Data Solutions

Website Privacy: I Like Big Data I Cannot Lie

By now, most people understand that websites collect data behind the scenes (often without notice). You may even opt to volunteer information by filling out and submitting an online form. But what rights do the website owners have to your data? Who can they share it with? What are your rights?

These are all great questions that we’ll talk about in this article.

Privacy Policy

Every website which collects data should publish a Privacy Policy. This is not only for the users’ sake but also to protect the website’s owners. This privacy policy should explain how the site owners may use and disclose your data, the types of collected data, and how a user can contact the owner if they have concerns.

Okay, so now you know where to look to find out how your data is being used and what your rights are. But what if you want to submit confidential information? If you own the website, how do you keep confidential information secure?

SSL Certificates

SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates are the modern standard in website security technology. When you visit a site that has a properly installed certificate, a secure link is established between the web server and your browser. This link ensures that the data passed between these two points remains private and confidential. When you complete a form on an SSL secured website you can be assured that your data will be protected against interception. Even if it somehow gets intercepted by an unintended 3rd party, that person would only see garbled nonsense. Modern 256-bit encryption is so secure that even if 70 billion modern processors were focused on cracking a single value, it would still take 77 septillion years to crack it (that’s 77 followed by 24 zeros)!

You can tell if a website is protected by an SSL certificate by looking at the URL of the page you’re viewing – check if it starts with https:// (the “s” stands for secure). Also check to the left of the address to make sure a green padlock appears (or its equivalent in your browser of choice).

Data Process Protection

As a user, once you verify that the site is SSL secured and has an agreeable Privacy Policy, clicking “Submit” still transfers control of your data over to the website’s owner. As an owner, it is important to regularly review internal protocols to make sure that you are living up to the published Privacy Policy. If your form has the potential to collect identifying healthcare information, this becomes a mandated legal requirement.

Online Form Sent to Email

Some online forms send data directly to the recipient’s email address. Email is still one of the least secure forms of online communication. Often an email will get copied and stored in plain text on several servers during routine transit – a footprint which doesn’t disappear for years. For this reason, you should never email confidential information unless both the sender and recipient are using end-to-end encryption.

Products like Proofpoint offer email encryption for organizations. They also have products which scan incoming and/or outgoing email to ensure that their organization is not sending or receiving sensitive data – those emails get stopped by the gatekeeper. These are great tools to minimize risk.

Online Form Sent to 3rd Party Program

There are many 3rd party products available that encrypt online form submissions and send them to a secure document server for retrieval using a private decryption key. The intended recipient may receive an email about the form but the email will not contain any actual data. You will still need to review the 3rd party product you’re subscribing to and ensure that their security procedures are adequate.

Appletree MediaWorks has experience collecting and securely storing online data and documents for our clients. We would be happy to discuss your company’s security needs.

Key points to a secure data system include:

  • SSL Certificate on the entire website (this makes Google happy too)
  • Secure Passwords and separate accounts for each user
  • Document encryption and decryption process
  • Document authentication and retrieval system
  • A Web Application Firewall
  • Storing documents outside of the live website
  • Retrieving and viewing the uploaded documents only through SSL
  • Audit report with logins, document access logs and IP addresses
  • A procedure for truly deleting information off of servers and computers (multi-pass)
  • MySQL injection prevention
  • Training staff on proper privileged document handling procedures
Improper Data Procedures

My family recently had an experience with an insurance company that collected lots of personal information on their paper application forms. They insisted on using paper applications because they were more “secure”. They cited concerns that the data might be hackable if it was online. As an IT professional, I knew it would be much easier to steal paper from a desk than it would be to hack it from a secure environment. But I trusted that this professional company had staff trained on proper document handling procedures.

The company then made a simple and foolish mistake. They scanned in our application and attached it to an email and sent it back to me with a question. We had a long discussion about the risk they just put our family in by sending this form over email. As IT professionals, we offered them other workflow options that did not involve sending secure data through insecure channels. They are now paying for identity theft services for our family because of their mishandling of our secure information. This is a good example of how improper training and knowledge of these issues can become very costly for a company – and how the right knowledge can help you hold companies accountable when and if your data is ever compromised.


Tech Gadgets

Best Tech Gadgets 2016

best tech gadgets 2016It’s September and my son has started talking about Halloween costumes and what he wants for Christmas. It’s time for us adults to start our Christmas lists too. There are a lot of new tech gadgets coming out!

For the Appleholics, this Fall is big. There’s the new iPhone 7, Mac OS “Sierra” and possibly a new Mac Book Pro announcement happening today.

Mac OS (Sierra)

The new Mac OS is rumored to have Siri as a copilot. She answers all of your questions and now even remembers the answers. There’s also a universal clipboard to use across your Apple devices, so you can do research on your Mac and access your findings on your iPad while out of the office. The new OS also has upgraded its artificial intelligence and can help you find pictures on your computer, such as asking Siri to show you the pictures of your trip to London last year.

MacBook Pro

It is rumored that Apple will be releasing a new MacBook Pro with a thinner body and touch panel with Touch ID functionality. All of the college kids with their shiny new MacBooks are sharing their disappointment that the new model was not released before school started.

iPhone 7

With Samsung gaining market share on phone sales, Apple is trying to keep their customers coming back for more. Rumored updates include device waterproofing, an upgraded camera, and camera flash LEDs with color ranges. Other rumored updates include higher storage tiers, doubling space to up to 256GB. They are also adding more RAM and upgrading the processing speeds. The biggest rumor is that the headphone jack will be removed. Instead, Lightning EarPods and a 3.5mm to Lightning headphone adapter will be included with the phone. Of course new colors are coming out in limited quantities too.

The new iPhones will still sell in the millions, but don’t expect sales records until the radically overhauled 10th anniversary iPhone comes out in 2017.

Google Tech Announcements

Not to be left out, after three years of new technology Google is expected to hold an event on October 4. At this event, Google is expected to announce the two Pixel phones, a Daydream VR headset and maybe the new Google tablet, which will surely come with more powerful specs compared to its predecessor.

LG’s New Android 7.0 Phone

The LG V20 keeps the good stuff and improves the rest. The Android 7.0 phone offers features being dropped by others, like an SD-card slot, removable battery, and headphone jack.  I like the sound of the phone’s new Steady Record 2.0 technology. It uses electronic image stabilization, together with digital image stabilization, to keep video recordings steady. The phone also offers the ability to manually control audio settings for a better audio experience.

Got a phone, tablet and laptop already? How about some other tech to add to your Christmas list (and improve your life)?


I’m asking for a ThermoPeanut, this stick on device sends you temperatures where you stick it. This helps you know if you’re coming home to a warm house, if your fridge is functioning properly, or if a particular area of your home, office or even your vehicle is too warm or cold.

Dot Beacon

Beacons are popular in stores to talk with your devices. Dot is taking that a step further and offers their product to help you in your home. For example, a Dot can be placed right inside your door to recognize that you’re home. It can then turn on the hallway light for you. Or set Dot to open your daily agenda when you sit down at your desk and another that launches Netflix when you sit on the couch. When Dot launches, the company promises integration with a wide variety of smart-home platforms, including Philips Hue, Samsung’s SmartThings, plus Belkin and WeMo devices. It also integrates with Chromecast and Apple TV.

TrackR and Tile

These cool little devices are GPS tracking devices.  Tile and TrackR use Bluetooth and an app that helps set up a tracking network for your items. Start by placing the Tile on an item such as your keys. Then connect the item to the app. Next time you lose your keys, just open the app to help locate your item or play a sound. If your item is truly lost, don’t worry. If someone else near the item has the app running, your Tile will still report its location back to you. My husband has one on his keys and trust me, this is the most valuable tech item we own. Its $30 price tag is well worth it.

Email Security

Email is Not Secure

Email Is Not Secure Naturally.

Lately we’ve been hearing about email servers and scandals involved with email in the news. Some people have commented: “So what? Email is secure.” But it’s not, there are steps you must take to make your email secure! We have had clients ask us to email them passwords or other important information. We do not agree with being careless in the handling of very sensitive information. Instead, we pick up the phone and give them a call or use another method such as a trip to their office.

Email was not designed with any privacy or security in mind. Email was designed back when the internet was a much smaller place for simple messages.

How Can Email Get Intercepted?

Email must travel through several servers while making its way from sender to recipient. A message sometimes “hops” through more than a dozen servers on its journey. Each server it touches is mandated by law to store the message, sometimes for several years afterwards. Furthermore, the distance traveled between hops is often spent unencrypted.

The networks where your emails pass through are a series of routers and switches. All of these connections are owned by different people with varying security standards. It is safest to assume that anything you write in an email can be intercepted and read by anybody, as if it had been published to the front page of a newspaper.

Email servers are where your messages are physically stored before being downloaded to your email browser. Email servers are insecure by default. If a message was originally sent unencrypted across unencrypted networks, it’s going to come onto the server unencrypted.

Even after reaching its intended destination, many computers do not have a login screen or a lock screen code – same with many phones and tablets. If you leave your tablet at the local coffee shop with no lock code, for example, you’ve just compromised all of the email stored inside.

What Are My Options to Keep My Email Secure?

Encrypted Email

Use end-to-end encryption. This is a process which scrambles the message using a complex mathematical formula that can only be solved using a long public key stored on the receiving end. This can prove to be logistically daunting depending on the number of people you contact regularly. This is because all of them must have a copy of your public key set up in their email program in order to read your emails. Even with this type of encryption, email headers are still left open. You won’t be able to hide who you are sending an email to. The NSA has even touted scanning email headers for information during digital pat downs.

Mix It Up

You could send an email to a client letting them know that you’re texting them a password, for example. Then send the text with no additional references about what it’s for. Sending sensitive messages in multiple parts using different channels reduces the likelihood that a man-in-the-middle will receive enough information to do damage.

Use a Service

For sending passwords, LastPass is still one of the most secure services around. You can share passwords in LastPass with other LastPass users.

Messaging apps get mixed reviews from a security standpoint. For example, Skype used to be considered a good encrypted chat service. That is, until it was confirmed that Microsoft had built in a dangerous back door for themselves. Even if you trust Microsoft, back doors very seldom go unexploited once they’re known to exist.

File Services

Services like DropBox are also useful and fairly secure. Since Dropbox encrypts everything you upload and download over a secure HTTPS connection, your file transfer should be secure from start to finish, though mobile DropBox is not secure. You could also create and send an encrypted ZIP file.

Staying Secure

It’s important to continue downloading and applying updates for the services you use. Even if you are using a mainstream app, it could still be insecure if you haven’t updated it lately. For a long time, iMessage was thought to be secure. Then vulnerabilities were found and Apple had to release security patches to close those holes. If you’re not sure about a security patch, visit the provider’s website and check their support area for recent updates.

Clean Up Your Website

Why It’s Important to Clean Up Your Website

Dust off your mouse and grab your website administrative login, it’s time to clean up your website.

If you’re running late on your spring cleaning, it’s ok. You have a week before summer. Your website and online presence all need to be cleaned up regularly too, so why not now? There are many reasons you need to clean and update your website.

Keep Your Website Professional

Take the time to click through your website as a user. You’d be surprised how many updates you find that should be made, or realize that you have additional information available but it hasn’t been added to the website yet. If your homepage is still displaying information about a past event as “upcoming” you are wasting prime space and sending the wrong message to your visitors.

Website Load Time

Cool websites look great on a large monitor and can be programmed to be responsive to mobile screens, but there is an extra part to this: Load Time. Website speed issues will cause a visitor to leave your site before they even see what your cool website has to offer.

Some steps to take to decrease your load time:

  • Get a great website host. Page speed starts with how fast files are served by your web host. While there is no one perfect solution for hosting your site, do not mindlessly sign up for a hosting plan without researching performance and reviews.
  • Decrease the number of installed plugins. There’s a good chance your website is not using half of the plugins you have installed, and there are huge security issues if your plugins are not kept up to date.
  • Clean up outdated posts and articles on your website. Those articles can add to load time.
  • Optimize your website images. Use a photo editing program to optimize images before uploading to your website. Delete unused images from your media library.

Consumer Confidence

With fake reviews circling the internet and companies like Yelp & Amazon suing those selling or creating fake reviews, it is important to create an online experience users can trust. Start by sending review request emails to verified purchasers as a way to collect authentic content.

Don’t edit reviews, not even grammatical errors – they actually help build authenticity in the eyes of your customers.

Increase Search Engine Optimization

Keeping your website load time down is an important piece of search engine optimization. But have you given thought to what services or message your organization wants to communicate? Now is a good time to check what SEO keywords are on your website and match them to your goals. Does content match up with the assigned keywords? Do image names and alt tags coincide with your goals? Are the keywords in titles and content?

But I Hate Cleaning

Hate is a strong word. It’s more likely you just don’t have time, or it’s too overwhelming. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to bring in a professional. Give Appletree MediaWorks a call – we’ll discuss your online goals together and provide our professional services at an affordable price.

LinkedIn and QuickTime Vulnerable

Feeling vulnerable today?

You will after reading this blog post recently shared during a radio interview on The Union Edge: Labor’s Talk Radio show.

LinkedIn Breach Announced

LinkedInLinkedIn recently announced that they had been made aware of a data hack that happened back in 2012. Stolen information included email addresses, passwords, and member ID numbers. LinkedIn became aware that the stolen account information was being sold online. So LinkedIn emailed all of their members.

What does this mean to me?

Big deal, it was 2012. BUT some people use the same passwords for most of their online accounts AND never change their passwords from year to year… so if you were using the same password that you had on your LinkedIn account elsewhere then you may have more to do than just updating your LinkedIn password.

What to Do

I know keeping track of different passwords is difficult and updating it at intervals is even more work. Make your life easy and get yourself a password keeper such as LastPass or KeePass.

Better delete QuickTime!

QuickTimeThe Department of Homeland Security issued an alert after Apple announced they will no longer be providing security updates for the QuickTime video player.

“Cyber security experts at the Zero Day Initiative and Trend Micro said they had identified two vulnerabilities in QuickTime for Windows, that could allow hackers to take control of affected computers. The bugs would allow hackers to attack PCs if users visit a compromised web page or open a tainted file.” via

QuickTime for Mac OSX is still being supported and updated, so Mac users need not remove QuickTime from their computers. But Windows users should definitely remove the product from their PCs as there are no security updates to fix the current and future security vulnerabilities of the program. The only way to protect against an attack via QuickTime is to remove QuickTime completely from your PC.

How Un-Install QuickTime

You have a couple of ways to properly remove QuickTime from your PC.

Control Panel
1. Go to your computer’s control panel
2. Choose Programs and Features
3. Scroll to QuickTime, click on it once
4. Choose “Uninstall” from the toolbar and follow prompts.

Start Button
1. Click on your Windows Start Button
2. Choose All Programs
3. Locate the QuickTime folder and click on it once
4. Choose Uninstall and follow prompts.

Left out in the cold

Many applications on Windows computers and websites require Quicktime, so now what? It’s time to seek an alternative such as VLC Media Player or XBMC. Both are free alternatives, there are others out there that work too.

Bring back the warm fuzzy

So after installing a Password storage program and a new alternative to QuickTime today, go for the extra credit and run a virus and malware scan on your computer and make a backup. You’ll thank us later or maybe send us a gift card for a coffee.

Visit our blog at for more information.

china flag

Chinese Internet Censorship Holds Back Freedom

Earlier this month we celebrated the World Day Against Cyber Censorship. This is a rally for an unrestricted internet and a fight against governments deterring and censoring online free speech.Chinese Internet censorship

Amnesty International notes that China “has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world“. They remain the leading example of the problems cyber censorship creates. The government blocks many websites, searches, and software based on content alone. Now a new rule could make Chinese Internet censorship even more restrictive for its citizens.

Search Word Blocking

China blocks searches that involve a negative take on the government, sociopolitical matters, etc. You may get a “page cannot be displayed” error or a very skewed version of the results – see below for examples

Examples of search words that will give users a “page cannot be displayed”

  • StopPersecution
  • Tibetan Independence
  • Tienanmen Square
  • Democracy Movements
  • Oriental Red Space Time (code for an anti-censorship video)

Website Blocking

China blocks many sites simply because of their content. They block all social media except for Chinese based social media sites because of the difficulty they have complying with censorship rules. Although recently, Mark Zuckerberg has still been trying to get Facebook in China. Google also tried to make a censored version of its search engine for China but was repeatedly banned and eventually gave up.

Examples of sites that are currently blocked in China

  • StopGoogle (Which includes YouTube and Gmail)
  • New York Times
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Dropbox

Microsoft’s Windows 10

Microsoft recently created a version of Windows 10 to fit the strict rules of censorship in China. They partnered with a state-run technology and defense company, CETC. Microsoft is not giving very much information away about how they have changed their product to make it comply, only that it doesn’t have the same apps, services, or additional device management and security controls.

The Internet Domain Name Management Rules

made in chinaJust when you think China’s Internet censorship cannot get more strict, its government announced on March 28th that websites will be more strictly managed within China under the draft Internet Domain Name Management Rules. The new rules would make sites register domain names with local service providers and with the authorities.

It is not clear whether this is going to apply to all websites or just those that Chinese servers host. As of right now, the rule is only a draft and will be going to the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on April 25th, which will then determine if this affects websites globally or locally.

globalIf this does apply to all websites then the global Internet might die at China’s border. Many domains would not make it by the new rules and authorities would block much of the content.

chinaIf this only applies locally this would make it much more convenient for the Chinese government to censor websites.

To explain how restrictive the rule would be, Article 28 lists out what is not allowed to be in a domain name. Here are just a few of the stipulations:

  • jeopardize national security, leaking state secrets, subverting state power, undermining national unity;
  • incitement to ethnic hatred, ethnic discrimination, undermining national unity;
  • spreading obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, homicide, terror or instigate crimes;
  • insult or slander others, infringe upon the legitimate rights of others;

US Search Engine vs The ‘Great Firewall’ Search Engine

You can surf the web comparing Google in the US and the comparative Baidu in China to see the difference in censorship. The traveling pop-up Firewall Internet Cafe even sets up computers specifically so its customers can experience China’s great firewall firsthand. Different results show up depending on the topic.

Searching for “Tiananmen Square”
Photo Source

Example: Tiananmen Square
“Google pulls up the famous image of the “tank man,” among other photographs related to the June 4, 1989 massacre; Baidu, however, finds scenic snapshots of the city square. The browser also posts a line above the results that notifies users of the sensitivity of their search subject.”

How America Fights to Keep the Internet Open and Free

Net Neutrality
In America we have an open internet through Net Neutrality from the FCC. This means that we all have the right to communicate freely online, protecting our first amendment of Freedom of Speech. This also means that no internet provider can block, throttle, or discriminate against any applications or content on their networks.

Some things China has done such as blocking websites completely and filtering out results from searches, are examples of why we have Net Neutrality. This does not mean that we should take Net Neutrality for granted. In fact, it has so far withstood a barrage of attacks, specifically from Congress and cable/phone companies (Such as Comcast and Verizon).

To help Save the Internet, visit Free Press.

Proposed Acts in the US that Promote Online Censorship

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)
This act would expand US law enforcement to stop copyright infringement but many worry that this promotes censorship.

The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA, was a proposed law to give governments and copyright holders tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to the sale of infringing or counterfeit goods”.  This road leads directly to a censored Internet.

EU and US

EU-US Privacy Shield Still Not Protecting Your Privacy

EU-US Privacy Shield Still Not Protecting Your Privacy

Full text of the new draft EU-US Privacy Shield was released February 29th but has not been signed yet. They have made some changes from the previous Safe Harbor Agreement. While some are good improvements, some seem to have not changed how our data is handled at all. A conclusion on if the draft agreement will be acceptable should be made by mid-April to the end of April.

History: Safe Harbor Agreement

Before going in to the Privacy Shield here is the history of why we needed a new agreement between the European Union and United States. In an earlier blog, Safe Harbor Ruled Invalid, How it Affects You, we talked about the invalid ruling of the Safe Harbor Agreement and how it affected businesses and consumers. So here’s a little history on the old Safe Harbor Agreement:

The European Union (EU) and the United States (US) established the Safe Harbor Pact in 2000. This allowed businesses to legally funnel info across the Atlantic. Common data storage and transfers might include global commerce, sending and receiving emails, and even posting on social media. US companies can “self-certify” that they meet the stricter European privacy standards.

In early October of 2015, the European Court of Justice found the US approach to domestic surveillance and absence of legislation governing certain privacy rights was not up to European standards following a case brought by an Austrian student Max Schrems. The EU then made the Safe Harbor pact invalid. They believe the US has compromised their data and would like for some changes to happen to ensure the US is not spying on their citizens.

What’s New

data transferWhile there are some improvements to the Trans-Atlantic data transfer deal many say it does not differ much from the original Safe Harbor and does not address the “core concerns and fundamental flaws of US surveillance law and the lack of privacy protections under US law.”

Key Positive Takeaways:

[space10]Citizen and Company Complaints 

complaint formThe new agreement gives companies and citizens the chance to complain and dispute any mishandling of records and personal information. Governments must resolve such complaints within 45 days or use a free “alternative Dispute Resolution”.


An ombudsman is a public advocate representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints. An ombudsman within the US State Department will handle any allegations of privacy violations.

Key Negative Takeaways:

[space10]Collecting Data in “Bulk”

In a Press Release from February 29th the European Commission states there will be “no indiscriminate or mass surveillance by national security authorities.” But then is contradicted by this:

6 exceptions where US can collect data “in bulk”:

  1. Detecting and countering certain activities of foreign powers
  2. Counterterrorism
  3. Counter-Proliferation
  4. Cybersecurity
  5. Detecting and countering threats to US or allied armed forces
  6. Combating transnational criminal threats, including sanctions evasion
US Judicial Redress Act

court scalesIn addition to the Privacy shield, President Obama signed the U.S. Judicial Redress Act on February 24th that will “give EU citizens access to US courts to enforce privacy rights in relation to personal data transferred to the U.S. for law enforcement purposes. ” […] The Judicial Redress Act will extend the rights U.S. citizens, and residents enjoy under the 1974 Privacy Act also to EU citizens.”

At first that sounds good. After further research on the Privacy Act of 1974, many believe that the Privacy Act is “worthless”, with similar views from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF),. There are many exceptions including 32 CFR 322.7 which exempts the NSA from rules of privacy on records maintained on individuals, according to 5 U.S. Code § 552a.

“Essential Equivalence” Non-Existent

uneqal tug a warOne of the most important parts of changing this agreement was to have “essential equivalence” of European data protection in the US. Max Schrems points out that this deal falls short:

“The new deal does not even address the matter of private sector data misuse, despite the fact that there would have been much more leeway than in the government sector. There are tiny improvements, but the core rules on private data usage are miles away for EU law.”(TechCrunch)

certifiedPrivacy Shield Certified

Under the Privacy Shield a business can become ‘certified’ to establish “adequate” protections for Trans-Atlantic data transfers. While this helps to protect your business from data transfer problems, it does not protect you completely.

The new agreement allows Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) to suspend data flow regardless of a business being Privacy Shield Certified. This would mean you cannot secure continuous data flow for your company.

The Outlook

X declineThe EU-US Privacy Shield still needs to be approved by the EU’s WP29, also known as the Article 29 Working Party, and from the privacy issues others have already found in the draft it does not seem likely it will be approved.

“They tried to put 10 layers of lipstick on a pig, but I doubt the court and the DPA’s now suddenly want to cuddle with it”

-Max Schrems

NSA Surveillance and Online Privacy

Who are the NSA?

The National Security Agency (NSA) is a powerful United States intelligence organization. Basically, they are responsible for collecting, processing, and monitoring global data for intelligence purposes. The NSA has a stated role to advance national security while protecting the freedoms, civil liberties, and privacy rights guaranteed by the Constitution and federal law.

What is the issue?

Many studies, cases, and documents show that the US government is spying on American citizens using online NSA surveillance. As Americans, this invades our Freedom of Speech and our Right to Privacy. The ACLU has called this activity “unconstitutional surveillance of Americans’ communications”.

Some Examples

An internal NSA audit from 2012 revealed they committed 2,776 incidents of unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign targets in the US over a one-year period.
NSA Surveillance
On May 20, 2013, Edward Snowden released files from the NSA which described, as he put it, “systematic surveillance of innocent citizens.” Based on Snowden’s documents, the NSA has at least nine major tech companies gathering data on selected surveillance targets. This revelation caused online privacy concerns to increase dramatically in the US.

Then on Dec 24, 2014, a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the ACLU revealed NSA documents from 2001 to 2013. Overall, these documents showed that there were instances of unauthorized surveillance of US organizations, spouses or love interests, and more American citizens.

What is a Digital Pat Down?

The inner workings of an intelligence machine like the NSA can be difficult to grasp. From leaked documents so far, we can surmise that the NSA is performing secret “digital pat downs” on American citizens somewhat regularly. This happens without our knowledge or consent.

First, an NSA analyst identifies a target and submits a request to the FBI’s Data Intercept Technology Unit. Next, dedicated employees at various tech companies receive the request and gather the requisite data. This may include emails, chat logs, and videos. Once the data is compiled, it is sent back to the FBI for analysis.

The National Security Agency is also piggybacking on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using “cookies” and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance. We’ve talked in detail about mobile phone tracking tools previously.

They are also collecting location data transmitted by mobile apps. An NSA program, code-named HAPPYFOOT, helps the NSA to map Internet addresses to physical locations more precisely than is possible with traditional Internet geolocation services.

Americans' Views of NSA SurveillanceHow do Americans feel?

PEW research shows what Americans think about online privacy and the NSA.

Overall, 54% of Americans disapprove of the US Government collecting telephone and Internet data for anti-terrorism efforts.

74% said they should not give up their privacy and freedom for the sake of safety.

93% think it is important to control who can get their information.

38% think they have only some control over their own information.

Cyber Legislation

CISPA had alarmed the privacy community by giving companies the ability to share cyber security information with federal agencies, including the NSA, “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” That means CISPA’s information-sharing channel, created for responding quickly to hacks and breaches, could also provide a loophole in privacy laws that would enable warrant-less intelligence and surveillance. The information they gather, including all hacked data and any incidental information swept up in the process, would be added to a massive database. The FBI, CIA, and NSA would then be free to query this data at their leisure.

This is how CISPA would create a huge expansion of the “backdoor” search capabilities that the government uses to skirt the 4th Amendment and spy on Internet users without warrants and with virtually no oversight.

How to prevent being spied on by the NSA and other data collectors without going off the grid

It may be impossible to completely prevent the NSA from spying on you, but you can try and make it much harder.

  1. Avoid popular Online Consumer services – These include Google, Facebook, and DropBox.
  1. NSA SurveillanceEncrypt your hard drive – You may have password protection on your files but you should go a whole step further and encrypt the entire hard drive.
  1. Avoid online tracking – On you browser you can use the do-not-track setting but you can go a step farther and use a plugin to stop tracking. Some reputable plugins for this include:
  1. Encrypt your email and chat messages – Encrypt your messages before you send them. Some common email clients with encryption include:
  • Microsoft Outlook – This has encyption options if you want to use them.
  • Runbox (a Norwegian secure email client) – Claims to be unreachable by the NSA.
  • HushMail – Not as popular but is completely encypted.

If you chat on the Internet, you can encypt those messages too.NSA Surveillance

  • ChatCrypt – Encrypts the message when it sends and can only be read by the end user, also known as end-to-end encryption.

If you use common instant messaging through Google, AOL, Yahoo or Microsoft you can use a chat extension called OTR (Off the record) which enables end-to-end encryption.

  1. Use TOR for online browsingTOR stands for The Onion Router. Like an onion, it layers multiple levels of security. Basically, it bounces communication around a network of relays which makes it very difficult to track.

NSA SurveillanceMany browsers also have a private mode.

Online Privacy in Europe

A recent draft of the British Investigatory Powers Bill will require companies to store information for up to a year. Communications companies would hold details of which websites and apps a person uses.

NSA SurveillanceRecently, the European Union has decided to invalidate the current voluntary safe harbor because they believe the US cannot adequately protect its privacy. There have been reports that European companies are transferring data out of US territory for safe keeping.

EU-US Privacy Shield

The US Government released full text of the new European Union-US Privacy Shield on Feb 29. This is not yet law.

Citizen complaints – The new agreement gives companies and citizens the chance to complain and dispute any mishandling of records and personal information.

Targeted spying – This will now be limited to: detect and counter threats from espionage, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, threats to the armed forces, or transnational criminal threats.

The proposed framework includes the following features:

  • Companies must provide greater transparency with respect to their data collection, use, and sharing practices through more robust and detailed privacy policies
  • If a company handles human resource (employee) data, it must agree to cooperate and comply with EU Data Protection Authorities (DPAs)
  • Companies transferring personal data to third-party service providers remain fully responsible for the proper handling of personal data; must conduct appropriate due diligence concerning its service provider; and must properly monitor and re-mediate any deficiencies of its service providers relating to the handling of personal data

Our Advice

Ideally, companies should give consumers control over the information they divulge. This becomes even more urgent since corporations so freely share information with government authorities. Until consumers begin reading those 30-page privacy policies rather than blindly accepting them, they will continue falling for the same traps. Generally, as consumers we must understand that the “free” services we consume are actually very expensive. It often comes at the price of our privacy. So take a long hard look at the next privacy policy you’re asked to accept. You may be better served just paying cash instead.

Social Media Copyright Issues: Fair Use or Infringement?

Social media copyright issues have become a hot topic in recent months. Nearly everyone has shared something on social media that was copyrighted by someone else. But what is fair to use on social media and what infringes on the rights of the copyright holder?

Is it fair use or infringement?

If you do not get a license from the copyright holder then the only way to use the content is through something called “fair use”.

What is fair use?

Generally, fair use covers any copyrighted material that was shared with a “transformative” purpose. This might constitute a comment, criticism, or parody accompanying material. Such sharing can take place without permission from the copyright owner.

Categories of Fair Use

  1. Commentary and Criticism – Commenting upon or critiquing copyrighted material. Examples include online reviews, news reports, education courses, or court case.
  2. Parody – A parody takes copyrighted material and ridicules it in a comedic way.


Fair Use Checklist

Not sure if you’re allowed to share something under “fair use”? Run it through this checklist to be sure before you post.

☐ Purpose and Nature of Use

The use of copyrighted material must be “transformative”. This means you took the time to add new meaning or value to the copyrighted material with new information, aesthetics, insights, or understandings.

Example of Fair Use: Google images – All Google images are copyrighted by the owner. Google’s use is considered “transformative” because it displays pictures in a different way, for a new purpose.
Example of Fair Use: Scary Movie Series – This movie series is a parody which borrows copyrighted material in order to ridicule it. Producers added value using new information, aesthetics, insights, and understandings.
Example of Infringement: Posting a copyrighted image on social media is for aesthetic or entertainment purposes. This is likely NOT a different use than the copyright holder intended and does not transform the work.

☐ Nature of the Work

Using copyrighted information has more leeway in fair use than copyrighted creative works. Also, there is more leeway in using published work rather than unpublished work.

☐ Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used

Less is more. Meaning the less you use of the copyrighted material the more likely it will be considered fair use.

Exception: Using the most memorable (although small) part of a copyrighted work, such as the opening riff of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses.
Exception: Parodies – Quite a bit of a copyrighted material, even the heart of the material, can be used for parody. The Supreme Court acknowledges that “the heart is also what most readily conjures up the [original] for parody, and it is the heart at which parody takes aim,” as decided in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music,510 U.S. 569 (1994)

☐ Effect of Use Upon Market or Value

If you deprive the copyright holder income or undermine copyrighted work that could have potential market it is not fair use and you are most likely looking at a lawsuit. This holds true even if you are not using the copyrighted work directly.

Example of Infringement: An artist used a copyrighted photo to produce wood sculptures and earned a lot of money selling them. Even though the photographer did not plan on make sculptures it was considered a potential market and the court ruled in favor of the photographer.

[alertbox color=”blue”]MYTH
If you list a source, using copyrighted material is permissible.[/alertbox]

This is probably the most popular myth about copyrighted material. Even if you list your source, using copyrighted work without permission is still an infringement, especially if you are making income from it.

☐ Check Original Source

Sometimes the original source will have copyright notices. If you are unsure, be safe and obtain a license from the copyright holder.

terms and conditions☐ Check Social Media Terms and Conditions

When someone posts original work on social media, you should check the authorization to re-post, re-tweet, or re-pin that content. Read our blog article Social Media Content Rights for more detail.

Example: Pinterest’s term of service states that if a user posts content on Pinterest they are providing a license to all other users to use that content on Pinterest.

☐ Post a link instead of content

On social media, post a link to the original source of the material instead of the material itself. While this is still infringement, the chances of a complaint are much lower (especially since everyone does it). This does support a fair use defense.

☐ Keep Sharing Within Network

When you find content on social media you want to share, keep it within that network. Always read the terms and services before sharing.
[alertbox color=”blue”]

Content posted on social media is fair game.


Some may think that if the content is on social media then it is fair game to use. This is not the case – the copyright still belongs to the copyright holder.

stolen copyrightYou can be held at fault for posting copyrighted material or even sharing something someone else posted that was copyrighted. This seems to happen so frequently on social media that the chances of litigation are low, but it’s still a risk.

U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use contains comprehensive information if you’d like additional information.


Is Your Smart Phone Spying on You?

Is your smart phone spying on you? In short, yes. Follow the simple guide below to find out how to protect yourself.


smart phone spyingFrequent Locations

iPhones track your location data down to the minute.

Who uses this information:

  • Third party advertisement: If you visit a shoe store, you might receive shoe advertisements.
  • Apps: Apps may request permission to access your frequent locations. This may be useful for some things such as viewing local weather or calculating ETAs from your location.

smart phone spyingHow to stop it:

  • Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Frequent Locations
  • There is a toggle for turning on and off frequent Locations and Improve Maps
smart phone spyingIdentifier for Advertising (IDFA)

This allows developers and marketers to track your activity. They use this data for targeted advertising on apps and web pages.

smart phone spyingHow to stop it:

  • General > About > Advertising
  • There is a toggle to turn on Limit Ad Tracking


smart phone spyingWindows 10

The new updated Windows 10 tracks just about everything you do.

Here is a section of the Windows 10 terms:

Finally, we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to: 1.comply with applicable law or respond to valid legal process, including from law enforcement or other government agencies; 2.protect our customers, for example to prevent spam or attempts to defraud users of the services, or to help prevent the loss of life or serious injury of anyone; 3.operate and maintain the security of our services, including to prevent or stop an attack on our computer systems or networks; or 4.protect the rights or property of Microsoft, including enforcing the terms governing the use of the services – however, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property of Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer’s private content ourselves, but we may refer the matter to law enforcement.

smart phone spyingHow to stop it:

Many methods are available, with varying effectiveness:

  • InPrivate Mode – Setting you browser to InPrivate mode does not completely cover your tracks
  • Unchecking all tracking pages upon opening – This has been tested (even with a DisableWinTracking tool) and found it still tracked some information.


smart phone spyingVoice Commands

Every voice command you make on your android phone is logged.  These recordings should only be available to you but the idea of possibly having any personal information stored may be unnerving to some. Every Google device records and stores voice commands.

smart phone spyingHow to stop it:

  • Settings > Account > Google > Sign In > Personal Info & privacy > Activity Controls > Voice & Audio Activity
  • There is a toggle to turn this off. You can also delete all saved recordings.

smart phone spyingLocation Tracking

Just Like Apple, Android tracks your location. Google doesn’t limit their tracking to cell phones. They continue tracking you from your desktop computer, if you leave your Google account logged in.

Who uses this information:

  • Third party advertisement: If you visit a shoe store, you might receive shoe advertisements.
  • Apps: Apps may request permission to access your frequent locations. This may be useful for some things such as viewing local weather or calculating ETAs from your location.

smart phone spyingHow to stop it:

  • Settings > Account > Google > Sign In > Personal Info & privacy >Google Location History
  • The you can toggle this off and you can delete location history
smart phone spyingAndroid Advertising ID

Similar to Apple’s Identifier for Advertising, Google takes information from your search activity to use for targeted advertising. You see these within apps downloaded from Google Play.

smart phone spyingHow to stop it:

  • Settings > Account > Google > Sign In > Personal Info & privacy > Ads Services
  • This will take you to a web page to manage the ad settings. Then you can toggle it off.
  • You can also reset the ID which clears past data. This can be helpful if you still want to see ads tailored to you but not about something you recently searched about. You can even delete and add interests to better tailor the ads.

This will not stop the ads but will stop the targeted ads based on your search history.