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Can You Trust Facebook Portal Devices With Your Privacy?

The social media giant’s latest bold move is to launch the Facebook Portal. These devices are designed for video chats with motion-sensitive cameras, smart displays, and Alexa built-in.

But this is the company with an extensive history of privacy scandals, including concerns about data collection and facial recognition. Can you really trust Facebook Portals with sensitive information?

What Is Facebook Portal?

The Facebook Portal lets you make video calls via Messenger or WhatsApp. Each unit has a 12MP motion-sensitive camera which follows you around the room with a 140-degree field of view. It also uses Augmented Reality (AR) to integrate animation into chats, reminiscent of Snapchat’s filters, lenses, and stickers.

Because Alexa is built-in, you can search the web (in a limited capacity), play music via Spotify, and control your smart home.

A standard Portal features a 10-inch display, though cheaper alternatives include the Mini (eight-inch display) and TV. The latter integrates with your smart television, meaning chats can be carried over to the biggest screen in your house.

It sounds like a handy device akin to other voice assistant devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home Hub


Facebook Portal vs. Google Home Hub vs. Amazon Echo Show, Compared




Facebook Portal vs. Google Home Hub vs. Amazon Echo Show, Compared

Got your eye on a smart video assistant like Facebook Portal, Google Home Hub, or Amazon Echo Show? Here’s what you need to know.
Read More

, right? So what’s the problem?

Why Should You Worry About Facebook Portal?

A camera permanently trained on your living room should immediately raise concerns. So, too, should its microphone, which some think can be used to listen in on everything you do.

After all, worries about smart devices spying on you persist. Just look at those reports of targeted advertisements apparently based on discussions had with family and friends


Cortana Is Listening Into Your Skype Conversations




Cortana Is Listening Into Your Skype Conversations

Microsoft is adding Cortana to Skype, but to make use of the intelligent assistant you’ll have to let her listen in on your conversations.
Read More

.

People are now naturally sceptical of Facebook’s intentions. Admittedly, that doesn’t stop millions from using it every day. Still, you can reduce the amount of information you put online. The main potential issue with Facebook Portal is that you don’t know what’s collected and who can access that data.

We’ll come back to that.

It’s especially concerning as Facebook isn’t known for its transparency. In July 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion for failing to tell its users about a data leak which led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, however, now admits the firm has a responsibility to look after personal information.

What Safety Features Do Facebook Portals Have?

Facebook says that the Portal was created with “privacy, safety, and security in mind”, so what exactly does that mean? How does the Facebook Portal protect your privacy?

The camera and microphone can be disabled with the touch of a button. A red light demonstrates that they’re inactive. But why should you trust that? After all, even Zuckerberg covers the camera on his laptop with tape—a smart move given how snoopers can spy on you through such devices.

With that in mind, second-generation Portals have a physical cover you can slide over the lens. This doesn’t automatically disable the microphone, however, because you may still want to use the voice interface.

You can also activate the screen lock. It’s like your smartphone: it stops others from using the device without inputting a four- to 12-digit passcode.

And as Portals piggyback off Messenger and WhatsApp, calls are encrypted. This means data sent between units (whether Portal to Portal or via another device) is scrambled in transit so is difficult, though not impossible, to intercept.

Perhaps most importantly, the Portal can’t record and save videos or broadcast using Facebook Live. Your video calls aren’t listened to or stored anywhere.

Can Facebook Portal Identify Faces?

You’ve seen facial recognition at work. Tags are suggested when you add photos of family and friends on Facebook. This uses the company’s Deep Face technology to build an artificial map of faces. Naturally, you should be wondering, does Facebook Portal use facial recognition software? Does it know who’s talking?

Fortunately not. The Portal doesn’t recognise your face. The AI is used to track motion, so the camera can pan across a room. It isn’t there for malicious intent. Nonetheless, it can lock onto faces, so the Portal automatically zooms and still keeps you in shot. It’s also used when activating AR.

This AI runs locally, meaning on your actual Portal, not on Facebook’s servers.

Does Facebook Portal’s Microphone Listen All the Time?

As previously mentioned, you can disable the microphone. You have to physically turn it back on again before it’ll listen to voice commands again. If you use the camera shutter to cover the lens, your mic stays on, so it can still react when you say “Hey Portal”.

The Portal activates when it detects you saying that phrase then waits for commands. If activated, a notification appears at the bottom of the screen.

But no system is infallible, so Facebook coyly warns about “false wakes”, i.e. when it incorrectly identifies something you say as “Hey Portal”. These misunderstandings are deleted within 90 days.

What Information Does Facebook Portal Collect?

Read that last sentence again. Because yes, Facebook nonetheless collects some information from you. This primarily relates to voice commands.

Once the unit hears “Hey Portal”, it records and transcribes what it hears. This information is then sent to Facebook’s servers, including background noises. Facebook deletes this—eventually. It can take three years.

To prevent this and “false wakes”, you need to turn your microphone off. It means it won’t respond to “Hey Portal”, however.

So does Facebook Portal store anything related to your video calls? Unsurprisingly, the answer is: yes. Though your actual video contents stay private, technical details are sent to Facebook. The company says this includes “volume level, number of bytes received, or frame resolution”.

Further data is logged on your Portal and only sent to Facebook in the form of crash reports. This can tell the social network how many people were in frame when the Portal stopped working and their distances from the microphones.

This is indicative of more information sent to Facebook. The onus is on performance, so it’ll also collate data about ambient light, system logs, and settings.

That’s what happens to your video calls. What about third-party apps? The Portal has an in-built browser and a limited app store; some apps are pre-loaded too. And yes, these open more questions about privacy. Facebook communicates with third-parties.

voice assistant promotion social network

Sometimes, this is merely about app usage: frequency, bugs, and length of time you use them. Sometimes, more information is mined. To find out more, you have to check out the independent privacy policies of each app. It takes time, but it’s worth finding out exactly what personal details you’re surrendering.

How Is Collected Information Used?

Facebook assures users that most of the data collected is for performance reasons only. Information develops the AIs, so, for instance, results to “Hey Portal” enquiries are accurate. These are reviewed by actual people, not merely a computer. These Facebook workers are monitored so they comply with privacy and security strictures.

But your voice commands can be shared with third parties. Recordings and transcripts are sent to service providers like Alexa once more to improve the service. Transcripts are shared with apps for accuracy in response to “Hey Portal” enquiries.

An added caveat is in your favor: the pitch of your voice is altered so no one can personally identify you that way.

However, further identifiers are shared, like your Portal’s name, IP address, and zip code.

How Can You Protect Your Information?

“Hey Portal” is only available in English at the time of launch, so if you select another language, voice commands are disabled. This will greatly reduce how useful your device is, though.

Fortunately, there is something you can do to protect your privacy. Thanks to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), you can access and delete your recordings—meaning Facebook won’t store any voice commands.

You can disable storage completely in your Portal Settings, so you can still use “Hey Portal” but it won’t log what you say. The downside is that it won’t be as fast or as accurate as devices which store data, although it’s doubtful you’ll even notice this lag.

System usage is still logged. The company can tell what times you use Portal and how often.

find social media logins and likes in your profile

To alter this, you’ll need to sign into Facebook, navigate to your profile, then click on Activity Log. This is a list of every time you’ve signed into Portal or Facebook, plus all your reacts and comments. You can delete accordingly. It may take some time if you’ve never looked before.

There’s nothing you can do about the company sharing device information like IP address, sadly.

Don’t forget that anyone else who uses your Portal can access your recordings. If you’re nervous about this, use a passcode.

Can You Trust Facebook Portal With Your Privacy?

This might surprise you, but… Yes. We’re very nervous about Facebook’s security scandals, but the Portal is designed with your privacy in mind. It’s not perfect, of course. You’ve should be wary of “false wakes”, where information is recorded when the unit thinks you’ve said “Hey Portal”.

Then again, that’s a concern with all voice assistants. The Facebook Portal is as safe as such devices get right now.

But of course, you should always stay vigilant about your privacy. It’s always worth reviewing the data you submit to Facebook


The Complete Facebook Privacy Guide




The Complete Facebook Privacy Guide

Privacy on Facebook is a complex beast. Many important settings are hidden out of sight. Here’s a complete look at every Facebook privacy setting you need to know about.
Read More

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What That Means for Your Privacy

We thought VPNs were secure, but with an increasing number of secure services reporting server breaches, that seems not to be the case. But how do these secure services get hacked in the first place, and how do hackers capitalize on it?

Here’s how VPNs get hacked and what it means for your privacy.

The VPN’s (Seemingly) Unbreakable Security

A diagram showing how a VPN works
Image Credit: vaeenma/DepositPhotos

If we take a brief look at how a VPN works, it looks unhackable. This is the primary draw of a VPN, as people feel they can trust the service to maintain their privacy.

For one, your computer encrypts the connection before it leaves for the internet. This encryption makes a VPN a solid layer of defense against spying, as anyone snooping on the connection can’t read what you’re sending. Hackers can use public Wi-Fi connections to steal your identity


5 Ways Hackers Can Use Public Wi-Fi to Steal Your Identity




5 Ways Hackers Can Use Public Wi-Fi to Steal Your Identity

You might love using public Wi-Fi — but so do hackers. Here are five ways cybercriminals can access your private data and steal your identity, while you’re enjoying a latte and a bagel.
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, but a VPN can protect you from all attacks bar someone looking over your shoulder.

Even your ISP can’t see the packets you send, which makes VPNs useful for hiding your traffic from a strict government.

If a hacker manages to break into a VPN’s database, they may leave empty-handed. Many top VPNs hold a “no-logging policy,” which states that they won’t save records of how you use their service. These logs are a potential goldmine for hackers, and refusing to keep them means your privacy is maintained even after a database leak.

From these points, it’s easy to assume that a VPN is “unhackable.” However, there are ways that hackers can breach a VPN.

How VPNs Are Susceptible to Hacking

A hacker’s best point of entry is near the outer reaches of the VPN network. VPN companies sometimes opt not to set up servers in all the countries they want to support. Instead, they’ll hire out data centers established within the target country.

This plan often doesn’t introduce any complications and the VPN service adopts the servers without any issues. However, there is the rare chance that there is a hidden oversight in the data center that the VPN company isn’t aware of. In one reported case, a server that NordVPN rented out had a forgotten-about remote connection tool installed.

This tool was insecure and hackers used it to break in.

From there, the hacker found some additional files. The Register reports that this includes an expired encryption key and a DNS certificate. The key didn’t allow the hacker to snoop on traffic, and if they did, NordVPN says they’d only see the same data an ISP would see.

How Hackers Can Capitalize on a VPN Attack

This flaw is the main weakness that a hacker will try to exploit. Because the VPN doesn’t store logs of connections, a hacker’s best bet is to watch the data flow in real-time and analyze the packets.

This tactic is called the “man-in-the-middle


What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack? Security Jargon Explained




What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack? Security Jargon Explained

If you’ve heard of “man-in-the-middle” attacks but aren’t quite sure what that means, this is the article for you.
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” (MITM) attack. It’s when a hacker gets their information from monitoring data as it passes through.  It’s not easy to pull off, but it’s not impossible to achieve. Should a hacker get their hands on an encryption key, they can reverse the VPN’s protection and peek at the packets as they pass through.

Of course, this doesn’t give hackers free rein over the traffic. Any data encrypted with HTTPS won’t be readable, as the hacker won’t have the key for it. Anything that’s plaintext, however, will be readable and potentially editable, which would be a severe privacy breach.

Should You Be Concerned About Your VPN Privacy?

While this does sound terrifying, don’t worry just yet. Before you panic, consider why you use or would use a VPN service. At the base level, a hacker monitoring a VPN connection would only see what an ISP would see. For some, this kind of breach doesn’t affect them at all; for others, it’s a severe breach of trust.

On one end of the spectrum, let’s assume you use a VPN so you can get around geo-blocks. You don’t boot up the VPN often, and when you do, it’s to watch shows on Netflix that aren’t available in your home country. In this case, do you mind that a hacker knows you’re watching the newest Labyrinth series?

If not, you may not want to protect yourself further—although some would argue that surrendering any part of your privacy is never right!

On the other side, VPNs are more than just a way to watch TV shows from overseas. They’re a way to browse the internet and speak freely without intervention from the government. For these people, a breach of their privacy could have severe ramifications.

If the thought of your privacy leaking in an attack is too much to bear, it’s worth taking the extra steps to protect yourself.

How to Protect Your Privacy With Additional Security

To start, it’s essential to realize that these breaches aren’t commonplace. Also, the hacker in the NordVPN case only gained access to one of the 5000+ servers. This means that the majority of the service was safe, and only a small section of users was under threat. As such, a VPN is still a useful way to protect your privacy.

However, if you’re very serious about staying anonymous, a VPN shouldn’t be your only line of defense. The attacks on VPNs have shown that they do have flaws, but that doesn’t mean that they’re entirely useless. The best way to maintain your privacy is to add another layer of privacy to what the VPN provides. That way, you’re not wholly dependent on your VPN service to protect you.

For instance, you can boot up your VPN, then use the Tor browser


Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor




Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor

Tor provides truly anonymous and untraceable browsing and messaging, as well as access to the so called “Deep Web”. Tor can’t plausibly be broken by any organization on the planet.
Read More

to browse the web. The Tor browser connects to the Tor network, which uses triple-encryption for its traffic. This encryption is applied before your computer sends it, much like a VPN.

If a hacker performs a MITM attack on your VPN connection, The Tor network’s encryption keeps your data safe. On the other hand, if your connection is compromised on the Tor network, the trail leads back to the VPN. If the VPN doesn’t store logs, the trail back to you goes dead.

As such, using two layers of security is an effective way to protect your privacy. Regardless of which side suffers a breach, the other one will pick up the slack.

How to Use a VPN Properly

VPNs can help secure your connection, but they’re not impenetrable. As we’ve seen from these incidents, hackers can infiltrate a VPN server and use keys to initiate a MITM attack. If you’re concerned about your privacy, it’s worth backing up a VPN with another layer of defense. That way, if one layer falls, the other is there to back you up.

Invulnerability behind a VPN service is one of the common VPN myths you shouldn’t believe


5 Common VPN Myths and Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them




5 Common VPN Myths and Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them

Planning to use a VPN? Not sure where to start, or confused about what they do? Let’s take a look at the top five myths about VPNs and why they’re simply not true.
Read More

, so it’s worth knowing what’s true and what’s fake.



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Duck Duck Go offers Mac users even more privacy

People are finally waking up to the importance of privacy and the risk of entities over whom we have no control hoovering up the details of our digital lives, and that’s why the latest news from Duck Duck Go is so worthwhile.

Apple’s good privacy just got better

We know Apple is working to protect privacy – its newly updated privacy website shares a huge amount of information on its efforts, while the newly-published Safari white paper confirms the browser’s privacy protections include (among other things):

  • Protection from cross-site tracking.
  • Ad measurement tools that respect user privacy.
  • Secure payments.
  • Sign-in with Apple.
  • Privacy-focused extensions.

The white paper also discusses Safari Extensions, a feature the company has developed with privacy in mind.

This is why you are told what information extensions can access when installed, and also why developers of content-blocking solutions aren’t actually able to access your browsing data. It is also why Apple continues its work to ensure AI-based decisions take place on your device, rather than in the cloud.

Duck Duck Go launches better privacy for Macs

Safari Extensions is also where Duck Duck Go comes in. The private-by-design search engine has introduced its new Privacy Essentials extension for Safari users on Catalina. You can get it on the App Store. iPad and iPhone users can use the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser for iOS.

The Safari browser extension for macOS includes a range of useful privacy protections, including third-party tracker blocking and a privacy dashboard.

This isn’t the first time Duck Duck Go has offered these tools to Safari users. But major structural changes in Safari 12 required the company to remove the software from the Safari extensions gallery.

Apple has made some changes in macOS Catalina, which means the tools can now be offered once again.

There are two main components:

Tracker blocking:

You can whitelist some sites if you wish, but once you install the Safari extensions they will automatically block hidden third-party trackers on sites you visit.

Privacy Dashboard:

This handy tool shows you how the extensions enhance each site’s privacy – including a Privacy Grade for each place you visit. 

Private search:

You can set your Mac up for private search simply by setting Duck Duck Go as your default search engine: Safari>Preferences>Search, select Duck Duck Go.

Duck Duck Go says it had to make a lot of changes in order to get its new collection of extensions compatible with Safari on a Mac. The new version identifies and blocks more trackers and provides an improved user interface.

Unfortunately, the company’s popular Smarter Encryption tool did not make the transition, though Duck Duck Go promises to restore this functionality in future.

Why these tools matter

We’ve seen plenty of incidents in recent years that prove the threat untrammelled collection of personal data poses – this information is used in ways that go far beyond more acceptable uses in advertising, marketing and click-fraud prevention. (Apple CEO Tim Cook, has described the nature of these technologies as a form of “surveillance.”)

With stakes so high, it’s important to note that tools such as these new extensions from Duck Duck Go and the many privacy protections inside Safari don’t utterly prevent data grabbing – but they do form a line of defense.

Getting around such defenses has become a business in itself.

Cross-site tracking is just one method. But some entities use a technology called “fingerprinting” to identify and track users. This kind of technology identifies information about your device (such as fonts, browsers, plug-ins) in order to track what you do with it.

What Apple is doing

Apple’s response has been to limit the data made available to such tools. Apple is also working to prevent other ways of tracking users through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and has developed its own Private Click Measurement tools to enable advertisers to accurately track their campaigns.

One additional fact that may help understand how Apple sees privacy – and why Duck Duck Go is a perfect companion to the company’s products: Whatever you read on Apple News is also private, which means no one will track and assess you for your interests or beliefs based on what you read there.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Duck Duck Go gives Mac users even more privacy

People are finally waking up to the importance of privacy and the risk of entities over whom you have no control hoovering up the details of our digital lives, and that’s why the latest news from Duck Duck Go is so worthwhile.

Apple’s good privacy just got better

We know Apple is working to protect our privacy – its newly updated privacy website shares a huge amount of information on this, while the newly-published Safari white paper confirms the browser’s privacy protections include (among other things):

  • Protection from cross-site tracking.
  • Ad measurement tools that respect user privacy.
  • Secure payments.
  • Sign-in with Apple
  • Privacy-focused extensions

The white paper also discusses Safari Extensions, a feature the company has also developed with privacy in mind.

This is why you are told what information extensions can access when installed, and also why developers of content blocking solutions aren’t actually able to access your browsing data. It is also why Apple continues its work to ensure AI-based decisions take place on your device, rather than in the cloud.

Duck Duck Go launches better privacy for Macs

Safari Extensions is also where Duck Duck Go comes in.

The private by design search engine has introduced its new Privacy Essentials extension for Safari users on Catalina. You can get it on the App Store right here. iPad and iPhone users can use the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser for iOS.

The Safari browser extension for the Mac includes a range of useful privacy protections, including third-party tracker blocking and a privacy dashboard.

This isn’t the first time Duck Duck Go has offered these tools to Safari users, but major structural changes in Safari 12 meant that it had to remove the software from the Safari extensions gallery.

Apple has made some changes in macOS Catalina which means it is now able to offer the tools once again.

There are two main components:

Tracker blocking:

You can whitelist some sites if you wish, but once you install the Safari extensions they will automatically block hidden third-party trackers on sites you visit.

Privacy Dashboard:

This handy tool shows you how the extensions enhance each site’s privacy – including a Privacy Grade for each place you visit. 

Private search:

You can set your Mac up for private search simply by setting Duck Duck Go as your default search engine: Safari>Preferences>Search, select Duck Duck Go.

Duck Duck Go says it had to make a lot of changes in order to make its new collection of extensions compatible with Safari on a Mac. The new version identifies and blocks more trackers and provides an improved user interface.

Unfortunately, the company’s popular Smarter Encryption tool was unable to make the transition, though it promises to restore this functionality in future.

Why do these tools matter?

We’ve seen plenty of incidents in recent years that prove the threat untrammelled collection of personal data poses – this information is used in ways that go far beyond more acceptable uses in advertising, marketing and click fraud prevention.

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has described the nature of these technologies as a form of “surveillance”.

With stakes so high, it’s important to note that tools such as these new extensions from Duck Duck Go and the many privacy protections inside Safari don’t utterly prevent data grabbing, but they do form a line of defence.

Getting around such defences has become a business in itself.

Cross site tracking is just one method, but some entities use a technology called ‘fingerprinting’ to identify and track users. This kind of technology identifies information about your device (such as fonts, browsers, plug-ins) in order to track what you do with it.

What Apple is doing

Apple’s response has been to limit the data made available to such tools.

Apple is also working to prevent other ways of tracking users through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and has developed its own Private Click Measurement tools to enable advertisers to accurately track their campaigns.

One additional fact that may help understand how Apple sees privacy – and why Duck Duck Go is a perfect companion to the company’s products: Whatever you read on Apple News is also private, which means no one will track and assess you for your interests or beliefs based on what you read there.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Apple updates its privacy pages, and you should take a look

Apple has updated its Privacy website and published several white papers explaining its approach to the topic and how its products protect your privacy.

Apple is offering more information than ever

The updated website delivers much more information than before with a broad overview of what the company is doing. It includes pages detailing features and controls as well as its privacy policy and transparency report. 

The site also offers a selection of approachable white papers that explain how the privacy controls in Safari, Location Services, Photos and Sign-in With Apple work. These contain a huge amount of information on Apple and its services.

Hey Siri, spell ‘debacle’

Apple likes to update users with more information concerning its ongoing attempts to protect user privacy annually, but the update is particularly significant this year following the debacle around Siri grading.

Since that story broke, Apple has taken steps to make the Siri grading process more transparent and to give users more control.

Not only can you now prevent the process completely, but you can also delete any recordings Siri’s system may have on you. The company has also taken the grading process in-house.

Apple’s decision to protect user privacy isn’t just altruistic:

It recognizes that each time you pick up a smartphone, make a call, check a message or visit anywhere the sensors inside the device can track that action.

This means your smartphones gather a huge quantity of information about you.  

Apple says it has designed its systems, so such information stays on your device and such data is not shared with the company (beyond what is required to make systems work – and even then it is encrypted).

That’s unique in the industry, as server-based smartphone platforms (you know who they are) do gather this information in order to make the OS (and their revenue models) work.

Not Apple.

Human/not human

Your iPhone does make use of this kind of information on a device level, but only in order to assess things like human/not human requests as are typical of developers and other service providers who ask for bot/not bot data.

(Apple calls this its Real User Indicator).

This kind of operation is what helps prevent large scale advertising click fraud, for example – if a device tells the service it thinks it is being run by a bot, then that click can be ignored.

Apple’s new website goes into plenty of detail concerning how you can use its platforms to protect your privacy, including a plea to the one-in-four iPhone users who have not yet done so to enable two-factor authentication.

The page also explains the many privacy improvements in iOS 13, including much tighter controls over location information.

For example, when you install a new app you now have the opportunity to share location data just once in order to try the app and make it work.

Apple’s system now provides users with highly visual reminders of what information specific apps gather about them as a way to jog us all into reviewing which apps gather what data from time-to-time.

Inside the white papers

Apple’s new white papers are relatively approachable documents for any iOS user.

They carry a wealth of detail concerning Apple’s products and its approach, including a few items I’d not been aware of before. Did you know that over a trillion photos and videos are captured every year on iPhones?.

I’ve gathered one interesting data point from each of the white papers, but please do Tweet me with any that catch your eye (as I’d urge you to read them):

Location Services White Paper:

“Apple Maps shows your current location using a blue marker. Because the precision with which your location can be determined is limited, a blue halo will appear around this marker. The size of the halo shows approximately how precisely your location can be determined: the smaller the halo, the greater the precision.”

Photos White Paper:

“In order for the Days view to highlight a user’s best shots, photos that are considered clutter are shown in the All Photos view and intelligently hidden in the Days view.

Days automatically hides:

— Screenshots

— Screen recordings

— Blurry photos

— Photos with bad framing and lighting

Photos also identifies specific objects likely considered clutter and hides them in the Days view. They include photos of:

— Whiteboards

— Receipts

— Documents

— Tickets

— Credit cards.”

Sign in with Apple white paper

“Apple has gone to great lengths to ensure the [Real User Indicator] is calculated in a privacy-preserving manner. First, on-device machine learning (ML) is employed to measure if the device the account is originating from is being used in a way that’s consistent with ordinary, everyday behavior such as moving from place to place, sending messages, receiving emails, or taking photos. This analysis yields a tamper-proof numerical score that is sent to Apple indicating a level of confidence that the device is being used by a real person. The score cannot be reverse-engineered by Apple to reveal any personal information, and none of the specific inputs to the ML models ever leaves the user’s device.”

“The device score is then combined with select information on recent account activity. The sum of this information is abstracted into the binary Real User indicator that is passed to the developer at account setup time. Developers can incorporate this information into any existing anti-fraud systems they currently use to help make determinations about how to handle a new customer.”

In other words, your device figures out if you are a real person, or not. Developers/service providers can then choose not to demand additional verification, or to do so if you might be a bot.

Safari White Paper

“Safari now includes the ability to offer Private Click Measurement, an innovative way of doing ad click measurement that prevents cross-site tracking but still enables advertisers to measure the effectiveness of web campaigns.

“It is built into the browser itself and runs on device, which means that neither advertisers, merchants, nor Apple can see what ads are clicked or which purchases are made. This solution avoids placing trust in any of the parties involved—the ad network, the merchant, or other intermediaries—so none of them are able to track users as they click on ads and make purchases in Safari…. “Apple has proposed Private Click Measurement as a new web standard to the World Wide Web Consortium.”

You can explore all Apple’s latest resources at its revamped privacy site here.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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What Is Tor and How Does Onion Routing Protect Privacy?

Every day, thousands of people turn to the Tor network to enhance their internet privacy. From paranoid web-users to people living under a dictatorship, these users utilize onion routing to keep their browsing habits a secret.

But what is “Tor,” and how does onion routing protect people from prying eyes?

What Is “Tor”?

The Tor logo

“Tor” refers to the Tor Project, a non-profit organization that receives funding from the US government. The primary focus of the Tor Project is secrecy; they promote the ability for people to browse the internet and speak out without government surveillance. The Tor Project’s most notable product is the Tor network, which maintains privacy through what’s called “onion routing.”

People interact with the Tor network via the Tor Browser. This is a modified version of Firefox which allows people to use the Tor network. You don’t need any special addons or tools in order to surf using the Tor Browser, so anyone can use it without needing to know how it all works.

How Does Onion Routing Work?

The Tor network uses onion routing to preserve its users’ privacy, but how does it work?

To better understand how onion routing works, let’s say you want to send an item to someone, but you don’t want anyone to know that it was you who sent it. You don’t even want the couriers of your item to know you sent an item to this person specifically.

Sending Items Securely Using Layers

To achieve this, you first hire three couriers—let’s call them Courier A, B, and C. You tell each one that they’ll receive a chest and a key to unlock it. When they get the chest, they must unlock it with their key and take out the item within. The item will be addressed to the courier’s destination.

Then, you take the item you want to send and address it to your recipient. You put this in a lockbox, lock it, then write Courier C’s address on it. You put this lockbox into a larger one, lock it, then write Courier B’s address on that. Finally, you put this double-lockbox into an even bigger one and lock that.

Now you have a Russian nesting doll situation with a lockbox inside a lockbox, which too is inside a lockbox. For sake of clarity, let’s call the largest box Lockbox A, the middle-sized one Lockbox B, and the smallest one Lockbox C. For the final step, you send Lockbox A’s key to Courier A, Lockbox B’s key to Courier B, and Lockbox C’s to Courier C.

Then you give Lockbox A to Courier A. Courier A unlocks it to reveal Lockbox B, which is addressed to Courier B. Courier A delivers this to Courier B. Then, Courier B unlocks Lockbox B to reveal Lockbox C, addressed to Courier C.

Courier B delivers it to Courier C. Courier C opens up Lockbox C to reveal the addressed item, which Courier C delivers.

How This Method Secures You

The best part about this method is that no courier has the complete story. One courier can’t deduce that you sent an item to your recipient.

  • Courier A knows you sent an item, but doesn’t know who the end recipient is.
  • Courier B knows a lockbox passed by but has no idea who originally sent it (you) or where it’s headed (your recipient).
  • Courier C knows what the item was, and who it was sent to, but not who sent it originally.

How This Method Defends Against Spies

After you use this method enough times, a nosey organization wants to know what’s going on. They plant some courier moles to relay back on who’s sending lockboxes and who they’re for. Unfortunately, the next time you use this lockbox method, two couriers are moles!

There’s no need to panic, however; this system is resistant against snooping couriers.

  • If Courier A and B are moles, they know you sent a delivery, but not who you’re sending to.
  • Similarly, if Courier B and C are moles, they know what the delivery is and who it’s for, but not who sent it.
  • The most dangerous combination is if A and C are moles. They know you sent a lockbox to A, who then sends it onto B. Courier C knows that they receive a lockbox from B, and they know the final recipient. However, because neither A nor C has concrete proof that the lockbox A received contained the lockbox that C handled. Only Courier B would know that information.

Of course, in a real-world scenario, the third case is easy to crack. The mole will just go for the one weirdo that keeps sending lockboxes in the mail.

But what if thousands of other people used this same method? At this point, the moles at A and C have to rely on timing. If A delivers a lockbox from you to B, and B gives a lockbox to C on the next day, then A and C will suspect they’re both on your chain. One case isn’t enough to go on, so they have to see if this pattern repeats several times before confirming it.

The Risk of Sending Sensitive Information

There is another problem with Courier C being a mole. Remember that Courier C gets to see the item you’re sending. This means you shouldn’t send any information about yourself through the lockbox system, else Courier C can piece together the details.

The best way to prevent leaking sensitive information is to not trust Courier C in the first place. However, you can also work out an encryption key with your recipient, which allows you to send encrypted messages without any spying.

How This Relates to Onion Routing

How the Tor network adds layers to a message
Image Credit: Harrison Neal/Wikimedia

This is how onion routing works. Onion routing is when a packet of data is protected with three “layers” of encryption. These layers are what give the onion routing technique its name—like the layers of an onion.

When a packet is sent through onion routing, it goes through three nodes; the Entry, Middle, and Exit node. These are the three couriers in the above example. Each node only knows how to decrypt its designated layer, which then tells them where to send the packet next.

You may imagine that Tor owns all of the nodes in their network, but it’s actually not the case! Having one company control all the nodes means it isn’t private. The company can freely monitor the packets as they travel, which gives away the entire game. As such, the Tor network is run by volunteers all around the world. These are typically privacy advocates who want to help strengthen the Tor network.

When you boot up the Tor browser, it randomly selects three of these volunteered servers to act as each node. It gives each server a key to decrypt its layer of encryption, much like the keys for the chests in the above example. Then the browser encrypts its data with three layers of protection and passes it across these nodes.

The Weaknesses of Onion Routing

There are organizations who dislike what Tor is doing. These groups often act as volunteers and put servers onto the Tor network in hopes of analyzing traffic. However, much like the above example, the Tor network can resist spies to a certain degree.

If your Entry and Exit nodes are owned by an espionage organization, they can somewhat monitor your activity. They see you sending data into the Entry node, and then some data leaves the Exit node to its destination. If the mole monitors the time it takes, they could theoretically tie the traffic to you. As such, while it’s extremely hard to monitor someone on the Tor network, it isn’t impossible.

Fortunately, for an organization to do this, they need to get lucky. At the time of writing, Tor Metric reports that there are around 5,000 relays in use. The Tor browser will randomly select three of them when you connect, which makes it hard for an organization to target you specifically.

On top of this, some users use a VPN before connecting to Tor. That way, any spies on the Tor network will trace the user back to their VPN provider. If the user is using a privacy-respecting VPN, the spies will be out of luck.

Another point the above example made is that you can’t trust the couriers with private information. This is because Courier C (the Exit node) can see what you’re sending. If they’re malicious, they can use the network as a means to harvest information. Fortunately, there are ways to stay safe from a malicious Exit node


6 Ways to Stay Safe From Compromised Tor Exit Nodes




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, such as only using HTTPS.

How to Access the Tor Network

Accessing the Tor network is easy. Visit the Tor Browser download page and install it onto your system. Then, use it as if it were your normal browser. You’ll notice that things will load a little slower. This is because your traffic will go through the three nodes; much like how sending an item via three couriers is slower than sending it directly. However, your browsing will be very secure and it’ll be hard for people to track you.

A word of warning: the Tor Browser is the same tool criminals use to access the dark web. When you use the browser, you gain the ability to access the dark web, too. If this makes you uneasy, don’t click on or visit any websites that end in “.onion,” as these are dark web pages. Fortunately, you won’t find onion websites if you’re not actively searching for them.

It’s also worth learning the best tips for using the Tor Browser


7 Tips for Using the Tor Browser Safely




7 Tips for Using the Tor Browser Safely

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, so you can get the best out of your browsing experience.

Securing Your Privacy on the internet

The Tor network is an amazing tool for anyone who wishes to hide their identity. Thanks to its onion routing technology, it’s very hard for someone to work out your browsing habits. Best of all, accessing this network is just as easy as using Firefox!

If you want to stay even safer, be sure to grab a free VPN service


8 Totally Free VPN Services to Protect Your Privacy




8 Totally Free VPN Services to Protect Your Privacy

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for further privacy.



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Firefox Privacy Protections Let You Track the Trackers

With the release of Firefox 70, Mozilla’s web browser now lets you track the trackers. Every user can view their own personalized Privacy Protections report showing them how many third-party trackers Firefox has blocked. Plus more besides.

Mozilla Launches Enhanced Tracking Protection

In June 2019, Mozilla launched a new feature


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Firefox Now Blocks Third-Party Trackers by Default

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called Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP). This blocks third-party trackers by default for all users. In a nutshell, if a tracker is on the list maintained by Disconnect, Firefox will block it by default.

Now, Mozilla is offering users more information related to these online trackers. All users can view a Privacy Protections report showing you how many trackers Firefox has stopped, as well as fingerprinters and cryptominers. And it can make for scary reading.

How to Access Your Privacy Protections Report

Mozilla details its new Privacy Protections reports in a post on The Mozilla Blog. The headline being that since July 2 Mozilla has “blocked more than 450 billion tracking requests that attempt to follow you around the web.”

While that number is impressive, it’s too large to mean anything to individual users. Which is where the Privacy Protections reports come in. These show each individual Firefox user how many times ETP has blocked an attempt to tag you with cookies.

As well as revealing the number of cross-site and social media trackers, fingerprinters, and cryptominers Firefox has blocked, you’ll also find links to Firefox Monitor (which lists data breaches) and Firefox Lockwise (which securely store your passwords).

To access your Privacy Protection report, click the shield icon in the Firefox address bar to the left of the URL you’re currently on. You’ll then see information about the site you’re on, as well as the option to “Show Report” to reveal the overall statistics.

Not All Browser Cookies Are Created Equal

We suspect most people will be shocked by the number of trackers Firefox has blocked over the last few months. However, it’s important to note that not all trackers are bad. If you’re going to see ads online, isn’t it better to see ads relevant to your interests?

With that in mind, here are the types of browser cookies you need to know about


7 Types of Browser Cookies You Need to Know About




7 Types of Browser Cookies You Need to Know About

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.



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8 Totally Free VPN Services to Protect Your Privacy

While free unlimited VPNs for Windows are scams, there are a number of limited-data free VPNs that really don’t cost anything. This article lists the best.

However, free VPNs often don’t stick around forever. Sometimes previously free offerings change to a subscription model. Some switch to a freemium mode. And some seem to actively compromise your privacy.

But are there any free VPNs that will simultaneously protect your privacy in a reliable way? Absolutely. Keep reading to find out more.

Note: Free VPNs might be OK here and there, but there is no substitute for a paid service like ExpressVPN. Sign up now and receive three months free!

Speedify is a unique service. If you live in an area with a poor internet connection, it’s definitely the VPN for you. It can combine all the incoming connections in your home (including cell and Wi-Fi signals) into a single, stable, faster, and more secure access point. This combination works well to offset some of the loss of speed that all VPN users have to endure.

The company’s Starter Plan is entirely free to use. It gives you an allowance of 5GB of data per month. All your traffic is encrypted using ChaCha or AES (depending on the device), and the company does not keep logs.

Other security features include packet loss and error correction protection, and an automatic failover.

Speedify will also never sell your data.

cyberghost blockchain

CyberGhost has been at the forefront of the VPN industry for many years. It offers various premium models, but the free ad-supported version is adequate for most casual users.

The free version is only available on Chrome and is bandwidth-restricted. It’s not as useful if you watch a lot of Netflix or you’re thinking about cutting the cord


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.

Most of its servers are in Europe, but there are plenty of US-based ones available too. Interestingly, the app runs on the Ethereum blockchain. It protects against privacy breaches, censorship, fraud, and third-party interference.

Use Firefox? Check out the best free VPNs for Firefox


The Best Free VPN for Firefox




The Best Free VPN for Firefox

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instead.

vpnbook VPN

VPNBook is entirely free, there are no bandwidth caps or service limitations, and there is no premium service.

That said, it’s not suitable for beginners. There is no installer, no software, and little guidance. You’re simply given a list of servers, and the rest is up to you.

You have a choice of PPTP VPN or OpenVPN. PPTP VPN is supported on almost all platforms, but it’s easier for governments and content providers to block. OpenVPN is more secure but requires you to download an OpenVPN client along with VPNBook’s configuration and certificate bundles.

The company has servers in the United States, UK, and mainland Europe.

Windscribe offers a Chrome browser VPN


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and a Windows desktop version.

Obviously, the main feature is the VPN network, but from a privacy standpoint, it offers some great additional tools. They include a firewall to prevent exposure of your IP address in case you lose your connection, an ad and tracker blocker, and a Secure link generator. The free package includes all of them.

The free version has a restricted download limit and only offers servers in the United States, the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The $7.50 per month pro version adds a further 40 countries.

Hide.me is a proxy service based in Malaysia and offers free servers in Canada, the Netherlands, and Singapore. The free service supports PPTP, L2TP, IPsec (IKEv1 and IKEv2), OpenVPN, SoftEther, SSTP, and SOCKS.

In mid-2015, the company made the decision not to keep any logs. From a privacy perspective, this is a massive plus point; if there are no logs, there is nothing for unscrupulous authorities to seize if they are trying to track you.

Interestingly, the company also publishes a transparency report—it lists all the authorities that have requested information from them.

Opera VPN is part of the Opera browser. It’s entirely free; there are no data limits or obtrusive ads.

It comes with three main features:

  • Hidden IP Address: The software replaces your actual IP address with a virtual IP address, making it harder for sites to track you.
  • Unblock Firewalls and Websites: If administrators have blocked certain sites or types of content in your office or school, the Opera VPN will circumnavigate the restrictions.
  • Public Wi-Fi Security: The VPN will stop sniffers on public networks from accessing your data.

To turn on the service, go to Menu > Settings > Privacy and Security > Free VPN.

Note: Since April 2018, the Opera VPN app on Android and iOS is no longer available.

hotspot-shield-features

AnchorFree’s Hotspot Shield has been around for many years. It is still one of the most popular free VPN services among users.

It’s not suitable for users who want to unlock geo-restricted content as well as improving their privacy. The free version only offers US-based servers, and access to services like Netflix


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, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer is only available to premium users.

However, from a privacy perspective, it’s great. AnchorFree advertises itself as “the world’s largest internet freedom and privacy platform”. They offer lots of privacy tools in addition to the VPN, so you know you’re in safe hands.

If you’re concerned about your data being leaked to governments and ISPs, ProtonVPN provides a solution. It takes more steps than regular VPN providers to ensure your identity is safe at all times.

For example, it has “Secure Core” architecture. It means all your (encrypted web traffic is first passed through its servers in privacy-friendly countries like Iceland and Switzerland before it heads out to the wider web. As such, even if a VPN endpoint server has been compromised, attackers will still not have access to your IP address. As you would expect, the company does not keep logs.

The company also uses “Perfect Forward Secrecy” in its encryption ciphers. It means that your traffic can never be unencrypted, even if the encryption key is somehow compromised by a hacker at a future date.

Lastly, ProtonVPN is one of the few VPN services to offer a Tor connection. You can send all your traffic through the Tor network with a single click in the ProtonVPN app.

At the time of writing, ProtonVPN has almost 500 servers in 40 countries. Supported countries include the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and India.

Which Free VPN Do You Use?

We hope these services have given you a starting point in your quest to find the perfect privacy-based free VPN provider. Remember, there are a few items you should look for while choosing a VPN provider


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.

If you’re not sure how to set up the VPN of your choice, check out this guide on setting up a VPN on Windows 10


How to Set Up a VPN in Windows 10




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.

Looking for mobile VPNs? We’ve compiled the best VPNs for Android and the best VPNs for iPhone. For your local network, it might even be easier to set up a VPN on your router.

Getting an amazing deal on a safe VPN


The Best and Cheapest VPN Deals of 2018




The Best and Cheapest VPN Deals of 2018

The top VPN services are giving our readers some great deals and price cuts. Here’s what’s available for you right now.
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is almost as good as free. We regularly update this article with exclusive deals from our top VPN choices.



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Google Announces Maps Incognito Mode and More Privacy Controls

Google security lock icon
Google

Today, Google is announcing a plethora of new privacy and security features: Incognito Mode for Google Maps, auto-deletion of your YouTube history, voice privacy controls in Google Assistant, and Password Checkup built into Google’s password manager.

First up: Google Maps is getting Incognito Mode soon. Google says it will start rolling out on Android later this month, with support for iPhone and iPad coming soon. Just like using Incognito Mode in YouTube, you can search for locations in Google Maps and view them without those locations being added to your history. They won’t be used to personalize your experience.

When this feature arrives, you’ll be able to tap your profile photo and then turn Incognito Mode on. Google didn’t say whether this feature is coming to the Google Maps website for desktop, but you can always open Google Maps in an Incognito window in Chrome for desktop.

YouTube History auto-deletion controls.
Google

YouTube is getting auto-delete, a feature that’s already available for your Google account’s location history and web & app activity. When you enable it for your YouTube History, Google can automatically delete your YouTube watch and search history every 3 months or 18 months—whichever you choose.

You’ll get some of the benefits of personalization, but YouTube won’t build up a years-long history of your interests.

Deleting what you said to Google Assistant via voice.
Google

Google Assistant is getting better voice controls. Rather than digging through Google’s app or website to delete things you’ve said to Assistant, you can now say “Hey Google, delete the last thing I said to you” or “Hey Google, delete everything I said to you last week.”

Google says this feature will arrive in English next week and for other languages next month.

Password checkup in Google's password manager.
Google

Google’s password manager is getting better, too. Password Checkup is arriving in Google’s password manager on the web. Just like similar features in password managers like LastPass and 1Password, it’ll want you about which passwords are weak, which you’ve reused across multiple websites, and which were discovered to be compromised in a data breach. You then know which passwords you should consider changing.

The password features are arriving in Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which is apparently October. A Google/Harris survey found that 66% of Americans reuse the same password for multiple sites and that only 12% of Americans use a password manager. It’s good to see Google’s password manager getting more and more capable.

Google also says the Password Checkup feature is coming to Chrome later this year. If any of your usernames or passwords has been leaked in a known data breach, Chrome will warn you and suggest you change your password. In other words, Google is building its Password Checkup extension into Chrome.





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Hacked iPhones, Instagram Privacy, Awesome Discounts for Students

Megan Ellis and Christian Cawley catch up to bring you the latest tech news that matters in the Really Useful Podcast, the tech podcast for technophobes.

This week, Megan has details about the launch of the Huawei Mate 30, an Android phone that significantly ships without Google apps. We also find out if your iPhone was hacked by a website, how you can get a free Grand Theft Auto game, and the end of MoviePass.

Plus some educational YouTube channels, Instagram privacy settings, and amazing discounts you can get with a .EDU email address.

Really Useful Podcast Season 4 Episode 4 Shownotes

What did we talk about this time?

Reckon you could help us reach more people? If you know anyone who would would benefit from some clarity about tech and how to make the most of phones, websites, and computers, share this podcast with them!

They’ll find the Really Useful Podcast on these services:

If you enjoyed this show, don’t forget to subscribe to the Really Useful Podcast today!



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