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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 29 March 2018, 5:08 pm

Facebook gets kicked in the privates

The social media giant is squaring off with New Zealand's Privacy Commissioner over whether or not Facebook has to comply with New Zealand law.


The Privacy Act governs New Zealand data and gives us access to information about us held by third parties. One such person contacted Facebook asking for access to personal information held by other users. Facebook refused, saying New Zealand law does not apply.

Not so fast, mega-corporation with more lawyers than New Zealand has sheep.

John Edwards is the sheriff in this here town and he gets to decide who needs to comply with the Act and look! he thinks Facebook is covered by the law. Worse, Facebook was not complying with the law, putting it in breach of its obligations to conduct itself legally, and he also called for the company to comply with his office's requests for information.

Facebook says no. Apparently it has come out swinging, telling Stuff that: "the company was disappointed the commissioner asked the company to provide access to a year's worth of private data belonging to several people and then criticised them over privacy protection."

"We scrutinise all requests to disclose personal data, particularly the contents of private messages, and will challenge those that are overly broad," a Facebook spokesperson told Stuff.

"We have investigated the complaint from the person who contacted the commissioner's office but we haven't been provided enough detail to fully resolve it. Instead, the commissioner has made a broad and intrusive request for private data. We have a long history of working with the commissioner, and we will continue to request information that will help us investigate this complaint further."

This comes after Facebook managed to blot its own copybook by allow Cambridge Analytica access to the records of 50 million users in breach of its own policy but totally in line with the company's unofficial motto: "We own you. We own every part of you."

Edwards isn't necessarily the hero we want but no doubt he is the hero we need and quite how this plays out, with Facebook refusing to acknowledge his jurisdiction, is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile the Minister responsible for such things, Andrew Little, is looking at a new version of the Privacy Act which includes mandatory reporting albeit with a fine set so low most mega-conglomerates will probably pay the fine rather than roll out the lawyers. Perhaps this will convince him that Edwards and his office needs more teeth.

RNZ - Facebook not complying with the Privacy Act, says Commissioner

Stuff - NZ privacy commissioner has pulled up Facebook for breach of privacy laws

Stuff - Kiwi software developer accuses Facebook of recording texts and calls outside its app

RNZ - Facebook faces Federal Trade Commission privacy inquiry

RNZ - Impact for NZ of Facebook's privacy breach: Jordan Carter


The sky is falling

Security is big business and if you've ever had a security breach you know the cost of security is second only to the cost of not securing your data.

It's much like owning an Alfa Romeo ("If you can't afford a new one you certainly can't afford a second hand one") and like an Alfa, it is prone to generating lots of noise and demanding that people look at it while something expensive breaks off.

Two reports out this week paint an interesting picture of security in the New Zealand context.

The first is from Norton, purveyors of security software and services. Norton is owned by Symantec which used to put its name to these reports but frankly, over the years, the numbers have ballooned so much and the level of shrieking about risk has reached a pitch so high only the dolphins were paying attention, so one quick rebrand later, we have the Norton view of how much cyber-security attacks are costing small businesses in New Zealand.

Around a quarter of small businesses report some kind of cyber attack, up from 18% the year before, and the cost per business is $18,592. An interestingly precise number.

The report suggests the previously mentioned Privacy Act changes will require businesses to take security a little more seriously lest they face the wrath of the Commissioner, and that perhaps they'd like to buy some software or similar.

The other report is from CERT, the government-mandated team responsible for helping promote awareness and thwart nefarious activities in cyberspace (do we still call it that?).

CERT says this quarter is on track to be similar to the previous couple of quarters with around 390 incidents reported to the agency. Reported financial losses, however, have nearly doubled quarter on quarter and now account for $3.9 million in just three months.

This figure includes "nine incidents that involved losses of over $100,000 each" which certainly makes the mind boggle but since the report also notes the rise of cryptocurrency frauds, it's not surprising. Having money doesn't always correlate with managing it wisely.

The breakdown figures are interesting. Of the 377 incidents reported to CERT, 37% were listed as scams & fraud, phishing & credential harvesting accounted for 33% (including my own report), unauthorised access (10%), malware (8%), reported vulnerabilities (4%), and ransomware (4%) rounded out the quarter.

We all need to do what we can to ensure our data is kept safe (including limiting Facebook's access to it I would suggest) so it's good to know organisations like CERT are doing their bit.

CERT - Quarterly Report October-December 2017

NZ Herald - Cyber crime risk to small businesses on the rise

The Spin Off - How my email was hijacked, and how you can stop it happening to you

(A precautionary tale from Your Correspondent)


The Sky is falling

Content is king (well, democratically elected governor for a limited time) and if this week has demonstrated anything it's that Sky TV is losing its crown.

Sky, as we know, owns the rights to screening rugby in New Zealand and has managed to fend off talk of regulatory intervention (what is known elsewhere in the world as "anti-syphoning") for nearly three decades. While many countries enacted laws that said "this sport is essential to our understanding of who we are as a people and must be shown free on television for as long as I have breath in my body", New Zealand basically said "go to the pub or find a mate with a decoder if you can't afford Sky yourself". 

Now, however, Sky is no longer the "preferred bidder" for the upcoming Rugby World Cup and with the drop off in subscriber numbers, coupled with growing competition from the digital side of the fence and the CEO deciding it was time he retired, Sky is looking decidedly shaky.

It's a story we've all seen coming and which we've all seen before. An analogue provider of something says the future will be exactly the same as the past was and ignores the customer demand for change. Eventually someone else comes along and gives the customer that change (or the perception of change) and overnight, without any warning (or hint of irony) the company shares fall off a cliff.

Sky has seen this coming for some time but still seems to be surprised by competition, customer churn, content providers chasing a different demographic and so choosing a different service provider and the whistling sound they can hear once they hit freefall.

All is not lost, of course. Sky could still find a way into the future that gives it a role as content aggregator. What it can't do is continue to be a channel operator built around an outmoded Pay TV model that no longer makes sense in an on-demand world.

NZ Herald - Sky not preferred bidder for Rugby World Cup 2019 rights

NZ Herald - Cracks appearing in Sky TV's rugby fortress

Stuff - Sky TV shares sink on Rugby World Cup loss

The Spin Off - Why the Vodafone-Sky merger is mostly about a funny shaped ball 

Stuff - Closing credits for last Video Ezy store in Nelson region (speaking of precautionary tales)


You'll note that this week's newsletter is a day early. It's Easter week so we're here to provide you a Friday read but on a Thursday.

Take care out there on the crazy roads (look for me on Friday morning joining the herd) and don't eat too much chocolate.


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