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Congressman Steps Up Pressure On Google, Facebook 120

Posted by kdawson
from the play-nice-now dept.
crimeandpunishment and other readers noted the US government's increasing pressure on Facebook and Google. On Friday the head of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, sent the two companies a letter asking them to cooperate with any government inquiries. It's not clear exactly what purpose the letter served, other than to make Google's and Facebook's lawyers squirm a bit more than they already were, with Germany and courts and the FTC looking hard in their direction; Conyers did not say his committee will be holding hearings. The FTC just asked Google to hold onto the Wi-Fi data that it says it accidentally collected while snapping Street View photos. And in response to the growing outcry since its F8 conference last month, Facebook offered some simplified privacy controls — though opinions vary on how much the new controls simplify things for users.
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Congressman Steps Up Pressure On Google, Facebook

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  • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:02PM (#32393600) Homepage

    There is an election this fall.

  • Government (Score:5, Insightful)

    by XanC (644172) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:06PM (#32393626)

    So in government-land, the way to fix the problem of data accidentally collected is to order that said data be KEPT, instead of immediately deleted??

  • Re:FTC? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by davester666 (731373) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:08PM (#32393636) Journal

    Data mine it for information on terrorists. Duh.

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:12PM (#32393670)
    Obviously, Brin, Page and Zuckerberg obviously haven't been giving as much to Conyers re-election campaign as he would like.
  • Re:Government (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:12PM (#32393672)

    There is no data. We were never at war with Eurasia. Pick up that can citizen.

  • I have a random suspicion about this...

    Microsoft has been looking to use the big lobbyist network they acquired when they decided that the antitrust trial happened because they hadn't bought off the government and their competitors had (because, you know, they couldn't have done anything wrong!). They've been angling on Google for a long time.

    I think they haven't gotten any action because while congresspeople like lobbyists and money, they can't actually act in a way that shows it obviously is the driving force. They have to sort of look like they're actually carrying out the political will of the people, more or less.

    The Facebook debacle and Google's mistakes with Wi-Fi harvesting are garnering enough negative public attention that congresspeople can now actually take action against those companies without looking too obviously like they're in Microsoft's pocket.

    I do think Facebook has definitely done something wrong, and I'm really curious as to the whole decision process that led to Google doing what they did with Wi-Fi data. But I don't think, on an ordinary day, that congresspeople would generally care at all. I think the reason they're putting on the appearance caring is money and lobbyists from Microsoft.

    I'm sorry to be so cynical, but I think congress is hopelessly and nearly irreparably corrupt.

  • by Vekseid (1528215) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:25PM (#32393726) Homepage
    Microsoft's investment in Facebook aside, both Google and Facebook have lobbying teams. Few companies have the power to buy -all- of Congress.
  • Conyers is a crook (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kohath (38547) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:40PM (#32393812)

    Watch out Google and Facebook. One of the most crooked congressmen of modern times wants your "cooperation". He can't use his government staff as personal valets anymore since he got caught. And his wife was recently sentenced to 3 years in prison for taking bribes.

    If he asks you for a private meeting, you'll want to either bring a checkbook or a tape recorder.

  • Re:Government (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nacturation (646836) * <nacturation AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday May 29, 2010 @09:16PM (#32393960) Journal

    For some reason, the United States is the only country on Earth where accidents don't happen – it's always somebody's fault, and you can sue that somebody for neglect.

  • by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @09:25PM (#32394006) Journal

    Close. It's part of the campaign itself: If you're an incumbent, it helps to appear to have done something during your term. But your constituents won't remember anything you did before march of the election year, if you're lucky. So, a cheap way to get cameral-cred is to be part of some kind of investigatory commission.

    Like when the US congress thought it would be a good use of their time to interview every f'king baseball player to see if they'd ever used f'king steroids. Steroids. In sports. Considered important enough for f'king Congress to have weeks of hearings. Brilliant.

    Anyway, stuff like this gets their name in the news for free which is even better than spending your hard-grifted campaign cash on advertising.

  • by XanC (644172) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @09:33PM (#32394044)

    I wish they had spent more time on the steroid issue. It's a far less damaging way for them to spend their time than normal.

  • Re:Government (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khchung (462899) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @09:37PM (#32394056) Journal

    So in government-land, the way to fix the problem of data accidentally collected is to order that said data be KEPT, instead of immediately deleted??

    If you caught a corporate spy trying to leave your company premise with a USB drive containing "accidentally collected" company data, do you also immediately wipe out the USB drive? No, you would have KEPT the drive to use as evidence and for further investigation to proof exactly what had happened and how the data got there.

    That is just plain common sense.

    The Google fanboys in /. are really amazing, you guys(*) would even advocate destroying evidence when Google broke the law!

    (* - there are many other posts saying the data should be immediately deleted, even before any investigation is made)

  • Re:Government (Score:3, Insightful)

    by XanC (644172) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @09:43PM (#32394086)

    In your corporate espionage scenario, that's my own data the spy has got. If I'm looking at my own data, no foul.

    This is random Web access data from the general public. The result of government obtaining it is that the government will paw through it. This is a whole new level of scary from a privacy perspective.

    If the goal is to preserve the privacy of the people whose data this is, then this makes no sense.

  • Re:Government (Score:4, Insightful)

    by XanC (644172) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @09:55PM (#32394128)

    (apologies for the double reply)

    Let's consider this scenario: I'm diagnosing some problem with my wireless network, setting my radio to promiscuous mode and recording the results. I happen to record a few minutes' worth of traffic from the access point of you, my next door neighbor. Which of the following would you prefer:

    a) To protect your privacy, I immediately delete the data.

    b) To protect your privacy, I "turn myself in", sending a copy of what I recorded to the FBI, CIA, John Conyers, and anybody else who feels it's his job to "safeguard privacy".

    You're arguing for b), which is the wrong answer.

  • by ZipK (1051658) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:21PM (#32394236)
    The problem with Facebook's privacy controls is only peripherally related to their complexity. The real problem is Facebook's habit of changing privacy configuration and automatically opting their 400 millions users into sharing information that was previously private. It's Facebook's monetization of their users' personal information (via constantly shifting opt-out changes to privacy settings) that is the root problem.
  • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:34PM (#32394292) Journal

    I'm sorry to be so cynical, but I think congress is hopelessly and nearly irreparably corrupt.

    In my opinion it's getting better, because of public scrutiny. Really the only way it can get better is if people are paying attention, and it's so much easier to pay attention with all our modern information devices.

    An example of how it is getting better is military spending. True, big companies still have influence with how the money is spent, but now they at least try to make it look like there is a legitimate process. 50 years ago they didn't even do that, the 'favors' were right there in the open.

    If you go back even farther, you have things like Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed, or the administration of Warren G. Harding. Ugly times. If the US survived through that, it can survive through pretty much anything.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:48PM (#32394350) Homepage Journal

    They simply sniffed over the air broadcasts. They did not actively do anything.

    "Sniffing" sounds active to me. Storing the data is definitely active.

  • Re:Government (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jibjibjib (889679) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:12PM (#32394472) Journal
    You really think the government will bother to look through this data? It simply wouldn't be worth it. It's little segments of logs mostly less than a minute long from unencrypted wireless networks. The chance of there being anything useful in it is so low that it wouldn't be worth the effort. And then there's the inconvenience of not being able to admit they used it, since such use would be illegal and much more outrageous than what Google's already done. Besides, if the government wants random bits of logs of random people's internet use, they can get those from ISPs already.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:27PM (#32394528)

    If I take a voice recorder with me as I walk down the street and use it to dictate the things I need to pick up at the store, I will also record what other people who walk by say. I will also record 1/2 of what some people say on there cell phones. (because they talk loud) This is against the law some places.

    I am guessing they just recorded full unencrypted packet expecting to grep out the SSID's later...

  • Re:Government (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:52PM (#32394610) Homepage

    To answer the grandparent:

    So in government-land, the way to fix the problem of data accidentally collected is to order that said data be KEPT, instead of immediately deleted??

    It's called preserving evidence.
     
    To answer the parent:

    For some reason, the United States is the only country on Earth where accidents don't happen - it's always somebody's fault, and you can sue that somebody for neglect.

    If the United States was a place where a deliberate and intentional decision to perform an action could be called an 'accident', you'd have a point. But the United States (indeed the whole world) isn't such a place. Somebody at Google decided to write the function into the code and the database schema to collect and store that data - there is no possible way for it to have occurred accidentally. (Now, it may have been stupidity rather than malice that lead to that decision - but that doesn't change the fact that it was deliberately done.)

  • Re:Government (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shentino (1139071) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @02:54AM (#32395206)

    Sounds like a loophole to get around the 4th amendment.

  • Re:Government (Score:4, Insightful)

    by khchung (462899) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @04:30AM (#32395476) Journal

    Let's consider this scenario: I'm diagnosing some problem with my wireless network, setting my radio to promiscuous mode and recording the results. I happen to record a few minutes' worth of traffic from the access point of you, my next door neighbor.

    See if your analogy still make sense if you add the following:

    1. You have been recording for the past 3 years' data from my access point, instead of a few minutes, and you have been processing those data for the whole time instead of just letting them sit there. Kind of hard to say you are not aware of those data are there for the whole time, huh?

    2. For the sake of argument, there are relevant laws in your country that exactly prohibits such recording. (you may consider, as example, covertly recording telephone conversations in countries that requires consent from both parties)

    3. Turning yourself in means sending what you recorded to the relevant authorities, != every 3 letter agencies you can imagine.

    Still unconvinced? Consider another analogy:

    A peeking tom living nearby has been secretly taking pictures of your daughter for the past 3 years. And (for the sake of argument) there are local laws that forbids exactly this kind of tracking/following/photo-taking activity. Now you find this out, but you have no idea what kind of pictures have been taken, you confronted the peeping tom and he promised to delete all the pictures.

    Do you prefer to:

    a) To protect your daughter's privacy, let the peeping tom delete all the pictures, trust him that he will actually do it.

    b) To protect your daughter's privacy, call the police, knowing that they will need to take the pictures as evidence to prosecute the peeping tom?

    You are arguing for (a), that may be the right answer for you, but don't judge others arguing for (b) as "wrong".

  • Re:Government (Score:4, Insightful)

    by khchung (462899) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @04:36AM (#32395494) Journal

    So what's the point of the order to keep it, then? If this data is so unimportant and un-sensitive, then who cares anyway?

    How about as evidence to proof Google violated the law in court?

    Isn't that the whole analogy with corp spy about, and the purpose as evidence part was explicitly spelled out in the post as well.

    Really, this is quite a unique experience for me! To see, first hand, where otherwise technically competent people suddenly unable to understand simple things (i.e. illegally collected data is evidence) when it contradicts with their beliefs (Government==bad, and Google can do no wrong).

  • by beakerMeep (716990) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @10:40AM (#32397300)
    That's awfully presumptuous. Maybe he had read other articles and did not fully understand them, maybe he didn't have the time. Maybe it's just good to have the answer right below the summary which, as you noticed, lacks the proper background for someone new to the story.

    Really though, maybe if we spent a little less time telling each other to RTFM and a little more sharing info, we could save a lot of nonsense back and fourth like this.

    I know you're trying to teach him to fish, but I'd like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they will want to teach themselves to fish. They aren't going to go look something up because you called their question stupid.

    Maybe it's about time we broke the stereotype of tech-people being unapproachable and snobbish in their unwillingness to tolerate those that know less than they do, no?

    Maybe you could have given him the answer and suggest he look more deeply into it on his own next time?

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