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Research Ethics and the Blackberry Project

Forbes privacy columnist Kashmir Hill recently published a profile of University of Texas-Dallas developmental psychology professor Marion Underwood’s large-scale research project titled “The Blackberry Project.”

The Blackberry Project is an ongoing longitudinal study examining teen behavior and sociability, which first recruited its subjects in 2003. Then, in 2009, the subjects (now entering 8th grade) were provided with BlackBerry devices with unlimited text and data plans paid for by the investigators. The devices were configured so that the content of all text messages, e-mail messages, and instant messages was saved to a secure server to be mined by the researchers — over 500,000 messages a month are being archived.

While the Blackberry Project appears to have been managed properly through the IRB rules and regulations, it highlights emerging ethical concerns with projects of this nature, including issues of consent, undue influence, and privacy & anonymity.

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Facebook Places Privacy Falls Short, Part 2: Opting-Out

A few days ago I blogged about how I was able to check my wife into a local liquor store using Facebook Places without her permission, despite Facebook’s insistence that “No one can be checked in to a location without their explicit permission”. This check-in has remained visible in my news feed, and depending on my privacy settings, may be viewable by any logged in Facebook user. Presumably there also is a database at Facebook that contains a record of my checking-in my wife into this location. Again, all without my wife’s explicit consent to participating in this new “feature”. Now, four days later, my wife had a chance to react to the notification she received from Facebook regarding my tagging her, and I thought I’d share a few more reactions to her attempt to opt-out of Places altogether.

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Facebook Places Privacy Falls Short: Non-Authorized Check-Ins by Friends are Visible

Facebook has finally launched its location-based service: Places. Places allows Facebook users to “check in” wherever they are using a mobile device, and let’s their friends know where they are at the moment.

Facebook has tried to do a better job addressing privacy with Places compared to previous launches of new “features”. Particularly, Facebook brags that “no location information is associated with a person unless he or she explicitly chooses to become part of location sharing. No one can be checked in to a location without their explicit permission.”

But as I’ve played around with the service, I’ve uncovered a problem with Facebook’s assertion that “no one can be checked in to a location without their explicit permission.”

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Google Adds Location History to Latitude: Feature Request, or Strategic Rollout?

When Google launched Google Latitude 9 months ago, they took steps to ensure users’ locational privacy was protected. Among the most important privacy-protecting features was the fact that Google didn’t keep a log of user locations on its servers; only the most recent locational ping was stored. Not even law enforcement could gain access to […]

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New Attention to Locational Privacy Threats

Recently, the EFF released a report named “On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever“, introducing some of the basic threats to locational privacy: Over the next decade, systems which create and store digital records of people’s movements through public space will be woven inextricably into the fabric of everyday life. We are […]

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Quick links: Cellphone privacy

A couple of stories popped up on my radar this morning related to cellphone privacy: The New York Times has a story on advertisers increasingly collecting behavioral and locational data from consumers’ cellphone activities: “Advertisers Get a Trove of Clues in Smartphones”. The Berkman Center for Internet & Society recently hosted a talk by Albert […]

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With Latitude, Google Actually Got it (Mostly) Right

This week, Google launched Google Latitude, a new Google Maps feature that lets users share location data with friends, using either a mobile phone or through an interface on iGoogle. (see how it works here) Unsurprisingly, concerns have arisen regarding the privacy implications of Latitude, and I, of course, have taken issue in the past […]

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"Is My Cellphone Spying on Me?" Eagle Eye DVD Commentary

Following up, the DVD for the hit action/thriller movie “Eagle Eye” has been released. The second disc of the 2-disc special edition includes the commentary “Is My Cellphone Spying on Me?”, featuring reflections on technology and surveillance by the actors and producers of the film, Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Clearinghouse, and myself. […]

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"Should we be scared?": Privacy & technology (WUWM "Lake Effect")

I recently taped an interview with Milwaukee’s public radio affiliate, WUWM, and it aired today. The topic was privacy and technology, focusing mostly on how to balance the speed and ubiquity of new technology, the conveniences they provide, and the strains they place on personal and informational privacy. You can listen to it here. Interestingly, […]

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Commentary for the "Eagle Eye" DVD

UW-Milwaukee has issued a nice press release regarding my contribution to the DVD bonus material for the action/thriller movie “Eagle Eye,” which features sophisticated surveillance technologies as one of its plot devices. The closing paragraph pretty much sums up where we are on the project: At this point, with “Eagle Eye” flying high at the […]

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