Spy Agencies Probe Apps for Personal Data propublica.org

Jeff Larson of ProPublica, in a collaboration with James Glanz and Andrew Lehren of the New York Times, and the Guardian:

President Obama announced new restrictions this month to better protect the privacy of ordinary Americans and foreigners from government surveillance, including limits on how the N.S.A. can view “metadata” of Americans’ phone calls — the routing information, time stamps and other data associated with calls. But he did not address the avalanche of information that the intelligence agencies get from leaky apps and other smartphone functions.

And while he expressed concern about advertising companies that collect information on people to send tailored ads to their mobile phones, he offered no hint that American spies routinely seize that data. Nothing in the secret reports indicates that the companies cooperate with the spy agencies to share the information; the topic is not addressed.

Yours truly, less than two months before the first Snowden documents were published (PDF link):

With this grievous and blatant flouting of their power in the market and their vast amount of user data, it is difficult to become comfortable with Google’s revised privacy policy. I posit that this amount of information in the hands of a government agency, for example, would be met with widespread disagreement, though it is seen as reasonable in the more private hands and servers of Google.

This was in reference to Google’s controversial privacy policy revisions, but feel free to replace that issue with whatever company you can think of: Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, Apple, or whatever. If you would feel uncomfortable with providing a piece of information to a government agency, maybe you should reconsider whether it’s wise to provide that information to a private company.

Over the weekend, Alexis Madrigal tweeted:

The key to understanding Snapchat’s appeal is seeing how radical and new the Friendster/Facebook/G+ version of identity is.

It got slipped into our lives as something normal and natural. But it is not.

This concept of privacy is a relatively recent construct, but is it wise to throw it away? Would we be happier, better, or more productive if we sacrificed much of our ability to dictate what information we release more-or-less publicly?