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1.6.1 🚗 What Cars Know, Your Privacy Online, Sharing Links, Data Brokers, Latanya Sweeney

This email has links about privacy online and in the real world. For example, what happens to data collected by your car, how to maintain privacy online, and more.
1.6.1 🚗 What Cars Know, Your Privacy Online, Sharing Links, Data Brokers, Latanya Sweeney
Callum Hill on Unsplash

Welcome to this week's more newsy email. This week is an experiment. It covers a single topic that presumably interests everyone, our privacy in a digital world. I've tried to include a range of stories, from how automakers sell your driving data to how we share URLs on social media to the social history of privacy. Plus a profile of someone who identified a Massachusetts governor's sensitive medical records from seemingly harmless data points in a hospital record. Hopefully you will find these links interesting and useful.


What Does Your Car Know About You?

Modern cars have lots and lots of computers. Rolling down a window, for example, used to involve grabbing a handle on the car door then cranking it around over and over. Today you push a button.

Turns out, all these new computers not only collect data about how you use a car but they also can collect location data, where you go and when, the speed you drive, and other details. Worse, this data is sent to data brokers who can match it to your data from other sources to create a full profile of your personality, preferences, friends, and so on. Currently, what data is collected and how it is used is not well known or regulated. The Mozilla Foundation, creators of the Firefox browser, did a study recently about cars, computers, and data.

And, at the moment, there’s no way to opt out or turn off any data collection that happens. Buying an older car with no computers is the only way to avoid the problem.

What Data Does My Car Collect About Me and Where Does It Go?


Automakers Are Sharing Consumers’ Driving Behavior With Insurance Companies



Data Privacy and Data Brokers

If you don't know, data brokers are rarely written up but they collect our digital data from all sorts of places. Here are two articles and a book that illuminate the history of US data brokers and how they operate. The first article is about the recent Tik Tok debate in the US Congress and includes details about a sea change in US policy towards data brokers that collect and sell your personal information. The US government has started to win cases that rein in data brokers. Also, if you read books (not everyone does these days), the Byron Tau book link is one I'm in the middle of reading and find it has a rare description of how data brokers got started and what they know. And the New Yorker article is about how lucrative pregnancy is to data brokers if they can identify you.

"In January of this year, the FTC settled a case against a corporation called X-Mode Social for selling “sensitive locations such as medical and reproductive health clinics, places of religious worship and domestic abuse shelters.” This case relied on unfairness, not deception. The commission repudiated the notice and consent framework, arguing that it wasn’t enough to put a form in front of a domestic abuse victim asking if they consented to let a broker sell their data, but that data simply couldn’t be sold, period. The FTC did it again by settling a case against InMarket, another data broker. Finally, the big one happened. The judge ruled for the FTC in the Kochava case, upholding unfairness as grounds for banning the aggregation and sale of large amounts of consumer data, regardless of whether the corporation disclosed it was doing so. Once a judge interpreted the FTC Act’s provision against unfair and deceptive practices to mean that mass collection, processing, and sale of sensitive data is unlawful, then the precedent became real, and corporate America had to shift behavior. Basically, a judge said, yeah, that old FTC law that says ‘unfair and deceptive practices’ are illegal does actually apply to sleazy uses of data, not just lying about how sleazy you are."

The TikTok Problem Is Not What You Think


Means of Control: How the Hidden Alliance of Tech and Government Is Creating a New American Surveillance State by Byron Tau

ISBN: 978-0-593-44322-4 / 978-0-593-44323-1

The Hidden-Pregnancy Experiment | The New Yorker



How-To: Data Privacy Online

Links to articles about how to help maintain your privacy online, plus a few useful tools. For example, I use the Focus browser on my phone to research health issues and other sensitive topics. And use Proton mail with one of my siblings and their VPN for my phone. That said, online privacy is a moving target. Secure email like Proton is not secure if one of the recipients is hacked. And everyone has different levels of sensitivity to online privacy.

A digital media expert gives a step-by-step guide to protecting your data privacy


Privacy Not Included | Mozilla.org


Protecting Kids Online


Be Internet Awesome


Maintaining Your Online Privacy


6 Steps to Protect Student Data Privacy


DuckDuckGo Web Browser


Proton Browser, Mail, VPN, Password Manager


Focus Web Browser (phones only)

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/browsers/mobile/focus/ VPN


On social media, when my family and friends share links I notice that their links often include tracking information. It’s not on purpose. It’s because most people don’t realize that extra long URLs usually contain tracking details. For example, clicking a social media post link or a link in an email often includes a few details to track where the person clicking the link comes from.

How can you tell whether or not a link will track your family or friends? It’s fairly easy: look for a ? (question mark) in the URL. Everything to the right of the question mark is almost always is a set of information used to track a person using the URL.

Here’s an example with the tracking querystring values in bold:


And here’s the clean version of the same URL, with the tracking information removed:


In rare cases, URL data to the right a question mark is needed for a website to find and display content. If you remove tracking details before sharing a URL, be sure to test the clean URL in a web browser. And if you share a clean URL on social media, maybe add a comment with the clean URL. In case anyone wants to copy/paste the URL instead of clicking the link and being tracked by Facebook or whatever service you’re on.


A History of Privacy

If you like reading history, how people lived in the past, probably you’ve come across articles about the lack of privacy in Roman bath houses and bathrooms. Roman apartments in big cities also had thousands of people packed into small spaces in multi story buildings. Their lack of privacy might be odd compared to how we keep ourselves clean today and our living arrangements.

Privacy has existed for millennia, mostly as a philosophical or religious ideal. But our modern idea of privacy, as something societies protect, is only a hundred years or so old. And it appeared as people shifted from communal living situations to smaller housing built for family units and individuals.

What’s different today is the scale and lack of transparency in sharing personal data. Our personal information can be used to be charged higher rates for insurance or to reject our job application, without our knowledge or recourse. That sort of impact mostly didn’t exist in more communal societies. And in our world today, privacy or lack of privacy is amplified by digital cameras and other technology.



Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Privacy


How Americans View Data Privacy


Data Privacy in Higher Education: Yes, Students Care



Latanya Sweeney

Latanya Sweeney is a Harvard professor who has made significant discoveries in how the identity of an individual can be extracted from zip code, birth data, and gender information. In 1997, she identified private medical data about William Weld, then governor of Massachusetts, from these seemingly harmless data points from a hospital record. That led to changes in how sensitive medical data is handled. She’s also worked as chief technologist at the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an agency responsible for consumer protections.

Another project she worked on quantified how online searches by a person’s name displayed search results ads for arrest records if the name was not used in Western European culture. This impacts people of color in the US. The ads also displayed in whether or not a person had an arrest record. An employer could search online for a job candidate by name and then see these ads. The arrest record ads might make the employer believe an untruth. Or equate the person with people who have been arrested.

Another interesting detail about Sweeney is that she quit college at MIT to start a company. Then completed her undergraduate degree at Harvard University Extension School, their adult education program for working people. Eventually she earned her PhD in computer science at MIT, the first African American woman to do so. She chose to teach because it is the only place she feels it’s possible to do interesting research that gains attention and causes positive change. The Ms magazine link also below has more interesting and inspiring biographical details.

Latanya Sweeney


Latanya Sweeney, Ph.D. Website


Latanya Sweeney — On Shaping Technology to Human Purpose


Only You, Your Doctor, and Many Others May Know


Tech Pioneer Latanya Sweeney’s Advice to Her Younger Self



This Week

Our Sunday issue this week is for paid subscribers. It will have fun often offbeat links about how astrolabes were built in the ancient past, changes to the fresh water cycle due to climate change, women conservationists, Aztec texts, and more.