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First POST: Creeping

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, November 20 2014


  • In the wake of BuzzFeed's report on Uber executive Emil Michael's threat to journalists, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has written a tough letter to Travis Kalanick, the company's CEO. Franken notes that Uber's privacy policies "do not in any clear way match or support" what the company has been saying in the wake of Michael's reported statements. He asked Kalanick to address several key questions, including how he explained Michael's failure to heed Uber's privacy policies, why customers aren't told about "internal reasons" for sharing their information with third-parties, why they aren't asked to affirmatively consent or opt out of such information sharing, whether customers are notified if their data is inappropriately access, and whether any disciplinary actions have ever been taken for violating the company's privacy policies.

  • Privacy advocates in Washington, DC, are equally concerned about Uber, reports Tony Romm for Politico. “You do have a sense that some line was crossed this week,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told him. “It’s about what they know about the customer, what they intend to know about the customer, and how they intend to use that information — and the picture that emerges is incredibly creepy.”

  • In Time magazine, tech entrepreneur Nilofer Merchant says "Uber counts on your desire for convenience to subsidize its untouchable 'bro' culture" and calls on users to take a stand against tech's "sexist culture" by deleting their Uber accounts.

  • Media guy Michael Wolff, who invited BuzzFeed's Ben Smith to the Uber dinner that started this whole story, writes in USA Today, that he had "understood" that the dinner, "like other such media meet-and-greets…was off the record" and intimates, darkly, that since some of BuzzFeed's investors are also backers of Lyft, Uber's arch-rival, "little in this world is what it seems." He notes that among the other invitees were some people not mentioned in Smith's story, including Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman and New Republic owner Chris Hughes.

  • On Twitter, the responses to the Uber scandal have been equally revealing. Uber investor and actor Ashton Kutcher said, "What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist?" (sic)

  • Digby zings the idea that a journalist invited to such a dinner is obligated to ask if it is off the record, noting that "journalists are supposed to write about what powerful people are saying behind closed doors when they hear them saying it."

  • Meanwhile, back on the government side of our national insecurity state, the ACLU has filed a FOIA request for details on the newly revealed airborne cell phone snooping program run by the US Marshals Service.

  • The NSA's dragnet collection of Americans' phone records could continue past the Patriot Act's expiration next June, if the Obama Administration adopts a tortured interpretation of one clause in the law that allows current investigations to be continued past that end-date, reports Charlie Savage for the New York Times.

  • In 2009, some top NSA executives tried to get the agency to curtail its bulk collection of Americans' phone records, reports AP's Ken Dilanian, but after studying their proposals for changes, the Obama Justice Department decided not to ask Congress to address the matter, because few lawmakers even knew about the program.

  • This is cool: Amnesty International has unveiled a free tool called Detekt that will allow the public to scan their own computers and mobiles to hunt for surveillance spyware, reports Matthew Taylor for The Guardian. Amnesty is partnering with Privacy International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Digitale Gesellschaft of Germany. We love it when NGOs use tech to help people actually solve a problem directly.

  • Momentum is building in support of the bipartisan FOIA Improvement Act, which has already passed the House.

  • Brigade has announced its first group of partner organizations: rainforest Action Network, Americans for Tax Reform, the Drug Policy Alliance, Represent.Us, Generation Opportunity, Forecast the Facts, FreedomWorks and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. As Patrick Hoge of the San Francisco Business Times notes, Brigade sugar daddy Sean Parker "has yet to define exactly what his civic engagement startup…will do."

  • In an accompanying blog post, Brigade explains that it selected these groups carefully, and that they:

    "will run creative, engaging campaigns on Brigade that foster deep, lasting relationships with our future users. In turn, we hope to learn from our partners’ expertise, gather feedback and create the best possible product to empower individuals to take an active role in their democracy when we launch next year….Their prominence, diversity of subject matter expertise and broad reach will help us form a nonpartisan network where people can express themselves, learn about friends, and find common ground with others who share their views and beliefs."

    Can partisan participants be convinced to embrace a "nonpartisan" network? We shall see.

  • After years of partnership with Google that put tens of millions in its coffers (until Chrome came along), Mozilla is switching allegiances, entering a five-year partnership with Yahoo.

  • Telecom expert Susan Crawford explains why she is so enthusiastic about the promise of New York City's just-announced LinkNYC program to transform 10,000 pay phones into high-speed WiFi hotspots.

  • Republican consultant Todd Ziegler of Brick Factory offers his bipartisan list of the five best campaign websites of 2014.