The Week That Was: Privacy matters to the fore


  • TECH
  • Monday, 26 Aug 2019

Facebook launched a much-hyped tool that gives users the ability to limit the data that the social network can collect on them on external websites and apps. — AP

Following increasing government scrutiny over their privacy practices, US tech giants have finally begun to take safeguarding user data more seriously.

After the fallout over the Cambridge Analytica misappropriation of user data scandal, Facebook launched a much-hyped tool that gives users the ability to limit the data that the social network can collect on them on external websites and apps.

AP reports that this comes in the form of a new section where users can see the activity that Facebook tracks outside its service via its “like” buttons and other means. They can turn off the tracking; otherwise, tracking will continue the same way it has been.

Formerly known as “clear history”, the feature is now called “off-Facebook activity”. Launched first in South Korea, Ireland and Spain on Aug 20, the company said it would expand it to other countries in the coming months although no specifics were given.

However as this feature places the onus on users to change their privacy settings, critics say it probably will not have much of an impact on the social network’s bottomline, as very often even those who claim to value privacy don’t actually do anything about it.

Currently, even if users turn off tracking, the social network will still gather data on their off-Facebook activities – it simply disconnects those activities from their Facebook profile.

Meanwhile, Alphabet Inc’s Google shut down its Mobile Network Insights service, provided free to wireless carriers globally, that showed weak spots in global network coverage that carriers could improve on.

Reuters reports that the Internet giant did so out of concern that sharing data from users of its Android phone system might attract the scrutiny of regulators and users, even though the data was anonymised.

Launched in March 2017, the service was basically a map depicting signal strengths and connection speeds that wireless carriers were delivering in each area.

Popular messaging service WhatsApp is also upping its privacy game by testing a Fingerprint Lock feature for Android Beta users, which would only allow the same fingerprint used to unlock the phone to access the messaging app.

The WhatsApp Beta blog reports that as the name suggests, the feature stops snoops from freely accessing WhatsApp on a user’s unlocked phone.

The feature also has an option called Show Content In Notifications, which lets users decide whether to show or hide messages and sender previews when Fingerprint Lock is on.

To further illustrate the importance of taking data privacy seriously, a pair of German artists have taken to digging through others’ deleted images and videos for their exhibition “Nothing’s Lost in Numbers”, in Stuttgart, Germany.

The two 28-year-old artists, Felix Gaertner and Romano Dudas, bought 31 used memory cards from all over the world that were supposedly empty, then used an ordinary data recovery program to retrieve photos, text files and videos.

Gaertner admits that showing these images is a legal grey area, but claims to be doing so out of a desire to raise the public’s awareness on how easily their data can be obtained.

On the local technology front, drivers taking the Plus highway will soon have another option to make their toll payments nationwide – via Plus RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) sticker.

This is a separate system from the Touch ‘n Go RFID, as the Plus RFID is a payment system developed by the toll concessionaire for use on the Plus highway, currently in use at the toll plazas on the Penang Bridge, the Butterworth-Kulim Expressway and in Jitra, Kedah.

Berita Harian reports that Plus Malaysia Bhd managing director Datuk Azman Ismail had announced that all toll plazas along the Plus highway are in the process of being upgraded to support the new payment system, which will be completed by the end of this year.

More recently, Malaysia’s Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry deputy minister Sim Tze Tzin announced that technology using Internet of Things (IoT) will drive farming to be more efficient and increase its popularity with the younger generation.

He said IoT was critical to transform agriculture, most pressingly the agro-food and industrial commodity sub sectors.

To that end, Maxis’ recent IoT Challenge showcased agriculture solutions from six of the 20 finalists, ranging from heavy machinery monitoring to plantation worker productivity trackers, compost makers, mushroom farm solutions and pest detection systems.

Maxis chief executive officer Gokhan Ogut said sensors could now monitor water, soil, and livestock conditions and provide valuable data that was either not previously available or expensive to gather.

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