September 21, 2019

The Five Stages of Privacy Erosion

“Call it the Five Stages of Privacy Erosion.

Tech Company builds popular product.

Product is exposed in the press for doing something shady behind the scenes.

Tech Company apologizes/clarifies/signals a fix.

Brief phase of collective rejoicing and moving on.

It’s revealed (usually by the same people) that Product was never really fixed.

That’s the rough trajectory of two recent privacy stories in just the past week. The first is an update to a story I wrote about last month regarding Google quietly monitoring and storing all your purchases across sites like Amazon. When CNBC discovered the story, Google assured concerned users that they could delete their purchase history. A follow-up report from CNBC suggests that contrary to Google’s claims, the fix doesn’t remove the purchase history. The company, according to the report, “is looking into it.”

Then there’s Superhuman, the exclusive Silicon Valley start-up for power emailers. At the end of last month, a former Twitter engineer, Mike Davidson, wrote a blog post detailing the ways in which Superhuman violated the privacy of its users by tracking every time their emails have been viewed by recipients — all by default, with little room to opt out
. The backlash prompted a response from Superhuman’s C.E.O., Rahul Vohra, who promised to reconsider many of the tracking features. “When we built Superhuman,” he wrote, “we focused only on the needs of our customers. We did not consider potential bad actors.””

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"Blackface. I’ve been writing about, and researching – and opposing – racism for more than thirty years. And make no mistake: blackface isn’t funny. It’s racist. Ask Megyn Kelly. A year ago, the former Fox News star was filming a segment about..."

"Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “selfie line” may be a “political phenomenon,” according to CNN, but it’s also a misnomer, twice over: The photos that supporters end up with aren’t technically selfies—campaign aides snap them—and no one waits in a line..."

"In the archives of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, there is an old postcard from the city aquarium of a large sea turtle with four boys straddling its back. The turtle lies flattened upon a pathway in front of a fence. At the feet..."

"As we celebrated my granddaughter’s third birthday this summer, I made the following rough calculation: I’d trekked from my home in New Jersey to her Brooklyn apartment roughly 150 times to provide once-a-week day care, plus other times as needed."

"That seems to be the emerging bipartisan consensus. “On the evidence we have, the meritocratic ideal ends up being just as undemocratic as the old emphasis on inheritance and tradition,” writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. “Our..."

"It was the 2019 Pet Sematary that finally broke me. Was this really necessary? I seethed in a theater earlier this year, at a loss for why anyone would green light a self-serious update to a 30-year-old so-bad-it's-good movie. "Update," even, was.."

"Tuesday was election day in Israel. But no winner has yet been declared. As of this writing, it appears that the parties committed to supporting Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister will not win a majority in Knesset. At the same time, the..."

"The last time Netflix asked me “Are you still watching?” I had to think really hard about it. Was I still watching? Or at least enough to make my $16-a-month payment worth it? The subscription economy can be a wonderful thing. We don’t have to..."