35 Times Privacy Was A Lie In 2017

The hacks, data breaches, uncanny smart devices, panoptical social media, and government surveillance that happened in a single year. Yay!!

Every year, we give up a little more of our privacy to big tech corporations.

This happens in a lot of little ways: feeling more comfortable letting a smart device into our home, giving more access to information about ourselves to social media platforms (or discovering to our shock how much info they had been collecting this whole time), letting our phones track us. Each of these little things doesn't feel like a lot when it happens — we might be surprised, but eventually we get used to it. Tech pushes the limits of what we feel okay with just a few inches at a time, and we don't notice until we look back that "the line" has moved miles.

This year was no exception. Let's look back and see all the ways big companies chipped away at our privacy bit by bit in 2017.

1. Equifax had a data breach that affected 145 million Americans, lol.

2. Amazon announced "Amazon Key", where the delivery person can leave the package inside your home.

I am totally okay with #AmazonKey. COME INSIDE AND LET’S GET WEIRD, BEZOS.

Amazon Key allows Amazon delivery people to open your door and leave your packages inside. You have to install a smart lock which can be digitally opened by your friends or Amazon, and then select it as a delivery option. A livestream camera shows you the delivery, which also is an incentive for drivers not to, well, poop on your porch, I guess. The immediate reaction from people on Twitter to the announcement was NOPE NOPE.

For the record, I think this is actually a pretty good idea and plenty of people will be excited about the convenience.

3. Oh yeah, and the camera for the Amazon Key? It can be hacked.

4. We discovered that Twitter has been guessing our gender and age all along.

@KateAllDay So this is bullshit. I guess if you don't pick a gender, Twitter picks one for you?

In May, Twitter decided to allow users to see some of the information it gathers about them for targeted advertising. People immediately noticed that "gender" was one of the items — but Twitter has never asked its users to fill that out. It's just been guessing. Many people noticed it was guessing quite well, but it's still awkward and potentially distressing for people who don't identify as the gender Twitter guessed for them.

5. People found Sean Spicer's Venmo account, because it turns out there's no such thing as a "private" Venmo account.

It's recently come to our attention that @seanspicer is on Venmo, and that he is being trolled

While you can make your transactions private, there's no way to make your actual profile — which typically uses your real name — unsearchable. That means there is nothing to stop someone from sending Sean Spicer thousands of dollars (unless they said it was for Cuban sandwiches, which would actually trigger Venmo's compliance team).

6. Someone found a spycam in their Airbnb, which, lol.

In "oh, that's a thing now" news, a colleague of mine thought it odd that there was a single "motion detector" in h… https://t.co/wisoPBFCmH

Airbnb told BuzzFeed News that this is "incredibly rare" and that it had permanently banned the host. It's not really an Airbnb user data problem, it's a "wow, people IRL are creeps" problem.

7. Google Maps for iPhone has been keeping a log of everywhere you go throughout the day on your "Timeline".

8. Google Home Mini had a flaw that caused it to always listen to you.

9. Uber had a massive customer data breach, and didn't tell anyone for a year.

10. Imgur was hacked back in 2014 and only found out just now.

On November 23, we were notified about a data breach on Imgur that occurred in 2014. While we are still actively in… https://t.co/sRnCe3VlPS

The hack exposed email addresses and passwords for 1.4 million users.

11. Apple asked us to teach our iPhone X's to recognize our face.

12. Someone says they can hack the iPhone X's FaceID using a mask.

13. And the facial recognition for the Samsung phone seems to be able to be tricked by a photo.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Facial Recognition Test:

How did no one see this coming?

14. Marketers on Facebook are using "psychographic" techniques to target ads.

15. Cloudflare had a bug that leaked passwords from OkCupid, Yelp, Medium, Fitbit, and more.

16. TV ads hijacked Google Home smart speakers to sell you burgers.

View this video on YouTube


Burger King made a TV ad where a pitchman says "Ok, Google, what is the Whopper burger?" If you owned a Google Home smart speaker, your device would be prompted by the voice on TV to start reading the Wikipedia entry for the Whopper.

Pretty clever! The ad even went on to win a major advertising industry award. But it is a little scary that marketers can use your smart devices to deliver ads to you this way.

17. Netflix reminded everyone through this joke tweet that it has the ability to track user viewing habits at a highly granular level.

To the 53 people who've watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?

18. India finally made its fingerprint and retina scanning ID system mandatory for everyone.

19. Amazon in India wants to use that biometric ID to track packages.

20. So do Uber and Airbnb...

21. US intelligence has been illegally overreaching by snooping into citizens' financial records.

22. Facebook wants you to send it your nudes so it can block other people from posting those nudes as revenge porn.

23. Facebook has been using your phone's contacts to create a "shadow profile" with people who have you in their email or phones.

24. The Department of Homeland Security now has a rule saying it will look at immigrants' social media profiles.

Finally, my twitter voice has found its audience! Hello DHS, let me welcome you to your favorite new feed & tell yo… https://t.co/Q4JfQZnGPj

DHS published a rule that will affect immigrants — including permanent residents and naturalized citizens — that they will look at "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" as part of someone's immigration file. The idea for this started under Obama after the San Bernardino shooting, in hopes that looking at social media could potentially stop violence or terrorist attacks. But advocates say this infringes on privacy and potentially free speech.

25. And ICE is asking tech companies like Microsoft to build tools to let them track visa holder's social media.

26. Google introduced Clips, a camera that is ALWAYS ON and automatically takes photos.

27. Amazon introduced Show, which makes video call "drop ins" to other people with a Show.

28. Turns out Android phones were tracking your location, even if you had location services turned off.

29. Hinge created a matchmaking app, and it means that anyone can download it and see which of their Facebook friends are using Hinge.

30. Australia will add driver's license photos to a national facial recognition system to find people on security cameras.

31. E-commerce app Wish makes your wish lists public.

32. Twitter admitted it accidentally posted your city location if you were uploading a GIF.

To be fair, this only occurred for a week, and it fixed it. But a good reminder that a random software bug could cost you some privacy.

33. Mattel announced plans to make a smart speaker for babies (but then canceled it).

34. Roomba is planning on selling maps of your home.

35. And this.

Ok, just kidding. It's a fake camera, it doesn't really record or send it to elves.

BUT. It's one more tiny step in indoctrinating children into feeling comfortable with constantly being watched by an omniscient authoritarian power (Santa). Is it just a cute holiday toy, or is it another example of the chipping away of our expectation of privacy? Answer me that, Santa!

For more Best of 2017 content, click here!

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