Personal Privacy Impact Assessments for Facebook

I’m reading Canada’s Assistant Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s recently released findings into complaints levied against Facebook. (Report of Findings into the Complaint Filed by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)against Facebook Inc. Under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.) My first reaction to this is, frankly, one of jealousy. I wish we had a similar commissioner/czar/wonk here in the US. I suppose elements of the FTC work in this regard but without the same charter, which is too bad.

Section 4 of the report is, for me, where the action is at. Section 4 is concerned with 3rd party application in Facebook and use of personal data by those applications. As the Facebook platform grows with new additions like Facebook Connect, issues of third-party access to user information will continue to be a concern to those who pay attention to such things. There’s a challenge here as the ways in which 3rd party applications use user information is hard to decipher, as it is, from an end-user perspective, a fairly black-box operation.

I wonder if Facebook could build a personal privacy impact assessment (PPIA) app. The PPIA would analyze the action you are about to take on Facebook, your privacy settings, the 3rd party apps you’ve allows access to your profile, and the privacy settings you have set for those apps. The PPIA could give you a quick read on which applications would be privy to the action you are about to do. It could indicate which groups of friends (based on your privacy settings) would see what you are about to do. Essentially, it would let you see across how much of your social graph a certain action (like posting a link or photo) will travel.

We all have PPIAs built in – one that is cultivated through social interactions schooled by social norms. When it comes to dealing with large systems, like Facebook, big business, or the government for that matter, we all can use a little help.  I wonder if someone can get a PPIA prototype up ahead of Catalyst to at least give me a warning about potentially embarrassing photos being posted somewhere…

(Cross posted from Burton Group’s Identity Blog.)

I’ll keep my paper passport, thanks

Here is a short piece on how a researcher, Chris Paget, bought a $250 RFID reader on eBay and used it to clone ePassports while driving 30 miles an hour near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.  I fully recognize that this demonstration doesn’t represent a method for fabricating complete paper-in-hand cloned passports.  Cloning is just the first step, but it is a big step.  More importantly, it is a step that the State department has is somewhere between impossible and unlikely.  The following is a passage from the privacy impact assessment (PIA) of TDIS – the Travel Document Issuance System:

The Department of State has taken extensive measures to prevent a third-party from reading or accessing the information on the chip without the passport holder’s knowledge. This includes safeguards against such nefarious acts as “skimming” data from the chip, “eavesdropping” on communications between the chip and reader, “tracking” passport holders, and “cloning” the passport chip in order to facilitate identity theft crimes. These safeguards are described in detail on the Department of State website.

Apparently those safeguards aren’t very strong.  

I invite you to read the State Department’s FAQ on e-Passports.  Notice the incredibly defensive tone in the opening of the answer to the question, “Will someone be able to read or access the information on the chip without my knowledge (also known as skimming or eavesdropping)?”  Also notice the tacit acknowledgment that passport RFID chips can be cloned.

Mr. Paget intends on driving around DC this weekend to see what he can clone, and with a macbre sense of humor, I look forward to reading his results.

Until then, I’ll keep my paper passport.