Digital

We Must Make Consumer Privacy a Priority

Nearly every day we hear of more major cases of identity theft, financial crime and other forms of attacks or malicious interference on the internet. Breaches become commonplace and lax standards leave consumers worried about how their information is safeguarded.

The colossal breaches at British Airways and Marriott and Starwood in 2018 compromised the private data of hundreds of millions customers, and dozens more cases have surfaced since.

Such incidents are evidence that consumer data security, and also consumer privacy, are not being taken seriously. The adoption of Internet of Things solutions and the highly anticipated rollout of very fast 5G networks will make consumers’ privacy even more vulnerable in the next few years.

President Trump’s executive order to prevent companies from buying hardware and software from telecommunications firms deemed a national security risk is at least one good step in protecting privacy, but it’s sad to see it had to come to that.

Trump is likely influenced by statements of FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who has warned against using telecom equipment vendors from China on the basis of both national security and concerns for privacy.

In one case last fall, it was reported that Chinese officials put immense pressure on specific private firms to include so-called backdoors in their software or devices, which may be exploited either by government agents alone or with a manufacturer’s help. That only provokes more questions as to the influence of the Chinese Community Party on the Chinese firms that sell abroad.

With that in mind, for the ordinary consumer looking to buy their next smartphone, laptop or WiFi router, how can they rest assured their privacy will be secured?

As a response to threats like this, Australia banned the Chinese network equipment manufacturer Huawei from its 5G network. The United States has effectively done the same. But blanket bans aren’t a silver bullet solution for safeguarding privacy and data security. A mix of solutions is needed.

What we need is a smart policy response that would induce companies to give sufficient weight to consumer data security, all the while achieving that goal without undue market distortions, wholesale bans of certain firms and the limiting of consumer choice.

Healthy competition between private enterprises is the best mechanism for the discovery of the right tools and applications for new tech gear. Keeping new regulation technology-neutral, and thus not deciding by law which technological solution is best, is a very good framework for consumer privacy.

The rules should be focused on outcomes and be as general as possible while still providing sufficient guidance. That means not just the biggest companies who can afford to comply will also have a chance.

At the same time, some kind of certification scheme, or even open source standard,  should be adopted to minimize the risk of any backdoors or other vulnerabilities. That said, perfect security cannot be guaranteed. But ensuring companies use encryption and secure methods of authentication should be on the table.

Ideally, there would also be more supply chain liability for telecommunications operators and infrastructure wholesalers. This would push companies to take consumer privacy and security more into account when making procurement decisions.

Outright bans motivated by security concerns have the same effects as trade restrictions in the context of a trade war. The first victim of any trade war are the consumers of the nation imposing tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade. Unless there is no other workable solution and unless the evidence of a serious security risk is clear, we shouldn’t resort to bans.

The debate around 5G reminds us how vulnerable consumers are in a technologically and politically complex world.

Therefore, smart regulation is needed in order to protect consumers from data breaches and to prevent autocratic governments from spying on them.

By strengthening liability of companies for technological vulnerabilities and by creating good standards, both consumer choice and privacy can be ensured.

Blunt instruments like total bans based on country of origin or regulators picking the technological champions should be seen as measures of the last resort.

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Opinion: Facebook trustbusters motivated by partisan politics, not consumer protection

Channeling the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt and nostalgia for the early 20th century Progressive Era, the latest bad idea being circulated in elite circles is to use the trust-busting power of the federal government to break up the social network Facebook.

The idea has been promoted by such Democratic politicians as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, and Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz. Even Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder, has hitched his wagon to the idea, as expressed in his now infamous New York Times op-ed.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes the keynote speech at F8, the Facebook’s developer conference, Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in San Jose, Calif.
Tony Avelar, AP

But let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not dealing with a corporate monopoly akin to Standard Oil, U.S. Steel or even Microsoft. We’re talking about social media websites and services available on the open web.

No one is forced to use these platforms, and are very free and cheaply able to create their own. This is not a monopoly in the literal sense, or even a figurative one.

There are already plenty of competing social networks that people use for a host of services. Whether it’s Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest or Twitter, there are plenty of services where people connect with friends and share information. Facebook just happens to have “clued in” to the needs of the greatest numbers of consumers. Does that warrant government intervention? No.

Let’s be clear: The internet is the ultimate playground for consumer choice. Government attempts to intervene and regulate based on political considerations, however, will only restrict consumer choice and deprive us of what we’ve thus far enjoyed.

No doubt, some actions by the company have been egregious and they’ll be rightfully punished. The Federal Trade Commission’s expected $5 billion fine on Facebook because of its mishandling of data and consumer privacy is a good first step.

But the movement calling on federal regulators to use their power to break up the company reeks of partisan politics.

Democrats are incensed that users on the platform may have been persuaded to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election due to an impressive outreach effort by the Trump campaign (not to mention alleged Russian front groups). Republicans, on the other hand, decry Facebook’s liberal-heavy moderation that has specifically targeted conservative pages and posts. Its censoring of a post citing the Declaration of Independence because it was considered “hate speech” is just one example.

But from what we’ve learned from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and other tech elites, banning individuals or pages are highly complex decisions made by thousands of moderators who follow an internal set of guidelines, whether at YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. The investigative article published on the Verge about Facebook moderators’ workload and stress while removing bad content from the platform speaks to that.

Despite these follies, the overwhelming majority of users are happy with their profiles. They’re able to connect with friends and family around the world, and share images and posts that spark conversations. Millions of small businesses, artists, and even news websites are dependent on these platforms to make their living.

Using the force of government to break apart businesses because of particular stances or actions they’ve taken, all legal under current law, is highly vindictive and will restrict the ability for ordinary people like myself or millions of other consumers to enjoy the platforms for which we voluntarily signed up.

We should hold these platforms accountable when they make mistakes, but not tip our hand to invite the federal government to determine which sites or platforms we can click on.

The government’s role is not to pick winners and losers. It’s to ensure our rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence states. Let’s not use temporary partisan politics to determine the fate of online services and platforms from which we all enjoy and benefit.

Yaël Ossowski is a consumer advocate and deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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Google & US chipmakers pull the plug on Huawei’s Android phones after Trump blacklist

“Outright bans by country of origin should only be the last resort for policy makers. Bans risk getting the global economy deeper into costly trade wars,” said Fred Roeder, managing director of the Consumer Choice Center.

The non-governmental organisation campaigns against restricting consumer choices by prohibitive laws and protectionist measures among others.

“Closed systems have a much higher likelihood of hiding vulnerabilities. Hence more open systems and open source approaches can really help consumers, and governments, trust the security promises of 5G providers,” he added.

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Google cuts off Huawei from Android ecosystem

Fred Roeder, managing director of the Consumer Choice Centre, a consumer activism group based in Arlington, Virginia, said that outright bans on technology equipment based on country of origin should only be a last resort for governments, and suggested open source might actually be a good route forward. “Bans risk getting the global economy deeper into costly trade wars. Consumers benefit from competition and the fast rollout of new technologies such as 5G networks,” he said.

“At the same time, we are worried about vulnerabilities and potential backdoors in equipment and software. Closed systems have a much higher likelihood of hiding vulnerabilities. Hence more open systems and open source approaches can really help consumers, and governments, trust the security promises of 5G providers,” added Roeder.

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5G and #Huawei – Trade wars can be prevented by using Open Source

While US President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday afternoon (15 May) effectively banning the use of Huawei’s products in 5G networks in the United States, the Consumer Choice Center (CCC) hopes for an alternative solution to improve consumer privacy in Europe.

Consumer Choice Center Managing Director Fred Roeder stressed that more openness and transparency of telephone and radio networks could lead to more trust in the soft- and hardware of infrastructure providers: “Outright bans by country of origin should only be the last resort for policy makers. Bans risk getting the global economy deeper into costly trade wars. Consumers benefit from competition and the fast rollout of new technologies such as 5G networks. At the same time, we are worried about vulnerabilities and potential backdoors in equipment and software. Closed systems have a much higher likelihood of hiding vulnerabilities. Hence more open systems and open source approaches can really help consumers, and governments, trust the security promises of 5G providers,” said Roeder.

“Private efforts such as the Open Radio Access Network Alliance show that open source systems are an option for telecommunication infrastructure. It would be a win-win situation for consumers and industry if more companies would embrace open standards. An open source approach in telecommunications could revolutionize market access and rollout pace of new standards in the era of 5G, in the same way as blockchain does in the financial services and payment industry. Manufacturers that commit to open source systems show that they don’t have any vulnerabilities to hide, and at the same time have a compelling case not to be excluded on the basis of their country of origin,” he added.

The Consumer Choice Center published a policy note on Consumer Privacy in the Age of 5G that can be found here.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more here.

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The Huawei Case: Backdoors, Telnet und ein Rauswurf

Anfang der Woche nährte eine Meldung der Nachrichtenagentur Bloomberg erneut Zweifel hinsichtlich der “Zuverlässigkeit” des chinesischen Netzwerkausrüsters Huawei. So hatte der Mobilfunkbetreiber Vodafone gegenüber der Nachrichtenagentur Bloomberg bestätigt, dass man in Italien bei Huawei-Technologie verdächtige Schwachstellen – sogenannte Backdoors – gefunden habe, die Unbefugten einen Zugang zum Festnetz des Carriers in Italien hätten ermöglichen können.

Diagnosefunktion nach der Entwicklung der Systeme nicht entfernt?

Diese “Schwachstellen” seien laut Vodafone bereits 2011 entdeckt worden. Nun rudert der Telekom-Konzern zurück und bemüht sich um eine technische Klarstellung. So handele es sich bei der Hintertür, auf die sich Bloomberg beziehe, um das Telnet-Protokoll, das von vielen Anbietern in der Industrie zur Durchführung von Diagnosefunktionen verwendet werde. Dieses wäre aber nicht über das Internet zugänglich gewesen, so Vodafone.

Einschätzungen der in USA beheimateten Lobbyorganisation Consumer Choice Center zufolge belegt der jüngste Vorfall Risiken für mögliche Verletzungen des Verbraucherschutzes und mache zugleich deutlich, dass die derzeitigen gesetzlichen Vorschriften zum Schutz der Privatsphäre der Verbraucher im Zeitalter der 5G-Technologien unzureichend sind.

Luca Bertoletti, European Affairs Manager des Consumer Choice Center, sagte dazu: “Wir glauben nicht, dass das Verbot von Huawei-Technologie und der Beginn eines Handelskrieges mit China der richtige Weg ist. Vielmehr fordern wir, dass alle Gesetzgeber und Strafverfolgungsbehörden Maßnahmen ergreifen und Normen schaffen, die sich an der Sicherheitszertifizierung von Software und Geräten orientieren sollten (wie im “Cybersecurity Act” der EU vorgeschlagen). Wir sind der Meinung, dass eine starke Verschlüsselung und sichere Authentifizierungsmethoden ein wesentlicher Bestandteil der Bemühungen zum Schutz der Privatsphäre der Verbraucher sein sollten.”

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Huawei Vodafone backdoor renews demand for better privacy rules

CONTACT:
Luca Bertoletti
European Affairs Manager
Consumer Choice Center
[email protected]
39 3451694519

Huawei Vodafone backdoor renews demand for better privacy rules

ROME – Today it was revealed that hidden backdoors were discovered in Huawei Equipment by the mobile provider Vodafone back in 2011. 

Vodafone identified hidden backdoors in the software that could have given Huawei unauthorized access to the carrier’s fixed-line network in Italy, reports Bloomberg.

The Consumer Choice Center says this intrusion highlights the risks for consumer privacy violations and demonstrates how current legal rules are insufficient in protecting consumers’ privacy in the age of 5G technologies. 

Luca Bertoletti, European Affairs Manager at the Consumer Choice Center, reacted to the news.

“This incident should signal to Italian law enforcement agencies the importance of Italian privacy rights and the seriousness of privacy intrusions from third parties. We invite legislators from all of Europe to press telco operators to take new steps to protect consumer privacy and take fast actions to prevent future breaches of internet networks.”

“We don’t believe that banning Huawei, and starting a trade war with China, is the right way to go. Rather, we demand that all legislative bodies and law enforcement actors take action and create standards that should be guided by security certification of software and devices (like proposed in the EU’s “Cybersecurity Act”). We believe that strong encryption and secure methods of authentication should be a significant part of the effort to safeguard consumer privacy,” concluded Bertoletti.

This particular topic ties into the CCC’s Consumer Privacy note, which was released this month.

***CCC European Affairs Manager Luca Bertoletti is available to speak with accredited media on consumer regulations and consumer choice issues. Please send media inquiries HERE.***

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

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