PRIVACY BEAT: Me2B Alliance formed to push for a future of trustworthy technology choices

Privacy Beat

Your weekly privacy news update.

1. Me2B Alliance formed to push for a future of trustworthy technology choices

Veterans of internet identity research efforts are behind a new non-profit organization, the Me2B Alliance. They hope to foster a clearinghouse for certifying trustworthy technologies and services when it comes to user data control and privacy. 

The Alliance filed as a tax-exempt corporation last month in Delaware, records there show. A co-founder, Lisa LeVasseur, says the initial directors include her, personal-server entrepreneur Johannes Ernst and “Doc” Searls and Joyce Searls. “Doc” is the originator of the Project VRM initiative at the Berkman-Klein Center at Harvard Law School and author of “The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge.” Joyce, his wife, is a trustee of the Sovrin Foundation

“Wouldn’t it be great if the right software and legal experts reviewed technology products so you could know right away if a product or service was treating you right?” says language on Me2B’s home page. It speaks about creating a “certification mark” for products, services and companies that follow Me2B principles.  It’s principles include that users be “in charge” of all digital assets about them, including those the user created or purchased and “no one stores data about me without being in a Me2B Relationship.” 

LeVasseur, who works in both Las Vegas and the San Diego area, says the Me2B group has developed a list of over 100 companies trying to work towards a good-technology world, not including existing standards bodies. “It is a highly active community right now,” she says. 

Part of the idea for Me2B came from Arlene Harris, a mobile-phone industry billing and technology pioneering inventor who is a philanthropic supporter of Me2B, says LeVasseur. “She told me she wanted to be able to go to a store and know where the stuff is that is good for her from a privacy and data point of view,” says LeVasseur.

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2. The wide gulf in privacy thought — Wyden on jail time, ongoing antipathy for state acts; and taking the commons

Three developments from Washington, D.C., policy experts illustrated this week why it has been challenging to reach consensus on privacy regulation. 

First case in point: On Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said he’d introduced a bill to — in the extreme — send tech executives to jail if their company is found to violate people’s data privacy. (BILL TEXT)  

In a summary of the measure, Wyden’s office said it would permit fines of up to 4% of a corporation’s annual revenues, with a beefed-up Federal Trade Commission as the main enforcer. The measure would allow individual consumers to sue over data and privacy breaches, empower state attorneys’ general and privacy watchdogs to do so for classes of consumers, and would impose tax penalties on companies found to lie about privacy practices. 

Point 2: Michael Beckerman, CEO of The Internet Association, which represents 40 big tech and data companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft,  writes in an Oct. 14 New York Times op-ed that California’s and other state’s privacy laws “risks the country ceding our position as a leader in technology.”  He says a company faced with operating to one state’s standards or collecting more information to comply with multiple states, may choose the second course. The trade group published last year its platform for proposed federal regulation, and has spoken against two key features of Wyden’s approach — the ability of individual citizens to sue, and the right of states to regulate more stringently than the federal government. 

Point 3 is illustrated by a second New York Times op-ed this week, by Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute and author of “Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.” Stoller says companies like the Internet Association’s members took (legal) advantage of the new ability to aggregate personal data to create advertising near-monopolies that have siphoned revenue from news organizations. Without specifying how, Stoller writes: “To save democracy and the free press, we must eliminate Google and Facebook’s control over the information commons.”  


3. Wireless 5G and privacy — could a dystopian service future come along with the faster downloads?

Late last month Verizon rolled out their 5G network in New York, adding to the coverage by the four major carriers across big U.S. cities, with further expansion continuing into 2020. There are currently 5 5G-capable smartphones on the market. What about privacy? 

Along with lightning fast downloads, the faster connectivity and low latency that 5G offers is expected to revolutionize industries by better supporting emerging technologies like IoT devices, virtual and augmented reality, AI, wearables, live gaming, telemedicine, autonomous vehicles and appliances, and much more. But there are privacy concerns regarding the large volume of personal data that will be recorded and transmitted across the network. With more connected devices, sharing more data, faster. How will data will be protected against security breaches? When will it be sold to or shared with third parties?  Given that 5G signals have less range and require more towers, tracking location data will become more precise. 

“Meanwhile, the increased number of connected devices means more targets and launchpads for attacks. If just one of your devices isn’t configured correctly, then it might be possible for cybercriminals to steal data or launch a more widespread attack using a botnet,” says Steve McCaskill of TechRadar. Because China is a leader in developing the technology, the U.S. government is concerned that Chinese companies may be able to track data across elements they’ve built. Privacy International predicts even darker scenarios where, “losing control of devices could happen in a very literal way: devices will work (or not) outside of the control of a given user. A house appliance we buy using credit instalments, might decide not to work unless we are up to date with its  installments. 5G could be the gateway for new and dystopic future in which the meaning of property has radically changed, leading to an era where we don’t really own our devices, but instead possess a device that works as a service.”

“5G can also make power abuse even worst, with devices controlled by people outside the household, including gender and domestic violence and users – and victims! – not being allowed to disconnect those devices, or maybe not even aware of their existence, since they could easily be concealed and remain connected, sending data to somebody else.”

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4. Law firms crank out reviews and advice on CCPA draft regulations and how to comply with the law itself

Privacy-law practitioners are racing to crank out reviews and advice on the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), now that Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed some anticipated amendments and the state has published draft enforcement rules. Here are links to a few: 








“New forms of advertising — underpinned by unregulated use of data and sold through opaque and complex auctions — then undermined the bargaining leverage of publishers and enabled new forms of fraud using bots and falsified content…Advertising financing presents an inherent conflict of interest, because advertising is a third party paying to manipulate someone…The combination of these two dynamics — the concentration of power and the new ethical quandaries presented by the financing of information networks by advertising — has created a crisis for democracy.”

– Matt Stoller, Open Markets Institute fellow, and author of “Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy” writing in an Oct. 17 New York Times op-ed.

“…if Instagram and Facebook had to compete, they would actually have to  police their content more. With GDPR and CCPA fully enforced, the toxic garbage (or even UGC) loses value relative to the trusted/quality content. Things are moving, I assure you.”

– Jason Kint, CEO, Digital Content Next, in an Oct. 16 “tweet.”

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