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Accountability is First Step to Ensuring Data Privacy, Protecting Human Rights, Expert Says

Jessica Dheere said surveillance-based business models are negatively impacting consumers’ digital rights.

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Jessica Dheere, director of New America’s Ranking Digital Rights program

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2021 — An expert on a Broadband Breakfast panel said big tech’s business models infringe on consumer’s digital rights.

The world’s most powerful technology companies, including telecommunications providers, have “a lot of room” for improvement in protecting consumer privacy, said Jessica Dheere, director of New America’s Ranking Digital Rights program, said at the December 1 virtual event.

Dheere said accountability is an essential first step to mandating transparency about company policies to improve consumer privacy. Dheere’s remarks come as experts have recently called for the Federal Trade Commission to take action on internet service providers’ privacy practices.

The lack of progress by technology companies in data privacy is not exclusive to advertisement platforms. Dheere said telecommunications providers have a responsibility equal to ad platforms to protect their users’ privacy.

“Telecommunications providers have lots of data that ad companies don’t have: geographic location, billing information, credit history, and all sorts of things Facebook doesn’t have by default,” Dheere said.

When companies combine data sources across devices or through a third-party sale of consumer data, companies can create a “picture” of the person they target. “In some ways, telecommunications providers should maybe have stronger obligations,” she added.

Privacy index

To measure privacy, Dheere pointed to the Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index (RDR Index), which ranks the world’s most powerful technology companies and evaluates related policies against human rights-based standards. The RDR index uses guiding principles for human rights to evaluate companies’ privacy standards.

“Privacy is a fundamental human right, and enables the enjoinment of other rights, such as the first amendment freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly,” Dheere said.

To evaluate technology companies’ privacy standards, the RDR uses standardized indicators to produce a privacy score. The RDR index analyzes the clarity of privacy agreements; the companies’ privacy policies; whether they notify users of changes to policies; how they collect and handle user information; and whether users have control over how their information is used and sold. Within the past two years, no company has scored over sixty percent in the RDR’s privacy category.

“Looking at the indicators [the RDR index] uses, there is no distinction for what companies should do for their users,” Dheere stated. The RDR ranking system analyzes telecommunications companies network management standards. The Index analyzes factors such as whether the company is committed to net neutrality in their policies and how they operate in network shutdown events, which can be important in areas where the government manages shutdowns during cultural or political crisis.

Reporter Justin Perkins is graduate of Howard University School of Law, with a focus on telecommunications and technology. He has in-house experience at the Federal Communications Commission, Comcast and NBC. He brings curiosity and insight to broadband news.

Cybersecurity

Biden On Lookout for Cyberattacks with Russia Massing on Border of Ukraine

The president says that, in the past, Russia has taken covert military actions.

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Photo of President Joe Biden on Thursday

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – President Joe Biden said Thursday that the administration will be on the lookout for Russian cyberattacks in Ukraine as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin may be edging closer to invading Ukrainian territory.

Biden warned that, in the past, Russia has launched aggressive computer attacks that, while perhaps falling short of overt military action, have been daunting cyber-offensives of “military” officials not wearing Russian uniforms.

The comments came at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting of Biden’s Infrastructure Implementation Task Force. Biden briefly addressed rising tensions surrounding Ukraine.

Many critics of Russia, including Biden, have said that they Putin will pounce.

During his remarks, Biden said Moscow would “pay a heavy price” should it move any Russian troops across the Ukrainian border.

Following his foreign policy comments, Biden turned his attention to the planned task force talks on implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed on November 15, 2022.

He turned to former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the administration’s unofficial “infrastructure czar,” to offer comments on the administration’s progress to press.

Biden specifically addressed the law’s implications for ongoing supply chain issues.

Since the back half of 2021, the world has faced historic shipping delays on a variety of commercial goods as global manufacturing systems continue struggling to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and workforce shortages exacerbated by it.

Specifically, the tech industry has faced chronic shortages of semiconductor chips, perhaps worse than most other commodities. The shortages have crippled many digital industry supply chains. products.

Biden said that with the infrastructure law investment in physical infrastructure, including additional highways to alleviate traffic on the nation’s roads, will allow goods to be transported faster through existing supply chains.

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Cybersecurity

Telework Here to Stay, But Devices Need Beefed Up Security

The future of teleworking will need upgraded security.

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Allen McNaughton, sales director at Infoblox

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2022 – Remote work is here to stay, but that means getting up to speed on securing websites is critical, said a director at an information technology security company Wednesday.

At a Business of Federal Technology event, which posed the question “is hybrid forever?,” Kiran Ahuja, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said “hybrid remote work and telework policies are clearly helping not only federal agencies, but literally every single office, company, and organization in this country.”

But while Allen McNaughton, sales director at security company Infoblox, agreed that telehealth is “here to stay, no doubt about it,” he also made clear that the reality of hybrid work is not effective without protected technology.

“When you have telework, when you have people that can work anywhere in the world, the world is now your attack surface,” says McNaughton. McNaughton noted that there is now a greater opportunity for hackers to install malware on unsecure devices.

The country has already been gripped by high-profile cyberattacks, including on software company SolarWinds, oil transport company Colonial Pipeline, and meat producer JBS USA.

Some of the attackers simply gained access because devices had simple default passwords, raising concern among security experts about how prepared people are for full-time remote work and school.

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Privacy

Federal Communications Commissioner Starks Seeks to Encourage Democratic Principles Online

The commissioner noted the peril democracy and citizen privacy finds themselves in around the world.

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Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, January 14, 2021 – Speaking at an event hosted by Bridge for Innovation on Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks says the private sector must lead in the fight to promote democracy and digital privacy rights online.

With increasing challenges to democracy around the world and citizen surveillance efforts by several international governments, as well as domestic concerns over privacy on social media platforms, Starks says private sector entities should work to set standards which promote democratic principles and privacy for citizens.

Just this month, Facebook faced a lawsuit – which it won – over access of third-party companies such as Cambridge Analytica, the British political consulting firm made famous when it was investigated in connection with alleged Russian interference and collusion in the 2016 United States presidential election, to users’ personal data.

Starks also emphasized that international diplomatic and regulatory bodies play a key role in upholding these norms.

He stated that China is looking to step up its role in these international bodies in attempts to influence policy to gain greater control over its citizens’ political activities and limit their privacy rights online.

At the beginning of November, President Joe Biden’s administration announced an initiative with several international allies to share information on surveillance programs of authoritarian regimes, with key focus landing on actions of the Chinese government.

Additionally, Biden said he would take action to limit U.S. exports to China of technology that  China uses for surveillance efforts.

U.S. technologies are on record being used in China for citizen surveillance, military modernization and persecution of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Looking to domestic broadband expansion efforts following the enactment of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Starks said the FCC will soon be collecting and posting pricing information from internet service providers which participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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