Tag Archive | privacy

Security as a unique selling point

While Apple and Samsung are competing fiercely at the higher end of the smartphone market, a new niche market is emerging in the industry. Instead of ever improving the specifications of their flagship smartphones, these new devices do not even come close to their hardware level. Yet, they are offered in the same price range. If it are not the specs, then what else is it that adds so much value to these phones?

Truth is, it is the security they offer. A few days ago, Archos – a French manufacturer that has not produced anything of note in recent times – introduced the GranitePhone. This smartphone was developed in a partnership with SIKUR, a Brazilian vendor of encrypted company-focused communications apps (Androidpolice, 2015). The phone is the latest to enter the emerging global market of ultra-secure smartphones, in which manufacturers  are anticipating growing concerns regarding the protection of data. That the software is coming from a Brazilian company might not come as a surprise. In 2013, the president of the country, Dilma Rousseff, cancelled a state visit to the United States, after Edward Snowden released documents which indicated her email and phone calls were monitored by the U.S (Bloomberg, 2015). The Granitephone is not the first of this type. Precedents include the Blackphone, produced by Silent Circle, and the Boeing Black smartphone. Interestingly, none come from established smartphone manufacturers and offer these companies an entry position in the entire smartphone market.

In this market, which surpassed 1 billion yearly smartphone sales in 2014 (Gartner, 2015), the advantages are well known. The devices have become an extension of daily life and are often trusted with our most intimate data. In addition, they generate enormous amounts of new data about the users. This is also where concerns are being raised, as the data appears to be less private and secure than is often realized by the user. (Jeon, et al., 2011) identify eight threats apparent to smartphones, of which four are caused by external attackers and the other four by the unawareness of the user:

  1. Malware. Malware can alter or expose private information and abuse costly services and functions.
  2. Wireless network attacks. An attacker can corrupt, modify, or block information on the wireless network.
  3. Denial of service. The risk of availability due to attacks on base stations and networks, or using radio interference.
  4. Break-in. An attacker gaining partial or full control of the device.
  5. Malfunction. The user can mistakenly disable their device.
  6. Phishing. Exposing private information due to phishing activities.
  7. Loss. The user can lose his/her smartphone.
  8. Platform alteration. Intentional alteration of the smartphone (e.g. jailbreaking).

The GranitePhone offers a solution focusing on the first four threats. It encrypts all outgoing messages and calls by storing them on SIKUR’s cloud based platform, which is only accessible through various layers of authentication (Tech Times, 2015). The Boeing Black smartphone even tackles one of the user-related threats, as it self-destructs in case of loss or theft. As the example of the Brazilian president above indicates, it are not only consumers which should be concerned about their mobile privacy. For corporations, politicians and defense the benefits of a secure phone might be even greater, as they possess more sensitive information.

So, are there no limitations of the Granitephone? Sure there are. As mentioned before, the hardware specifications of the phone are nothing special. The functionality is also limited. Currently, there is no internet browser available. In addition, it seems unlikely that productive applications like Gmail will be available on the device. It is even unclear if third party software can be installed at all. Then there is the price. It currently costs $849, around the price one can buy the newest iPhone for. In addition, there is debate about the actual security of the platform and the transparency around it.

Hence, it is unlikely that the phone will appeal to the mass consumer market. However, for certain corporate and political positions it might be the solution to safeguarding their most valuable information. Maybe more importantly, it adds to the existing debate on the security and privacy of mobile data, which governments and other companies seem take into account less and less.

  • Bas van Baar (358545sb)

Androidpolice, 2015. Archos Enters The Niche ‘Secure Phone’ Market With The $850 GranitePhone. [Online]
Available at: http://www.androidpolice.com/2015/10/10/archos-enters-the-niche-secure-phone-market-with-the-850-granitephone/
[Accessed 10 October 2015].

Bloomberg, 2015. Brazilians Are Developing an Untappable Phone. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-24/brazil-s-untappable-phone-seen-buoyed-after-rousseff-spy-scandal

Gartner, 2015. Gartner Says Smartphone Sales Surpassed One Billion Units in 2014. [Online]
Available at: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2996817

Jeon, W., Kim, J., Lee, Y. & Won, D., 2011. A Practical Analysis of Smartphone Security. Human Interface and the Management of Information, pp. 311-320.

Tech Times, 2015. Techtimes. [Online]
Available at: http://www.techtimes.com/articles/94336/20151012/archos-announces-security-enterprise-focused-granitephone.htm
[Accessed 12 October 2015].

Ethics and Information Strategy

Business nowadays are, with an accelerating pace,  gathering online data of individuals,  thereby creating powerful databases containing sensitive information. From a business perspective, this behavior enables firms to offer more tailored products and services to their (potential) customers. This phase of the Information Revolution, as Richards and Kings write, will result in a larger scale in social change at an even higher speed. Almost all human activities are becoming increasingly influenced  by big data predictions and, while of great value to firms, this collection of individual data also raises concerns.

We need balance the use of big data with human values like privacy, identity, free choice and transparency. In order to address this issue, Richard and King (2014) established four principles, or so-called big data ethical norms.                                                                                                                       First, the word “privacy” should be replaced by “ information rules”. In contrast to what many believe, privacy is not dying, but we should change our expectations and the boundaries of privacy. Privacy is not about how much is a secret but about what rules exist to use information.      Second, online trust should be restored. People don’t use technology, they don’t trust. When we share private information, we share in confidence. This, however, does not mean that this information is not ruled by privacy law. Users should trust on law and regulation for their information to remain confidential.                                                                                                                          Third, together with confidentiality, transparency should be in place in order for individuals to regain trust. However, there is a fine line between openness and secrecy with respect to transparency, also called the Transparency Paradox. In short, this paradox describes how too little information leads to a lack of trust and how too much transparency could harm privacy. Thus, there should be a balance in in privacy for individuals and privacy for institutions.                                                                     The fourth and last principle is about how big data can compromise identity. Our identities are being increasingly influenced by big data and the companies that control them. This phenomenon will only geow as big data will continue to be adopted by institutions. Because the development of big data is not natural, we should gain a deeper understanding and set clear boundaries to deal with its implications.

While big data offers great opportunities to firms and institutions, we should not ignore its challenges with respect to human values. Old regulations may not apply which urges debate on new laws and boundaries on information collection and handling.


Chris Stam


Neil M. Richards, J. H. K., 2014. Big Data Ethics, Washington: s.n.

How Private and safe is Snapchat?

What is Snapchat and what makes it so popular among teens?
It’s really simple you take a picture and write a message and send the picture to a friend. What makes it so popular for teenagers is that you could pick how long the message will appear.  Once your friend gets the message they hold the button to view the message after which it disappears. It’s also possible with Snapchat to send texts, photos and videos. The text messages sent could be saved by both parties by clicking on it.

They offer a false sense of privacy, promising that they erase the photos.
The ugly truth however is that at the moment there are many apps that offer users to save incoming snaps. Amongst the most popular ones are apps like Snapchat saver, SnapCrack and SnapSave who all have the same functionalities of saving photos, videos and stories.

We could say that because of these unsafe third-party apps Snapchat is also unsafe, because these apps are exactly the contrary of what Snapchat is all about.

According to business insider one of these third party apps was hacked lately and the hackers claim that they have at least 100.000 Snapchat photos which include nude photos of underage kids. The collection photos that include photos of child pornography might be released very soon by the hackers.

Even though the app itself had some flaws before like people that could just take a print screen of the sender’s photo or the possibility of taking a photo of the snap with another mobile phone. With the hack of these third party apps there is another flaw revealed that questions the company’s commitment to security.

First of all if Snapchat did enough to protect its software it wouldn’t be so easy for other parties to hack the platform and offer these services like saving snaps. Secondly with the existence of these apps in the apple and google store they haven’t yet convinced them to keep the third party hacks out of the stores. That says enough doesn’t it?

What do you guys think of Snapchat and their privacy?


I rather eat cookies


Acookie law? Why would they make a law about cookies? When I first heard about a cookie law some years ago I laughed and said what are they putting into this law? The maximum amount of sugar? Unfortunately the law wasn’t about eatable cookies, but about cookies on the internet. I heard of their existence once but I didn’t actually know I came into contact with these cookies every day, since no website informed me about them. From that moment onwards websites were obliged to inform you about the use of cookies.

So what are cookies?

A cookie is a small text file which is stored during your visit to a website. Whenever a person visits the same website again, the website keeps track of what the user is doing on the internet.

There are three types of cookies:

  • Functional cookies: without these cookies the website isn’t able to function, as an example the things you put in your shopping bag on a shopping site
  • Analytical cookies: these cookies keep track of how often you visit a site or read an article
  • Tracking cookies: these cookies follow your browsing behaviour, so if you search for shoes on one website, you probably get a commercial about shoes on another website

What are the rules for cookies today?

For functional cookies no permission from the user is required. Concerning analytical and tracking cookies a permission from a user is required via an accept button on the particular website which is using cookies.

What is going to change?

The ministry of economic affairs wants to put an end to the mandatory asking for analytical cookies. These cookies don’t have major consequences for a person’s privacy. Only when it’s really necessary to protect the privacy of the user permission will be asked. The mandatory asking for tracking cookies will remain.

What’s in this for us users?

This change in the law can be positive for us users, since you don’t get the annoying pop-ups of cookies all the time. A lot of us just click on accept for cookies without even reading what the cookies do or what kind of cookies you are coping with. But this case also raises some important questions, since there is a very thin line between users’ benefit and their privacy. In my opinion this line is subjective, as persons around the world will have differing opinions about this. For instance users in countries with political suppression will probably opt to avoid cookies as much as possible.

Another topic is whether people will still be informed about the use of analytical questions. Informing users will be necessary to allow people to choose not to visit a particular website when it makes use of analytical cookies.

So for me it’s a difficult case since I do mind my own and other people’s privacy but on the other hand I almost always just accept the cookies without even reading. In the short run I think we will benefit from the improved usability of websites, but for me the effects in the long run are yet to be determined. Therefore I am interested in your opinion about this case. Do you just click on accept? Do you mind about your privacy regarding cookies on the internet? And most important.. what would you vote for on Tuesday if you were in the government?




Big Data is watching you!



Edward Snowden has revived the debate privacy versus security. Edward Snowden, born in 1983, is a computer specialist that has worked for the CIA and NSA. On June 5th he became world-famous for his whistle blowing of massive privacy violation by the United States and British governments.

Snowden pointed out that the NSA had developed PRISM, a mass electronic data mining system. This system is able to track every US citizen with a digital footprint. The problem is not that PRISM can collect data, the problem is the data that is being collected:

…audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs… [Skype] can be monitored for audio when one end of the call is a conventional telephone, and for any combination of “audio, video, chat, and file transfers” when Skype users connect by computer alone. Google’s offerings include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, photo libraries, and live surveillance of search terms.

                                                                      – Washington Post

This not only counts for Skype and Google, but for Microsoft, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo and many more as well. Practically everything you have ever done online is to be found by PRISM, including a lot of private information that you would not share with your government voluntarily.

When thinking of the consequences a system like PRISM might have on privacy, the famous movie ’1984’ from George Orwell comes to mind as an extreme possibility. A state where every civilian is closely monitored and controlled by the government. A state in which the government knows everything about you, and sees everything you do. Big Brother is watching you. And Big Brother uses big data to do this.

As reaction to Snowden’s whistle blowing, the NSA has proclaimed that this kind of surveillance has already prevented dozens of potential attacks towards the US. There lies truth in this as well, as increased surveillance also increases the likeliness to detect acts of violence/crime/terror.  

When we abstract to a higher level, there seems to be a constant trade-off between privacy and security. We all want to be secure, but we all see privacy as an important and not-to-be-violated right at the same time. The government is the main body to offer security, but it increasingly wants more of your private information to do this.

There remains one question:  How much of your privacy are you willing to trade for security?












Ever since George Orwell coined the term ‘Big Brother’ in his seminal novel 1984, storytellers have become fixated with the notion of a totalitarian state where surveillance reaches total control. Written by Ryan Condal and directed by Dennis Liu, Plurality is the latest science-fiction film to focus on these Orwellian notions, as their 14-minute short explores where hi-tech policing allows for instant surveillance. Feeling like a cross between The Terminator and Minority Report, the plot of Plurality centres around a futuristic New York, where everything you do is traced through ‘the Grid’.

“The Grid takes all those things unique to you, your social security number, your passport, your debit and credit accounts and links them to one thing…your DNA. With just a touch, the Grid collects a tiny sample of your genetic material, ID-ing you instantly. Then a purchase can be deducted directly from your personal accounts, or you can unlock and start your car and it all works within a margin error of 0.001% ….the ultimate social network!”

Revolving around notions of personal privacy in a digital age,  the themes, ideas and even some of the technology that exist in the futuristic world of Plurality are not ones that seem implausible. With fingerprint recognition already in use with some automobiles, concerns about computer and phone privacy already spreading due to hacking and social media, hacking, some may even predict aspects of Condal and Liu’s premonition of society as inevitable. Thus the evolution of technology brings many possibilities, but also possible risks concerning privacy. This video illustrates these both aspects.