June 28, 2017

Archives for October 2010

NJ court permits release of post-trial briefs in voting case

In 2009 the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, held a trial on the legality of using paperless direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. Plaintiffs in the suit argued that because it’s so easy to replace the software in a DRE with fraudulent software that cheats in elections, DRE voting systems do not guarantee the substantive right to vote (and to have one’s vote counted) required by the New Jersey constitution and New Jersey statutory law.

I described this trial in three articles last year: trial update, summary of plaintiffs’ witnesses’ testimony, and summary of defense witnesses’ testimony.

Normally in a lawsuit, the courtroom is open. The public can attend all legal proceedings. Additionally, plaintiffs are permitted to explain their case to the public by releasing their post-trial briefs (“proposed findings of fact” and “proposed conclusions of law”). But in this suit the Attorney General of New Jersey, representing the defendants in this case, argued that the courtroom be closed for parts of the proceedings, and asked the Court to keep all post-trial documents from the public, indefinitely.

More than a year after the trial ended, the Court finally held a hearing to determine whether post-trial documents should be kept from the public. The Attorney General’s office failed to even articulate a legal argument for keeping the briefs secret.

So, according to a Court Order of October 15, 2010, counsel for the plaintiffs (Professor Penny Venetis of Rutgers Law School aided by litigators from Patton Boggs LLP) are now free to show you the details of their legal argument.

The briefs are available here:
Plaintiffs’ Proposed Findings of Fact
Plaintiffs’ Proposed Conclusions of Law

I am now free to tell you all sorts of interesting things about my hands-on experiences with (supposedly) tamper-evident security seals. I published some preliminary findings in 2008. Over the next few weeks I’ll post a series of articles about the limitations of tamper-evident seals in securing elections.

Join CITP in DC this Friday for "Emerging Threats to Online Trust"

Update – you can watch the video here.

Please join CITP this Friday from 9AM to 11AM for an event entitled “Emerging Threats to Online Trust: The Role of Public Policy and Browser Certificates.” The event will focus on the trustworthiness of the technical and policy structures that govern certificate-based browser security. It will include representatives from government, browser vendors, certificate authorities, academics, and hackers. For more information see:

http://citp.princeton.edu/events/emerging-threats-to-online-trust/

Several Freedom-to-Tinker posts have explored this set of issues:

On Facebook Apps Leaking User Identities

The Wall Street Journal today reports that many Facebook applications are handing over user information—specifically, Facebook IDs—to online advertisers. Since a Facebook ID can easily be linked to a user’s real name, third party advertisers and their downstream partners can learn the names of people who load their advertisement from those leaky apps. This reportedly happens on all ten of Facebook’s most popular apps and many others.

The Journal article provides few technical details behind what they found, so here’s a bit more about what I think they’re reporting.

The content of a Facebook application, for example FarmVille, is loaded within an iframe on the Facebook page. An iframe essentially embeds one webpage (FarmVille) inside another (Facebook). This means that as you play FarmVille, your browser location bar will show http://apps.facebook.com/onthefarm, but the iframe content is actually controlled by the application developer, in this case by farmville.com.

The content loaded by farmville.com in the iframe contains the game alongside third party advertisements. When your browser goes to fetch the advertisement, it automatically forwards to the third party advertiser “referer” information—that is, the URL of the current page that’s loading the ad. For FarmVille, the URL referer that’s sent will look something like:

http://fb-tc-2.farmville.com/flash.php?…fb_sig_user=[User’s Facebook ID]…

And there’s the issue. Because of the way Zynga (the makers of FarmVille) crafts some of its URLs to include the user’s Facebook ID, the browser will forward this identifying information on to third parties. I confirmed yesterday evening that using FarmVille does indeed transmit my Facebook ID to a few third parties, including Doubleclick, Interclick and socialvi.be.

Facebook policy prohibits application developers from passing this information to advertising networks and other third parties. In addition, Zynga’s privacy policy promises that “Zynga does not provide any Personally Identifiable Information to third-party advertising companies.”

But evidence clearly indicates otherwise.

What can be done about this? First, application developers like Zynga can simply stop including the user’s Facebook ID in the HTTP GET arguments, or they can place a “#” mark before the sensitive information in the URL so browsers don’t transmit this information automatically to third parties.

Second, Facebook can implement a proxy scheme, as proposed by Adrienne Felt more than two years ago, where applications would not receive real Facebook IDs but rather random placeholder IDs that are unique for each application. Then, application developers can be free do whatever they want with the placeholder IDs, since they can no longer be linked back to real user names.

Third, browser vendors can give users easier and better control over when HTTP referer information is sent. As Chris Soghoian recently pointed out, browser vendors currently don’t make these controls very accessible to users, if at all. This isn’t a direct solution to the problem but it could help. You could imagine a privacy-enhancing opt-in browser feature that turns off the referer header in all cross-domain situations.

Some may argue that this leak, whether inadvertent or not, is relatively innocuous. But allowing advertisers and other third parties to easily and definitively correlate a real name with an otherwise “anonymous” IP address, cookie, or profile is a dangerous path forward for privacy. At the very least, Facebook and app developers need to be clear with users about their privacy rights and comply with their own stated policies.