The Weekly Cypher is specially curated to keep you up-to-date on the latest in cybersecurity, biometrics, and related news and innovations. Here are a few of the headlines you might have missed this week.
A story out of Germany highlights the possible drawbacks to using voice-controlled personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa. A German user asked Amazon for all the data that the company had collected on him (GDPR allows EU residents to demand a company provide them with this information). The user received 1,700 Alexa voice recordings, which probably surprised him since he didn’t own an Alexa device. Turns out, the recordings were from a stranger and included commands to control the person’s thermostat and Spotify account.
The ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Center for Democracy & Technology, and Illinois Public Interest Research Group this week filed an amicus brief taking a stance against what appears to be an argument Facebook is advancing in court that would weaken a strong biometric data privacy law. Three Illinois plaintiffs are suing Facebook in a class-action suit, stating Facebook did not comply with an Illinois law that requires informed and written consent for the collection of biometric data — in Facebook’s case, facial recognition. A federal judge gave the case the go ahead in April.
For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews. The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.
The country on the cutting edge of facial recognition technology and the amazing ways it can be put to use is definitely China. While the Chinese government and many of the country’s current systems, large population (more than 1.3 billion citizens) and centralized identity data bases might make adopting facial recognition technology easier than in Europe or the United States, Chinese-based technology companies are also leaders in investing and building useful innovations to find new ways to profit from the use of computer vision.
The Metropolitan Police Service said the test, which will cover areas in Soho, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, is part of its ongoing trial of the technology. When people pass through the area covered by the cameras, their images are streamed directly to the police facial recognition system database. This database contains a watch list of offenders wanted by the police and courts for various offenses. The system measures the structure of each face, including distance between eyes, nose, mouth and jaw, to create facial data. When the system detects a face it then creates a digital version and searches against the watch list. If a match is made it sends an alert to an officer on the scene.