Clinton Email Controversy Highlights Dangers of Using Personal Online Accounts For Work

Posted by on Mar 15, 2015 in Data Security, Employment and Labor

The New York Times recently reported that Hillary Rodham Clinton used a personal email address for work and personal matters while she served as Secretary of State. Many employees could probably appreciate why Ms. Clinton chose to use a private email address for work purposes. She enjoyed the convenience of carrying one mobile device instead of two. That’s the same reason the Bring Your Own Device movement has been rapidly gaining momentum.

The convenience of commingling professional and personal online accounts comes at a price. One danger is unauthorized disclosure of confidential information.   Work-related information stored in an employee’s personal online account is not subject to security measures like firewalls, anti-virus software, and metadata scrubbing programs. Private online accounts may be vulnerable to cyberattacks, putting the confidentiality of their contents at risk. While such records might not concern national security matters as in the Clinton controversy, they could contain personnel information, medical history, or trade secrets, the disclosure of which could violate data privacy laws like HIPAA and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, not to mention hurting a company’s competitive edge or creating a public relations debacle.

Another risk is noncompliance with recordkeeping policies. Work rules dictating how long work files are kept before they’re disposed help organizations manage the task of responding to information inquiries like discovery requests in litigation. In some jurisdictions, an organization’s failure to produce a document in discovery because it was destroyed in compliance with the organization’s document retention policy generally is not considered unlawful destruction of evidence. (Note: Hawaii’s court rules were amended this year to recognize such a defense). But spotty enforcement of a document retention policy could destroy that defense. Popular ways of transferring work files include forwarding them to a personal email address or uploading them to a personal cloud storage account. Such practices could result in work files being kept beyond their authorized retention period, thus casting doubt on whether an organization actually follows its document retention policy.

Managing these risks begins with adopting a formal policy on use of personal accounts for work purposes and training employees to follow the policy. Without a policy in place, employees might have few qualms about using their personal accounts for work.  Consult with a lawyer with data privacy experience to ensure that your policy manages legal risks.

If your company decides to prohibit the transfer of work data to external locations, enforce that policy diligently. Work with your IT department or outside vendors to implement physical and software safeguards against unauthorized transfers. Conduct audits to ensure compliance with the policy.

Another strategy is to offer solutions that allow employees to work outside of the office conveniently without having to use their personal accounts. Consider hosting a private cloud storage site where employees can share files in a secured environment under your control. Also popular is virtual desktop software that allows employees to access their workstation remotely in a controlled environment.

Don’t wait until your employees’ data handling practices make the headlines before taking action to protect the confidentiality of your work files.

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FTC Releases Staff Report and Recommendations on “Internet of Things”

Posted by on Jan 27, 2015 in Data Security, Privacy

The FTC released two guides on the privacy and security issues related to the Internet of Things.  The first is a staff report based on discussions in an FTC-hosted workshop on the subject held on November 19, 2013.  In addition to summarizing the workshop discussions, the report contains staff’s recommendations in the IoT space.  This prompted a FTC Commissioner (Joshua Wright) to dissent from the decision to issue the report.  In Commissioner Wright’s view, it is premature to publish staff recommendations in this area without further research, data, and analysis.  The dissenting statement can be found here.

The report discusses the benefits of IoT as well as three risks:

  1. enabling unauthorized access and misuse of personal information;
  2. facilitating attacks on other systems; and
  3. creating risks to personal safety

The report also discusses Fair Information Practice Principles including security, data minimization, notice, and choice.  Click here to read the full report.

Along with the staff report, the FTC issued a guide called “Careful Connections” that provides recommendations on building security into IoT applications.  Download the guide here.

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Oh Snap! Lessons From the Snapchat Settlement With the FTC

Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Advertising and Marketing, Data Security, Privacy

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just announced that Snapchat agreed to settle charges that it deceived consumers about how its popular mobile message app worked and what personal user data it collected.  (Read the FTC’s press release here). Part of Snapchat’s appeal was a feature enabling users to control how long a message could be seen by the recipient. After the designated time limit expires, the message is destroyed, much like the mission briefings in Mission Impossible. At least that’s what Snapchat told users. According to the FTC, Snapchat misled consumers because the app didn’t exactly work the way it said it did. The FTC’s complaint against Snapchat (read it here) included these allegations:

  • Recipients of a “snap” (a Snapchat message) could save the snap using tools outside of the app. Snapchat apparently stored video snaps in a location on the recipient’s mobile device outside of the app’s secure “sandbox.” This enabled recipients to find and save video snaps by connecting their mobile device to a computer and using simple file browsing tools. Another way to bypass the deletion feature was to use apps that connected to Snapchat’s API to download and save snaps.
  • Snapchat told users that if a message recipient took a snapshot of the snap, the sender would be notified. In fact, the screenshot detection mention could be bypassed.
  • Snapchat collected geolocation data of users when it said it would not.
  • Snapchat told users to enter their mobile number to find friends who also use the app, implying that the user’s mobile phone number was the only information it collected. Without the user’s knowledge, Snapchat also collected the names and phone numbers of all contacts in the address book on the user’s phone.

So what’s the significance of the settlement? Here are a few quick takeaways.

  • Descriptions of mobile apps in an app marketplace like iTunes App Store or Google Play are product descriptions that could be the basis for false advertising claims.
  • Including boilerplate language in an app description, terms of use, or privacy policy is a bad idea if you don’t know what it means or can’t verify its accuracy. Snapchat’s privacy policy told users that it “did not ask for, track, or access any location-specific information.” A lot of apps say that. The problem was that Snapchat integrated an analytics tracking service in the Android version of the app that did collect location information.
  • Take into account exploits and workarounds when drafting privacy policies and product descriptions. This includes software that uses the app’s API.
  • The FTC is getting more active in pursuing false advertising claims against mobile app makers. In December of last year, the FTC settled charges that the developer of the “Brightest Flashlight Free” app deceived consumers about how their geolocation information would be shared with advertising networks and other third parties. The FTC’s interest in suing companies that allow a data breach to occur is also a growing concern, especially after the New Jersey federal district court’s decision in FTC v. Wyndham Worldwide Corp., recognizing the FTC’s authority to prosecute cases where a company is alleged to have failed to maintain “reasonable and appropriate data security for consumers’ sensitive personal information.”
  • Information transmitted over the Internet is rarely, if ever, gone forever. Somehow, somewhere, electronic data can be retrieved.
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Federal Trade Commission Amends Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule

Posted by on Dec 19, 2012 in Data Security, Privacy

The Federal Trade Commission adopted final amendments to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) Rule today.  The amendments are the result of a review initiated by the FTC in 2010 to adapt to changes in technology and in the way children use and access the Internet.

Highlights of the amendments include:

  • Modification of the list of “personal information” that cannot be collected without parental notice and consent.  Geolocation information, photographs, and videos are now on the list.
  • A streamlined, voluntary, and transparent process for getting approval of new ways of obtaining parental consent.
  • Closing of a loophole that allowed third parties, on behalf of kid-directed apps and websites, to use plug-ins to collect personal information from a child without parental notice and consent.
  • Strengthening of data security protections by requiring covered website operators and online service providers to take reasonable steps to release children’s personal information only to companies that are capable of keeping it secure and confidential.
  • Application of the COPPA Rule to persistent identifiers that can recognize users over timer and across different websites or online services, such as IP addresses and mobile device IDs.
  • Revision of the parental notice provisions to help ensure that operators’ privacy policies, and the notices they must provide to parents before collecting children’s personal information, are concise and timely.
  • Approval of new methods that operators can use to obtain verifiable consent.  The new methods are: electronic scans of signed parental consent forms; video-conferencing; use of government-issued identification; and alternative payment systems.

The amended Rule goes into effect on July 1, 2013.  The full text of the Federal Register Notice adopting the amendments can be found here.

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FTC Issues Guidance For Mobile App Developers

Posted by on Oct 4, 2012 in Advertising and Marketing, Data Security, Privacy

On September 5, the Federal Trade Commission published its first guide specifically with mobile app developers in mind.  Entitled “Marketing Your Mobile App: Get It Right From the Start,” the guide is not legally binding, but it does set out guidelines to help mobile app developers comply with truth-in-advertising and privacy laws.  In particular, the guide lays out seven principles for complying with federal data privacy requirements under statutes like the Graham-Leach-Bileley Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act.  Click here for the press release and a link to the guide.

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