The perils of leaving the kids alone with ‘Alexa’

Using Covid to push privacy boundaries: Chile & biometrics; bosses surveilling you at home; First they chipped animals…now they’re chipping employees

Amazon Alexa poses deadly challenge to 10-year-old girl

The AI software Amazon Alexa has updated its voice assistant after it instructed a 10-year-old girl to participate in a dangerous challenge. The girl was completing a series of physical challenges on YouTube with her mother. The 10-year-old then asked for ‘a challenge to do,’ which prompted the Alexa Echo to respond. The smart speaker replied stating, “Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs.”

The girl’s mother, Kristin Livdahl, went to Twitter to post about the incident. Further elaborating on what happened in a series of tweets, Livdahl said she immediately intervened and the girl did not participate in the challenge.

According to Livdahl’s Amazon Echo history, the AI software found what’s known as “the penny challenge” on the Internet which circulated on TikTok and other social media platforms a year earlier. Amazon released a statement to the BBC stating that it has updated the system to ensure the software does not recommend dangerous activities in the future.

Tech start-up reveals micro-chip implant to store Covid passport

Swedish tech start-up Dsruptive Subdermals has revealed its new microchip implant, which can store Covid-19 data including a vaccination certificate. The rice-size microchip, implanted into the hand using a syringe, can display one’s vaccination status with a smart phone. The implant uses near-field communication protocol (NFC) which is commonly used for contactless payments and digital entry systems.

However, the concept of microchip implants is not new for the company’s partner Epicenter. Epicenter is a community of companies, including Microsoft and Volvo, that join to collaborate, exchange ideas and expand their businesses. Epicenter partners have been implanting microchips into their own employees for several years, which can be used to open doors and access office equipment.

The microchip implant is marketed as ‘convenient’ technology. The CEO of the company’s Stockholm location, Epicenter, Patrick Mesterton said in 2017 that “It (microchip technology) basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.”

According to LinkedIn, the creator of the microchip, Dsruptive Subdermals, is a privately held company founded in 2016.

Google and Facebook Fined for Privacy Violations

Mega corporations Google and Facebook face multi-million dollar fines in France for violating users’ privacy. A French regulator fined Google $169 million and Facebook $69 million for making it too difficult for users to reject cookies, which are identifiers used to track a user’s data.

Both companies required multiple, time-consuming steps to reject cookies and disable the tracking of their data while using YouTube, Google and Facebook. Meanwhile, with just one click, users can accept cookies. The Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) says this leads users to accept cookies and thus enabling the tracking of their data.

The French regulator has given both companies three months to create an equivalent mechanism for rejecting cookies. The CNIL used an older EU law from 2002, the ePrivacy law, which allows a regulator to ‘fine any company that does business in its jurisdiction.’ Whereas under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) the regulator may only fine companies that have a European headquarters in that country.

According to the report in the Wall Street Journal, this is the latest in a series of privacy violation fines against Big Tech in Europe. This comes after European regulators have been warning companies for months that they would enforce rules related to user’s consent accepting cookies.

Florida hospital suffers cyber attack

A Florida-based hospital system experienced a data breach involving the personal and medical information of patients and hospital staff. Broward Health released in a statement that in October 2021, an ‘intruder’ acquired access to the network ‘through the office of a third-party medical provider permitted to access the system to provide healthcare services.’ The hack was discovered days later, and Broward Health then notified the FBI and the Department of Justice.

According to a press release, the information accessed and removed from Broward Health’s system included ‘name, date of birth, address, phone number, financial or bank account information, Social Security number, insurance information and account number.’ Medical information was also accessed ‘including history, condition, treatment and diagnosis, medical record number, driver’s license number and email address.’

Despite the data breach occurring several months ago, it was only recently announced to the public. According to Broward Health, the DOJ requested the hospital keep the breach private to maintain the integrity of its investigation.

It remains unknown if the information accessed was misused by third parties.

Chile introduces biometrics to Covid-19 status verification

To assist in Covid-19 health verification, Chile introduces biometrics and facial recognition technology. TECH5, an international technology company, is allowing for its facial recognition technology to be integrated by partner Solem to be used to link an individual’s biometrics to their Covid-19 test results. According to the report, using biometrics will help to ‘formalize consent, prevent impersonation and facilitate quarantine monitoring.’

The system was first tested with a customer in Chile and is now being used in an active search for Covid-19 cases. On a weekly basis, employees will take a rapid antigen test and then perform facial authentication to provide health credentials to an employer.

Solem product manager Víctor Parra Osorio told Biometric Update that the system is fully inclusive and does not require the employee to have a smart phone. TECH5 Vice President of Sales for Caribbean and Latin America Jeremy James says it is a great opportunity to expand and introduce the technology to more customers.

Both partners intend to expand further in the Covid industry, and in particular, the areas of transmission and prevention.

Tumblr censors tags to comply with Apple’s guidelines

The blog and social networking site Tumblr made changes to its iOS app safety guidelines. The platform announced that it is altering users ability to access ‘sensitive’ content by censoring common tags such as ‘girl,’ ‘sad’ and ‘about’ among others.

Tags serve an important function on Tumblr and allow content to be viewed on the platform’s dashboard. Tags are applied automatically by Tumblr when a post is submitted and then published on the platform. The new safety restriction may prevent users from accessing this content when browsing the “Stuff for You” and “Following” sections of the dashboard.

However, the censoring of a broad range of tags may lead to real world harm especially for users who seek solace or support from the blogging network. For example, the tags ‘single dad,’ ‘single mom’ and ‘suicide prevention’ are also censored, which could prevent those writing about related topics from having access to support. Additionally, more mundane tags commonly used for selfies, such as ‘me’ and ‘my face,’ are also impacted by the new safety regulations.

According to Tumblr, in order for it to remain available on Apple’s App store, it had to broaden the scope of what it considers ‘sensitive content.’ The platform claims it is working to ensure a less restricted iOS app experience; meanwhile Android users are not affected by the change.

Job surveillance on the rise

Job surveillance and monitoring tools are on the rise as more employees work remotely during Covid-19. A report from the European Commission's Joint Research Council (JRC) indicates that excessive workplace monitoring has negative psychological and physical consequences. Additionally, job surveillance may deplete workplace relationships and decrease trust especially among employees who are unaware of how the data is being used.

The JRC’s Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance in the Workplace report, based on the results from 400 articles, found that workplace monitoring has become more prominent with the ‘datafication’ of work, especially with the growing number of algorithmic platforms used by companies such as Amazon, Uber and Deliveroo in the gig economy. Oftentimes, gig workers rely entirely on algorithmic measures to determine work performance and productivity, which can have a psychosocial impact on workers.

Furthermore, Kirstie Ball, author of the JRC’s report, warns of function creep - yet another potential problem presented by monitoring and surveillance technologies. Function creep occurs when an employer collects more data on the employee than what is necessary.

Ball told ZDNet that technology should not be a quick and easy replacement for proper management protocol. "If you're a manager in an organization who is trying to suddenly scramble to work from home and you've been given technology that tells you what your colleagues are doing at their desks, and take pictures of them, that might be seen as a surrogate for the performance side of it. It's not,” Ball said.

In November 2021, a committee of Members of Parliament warned that additional regulations and limitations on the use of AI in the workplace was necessary.

UK proposes National Cyber Strategy

The UK has announced a new National Cyber Strategy for how it will protect and promote UK interests in the evolving online world. The strategy outlines how the UK ‘will solidify its position as a global cyber power,’ with the intent to expand ‘its offensive and defensive cyber capabilities’

According to the press release, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay said, “The new National Cyber Strategy transforms how the UK will advance its national interests in cyberspace and is a major milestone following the publication of the Integrated Review.” Released in March 2021, the Integrated Review included measures to counter what the UK government considers online disinformation, both domestically and abroad.

The National Cyber Strategy has similar objectives. It paves the way for the UK government to acquire greater control over the cyber industry by investing in the Cyber Runway scheme, which is intended to help innovators develop their businesses.

Additionally, the strategy claims to seek to protect UK citizens from cyber crime by investing more resources in the National Cyber Force - a specialist unit compromised of the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and British intelligence agency, the GCHQ. According to the UK Government website, the National Cyber Force “represents the UK’s offensive capability to counter, disrupt, degrade and contest those who would do harm to the UK and its allies.”

The new National Cyber Strategy will be supported by the 2.6 billion pound investment in cyber that was announced in the 2021 Spending Review.

That concludes Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT for this week! 

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This issue of Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT was written by Taylor Hudak; Edited by Suzie Dawson and Sean O’Brien; Graphics by Kimber Maddox; with production support by David Sutton.

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