One illustration of a man in a surfing pose on a mobile phone and another illustration of a man sitting at his computer.
One illustration of a man in a surfing pose on a mobile phone and another illustration of a man sitting at his computer.
Illustration by DuckDuckGo.

We recently introduced Global Privacy Control (GPC). The idea of GPC is that Internet users can enable a setting in their browsers or mobile devices that alerts websites and other online services to not share or sell their data. Major publishers, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times, are already supporting GPC. You can install the privacy-tech-lab’s browser extension OptMeowt (for Chrome) to send GPC signals to all or some websites you visit. …

An illustration of people in houses doing different activities at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
An illustration of people in houses doing different activities at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
People are entertaining themselves at home in Alphaville (illustration by Annalise Batista).

A few days ago I was sitting at home when I received an e-mail from the mayor of Alphaville. Searching the web, she had come across the privacy-tech-lab site as she was frantically looking for someone to help her. We set up a Zoom call. The mayor was in the process of reopening Alphaville after the lockdown. She just had seen Anthony Fauci, the rock solid advisor in the White House Coronavirus Task Force, expressing concerns on TV that reopening before establishing preventive measures could lead to little spikes that might turn into outbreaks [1]. “We could lose track again of the virus forcing us back into lockdown,” the mayor said, “but maybe a contact tracing app is the right solution here. That is the reason I wanted to talk with you.” True, using such app may be a good idea to keep the virus in check, I thought. However, it would possibly also require the collection of sensitive data from lots of people. Public health does not come for free; we will need to strike a balance with privacy considerations. …

Note: If you are an iOS Swift developer, we would love to hear what you think of our new privacy policy generator, PrivacyFlash Pro. Let us know!

On January 1, 2020 the CCPA became effective and will be enforced by the California Attorney General beginning July 1, 2020. What is the CCPA? It is a privacy law that gives California residents new privacy rights. Particularly, app and web developers should take note of the CCPA. …

Image for post
Image for post
Illustration by Gerd Altmann.

In the 1960s, very few people had computers. They were mostly used at research institutions, for business purposes, or by the military. Computing was expensive, and people were cheap.¹ Thus, scarce computing resources were shared among many users. With a time-sharing system like Multics, a single mainframe computer would often be enough for everyone. Users prepared their computation offline and sent it from their terminals to the mainframe. However, users needed to be protected from each other.² The paradigm of using one computer for multiple users gave rise to the notion of access control. Who should have access to which resources on the computer? To which extent should a user be able to read or write to files on the computer? Access control was later adopted in Unix and continues to live today in our smartphone operating systems. iOS and Android are distant descendants of Unix. In fact, Android creates a separate user for every running app. …

Software developers can borrow time: a company that is willing to take on technical debt¹ can speed up its development process. However, the debt has to be paid back eventually and quite possibly with substantial interest. For the longest time Facebook’s motto was to move fast and break things. This approach can only go so far, though. At some point its user interface required a major rewrite. Icons kept popping up notifying users that they had 99+ messages. Except, in many cases it was not true. To address this and other problems Facebook developed React, a JavaScript library and possibly the gold standard for user interface development. It took serious efforts to fix, but Facebook was successful. Albeit, it did not only accumulate technical debt. …

When it was introduced in 2011 it was eagerly anticipated and well received. It was the challenger of the iPhone 4S, albeit, much more affordable. However, while the 4S is frozen in time with its last official iOS update in 2016, the Galaxy Nexus is still around and holding on. The Nexus was never a bestseller. However, for many years now it is on unofficial support and became a folk hero of sorts. It was the first smartphone I used in my research projects. It still remains an incredible valuable tool to get insight into Android apps and the app ecosystem as a whole. …


Sebastian Zimmeck

Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Wesleyan University

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store