Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 6, 2015

Signal Keeps Your iPhone Calls And Texts Safe From Government Spies;  Facebook post written in Florida lands US man in United Arab Emirates jail;  Prepare to take your laptop to another country;  Google Launches A New Tool To Sell Car Insurance;  Windows 10: Will your PC run it?  10 best uses for open source software in the business world;  Dropcam customers now need to open a Nest account;  DNS enhancement catches malware sites;    Stop the presses: HTTPS-crippling “FREAK” bug affects Windows after all;  How ‘The Sims’ Turned Me into a Virtual Sociopath;  Comcast won’t let anyone watch HBO Go on PlayStation 4;  Apple, Facebook, Comcast, and hundreds of others ask Supreme Court for nationwide marriage equality;  Microsoft comes right out and says backup software is dead.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Signal Keeps Your iPhone Calls And Texts Safe From Government Spies – An iOS app called Signal is a project out of Open Whisper Systems, a not-for-profit collective of hackers dedicated to making it harder for prying government eyes to get a hold of your information. It gets high marks from both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a comprehensive solution for protecting your privacy.

Canadian bloke refuses to hand over phone password, gets cuffed – A 38-year-old Canadian citizen has been arrested for refusing to hand over his smartphone’s password to border agents. Alain Philippon, of Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines in Quebec, arrived at Halifax international airport in Canada from the Dominican Republic on Wednesday – and was selected by the Canada Border Services Agency for further screening. In the course of that search he was asked to provide the password for his phone but refused. He was charged with “hindering or preventing border officers from performing their role,” according to CBC. Philippon was released on bail, and is reportedly willing to challenge the decision when he heads to court on May 12. While border officials are given much broader search powers than other authorities, the issue of whether a Canadian border agent is entitled to demand access to the contents of Canadian’s private phone or laptop has not been tested in court.

Pointing up   Prediction: This case will eventually prove to be the seventh out of eight Supreme Court challenges, in which the Harper government has been defeated.  

The score so far – Canadians 6. The Harper government 1.

Obviously, a Supreme Court that is neither ideologically or political driven, favours the people. Yeah, you and me. Imagine that.

Prepare to take your laptop to another country – Traveling internationally with a laptop is a lot easier than it was when I first wrote about it in 2000—at least when it comes to hardware compatibilities. Back then, I had to make my dial-up modem work with the German telephone system. Today, ethernet and Wi-Fi are pretty much everywhere. In today’s more paranoid world, your biggest challenges will likely involve protecting files and crossing international borders.

Ubiquitous screens pose new parenting challenges in the 21st century – Parents are wondering how, when, and where to incorporate screens and media into their little ones’ lives. See what the evidence shows, and learn tips and guidelines about screen time for children.

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YouTube Kids on an iPad. Image: Jason Cipriani/CNET

Pay with your smartphone without Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Google Wallet – Check out these three apps that let you pay with the phone you have right now, no NFC required.

Facebook post written in Florida lands US man in United Arab Emirates jail – A helicopter mechanic who popped off about his Middle East job on Facebook while at home in the US got more than an upbraiding from his bosses when he returned to his gig in the United Arab Emirates. He was met in Abu Dhabi with an arrest, 10 days in jail, and a March 17 trial date—with a potential five years in prison if convicted. Thirty-year-old Ryan Pate of Belleair Bluffs, Florida, is accused of slandering his employer, which is illegal in the Emirates. He wrote in December about his superiors at Global Aerospace Logistics being “backstabbers.” He left Florida to return overseas, pack up his stuff, and quit his job. Police called him to come to the station, and he was arrested last month.

Pointing up  Having first visited Abu Dhabi in 1976, I can well understand where this comes from. At a basic level, this piece of sand and its “original occupants”, has contempt for those of us who actively engage in what we in the West call – work. Work, which is performed primarily by “foreigners”.

Google Launches A New Tool To Sell Car Insurance To U.S Web Searchers – Confirming earlier reports that Google has been plotting a move to help sell consumers auto insurance in the U.S., the search giant announced this morning it’s launching a new feature called “Google Compare for Auto Insurance,” a comparison-shopping site that lets you compare the rates from different insurance providers. The option to compare rates will begin popping up after a consumer does a Google search for “car insurance” using Google’s search engine. Initially, the service is being made available to California residents, but Google says other states will soon follow later this year.

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10 best uses for open source software in the business world – Open source offers some compelling benefits for businesses large and small — but you might be surprised at some of the ways it’s being used. Let’s take a look at 10 possible best-case uses for open source software that can help make your business grow, bring you a level of flexibility and reliability you haven’t experienced, or just save you a welcome percentage of your budget.

Find out what it’s doing outside with Storm by Weather Underground – The free Storm app for iOS provides high-resolution radar, a huge buffet of map layers and detailed weather information.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Dropcam customers now need to open a Nest account – Nine months after the half-a-billion dollar deal that brought Dropcam to the Google-owned Nest, the two home automation companies are starting to integrate their products. Dropcam customers received an email this week that informed them they now needed to sign up for a Nest account to get the full functionality out of the home-monitoring cameras sold by the San Francisco-based startup. During sign-up, Dropcam customers have to accept a new terms of service agreement and privacy statement.

Haiku Deck’s Zuru tool uses AI to help you create PowerPoints fast – Most people hate putting together a PowerPoint deck. If you’re one of those, Haiku Deck’s new Zuru tool promises to cut the time you need to spend to do so to a matter of minutes. For each slide, a user simply needs to input his or her text; Zuru then analyzes the content, highlighting what it thinks are the key points and matching the text with a thematically appropriate image.

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Microsoft comes right out and says backup software is dead – Microsoft’s been making lots of noise lately about its send-your-snapshots-to-the-cloud service Azure Site Recovery. But now it’s come right out and said it: Redmond reckons backup software deserves to die. “If cloud storage had existed decades ago, it’s unlikely that the industry would have developed the backup processes that are commonly used today,” Microsoft says. Which is nonsense: dedicated backup tools offer more subtleties than Microsoft’s growing range of snapshot–and-cloud-centric products and services. To Microsoft, the cloud is its backup hammer and every problem looks like a nail.

Windows 10: Will your PC run it? – Let’s go behind the specs and find out everything you need to know about getting Windows 10 running on a PC, but were too afraid (or confused) to ask.

Pointing up    I’m currently testing Win 10 on a Core 2 Duo 2.6 with 2 GB and native graphics – runs like a charm (no pun intended). And that, is an OLD machine.

Our 10 Favorite Windows 10 Universal Apps – Microsoft has committed to unifying its app store to support all screen sizes from phones to high-powered desktop PCs. Here are the best apps so far.

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Windows 10’s Xbox App: More about extending a console than embracing PC gaming – Microsoft says Windows 10 embraces PC gaming, but the Xbox app is all about bringing the console to your computer–with one killer exception.

New iOS app Spotless keeps your Instagram comments spam-free – Love Instagram but hate all the insta-spam? If you’re looking to clean up the comments section of your Instagram feed, you can keep it free of trolls, promoters, cyber-bullies, and bots using Spotless. Spotless is the new app for Instagram that allows you to automatically delete spam comments. It can even tell the difference between a friend or foe and safeguard comments that you might actually care about while nipping annoying bots in the bud. Using Spotless just might help your Instagram get a little more insta-zen.

Music recognition app Shazam wants to help you identify more than music – Song recognition app Shazam wants to recognize more than just audio. A report from Reuters says the app is planning on expanding its search function to the visual realm too, letting users identify items such as DVDs and groceries with their phone’s camera. “We want to expand the universe of what you can Shazam,” chief executive Rich Riley told the news agency. “The famous blue button that our users love will remain on the home screen but will be able to do much more.”

Security:

Stop the presses: HTTPS-crippling “FREAK” bug affects Windows after all – Computers running all supported versions of Microsoft Windows are vulnerable to “FREAK,” a bug disclosed Monday that for more than a decade has made it possible for attackers to decrypt HTTPS-protected traffic passing between vulnerable end-users and millions of websites. Microsoft confirmed the vulnerability in an advisory published Thursday. FREAK attacks—short for Factoring attack on RSA-EXPORT Keys—are possible when an end-user with a vulnerable device connects to a vulnerable HTTPS-protected website. Vulnerable sites are those configured to use a weak cipher that many presumed had been retired long ago.

DNS enhancement catches malware sites by understanding sneaky domain names – A researcher at OpenDNS Security Labs has developed a new way to automatically detect and block sites used to distribute malware almost instantaneously without having to scan them. The approach, initially developed by researcher Jeremiah O’Connor, uses natural language processing and other analytics to detect malicious domains before they can attack by spotting host names that are designed as camouflage. Called NLPRank, it spots DNS requests for sites that have names similar to legitimate sites, but with IP addresses that are outside the expected address blocks and other related data that hints at sketchiness.

Pointing up   Now this I like. A relatively simple idea – as opposed to some of the more esoteric skydreams we’ve been forced to consider. If we can keep on top of this, and adjust as circumstances dictate (you can bet it will be under attack immediately), this could turn out to be an important tool.

Anthem refuses comprehensive IT security audit after the breach – Recently breached US health insurer Anthem has refused to let The Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) perform a full security audit of its systems, and this is not the first time this happened, reports GovInfoSecurity. The company also refused to allow the federal watchdog agency scan their systems for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations back in September 2013. Citing “corporate policy” as the reason and fearing outages because they would have to turn off its antivirus software for the agency to perform the testing, Anthem passed on the offer (as is their right to do, apparently).

Company News:

Amazon opens web store inside of Chinese archrival – Amazon has opened a store on Tmall, an online marketplace owned by Chinese retail giant and Amazon archrival Alibaba. The new store, which sells food, shoes, toys, kitchenware, and other items imported from outside China, shows Amazon’s intentions to grow its business in a market projected to be worth $1.01 trillion by 2018.

Softcard’s mobile payments app is shutting down in March after tech sale to Google – After earlier announcing it had sold some of its technology to Google, Softcard now says it will shut down the app for good on March 31. As part of the buyout, the three backers of Softcard—Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile—said they will load Google Wallet onto Android phones running KitKat or higher later this year.

Adobe invites help with hunting vulnerabilities, but no bounty money – Adobe Systems launched a new program that encourages security researchers to find and report vulnerabilities in the company’s websites and other online services. Unlike companies like Google, Mozilla, Facebook or Twitter that pay monetary rewards for vulnerabilities found in their Web properties, Adobe’s program only promises public recognition for such contributions.

Pointing up    I can well understand the “no payment” idea. Kicking out cash just to cover the next to be reported vulnerabilities in Reader and Flash, would be a logistical nightmare.   Smile

Netflix says it still supports Net neutrality, despite CFO’s comments – Netflix’s recent deal in Australia and comments from its CFO suggested it was backtracking on its pro-neutrality stance.

Samsung upgrading LED display collection with Yesco Electronics buy – Samsung is looking to strengthen its B2B display portfolio with the acquisition of Yesco Electronics. The Utah-based company produces LED-equipped signs and displays. Yesco already counts more than 2,000 installations worldwide across multiple industries — notably retail, education, hospitality, corporate, and transportation. Samsung plans to use Yesco’s resources to bolster its own outdoor LED display catalog beyond its existing pile of large-format displays (LFDs) toward LCD-based panels.

Games and Entertainment:

Microsoft: DirectX 12 will increase your graphics performance by an additional 20 percent – Microsoft has said previously that its upcoming DirectX 12 API will make your PC more efficient. Now we know by how much: just by using DirectX, executives said, you’ll see an additional 20 percent improvement in your graphics frame rate, and a drop in CPU utilisation to boot. What does this mean? During an Intel press conference at GDC Wednesday night, Bryan Langley, a principal program manager for graphics with Microsoft, put it into context. “This is like getting free hardware,” Langley said. “So if you’re a gamer, and you upgrade to Windows 10, and you have that Iris Pro, it’s like getting that extra kick. It may make your game go from not quite playable, to playable, from mediocre to awesome, from awesome to just out of this world.”

Elite: Dangerous coming to Xbox One and Oculus Rift this summer – One of the best things in gaming, is seeing a successful Kickstarter game hit the market. It’s been a long wait, but Elite: Dangerous is finally hitting Xbox One this summer. This game was designed for Oculus Rift too, so you can enjoy a complete VR experience in this trippy space game in all the glory of smooth 4k video. If you’ve been waiting for a new game to test the limits to see what Oculus can do, this might be it. Not only will you get to look around at a beautiful galaxy in VR, but you get to zoom around 2,400 space systems all from the captain’s chair, which could also be your couch.

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MindLeap VR system throws away controllers, reads minds – Virtual Reality might have just gotten a wee bit weirder. Or fancier, depending on your take. Neurotechnology company MindMaze is growing out of its roots in the medical industry and stepping into the games biz. At GDC 2015, it just revealed what could be the evolution of VR platforms, even while VR platforms are still at a growing phase. MindLeap, as it is called, may look like a regular head-mounted display, but you won’t need controllers or even gloves to use it. All you need is to think.

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Surprise: Comcast won’t let anyone watch HBO Go on PlayStation 4 – And here’s the thing: Comcast subscribers are really missing out. After spending some time with HBO Go on PlayStation 4 last night, I think it’s the best experience I’ve had with the service yet. It was worth some waiting. The app is lightning fast, fluid, and intuitive with a gorgeous user interface from top to bottom. Give me this over HBO Go on the Apple TV any day of the week. If you’ve used HBO Go on Xbox One, you’ve seen something similar. But if Sony is your console maker of choice, you simply can’t have the best HBO Go experience available right now. That sucks and isn’t fair.

Lastronaut Is A Totally Free, Totally Addictive Endless Running Game For iPhone – Endless runners are pretty much perfect for mobile devices, because they’re easy to get into and great for short play sessions. A new iPhone game in that genre from a Toronto-based developers Darrin Henein and Stephan Leroux called Lastronaut may be the best currently available endless runner for those looking for value: it’s totally free, with no ads or in-app purchases whatsoever. It focuses on the Lastronaut, a pixelated protagonist who is the person left behind to close up shop and follow the rest of humanity into space following a robot apocalypse that resulted in the need for a mass exodus of our home planet.

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How ‘The Sims’ Turned Me into a Virtual Sociopath – You could cause some real terror to the little Sims – I never really played the game to “succeed.” I wasn’t the player full of aspirations, who wanted to have the best business card, the best job, or the best girlfriend. I played it to wreak as much havoc as possible. And the violence you could find in it was much darker than the stuff you’d see in Manhunt, or Grand Theft Auto. With those games, it’s just mindless rage. You don’t stick a crowbar into someone’s head in those games, and then phone up that guy’s wife, invite her over and start kissing her straight afterwards. But that’s what used to happen when I played The Sims.

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Look at the eyes. Those eyes have seen death. Those eyes have been death.

Four major theater chains boycott Netflix’s latest film – Netflix has long been changing the way television shows are consumed, but more recently its business moves have threatened to alter the future of feature films, and theaters aren’t taking kindly to it. Earlier this week, Netflix bought “Beasts of No Nation” for $12 million; it’s a drama from Cary Fukunaga, and it is set to debut on the video streaming service the same day it debuts in theaters. Those theater chains, however, have a different plan — they’re going to boycott the film entirely, taking a hard stance against Netflix’s growing push for simultaneous movie launches.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Apple, Facebook, Comcast, and hundreds of others ask Supreme Court for nationwide marriage equality – A host of the biggest companies in the world, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and 374 others have banded together to file an amicus brief in the US Supreme Court stating that all couples should share the right to marry. The brief, which was filed today by law firm Morgan Lewis, actually makes a business case for legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. It claims that the currently muddled and confusing legal landscape surrounding same-sex marriage “places significant burdens on employers and their employees — making it increasingly hard to conduct business.”  It’s not just huge tech companies coming out in support here, either — the businesses range from smaller, family-owned businesses all the way up to giants like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Comcast, Levi’s, Nike, Proctor & Gamble, Wells Fargo, United Airlines, and dozens more.

Insane video puts you in front seat of world’s tallest ‘giga coaster’ – Before you watch the video, I have to ask if you’ve eaten anything recently. If so, you might want to wait a bit. The video puts you smack at the front of the tallest giga coaster ever made — Fury 325 — which is set to debut at Carowinds, an amusement park in Charlotte, N.C., at the end of this month.

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The Money Shot: Product Placement in Porn Is Now a Thing – Porn has entered the final stages of its manifest destiny takeover of all aspects of society. One of the clearest examples of this was Pornhub’s entry into the music industry by launching a record company last October and shooting an NSFW hip-hop video with Coolio. Now, one dating website is blurring the lines further. In January, ArrangementFinders.com appointed Kayden Kross—an award-winning porn star—as its president. It seems that the future of porn is in product placement. The next time you go to your favourite tube site and feverishly type in “gangbang,” you may soon encounter close-ups of an energy drink while your hands are down your pants. Thirsty?

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Veronica Vain. Photos courtesy ArrangementFinders.com

Even the inventor of K-Cups regrets his coffee mistake – Pod coffee has proved controversial for its taste and its ecological impact, and no single-serve option has been more contentious than Keurig’s K-Cups. On the one hand there’s the convenience: drop in a pod, hit the button, and seconds later be drinking hot coffee. On the other, though, there are questions around freshness, the poor recyclability of pods, and – particularly in Keurig’s case – the use of patents and DRM to lock consumers to a single brand. Turns out, even the guy who created K-Cups in the first place now regrets it.

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Einstein’s Cross: Distant supernova split into four by gravitational lensing – An exploding star directly behind a cluster of enormous galaxies has been split into four images by the light-bending properties of the cluster’s gravity.

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Are Drones A Fad Or Here For Good? – Drones are no longer just seen as a tool of the military or a toy that people use to fly around. Take consumer perception — “drone” is a household word. Just look at the Google Trends for the word “drones” or “DJI.” Check out the number of drone videos on YouTube (~827,000). According to Frost and Sullivan, an aerospace research firm, over 200,000 drones were sold each month in 2014. Parrot, a french drone maker, reported sales of over $47 million in drones in 2013. Whether we like it or not, we are going to be seeing more drones in the sky and on the news, and they will get cheaper, faster and more reliable. Here, I want to go into some reasons why I think drones are not just a fad but are here to stay.

Republicans’ “Internet Freedom Act” would wipe out net neutrality – US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) this week filed legislation she calls the “Internet Freedom Act” to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s new network neutrality rules. The FCC’s neutrality rules prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or throttling Internet traffic, prohibit prioritization of traffic in exchange for payment, and require the ISPs to disclose network management practices. The legislation has 31 Republican cosponsors.

John McCain says he doesn’t use e-mail, afraid of what he’ll say – Technically Incorrect: The Republican stalwart says he has other people doing his e-mailing for him.

Pointing up    And, this guy gets to vote on net net neutrality? Sad that this Luddite commands influence – any influence, in any sphere.

Something to think about:

“I don’t email at all.”

–    John McCain

Today’s Free Downloads:

CopyTrans Manager Free – The free iTunes Alternative to manage iPhone, iPad and iPhone without iTunes.

Use CopyTrans Manager to add songs, videos, apps and more to your iPhone. Add and manage playlists, lyrics and artwork, or change ID3 Tags such as artist, album, ratings etc. The best of all? CopyTrans Manager is portable, a 100% free and supports all iPhones, iPads and iPods.

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A super little app. Screenshot from a personal system.

Robocraft – Robocraft is a free online game where you can build awesome robots from cubes, jump in and drive them, and then take them into epic battles online.

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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Obama criticises China’s mandatory backdoor tech import rules – As previously reported, proposed new regulations from the Chinese government would require technology firms to create backdoors and provide source code to the Chinese government before technology sales within China would be authorised.

China is also asking that tech companies adopt Chinese encryption algorithms and disclose elements of their intellectual property.

The new requirements, laid out in a 22-page document approved late last year, are supposedly geared towards strengthening the cyber security of critical Chinese industries and guarding against terrorism.

In an interview with Reuters, Obama said Beijing’s far-reaching counter-terrorism law would require technology firms to hand over encryption keys as well as installing “backdoors” into systems, thus granting Chinese authorities access in the process.

“We have made it very clear that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States,” Obama said. “This is something that I’ve raised directly with President Xi.”

Pointing up   Good lord! This hypocrisy may play well in the home market for Obama – but, the rest of the world sees this bullshit for what it is. 

You can’t do what I want to do – and, if you insist on trying, then I’m not playing any more. I’m just gonna pack up my shit and go home. 

Who, in their right mind, would call this effective diplomacy.

The “Snowden is ready to come home!” story: a case study in typical media deceit – Most sentient people rationally accept that the U.S. media routinely disseminates misleading stories and outright falsehoods in the most authoritative tones. But it’s nonetheless valuable to examine particularly egregious case studies to see how that works. In that spirit, let’s take yesterday’s numerous, breathless reports trumpeting the “BREAKING” news that “Edward Snowden now wants to come home!” and is “now negotiating the terms of his return!”

Ever since Snowden revealed himself to the public 20 months ago, he has repeatedly said the same exact thing when asked about his returning to the U.S.: I would love to come home, and would do so if I could get a fair trial, but right now, I can’t.

His primary rationale for this argument has long been that under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute under which he has been charged, he would be barred by U.S. courts from even raising his key defense: that the information he revealed to journalists should never have been concealed in the first place and he was thus justified in disclosing it to journalists. In other words, when U.S. political and media figures say Snowden should “man up,” come home and argue to a court that he did nothing wrong, they are deceiving the public, since they have made certain that whistleblowers charged with “espionage” are legally barred from even raising that defense.

Snowden has also pointed out that legal protections for whistleblowers are explicitly inapplicable to those, like him, who are employed by private contractors (rendering President Obama’s argument about why Snowden should “come home” entirely false). One month after Snowden was revealed, Daniel Ellsberg wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post arguing that Snowden did the right thing in leaving the U.S. because he would not be treated fairly, and argued Snowden should not return until he is guaranteed a fully fair trial.

Now Corporate Drones are Spying on Cell Phones – The marketing firm Adnear is using drones to track cell phone users –

The capture does not involve conversations or personally identifiable information, according to director of marketing and research Smriti Kataria. It uses signal strength, cell tower triangulation, and other indicators to determine where the device is, and that information is then used to map the user’s travel patterns.

“Let’s say someone is walking near a coffee shop,” Kataria said by way of example.

The coffee shop may want to offer in-app ads or discount coupons to people who often walk by but don’t enter, as well as to frequent patrons when they are elsewhere. Adnear’s client would be the coffee shop or other retailers who want to entice passersby.

[…]

The system identifies a given user through the device ID, and the location info is used to flesh out the user’s physical traffic pattern in his profile. Although anonymous, the user is “identified” as a code. The company says that no name, phone number, router ID, or other personally identifiable information is captured, and there is no photography or video.

Does anyone except this company believe that device ID is not personally identifiable information?

US Senators hope to crack down on the trade of private information – Four US senators are introducing legislation aimed at turning the screws on businesses that gather up and sell citizens’ personal information.

Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Al Franken (D-MN) have teamed up to introduce the Data-broker Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA) [PDF], which will let Americans correct and remove their private details from databases.

If the bill makes it into law, so-called data brokers can be forced to stop selling a person’s information, and they would be forbidden from using deceptive practices to gather data on people. Additionally, brokers would be required to give users access to their information, and allow them to update or correct sensitive records.

The bill covers information from ages and marital statuses to hobbies, jobs, ailments, and much more: details that companies can legally collect and sell to others. Publicly available information, such as names and addresses, can only be updated if the original source corrects the data.

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