where the evidence leads them.  Now, maybe this is just an attempt to ensure Canadians remain fearful of the terrorist bogeyman…maybe it is simply graft to one of the many corporations the Conservatives “owe a favour too”…maybe it is someone in the agency who truly believes a terrorist strike is imminent…but you can no longer rule out the thought that Harper is pulling a Nixon at the airport.


Border agency to eavesdrop on travellers’ conversations

Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Radio Freethinker Episode 160 – Somebodies Watching Me Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 3, 2012

This week Internet Surveillance, anthropomorphic extinction down-under, Lucky’s neighbors Uranium gets better and Picking your skeptic battles.

Download the episode here!


Pirate Satellite!

In its never-ending quest to avoid prosecution or have disruption in its religious services (check out Kopimism and her is Canada). Pirate Bay is exploring launching its own low earth satellites.

Find out more:

Online they are always watching you

We talk about a series of stories about online surveillance and the effects technology has on our sense privacy and security. The take-way is many conspiracy “nuts” point to a series of acts/events/laws and string together some major plot; we tend to say the conspiracy is crazy while often ignoring the specific events/laws/acts, although independent, may warrant our attention for non-conspiratory reasons…such as freedom or security.

Find out more:

Anthropomorphic Extinction

We talk about how resent research reveals that it seems more likely that the arrival of humans to Australia resulted in a continental climate change that lead to a major shift in the flora on the mega-island which, with the help of human predation, lead to the extinction of the megafauna down-under.

Find out more:

Lucy’s Neighbors.

We talk about how resent research has uncovered yet more evidence the early human ancestors were varied and co-existed. New the site of the Lucy discovery, bones from another species of hominid have been uncovered that showed a more inter-terrainial lifestyle. Although able to walk-upright its feet were more adapted for grasping…likely for arboreal locomotion. 

Find out more:

Uranium just got better!

New research has help refine the ratio of U358 to U355. Why should we care? Its one of the best way we have of determine the age of REALLLLLY old things. Science making science better..

Find out more:

Picking your skeptical battles.

We begin by exposing and debunking a ‘new’ website intent of propagating the ‘illusion’ Wi-Fi is dangerous to children in schools (we can assume else were, but their rage is focused on schools).
We then explore that a large (most?) important part of skepticism is not to call these people out or to make ourselves feel superior but to focus societies attentions of ‘real’ or more pressing issues.
To exemplify this, we compare the resent row over Pink Slime and the new Harper Budget. We explore the minor health risks Pink Slime MIGHT have and how people are putting there efforts to ‘get this removed from the food chain’ while the current budget removes government regulation over ingredient labeling.  So, even if you hate Pink Slime, there will be no government agency to insure its NOT in your food…that will be your responsibility, and then you get to bring it to the attention of the corporations (who i suspect already knew but hopped you would not).
We conclude by expressing that people need to put their energies (at least the majority of their energies) into the important battles and that skepticism is another tool to help us and society pick those battles.

Learn more:

Skeptical Highlights:

Video Highlight…

Every wonder why spiders don’t get stuck on their own webs?
Well check out Science Fridays Video of the week, where all is explained. Seems to be a combination of hairy feet, oil and stepping lightly.

‘All About Vaccines’ Charity Event to Take Place in Okanagan, British Columbia

The event takes place on April 22nd, all the information you need is right here, and you should buy your tickets in advance (it’s free but the donations go to the IAVI).

Posted in Show notes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is Privacy Forfeited with Modern Technology?

Posted by Ethan Clow on May 5, 2011

With all the modern technology and innovative ways of sharing information we all try to seek out a way to balance how much information we want to share with how much privacy we want to give ourselves. But in the last few weeks a couple stories have cropped up that really make we wonder how possible it is to balance the privacy side with the option to share and utilize our huge social network.

This jumped to mind when I read about Apple Iphone’s and Ipad’s were secretly tracking personal data about their users…and for what purpose? No one knows.

Researchers Pete Warden, a writer, and Alasdair Allan, a senior research fellow in astronomy at the University of Exeter, were the ones who uncovered this issue. They were working on some location data visualization projects and during that process discovered suspicious files on their Iphones.

What’s happening is that devices running iOS 4 are gathering location and storing it in an unencrypted file. The file, named “consolidated.db,” and it contains location data about cell towers the device accessed and Wi-Fi networks that it was within range of, plus other information, like the direction a device was facing as determined by the digital compass that became standard on the iPhone 3GS.

This data allows your information to create a digital map of where you were when you used your phone or Ipad. The file includes latitude-longitude coordinates and a timestamp. However, the coordinates aren’t always correct, probably because your location is being triangulated between cell phone towers.

According to Allan and Warden, the tracking didn’t begin until iOS 4, which was released in late June 2010. The previous version of iOS did in fact track a similar set of information, including cell towers and GPS information, but the data was not stored in a simple directory format.

The database of location information is stored primarily on your phone, though due to the iOS device backup system in iTunes, these files can also end up on your computer. When iTunes saves these backups, which are set by default to be stored every time you sync an iOS device, the data file goes along with it.

The concern as the researchers point out, is that this information is unencrypted. To quote the researchers: “By passively logging your location without your permission, Apple [has] made it possible for anyone from a jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements,”

This news has caused quite an uproar. Senator Al Franken, who is the chair of a new privacy panel for the US Government, sent a letter to Steve Jobs requesting an explanation. In addition the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is also reportedly looking into the matter, while a Congressman from Washington State has followed Franken’s lead, promising to ask questions of his own.

But should we be getting so worked up over this? Why exactly is Apple doing this? We have a couple theories so far.

It turns out this isn’t new information. Location tracking was discussed last year by Digital forensic specialists and Apple did respond in a 2010 letter that its location tracking was purely to improve its services.

In addition, this isn’t breaking any rules. Apple clearly spells out in its Terms of Use that it has the right to “collect, use, and share” location data any time it pleases. Apple isn’t the only company to do this either. Some phones running Google’s Android OS also store location information

It’s also worth noting that there is no evidence that this data is being sent to Apple, the researchers also admitted that there is also “no immediate harm that would seem to come from the availability of this data.”

In terms of privacy, cell phone companies have always had this data and normally it would take a court order to retrieve this kind of data by law enforcement, which occasionally happens.

Apple has stated that they collect the data anonymously in a form that does not personally identify someone and its used by Apple and their partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services.

It’s also worth noting that an Iphone’s position isn’t being continuously tracked. It tends to only get information related to when a location-related feature or app is used.

So why is the file unencrypted? Based on what I read, it probably has something to do with how Iphone collects location of available wi-fi networks. Apple’s iOS devices have three ways to determine your location: They can collect GPS data (provided the device supports GPS and can get a signal from enough GPS satellites), utilize cell tower triangulation (provided we’re talking about an original Iphone or a 3G Ipad and a cell connection can be established), or refer to a database of known Wi-Fi networks.

A few years ago, Apple began building its own list of database of Wi-Fi networks and their locations. As they build their global database of Wi-Fi networks and locations, collecting data from iOS devices worldwide is an ideal way to maintain and update that database. (And Apple’s not alone in doing that)

Another possibility is that third party apps are “sandboxed” from IOS to protect privacy. Therefore it’s conceivable that some location data had to be unencrypted for these apps to use.

But why does an iPhone or 3G Ipad store months and months of data? The consensus view — it’s probably a bug. Simply for performance and space reasons, it would make sense that a location cache be cleaned out periodically — just as any cache file on any desktop or mobile platform should be cleaned out. The fact that data isn’t being culled from the file means it likely got overlooked among other iOS engineering issues over the past year or two. The bug theory seems to have more credence after Apple announced  a fix to help the problem. The update will limit the amount of data kept in the location file, will prevent iTunes from backing up the file to users’ computers and will delete all information in the file when users turn off location services.

In many ways I think the Iphone controversy is a bit overblown. But privacy fears were not allayed when another major company faced a similar situation. Sony, the company behind the Playstation 3 was hacked.

Sony's new slogan?

Over the past few weeks gamers were mystified when Sony’s online gaming network crashed. However that confusion soon turned to outrage when Sony later admitted the network was hacked and its users personal information was stolen.

Sony stated that hackers stole information including the names, address (city, state, zip), country, email address, birthdates, PlayStation Network password and login, and handle/PSN online ID. They also said it’s also possible that profile data, including purchase history and billing address (city, state, zip), and PlayStation Network password security answers may have been obtained.

Worse, it’s also possible that credit card information was stolen as well.

This is a good time to mention to any of our listeners who used Sony’s Playstation network to consider cancelling your credit cards and change all your passwords.

Sony is in hot water for this. Not only for the breach of security but also delaying informing its customers for over a week.

Already, the UK Information Commission is looking into the issue. In addition, Sony received a letter from the US Congress, the letter, which was written by the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, asks a number of security and privacy related questions that Sony has never disclosed to the public. They included when the intrusion occurred, if Sony knew who was responsible for the attack and when the company notified law enforcement. The letter also asked Sony to explain what it knew about the type of data that was stolen by the hackers and if it included any credit card information

A class action law suit was filed against Sony by the Rothken law firm in a California district court as well.

According to security researchers, hackers have been observed on underground forums selling credit card information stolen from Sony. Kevin Stevens, senior threat researcher at the security firm Trend Micro, said he had seen talk of the database on several hacker forums, including indications that the Sony hackers were hoping to sell the credit card list for upwards of $100,000. Mr. Stevens said one forum member told him the hackers had even offered to sell the data back to Sony but did not receive a response from the company.

Sony is now claiming they were the victim of a  “of a very carefully planned, very professional, highly sophisticated criminal cyber-attack designed to steal personal and credit card information for illegal purposes,” – source BBC

Yes, Sony is claiming they were hacked by the group Anonymous, although they aren’t sure if the data theft was part of the hacking attack.

Either way it leaves us with some disturbing questions. To what extent can we expect our privacy to be maintained while engaging in the online social networking technologies we enjoy? Apple may have spooked a few people with its Iphone tracking but Sony clearly dropped the ball on their security that has resulted in credit card information falling into the wrong hands. Are they on the hook for this loss of data? Do corporations in general have a responsibility to protect private information or is it buyer beware?

As technologies advances, and as hackers learn and adapt new ways of breaking past security, what role does the consumer take in this odd dance? Will security standards eventually have to be dropped in order for folks to use such new technologies as Ipads and smart phones? If so, where does that put privacy rights? I clearly don’t have an answer to that question. But I do think it’s worth asking.

Posted in Blogs, Ethan's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »