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A 2016 Almanac

Following the San Bernardino massacre of December 2015, the FBI seek to force Apple to assist in unlocking the data on the culprit’s phone, sparking a debate pitching national security against privacy.

Major news sites hit by malvertising payload which delivers ransomware to users computers. Security, as well as privacy concerns, data consumption and weariness at excessive and intrusive advertising drive the further growth of adblocking.


On March 28th the Department of Justice dropped its case against Apple after the FBI announced that they had found a means to unlock the phone and access the data on it

The EU formally adopts General Data Protection Regulation, which will come into effect in May 2018.


Dave Carroll documented the absurd gymnastics required from parents by Facebook should they want to opt their kids out of ads.


WhatsApp announces the integration of encryption functionality for calls and text, implementing the protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems. For the first time a true mass market user tool deploys encryption as default.

Elsevier,  academic publishing behemoth, buys SSRN, a key repository for free scholarly articles online. They start to remove access to some articles. Luckily there is Sci-Hub.

Startup Score Assured offers service to profile potential tenants for landlords. Prospective renters will have to provide them with details of all their social media accounts.
23/6 Britain votes to leave the EU. Bad news for the EU and for Ireland especially, but possibly good news for  privacy and data protection advocates. Axel Arnbrak explains.
28/6 Google changes its privacy policy so that the combination of the Double Click advertising cookie (which tracks users all over the double click network i.e. a large part of the web) with Personally Identifying Information (PII) is no longer an opt-in matter.
In a Brussels Appeal Court Facebook successfully overturned a decision forbidding them from tracking non-users for advertising purposes around the web. It was found that the Belgian courts did not have jurisdiction. Such complaints are to be dealt with in Ireland.
The EU Commission issues its implementing decision for the Privacy Shield agreement on the transfer of data from the EU to the US, a jury-rigged replacement for the Safe Harbour provisions challenged by Max Schrems and found invalid by the European Court of Justice in October 2015.
14/7 Microsoft vs US: the US Department of Justice’s attempted extraterritorial application of the Stored Communications Act to access a user’s email on a server located in Ireland. The Second Circuit appeals Ct. held in favor of Microsoft.
Google withdraws appeal to the UK Supreme Ct. in Vidal Hall – legal action and damages possible for breaches of Data Protection law even where there is no monetary loss. The decision is widely viewed as enabling a more muscular enforcement of data protection rules.

WhatsApp start sharing users’ telephone numbers with Facebook who want to use them for their magic advertising sausage recipe. Elsewhere Facebook meanwhile was recommending the users connect with each other on the basis because they shared the same psychiatrist. Nothing to hide, indeed.
Draft proposals for copyright revisions in the EU are leaked. Stomachs heave.

Further evidence of the value of ‘relevant’ ‘targeted’ advertising is provided by this account by a woman who had a miscarriage but continued to be pitched pregnancy and birth related products.
Digital Rights Ireland announces its legal challenge to Privacy Shield.

Open Whisper Systems, the entity behind he development of encrypted communications app Signal, announced that they had been subpoenaed for information for information on one of their users. The only information held by them was the date and time of the user’s registration and the time of their last connection to the Signal service’s servers. No content, no contact lists, nada.
Unlike Yahoo, who were caught trawling the entirety of their email user population at the behest of the US government, losing their head of security in the process, which seems careless.
In other mass surveillance news the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (oversight body for MI5, MI6 & GCHQ) finds that the collection of bulk communications data and retention of bulk personal data sets were in breach of the European Convention Human Rights.
A month now seems incomplete without a Facebook outrage and they were called out by ProPublica for targeting or enabling exclusion of users based on race.

Before the US election there is coverage of the Trump’s data based campaign to reduce Clinton supporter turnout by targeting them with ads focused on demoralising them.
9/11: Trump elected: hard to believe that the apparatus revealed by Snowden will soon be in his hands. This is a transcript from a TV broadcast with Trump from 2005:

An audience member asked Mr. Trump for his opinion of Watergate’s hero, Deep Throat (Mark Felt, Vice- Director of the FBI).

DT: “I think he’s disgusting. I think he’s scum. I don’t care how old he is, how sick he is, I think he ought to be arrested. He was an FBI agent, essentially, and he was ratting on the President. He could have done something against the President, he could have reported the President, he could have resigned and said something.”

23:52 MJ: “What do you think would have happened to him if he had actually gone to his superior and told him about this?”

23:52 DT: “Well he only had one superior, I mean he was the second guy in the FBI. He could have resigned and had a news conference, he could have said I won’t do this but instead he was underneath, I think he’s disgusting and frankly I’d arrest him, I’d throw him in jail. I think he’s a disgusting person, totally disloyal to the country. Here’s a guy that works at the FBI, and he’s ratting out his President, and you know, hey if the President did something wrong, who knows if he did something wrong? This guy shouldn’t have done it the way he did it.”

Mark Felt’s superior at the FBI was one J. Edgar Hoover. Perhaps not the type of person to whom one would bring an ethical concern.
In the desperate search for an explanation for Trump’s victory many a commentator grasp wildly at ‘fake news’ as an explanation, dumping Facebook into the muck yet again. In the UK the Admiral insurance company announces that it will price insurance premiums based on an analysis of users Facebook posts – they are quickly banned by the company.
Back to advertising and privacy: a German TV journalist pretends to be a digital marketing agency and gets a free test drive of web browsing data on 3 million Germans from a broker who had sourced the data through a browser plugin – Web of Trust – marketed as a user protection tool. Data acquired implicated identifiable members of the judiciary in kinky sex and confidential information about a criminal investigation. Politicians scratch their heads and wonder how such a thing could happen. — -?


17/11 the world’s greatest BitTorrent site dedicated to music,, shut down after a raid affecting part of their server infrastructure in France. Having existed for nearly a decade and built an outstanding archive its loss was widely mourned by both musicians and fans.


The ECJ announced its decision in the joined case of Tele2/Watson a further examination of national data retention laws after the EU directive had been struck down by the DRI’s action in 2014. The Court stated that data retention must be limited to serious criminal cases, targeted and limited o what is strictly necessary. There must also be proper oversight and other safeguards. Those placed under surveillance have the right to be notified once the investigation has concluded and the risk of jeopardising it is over.


After a major consultation earlier in the year a draft of the EU’s new ePrivacy regulation is leaked.


December 31, 2016 Posted by | / | Leave a comment