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Nick L

On the Great Russian Heist of 2016 and Cyber Security

The Mueller report is a good reminder of how important it is to prevent foreign interference in American elections. “

True. And how they did it is telling also. They used social media and hacking. I will address hacking first. I have been focusing on the cyber security business nearly 20 years and to this day it astounds me how lax businesses are about their information security. The reason is money. They do not want to spend it. Why? The cost of a breach is really cheaper than that which is needed secure and monitor a business. Solution? Easy – since businesses will not solve this, we need very strong data security and privacy laws at the federal level coupled with stiff fines for breaches.

Next social media – here is where businesses can play a roll. They need to wake up to the fact that their use of companies like Facebook, Twiiter, and Google are all part of the problem. They need to simply stop using their advertising platforms. Of course that will not happen.

Consumers – at the Federal level, mandate that all browsers have effective ad blockers and browser privacy data is dumped when the browsers is closed inclusive of cookies and cache. If consumers can’t be targeted or tracked, then their value as ad revenue will dry up and so will the likes of Facebook etc.

There are other things that need to be done along the anti-trust route for big tech and in counseling for social media addiction. Perhaps a minimum age limit of 18 for using any digital social media would facilitate real social development in our children and eliminate the ills of the false digital social media ills.

Anyway – on to the op. ed. piece. It is very old news of course. Unless you were living under a rock, Russian influence in the election was well known a long time ago. And I do not wish to simply pick on Russia. Other countries are targeting us also – on many fronts. Should we ask them to stop? Well we can, but the results will be the same as when Obama did this. A temporary pause and then right back at it (China in this case). In fact, we should thank Russia and China for showing us how weak, and in many case, non existent, our cyber defenses are. They did cause they could. I maintain, therefore, the answers is federal action to guide and mandate information security.

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Heist of 2016

The report of the special counsel Robert Mueller leaves considerable space for partisan warfare over the role of President Trump and his political campaign in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But one conclusion is categorical: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

That may sound like old news. The Justice Department’s indictment of 13 Russians and three companies in February 2018 laid bare much of the sophisticated Russian campaign to blacken the American democratic process and support the Trump campaign, including the theft of American identities and creation of phony political organizations to fan division on immigration, religion or race. The extensive hacks of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails and a host of other dirty tricks have likewise been exhaustively chronicled.

But Russia’s interference in the campaign was the core issue that Mr. Mueller was appointed to investigate, and if he stopped short of accusing the Trump campaign of overtly cooperating with the Russians — the report mercifully rejects speaking of “collusion,” a term that has no meaning in American law — he was unequivocal on Russia’s culpability: “First, the Office determined that Russia’s two principal interference operations in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — the social media campaign and the hacking-and-dumping operations — violated U.S. criminal law.”

The first part of the report, which describes these crimes, is worthy of a close read. Despite a thick patchwork of redactions, it details serious and dangerous actions against the United States that Mr. Trump, for all his endless tweeting and grousing about the special counsel’s investigation, has never overtly confronted, acknowledged, condemned or comprehended. Culpable or not, he must be made to understand that a foreign power that interferes in American elections is, in fact, trying to distort American foreign policy and national security.

The earliest interference described in the report was a social media campaign intended to fan social rifts in the United States, carried out by an outfit funded by an oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” for the feasts he catered. Called the Internet Research Agency, the unit actually sent agents to the United States to gather information at one point. What the unit called “information warfare” evolved by 2016 into an operation targeted at favoring Mr. Trump and disparaging Mrs. Clinton. This included posing as American people or grass-roots organizations such as the Tea Party, anti-immigration groups, Black Lives Matter and others to buy political ads or organize political rallies.

At the same time, the report said, the cyberwarfare arm of the Russian army’s intelligence service opened another front, hacking the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and releasing reams of damaging materials through the front groups DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, and later through WikiLeaks. The releases were carefully timed for impact — emails stolen from the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, for example, were released less than an hour after the “Access Hollywood” tape damaging to Mr. Trump came out.

 

A perceived victory for Russian interference poses a serious danger to the United States. Already, several American agencies are working, in partnership with the tech industry, to prevent election interference going forward. But the Kremlin is not the only hostile government mucking around in America’s cyberspace — China and North Korea are two others honing their cyber-arsenals, and they, too, could be tempted to manipulate partisan strife for their ends.

That is something neither Republicans nor Democrats should allow. The two parties may not agree on Mr. Trump’s culpability, but they have already found a measure of common ground with the sanctions they have imposed on Russia over its interference in the campaign. Now they could justify the considerable time and expense of the special counsel investigation, and at the same time demonstrate that the fissure in American politics is not terminal, by jointly making clear to Russia and other hostile forces that the democratic process, in the United States and its allies, is strictly off limits to foreign clandestine manipulation, and that anyone who tries will pay a heavy price.

All this activity, the report said, was accompanied by the well documented efforts to contact the Trump campaign through business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for Mr. Trump to meet Mr. Putin and plans for improved American-Russian relations. Both sides saw potential gains, the report said — Russia in a Trump presidency, the campaign from the stolen information. The Times documented 140 contacts between Mr. Trump and his associates and Russian nationals and WikiLeaks or their intermediaries. But the Mueller investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

That is the part Mr. Trump sees as vindication, though the activities of his chaotic campaign team that the report describes are — at best — naïve. It is obviously difficult for this president to acknowledge that he was aided in his election by Russia, and there is no way to gauge with any certainty how much impact the Russian activities actually had on voters.

But the real danger that the Mueller report reveals is not of a president who knowingly or unknowingly let a hostile power do dirty tricks on his behalf, but of a president who refuses to see that he has been used to damage American democracy and national security.

Since the publication of the report, Vladimir Putin and his government have been crowing that they, too, are now somehow vindicated, joining the White House in creating the illusion that the investigation was all about “collusion” rather than a condemnation of criminal Russian actions. If their hope in a Trump presidency was to restore relations between the United States and Russia, and to ease sanctions, the Russians certainly failed, especially given the added sanctions ordered by Congress over Moscow’s interference.

But if the main intent was to intensify the rifts in American society, Russia backed a winner in Mr. Trump.

A perceived victory for Russian interference poses a serious danger to the United States. Already, several American agencies are working, in partnership with the tech industry, to prevent election interference going forward. But the Kremlin is not the only hostile government mucking around in America’s cyberspace — China and North Korea are two others honing their cyber-arsenals, and they, too, could be tempted to manipulate partisan strife for their ends.

That is something neither Republicans nor Democrats should allow. The two parties may not agree on Mr. Trump’s culpability, but they have already found a measure of common ground with the sanctions they have imposed on Russia over its interference in the campaign. Now they could justify the considerable time and expense of the special counsel investigation, and at the same time demonstrate that the fissure in American politics is not terminal, by jointly making clear to Russia and other hostile forces that the democratic process, in the United States and its allies, is strictly off limits to foreign clandestine manipulation, and that anyone who tries will pay a heavy price.

Facebook uploads users address books (contacts) without user permission

Really – any business that does business with Facebook is sending a great big message to their customers that they do not care about their user’s privacy. “Like US on Facebook” means let us rape your privacy. JUST SAY NO TO FACEBOOK.

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Facebook has admitted to “unintentionally” uploading the address books of 1.5 million users without consent, and says it will delete the collected data and notify those affected.

The discovery follows criticism of Facebook by security experts for a feature that asked new users for their email password as part of the sign-up process. As well as exposing users to potential security breaches, those who provided passwords found that, immediately after their email was verified, the site began “importing” contacts without asking for permission.

Facebook has now admitted it was wrong to do so, and said the upload was inadvertent. “Last month we stopped offering email password verification as an option for people verifying their account when signing up for Facebook for the first time,” the company said.

“When we looked into the steps people were going through to verify their accounts we found that in some cases people’s email contacts were also unintentionally uploaded to Facebook when they created their account,” a spokesperson said. “We estimate that up to 1.5 million people’s email contacts may have been uploaded. These contacts were not shared with anyone and we’re deleting them. We’ve fixed the underlying issue and are notifying people whose contacts were imported. People can also review and manage the contacts they share with Facebook in their settings.”

The issue was first noticed in early April, when the Daily Beast reported on Facebook’s practice of asking for email passwords to verify new users. The feature, which allows Facebook to automatically log in to a webmail account to effectively click the link on an email verification itself, was apparently intended to smooth the workflow for signing up for a new account.

But security experts said the practice was “beyond sketchy”, noting that it gave Facebook access to a large amount of personal data and may have led to users adopting unsafe practices around password confidentiality. The company was “practically fishing for passwords you are not supposed to know”, according to cybersecurity tweeter e-sushi, who first raised concern about the feature, which Facebook says has existed since 2016.

At the time, Facebook insisted it did not store email passwords but said nothing about other information gathered in the process. Shortly after, Business Insider reported that, for users who entered their passwords, Facebook was also harvesting contact details – apparently a hangover from an earlier feature that Facebook had built expressly to take contacts with permission – except in this new implementation, users had not given consent.

The company said those contacts were used as part of its People You May Know feature, as well as to improve ad targeting systems. While it has committed to deleting the uploaded contacts, it is not immediately clear whether it will delete the information it inferred from those uploaded contacts – or even whether it is able to do so. Facebook did not immediately reply to a query from the Guardian.

Facebook Is Stealing Your Family’s Joy

Before you post that baby bump or college acceptance letter online, remember how much fun it used to be to share in person.

My kids have had some good news lately. Academic triumphs, hockey tournament wins, even a little college admissions excitement. They’ve had rough moments too, and bittersweet ones. There have been last games and disappointments and unwashed dishes galore. If you’re a friend, or even somebody who knows my mom and struck up a friendly conversation in line at the grocery store, I’d love to talk to you about any of it. I might even show you pictures.

But I’m not going to post them on social media. Because I tried that for a while, and I came to a simple conclusion about getting the reactions of friends, family and acquaintances via emojis and exclamations points rather than hugs and actual exclamations.

It’s no fun. And I don’t want to do it any more.

I’m not the only one pulling back from social media. While around two-thirds of American adults use Facebook, the way many of us use it has shifted in recent years. About 40 percent of adult users report taking a break from checking Facebook for several weeks or more, and 26 percent tell researchers they’ve deleted the app from their phone at some point in the past year.

Some have changed their behavior because of Facebook’s lax record on protecting user data: More than half of adult users have adjusted their privacy settings in the past year. Others seem more concerned with how the platform makes them act and feel. Either way, pulling back on social media is a way to embrace your family’s privacy.

“I have definitely seen an evolution toward sharing less,” said Julianna Miner, an adjunct professor of global and community health at George Mason University and the author of the forthcoming “Raising a Screen-Smart Kid: Embrace the Good and Avoid the Bad in the Digital Age.” She added, “It’s hard to tell if the changes are a response to the security breaches, or a result of people just getting tired of it.”

Even Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, seems to suspect it’s at least in part the latter — that after experimenting with living our lives in a larger online sphere for over a decade, many of us are ready to return to the more intimate groups where humans have long thrived. In a recent blog post, Mr. Zuckerberg announced plans to emphasize private conversations and smaller communities on the platform. Interacting on Facebook, he wrote, “will become a fundamentally more private experience” — less “town square,” more “living room.”

[As technology advances, will it continue to blur the lines between public and private? Sign up for Charlie Warzel’s limited-run newsletter to explore what’s at stake and what you can do about it.]

That’s a shift I’ve already made for myself, and since doing so, I find myself asking why I embraced my personal soapbox in that online square in the first place. The more I reserve both good news and personal challenges for sharing directly with friends, the more I see that the digital world never offered the same satisfaction or support. Instead, I lost out on moments of seeing friends’ faces light up at joyful news, and frequently found myself wishing that not everyone within my network had been privy to a rant or disappointment.

“There’s plenty of evidence that interpersonal, face-to-face interactions yield a stronger neural response than anything you can do online,” said Ms. Miner. “Online empathy is worth something to us, but not as much. It takes something like six virtual hugs to equal one real hug.”

Time spent seeking those virtual hugs can take us outside the world we’re living in, and draw us back to our phones (which, of course, is the reason many networks offer those bursts of feedback in the first place).

“Ultimately, you’re not just giving social media the time it takes you to post,” said Stacey Steinberg, the associate director of the Center on Children and Families at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and the author of a paper on the topic called “Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media.”

“The interaction doesn’t end the minute you press share,” she said. “Some part of your mind is waiting for responses, and that amounts to a small distraction that takes us away from whatever else we would be engaged in.” Once we post that image of our toddler flossing, we’re no longer entirely watching him dance. Some part of us is in the digital realm, waiting to have our delight validated.

That validation can be satisfying, but the emotion is fleeting, like the sugar rush that comes from replacing a real breakfast with a Pop-Tart. Watching your mother’s reaction to the same video, though, brings a different kind of pleasure. “I see parents sharing differently than I did five years ago,” said Ms. Steinberg. “We’re looking for smaller audiences and ways to share just with close friends.”

She also warned that even seemingly innocuous public updates have long shadows. “You could have a child who was a star baseball player and later decides to make a change, still being asked by relative strangers about his batting average,” she said. “Or one who decides on a college, and then changes her mind. Decisions are complex. Lives are complex. Marie Kondo-ing your Facebook page is not so easy.”

There are exceptions. Facebook shines as an arena for professional connection and promotion, of course. For those of us with children who have special needs, it can offer an invaluable community of support. And for the very worst of bad news — for calamities or illnesses or deaths — Facebook can help users speedily share updates, ask for help and share obituaries and memories.
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As technology advances, will it continue to blur the lines between public and private? Explore what’s at stake and what you can do about it.

Cal Newport, the author of “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” suggests that when we evaluate the ways we use the social media tools available to us, we ask ourselves if those tools are the best ways to achieve our goals. In those cases, the answer is yes.

But for sharing personal moments, for venting, for getting good advice on parenting challenges while feeling supported in our tougher moments? I’ve found that real life, face-to-face, hug-to-hug contact offers more bang for my buck than anything on a screen ever could. Why cheat yourself out of those pleasures for the momentary high of a pile of “likes”?

Recently, I ran into an acquaintance while waiting for my order at a local restaurant. “Congratulations,” she said, warmly. I racked my brain. I’d sold a book that week, but the information wasn’t public. I wasn’t pregnant, didn’t have a new job, had not won the lottery. My takeout ordering skills didn’t really seem worthy of note, and in fact I probably had asked for too much food, as I usually do. I wanted to talk more about this happy news, but what were we talking about? Fortunately, she went on, “Your son must be so thrilled.”

Right. My oldest — admitted to college. He was thrilled, and so were we, and I said so. But how did she know?

My son told her daughter, one of his classmates, and her daughter told her.

Perfect.

Is America Becoming an Oligarchy?

Wait, does this have to do with Information Technology? A lot. Industrial concentration examples can be seen in Telecoms, ISP/Content, online retail, and social media.

Growing inequality threatens our most basic democratic principles.

Pete Buttigieg, who’s shown an impressive knack for putting matters well in these early days of the 2020 presidential race, nailed it recently when Chuck Todd of NBC asked him about capitalism. Of course I’m a capitalist, he said; America “is a capitalist society.”

But, he continued: “It’s got to be democratic capitalism.”

Mr. Buttigieg said that when capitalism becomes unrestrained by democratic checks and impulses, that’s no longer the kind of capitalism that once produced broad prosperity in this country. “If you want to see what happens when you have capitalism without democracy, you can see it very clearly in Russia,” he said. “It turns into crony capitalism, and that turns into oligarchy.”

Aside from enabling Mr. Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor, to swat away a question that has bedeviled some others, his rhetoric reminds us of a crucial point: There is, or should be, a democratic element to capitalism — and an economic element to how we define democracy.

After all, oligarchy does have an economic element to it; in fact, it is explicitly economic. Oligarchy is the rule of the few, and these few have been understood since Aristotle’s time to be men of wealth, property, nobility, what have you.

But somehow, as the definition of democracy has been handed down to us over the years, the word has come to mean the existence and exercise of a few basic rights and principles. The people — the “demos” — are imbued with no particular economic characteristic. This is wrong. Our definition of democracy needs to change.

Democracy can’t flourish in a context of grotesque concentration of wealth. This idea is neither new nor radical nor alien. It is old, mainstream and as American as Thomas Jefferson.

I invoke Jefferson for a reason. Everyone knows how he was occupying his time in the summer of 1776; he was writing the Declaration of Independence. But what was he up to that fall? He was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and he was taking the lead in writing and sponsoring legislation to abolish the commonwealth’s laws upholding “entail” (which kept large estates within families across generations) and primogeniture.

Mere coincidence that he moved so quickly from writing the founding document of democracy to writing a bill abolishing inheritance laws brought over from England? Hardly. He believed, as the founders did generally, that excess inherited wealth was fundamentally incompatible with democracy.

They were most concerned with inherited wealth, as was the Scottish economist Adam Smith, whom conservatives invoke constantly today but who would in fact be appalled by the propagandistic phrase “death tax” — in their time, inherited wealth was the oppressive economic problem.

But their economic concerns weren’t limited to that. They saw clearly the link between democratic health and general economic prosperity. Here is John Adams, not exactly Jefferson’s best friend: All elements of society, he once wrote, must “cooperate in this one democratical principle, that the end of all government is the happiness of the People: and in this other, that the greatest happiness of the greatest Number is the point to be obtained.” “Happiness” to the founders meant economic well-being, and note that Adams called it “democratical.”

So, yes, democracy and the kind of economic inequality we’ve seen in this country in recent decades don’t mix. Some will rejoin that many nations even more unequal than ours are still democracies — South Africa, Brazil, India. But are those the models to which the United States of America should aspire?

A number of scholars have made these arguments in recent years, notably Ganesh Sitaraman in his book “The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution.” All that work has been vitally important. But now that some politicians are saying it, we can finally have the broad national conversation we’ve desperately needed for years.

Bernie Sanders has proposed an inheritance tax that the founders would love, and Elizabeth Warren has proposed a wealth tax of which they’d surely approve. But you don’t have to be a supporter of either of those candidates or their plans to get behind the general idea that great concentration of wealth is undemocratic.

Policies built around this idea will not turn America into the Soviet Union or, in the au courant formulation, Venezuela. They will make it the nation the founders intended. And this, as Mr. Buttigieg’s words suggest, is how Democratic candidates should answer the socialism question (with the apparent exception of the socialist Mr. Sanders). No, I’m a capitalist. And that’s why I want capitalism to change.

Dear tech companies, I don’t want to see pregnancy ads after my child was stillborn

Dear Tech Companies:

I know you knew I was pregnant. It’s my fault, I just couldn’t resist those Instagram hashtags — #30weekspregnant, #babybump. And, silly me! I even clicked once or twice on the maternity-wear ads Facebook served up. What can I say, I am your ideal “engaged” user.

You surely saw my heartfelt thank-you post to all the girlfriends who came to my baby shower, and the sister-in-law who flew in from Arizona for said shower tagging me in her photos. You probably saw me googling “holiday dress maternity plaid” and “babysafe crib paint.” And I bet Amazon.com even told you my due date, Jan. 24, when I created that Prime registry.

But didn’t you also see me googling “braxton hicks vs. preterm labor” and “baby not moving”? Did you not see my three days of social media silence, uncommon for a high-frequency user like me? And then the announcement post with keywords like “heartbroken” and “problem” and “stillborn” and the 200 teardrop emoticons from my friends? Is that not something you could track?

You see, there are 24,000 stillbirths in the United States every year, and millions more among your worldwide users. And let me tell you what social media is like when you finally come home from the hospital with the emptiest arms in the world, after you and your husband have spent days sobbing in bed, and you pick up your phone for a few minutes of distraction before the next wail. It’s exactly, crushingly, the same as it was when your baby was still alive. A Pea in the Pod. Motherhood Maternity. Latched Mama. Every damn Etsy tchotchke I was considering for the nursery.

And when we millions of brokenhearted people helpfully click “I don’t want to see this ad,” and even answer your “Why?” with the cruel-but-true “It’s not relevant to me,” do you know what your algorithm decides, Tech Companies? It decides you’ve given birth, assumes a happy result and deluges you with ads for the best nursing bras (I have cabbage leaves on my breasts because that is the best medical science has to offer to turn off your milk), DVDs about getting your baby to sleep through the night (I would give anything to have heard him cry at all), and the best strollers to grow with your baby (mine will forever be 4 pounds 1 ounce).

And then, after all that, Experian swoops in with the lowest tracking blow of them all: a spam email encouraging me to “finish registering your baby” with them (I never “started,” but sure) to track his credit throughout the life he will never lead.

Please, Tech Companies, I implore you: If your algorithms are smart enough to realize that I was pregnant, or that I’ve given birth, then surely they can be smart enough to realize that my baby died, and advertise to me accordingly — or maybe, just maybe, not at all.

Regards,

Gillian

Addendum:

Rob Goldman, VP of advertising at Facebook, responded to an earlier version of my letter, saying:

“I am so sorry for your loss and your painful experience with our products. We have a setting available that can block ads about some topics people may find painful – including parenting. It still needs improvement, but please know that we’re working on it & welcome your feedback.”

In fact, I knew there was a way to change my Facebook ad settings and attempted to find it a few days ago, without success. Anyone who has experienced the blur, panic and confusion of grief can understand why. I’ve also been deluged with deeply personal messages from others who have experienced stillbirth, infant death and miscarriage who felt the same way I do. We never asked for the pregnancy or parenting ads to be turned on; these tech companies triggered that on their own, based on information we shared. So what I’m asking is that there be similar triggers to turn this stuff off on its own, based on information we’ve shared.

But for anyone who wants to turn off parenting ads on Facebook, it’s under: Settings>Ad Preferences>Hide ad topics>Parenting.

I have a better idea – just say no to facebook and related social media “look at me look at me” posts and get on with growing up and living your own life.

Is your pregnancy app sharing your intimate data with your boss?

I’m shocked! Shocked I say! (Or “There’s a sucker born every minute” and when it comes to apps, smart-speakers, social media, I think it is more like very nanosecond.

As apps to help moms monitor their health proliferate, employers and insurers pay to keep tabs on the vast and valuable data

Like millions of women, Diana Diller was a devoted user of the pregnancy-tracking app Ovia, logging in every night to record new details on a screen asking about her bodily functions, sex drive, medications and mood. When she gave birth last spring, she used the app to chart her baby’s first online medical data — including her name, her location and whether there had been any complications — before leaving the hospital’s recovery room.

But someone else was regularly checking in, too: her employer, which paid to gain access to the intimate details of its workers’ personal lives, from their trying-to-conceive months to early motherhood. Diller’s bosses could look up aggregate data on how many workers using Ovia’s fertility, pregnancy and parenting apps had faced high-risk pregnancies or gave birth prematurely; the top medical questions they had researched; and how soon the new moms planned to return to work.

Health experts worry that such data-intensive apps could expose women to security or privacy risks. The ovulation-tracking app Glow updated its systems in 2016 after Consumer Reports found that anyone could access a woman’s health data, including whether she’d had an abortion and the last time she’d had sex, as long as they knew her email address. Another Ovia competitor, Flo, was found to be sending data to Facebook on when its users were having their periods or were trying to conceive, according to tests published in February in the Wall Street Journal. Ovia says it does not share or sell data with social media sites.

“Maybe I’m naive, but I thought of it as positive reinforcement: They’re trying to help me take care of myself,” said Diller, 39, an event planner in Los Angeles for the video game company Activision Blizzard. The decision to track her pregnancy had been made easier by the $1 a day in gift cards the company paid her to use the app: That’s “diaper and formula money,” she said.

Period- and pregnancy-tracking apps such as Ovia have climbed in popularity as fun, friendly companions for the daunting uncertainties of childbirth, and many expectant women check in daily to see, for instance, how their unborn babies’ size compares to different fruits or Parisian desserts.

But Ovia also has become a powerful monitoring tool for employers and health insurers, which under the banner of corporate wellness have aggressively pushed to gather more data about their workers’ lives than ever before.

Employers who pay the apps’ developer, Ovia Health, can offer their workers a special version of the apps that relays their health data — in a “de-identified,” aggregated form — to an internal employer website accessible by human resources personnel. The companies offer it alongside other health benefits and incentivize workers to input as much about their bodies as they can, saying the data can help the companies minimize health-care spending, discover medical problems and better plan for the months ahead.

Emboldened by the popularity of Fitbit and other tracking technologies, Ovia has marketed itself as shepherding one of the oldest milestones in human existence into the digital age. By giving counseling and feedback on mothers’ progress, executives said, Ovia has helped women conceive after months of infertility and even saved the lives of women who wouldn’t otherwise have realized they were at risk.

But health and privacy advocates say this new generation of “menstrual surveillance” tools is pushing the limits of what women will share about one of the most sensitive moments of their lives. The apps, they say, are designed largely to benefit not the women but their employers and insurers, who gain a sweeping new benchmark on which to assess their workers as they consider the next steps for their families and careers.

Experts worry that companies could use the data to bump up the cost or scale back the coverage of health-care benefits, or that women’s intimate information could be exposed in data breaches or security risks. And though the data is made anonymous, experts also fear that the companies could identify women based on information relayed in confidence, particularly in workplaces where few women are pregnant at any given time.

“What could possibly be the most optimistic, best-faith reason for an employer to know how many high-risk pregnancies their employees have? So they can put more brochures in the break room?” asked Karen Levy, a Cornell University assistant professor who has researched family and workplace monitoring.

“The real benefit of self-tracking is always to the company,” Levy said. “People are being asked to do this at a time when they’re incredibly vulnerable and may not have any sense where that data is being passed.”

Ovia chief executive Paris Wallace said the company complies with privacy laws and provides the aggregate data so employers can evaluate how their workforces’ health outcomes have changed over time. The health information is sensitive, he said, but could also play a critical role in boosting women’s well-being and companies’ bottom lines.

“We are in a women’s health crisis, and it’s impacting people’s lives and their children’s lives,” he said, pointing to the country’s rising rates of premature births and maternal deaths. “But it’s also impacting the folks who are responsible for these outcomes — both financially and for the health of the members they’re accountable for.”

The rise of pregnancy-tracking apps shows how some companies increasingly view the human body as a technological gold mine, rich with a vast range of health data their algorithms can track and analyze. Women’s bodies have been portrayed as especially lucrative: The consulting firm Frost & Sullivan said the “femtech” market — including tracking apps for women’s menstruation, nutrition and sexual wellness — could be worth as much as $50 billion by 2025.

Companies pay for Ovia’s “family benefits solution” package on a per-employee basis, but Ovia also makes money off targeted in-app advertising, including from sellers of fertility-support supplements, life insurance, cord-blood banking and cleaning products.

An Ovia spokeswoman said the company does not sell aggregate data for advertising purposes. But women who use Ovia must consent to its 6,000-word “terms of use,” which grant the company a “royalty-free, perpetual, and irrevocable license, throughout the universe” to “utilize and exploit” their de-identified personal information for scientific research and “external and internal marketing purposes.” Ovia may also “sell, lease or lend aggregated Personal Information to third parties,” the document adds.

Milt Ezzard, the vice president of global benefits for Activision Blizzard, a video gaming giant that earned $7.5 billion last year with franchises such as “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft,” credits acceptance of Ovia there to a changing workplace culture where volunteering sensitive information has become more commonplace.

In 2014, when the company rolled out incentives for workers who tracked their physical activity with a Fitbit, some employees voiced concerns over what they called a privacy-infringing overreach. But as the company offered more health tracking — including for mental health, sleep, diet, autism and cancer care — Ezzard said workers grew more comfortable with the trade-off and enticed by the financial benefits.

“Each time we introduced something, there was a bit of an outcry: ‘You’re prying into our lives,’ ” Ezzard said. “But we slowly increased the sensitivity of stuff, and eventually people understood it’s all voluntary, there’s no gun to your head, and we’re going to reward you if you choose to do it.”

“People’s sensitivity,” he added, “has gone from, ‘Hey, Activision Blizzard is Big Brother,’ to, ‘Hey, Activision Blizzard really is bringing me tools that can help me out.’ ”

With more than 10 million users, Ovia’s tracking services are now some of the most downloaded medical apps in America, and the company says it has collected billions of data points into what it calls “one of the largest data sets on women’s health in the world.” Alongside competitors such as Glow, Clue and Flo, the period- and pregnancy-tracking apps have raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors and count tens of millions of users every month.

Founded in Boston in 2012, Ovia began as a consumer-facing app that made money in the tried-and-true advertising fashion of Silicon Valley. But three years ago, Wallace said, the company was approached by large national insurers who said the app could help them improve medical outcomes and access maternity data via the women themselves.

Ovia’s corporate deals with employers and insurers have seen “triple-digit growth” in recent years, Wallace said. The company would not say how many firms it works with, but the number of employees at those companies is around 10 million, a statistic Ovia refers to as “covered lives.”

Ovia pitches its app to companies as a health-care aid for women to better understand their bodies during a mystifying phase of life. In marketing materials, it says women who have tracked themselves with Ovia showed a 30 percent reduction in premature births, a 30 percent increase in natural conception and a higher rate of identifying the signs of postpartum depression. (An Ovia spokeswoman said those statistics come from an internal return-on-investment calculator that “has been favorably reviewed by actuaries from two national insurance companies.”)

But a key element of Ovia’s sales pitch is how companies can cut back on medical costs and help usher women back to work. Pregnant women who track themselves, the company says, will live healthier, feel more in control and be less likely to give birth prematurely or via a C-section, both of which cost more in medical bills — for the family and the employer.

Women wanting to get pregnant are told they can rely on Ovia’s “fertility algorithms,” which analyze their menstrual data and suggest good times to try to conceive, potentially saving money on infertility treatments. “An average of 33 hours of productivity are lost for every round of treatment,” an Ovia marketing document says.

For employers who fund workers’ health insurance, pregnancy can be one of the biggest and most unpredictable health-care expenses. In 2014, AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong defended the company’s cuts to retirement benefits by blaming the high medical expenses that arose from two employees giving birth to “distressed babies.”

Ovia, in essence, promises companies a tantalizing offer: lower costs and fewer surprises. Wallace gave one example in which a woman had twins prematurely, received unneeded treatments and spent three months in intensive care. “It was a million-dollar birth … so the company comes to us: How can you help us with this?” he said.

But some health and privacy experts say there are many reasons a woman who is pregnant or trying to conceive wouldn’t want to tell her boss, and they worry the data could be used in a way that puts new moms at a disadvantage.

“The fact that women’s pregnancies are being tracked that closely by employers is very disturbing,” said Deborah C. Peel, a psychiatrist and founder of the Texas nonprofit Patient Privacy Rights. “There’s so much discrimination against mothers and families in the workplace, and they can’t trust their employer to have their best interests at heart.”

Federal law forbids companies from discriminating against pregnant women and mandates that pregnancy-related health-care expenses be covered in the same way as other medical conditions. Ovia said the data helps employers provide “better benefits, health coverage and support.”

Ovia’s soft pastels and cheery text lend a friendly air to the process of transmitting private health information to one’s employer, and the app gives daily nudges to remind women to log their progress with messages such as, “You’re beautiful! How are you feeling today?”

But experts say they are unnerved by the sheer volume and detail of data that women are expected to offer up. Pregnant women can log details of their sleep, diet, mood and weight, while women who are trying to conceive can record when they had sex, how they’re feeling and the look and color of their cervical fluid.

After birth, the app asks for the baby’s name, sex and weight; who performed the delivery and where; the birth type, such as vaginal or an unplanned C-section; how long labor lasted; whether it included an epidural; and the details of any complications, such as whether there was a breech or postpartum hemorrhage.

The app also allows women to report whether they had a miscarriage or pregnancy loss, including the date and “type of loss,” such as whether the baby was stillborn. “After reporting a miscarriage, you will have the option to both reset your account and, when you’re ready, to start a new pregnancy,” the app says.

“We’re their companion throughout this process and want to … provide them with support throughout their entire journey,” Ovia spokeswoman Sarah Coppersmith said.

Much of this information is viewable only by the worker. But the company can access a vast range of aggregated data about its employees, including their average age, number of children and current trimester; the average time it took them to get pregnant; the percentage who had high-risk pregnancies, conceived after a stretch of infertility, had C-sections or gave birth prematurely; and the new moms’ return-to-work timing.

Companies can also see which articles are most read in Ovia’s apps, offering them a potential road map to their workers’ personal questions or anxieties. The how-to guides touch on virtually every aspect of a woman’s changing body, mood, financial needs and lifestyle in hyper-intimate detail, including filing for disability, treating bodily aches and discharges, and suggestions for sex positions during pregnancy.

“We are crossing into a new frontier of vaginal digitalization,” wrote Natasha Felizi and Joana Varon, who reviewed a group of menstrual-tracking apps for the Brazil-based tech activist group Coding Rights.

Ovia data is viewable by the company, their insurers and, in the case of Activision Blizzard and other self-insured companies, the third-party administrators that process women’s medical claims.

Ovia says it is compliant with government data-privacy laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which sets rules for sharing medical information. The company also says it removes identifying information from women’s health data in a way that renders it anonymous and that it requires employers to reach a certain minimum of enrolled users before they can see the aggregated results.

But health and privacy experts say it’s relatively easy for a bad actor to “re-identify” a person by cross-referencing that information with other data. The trackers’ availability in companies with few pregnant women on staff, they say, could also leave the data vulnerable to abuse. Ovia says its contract prohibits employers from attempting to re-identify employees.

Ezzard, the benefits executive at Activision Blizzard, said offering pregnancy programs such as Ovia helps the company stand out in a competitive industry and keep skilled women in the workforce coming back. The company employs roughly 5,000 artists, developers and other workers in the United States.

“I want them to have a healthy baby because it’s great for our business experience,” Ezzard said. “Rather than having a baby who’s in the neonatal ICU, where she’s not able to focus much on work.”

One of the first things Diana Diller did when Simone was born was report the birth on her Ovia app. (Philip Cheung/For The Washington Post)

Before Ovia, the company’s pregnant employees would field periodic calls from insurance-company nurses who would ask about how they were feeling and counsel them over the phone. Shifting some pregnancy care to an app where the women could give constant check-ins made a huge difference: Nearly 20 women who had been diagnosed as infertile had become pregnant since the company started offering Ovia’s fertility app, Ezzard said.

Roughly 50 “active users” track their pregnancies at any given time, and the average employee records more than 128 health data points a month, Ezzard said. They also open the app about 48 times a month, or more than once a day.

Ezzard said that the company maintains strict controls on who can review the internal aggregated data and that employees’ medical claims are processed at a third-party data warehouse to help protect their privacy. The program, he added, is already paying off: Ovia and the other services in its “well-being platform” saved the company roughly $1,200 per employee in annual medical costs.

Health experts worry that such data-intensive apps could expose women to security or privacy risks. The ovulation-tracking app Glow updated its systems in 2016 after Consumer Reports found that anyone could access a woman’s health data, including whether she’d had an abortion and the last time she’d had sex, as long as they knew her email address. Another Ovia competitor, Flo, was found to be sending data to Facebook on when its users were having their periods or were trying to conceive, according to tests published in February in the Wall Street Journal. Ovia says it does not share or sell data with social media sites.

The company says it does not do paid clinical trials but provides data to researchers, including for a 2017 study that cited Ovia data from more than 6,000 women on how they chose their obstetricians. But even some researchers worry about ways the information might be used.

“As a clinician researcher, I can see the benefit of analyzing large data sets,” said Paula M. Castaño, an obstetrician-gynecologist and associate professor at Columbia University who has studied menstrual-tracking apps. But a lot of the Ovia data given to employers, she said, raises concerns “with their lack of general clinical applicability and focus on variables that affect time out of work and insurance utilization.”

Ovia says its “fertility algorithms,” which analyze a woman’s data and suggest when she would have the best chance of getting pregnant, have helped 5 million women conceive. But the claim is impossible to prove: Research into similar promises from other apps has suggested there were other possible explanations, including the fact that the women were motivated enough to use a period-tracking app in the first place.

The coming years, however, will probably see companies pushing for more pregnancy data to come straight from the source. The Israeli start-up Nuvo advertises a sensor band strapped around a woman’s belly that can send real-time data on fetal heartbeat and uterine activity “across the home, the workplace, the doctor’s office and the hospital.” Nuvo executives said its “remote pregnancy monitoring platform” is undergoing U.S. Food and Drug Administration review.

Diller, the Activision Blizzard employee, said she was never troubled by Ovia privacy worries. She loved being able to show her friends what size pastry her unborn daughter was and would log her data every night while lying in bed and ticking through her other health apps, including trackers for food, sleep and “mindfulness.”

When she reported the birth in Ovia, the app triggered a burst of virtual confetti and then directed her to download Ovia’s parenting app, where she could track not just her health data, but her newborn daughter’s, too. It was an easy decision. On the app’s home screen, she uploaded the first photo of her newly expanded family.

Hundreds of millions of Facebook records exposed on public servers – report

Wait Wait – I thought old Zuck said he was changing things. I guess his users (including Business users) are really the Zuckers.

Note to Businesses: DROP FACEBOOK, it will hurt you in the long run.
Note to Users: Time to seek addiction counseling because if you still use Facebook, in spite of all the news, you are either mentally challenged or have a serious addiction problem (or simply too apathetic to give a damn).

Editorial — actually my ire is not with the users, it is with the businesses that still patronize Facebook. Customers of these businesses really need to ask this “why is this business still using Facebook?” The answers is clear — they also want your private data and prefer to track and monetize you as opposed to protecting your privacy. And yes, their bedfellows include media like the Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg, all of which we often quote here. Shame on them and all others. If companies left Facebook, then this menace (Facebook) would be history. Well that will not happen as they see $$$$$$$$$$$.

What to do? Simple: 1) Delete your Facebook Account, 2) contact those businesses and urge them to drop Facebook.

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Material discovered on Amazon cloud servers in latest example of Facebook letting third parties extract user data

More than 540m Facebook records were left exposed on public internet servers, cybersecurity researchers said on Wednesday, in just the latest security black eye for the company.

Researchers for the firm UpGuard discovered two separate sets of Facebook user data on public Amazon cloud servers, the company detailed in a blogpost.

One dataset, linked to the Mexican media company Cultura Colectiva, contained more than 540m records, including comments, likes, reactions, account names, Facebook IDs and more. The other set, linked to a defunct Facebook app called At the Pool, was significantly smaller, but contained plaintext passwords for 22,000 users.
Zuckerberg’s proposals to regulate Facebook are self-serving and cynical | Roger McNamee
Read more

The large dataset was secured on Wednesday after Bloomberg, which first reported the leak (see article here), contacted Facebook. The smaller dataset was taken offline during UpGuard’s investigation.

The data exposure is not the result of a breach of Facebook’s systems. Rather, it is another example, akin to the Cambridge Analytica case, of Facebook allowing third parties to extract large amounts of user data without controls on how that data is then used or secured.

More than 540m Facebook records were left exposed on public internet servers, cybersecurity researchers said on Wednesday, in just the latest security black eye for the company.

“The data exposed in each of these sets would not exist without Facebook, yet these data sets are no longer under Facebook’s control,” the UpGuard researchers wrote in its blogpost. “In each case, the Facebook platform facilitated the collection of data about individuals and its transfer to third parties, who became responsible for its security.”

Facebook said that it was investigating the incident and did not yet know the nature of the data, how it was collected or why it was stored on public servers. The company said it will inform users if they find evidence that the data was misused.

“Facebook’s policies prohibit storing Facebook information in a public database,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “Once alerted to the issue, we worked with Amazon to take down the databases. We are committed to working with the developers on our platform to protect people’s data.”

Cultura Colectiva did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The data exposure is just the latest example of how Facebook’s efforts to be perceived as a “privacy-focused” platform are hampered by its own past practices and what UpGuard researchers called “the long tail” of user data. For years, Facebook allowed third-party app developers substantial access to users’ information.

“As these exposures show, the data genie cannot be put back in the bottle,” the UpGuard researchers wrote. “Data about Facebook users has been spread far beyond the bounds of what Facebook can control today.”

The Police State: Ex-Mozilla CTO: I was grilled for three hours at San Francisco airport by US border cops – and I’m an American citizen

The Land of the Free where we respect liberty and the constitution – NOT. Not much different in the U.S. as compared to Venezuela or Turkey or _fill in the blank. Despots rule the day. Note to youth. Put down your entertainment and become active in the political process before all rights are gone.

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Techie raises alarm over ‘detention’ after he refused to unlock work laptop, phone

Former Mozilla CTO Andreas Gal says he was interrogated for three hours by America’s border cops after arriving at San Francisco airport – because he refused to unlock his work laptop and phone.

Gal, now employed by Apple, today claimed he was detained and grilled on November 29 after landing in California following a trip to Europe.

He had attempted to pass through US customs via a Global Entry electronic kiosk. He wasn’t expecting a problem, since the Hungarian-born techie is now an American citizen, but it was not to be.

“On this trip, the kiosk directed me to a Customs and Border Patrol agent who kept my passport and sent me to secondary inspection,” Gal said. “There I quickly found myself surrounded by three armed agents wearing bullet proof vests. They started to question me aggressively regarding my trip, my current employment, and my past work for Mozilla, a non-profit organization dedicated to open technology and online privacy.”

Gal said the g-men were rather interested in his time at Firefox-maker Mozilla, and of his recent trip to Canada. They also went through his wallet and luggage, and this led to a request by the agents for Gal to unlock his Apple-issued iPhone XS and MacBook Pro, it is claimed.

Gal believes the ordeal was not a random search gone awry, but rather a targeted attempt by the government to send a message. Certainly more and more security researchers report being grilled by US border patrol, if they can even get a visa to enter the country, that is.

“My past work on encryption and online privacy is well documented, and so is my disapproval of the Trump administration and my history of significant campaign contributions to Democratic candidates,” Gal noted. “I wonder whether these CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] programs led to me being targeted.”

Given the devices were emblazoned with big red stickers reading “PROPERTY OF APPLE. PROPRIETARY,” and he had signed confidentially agreements with Cupertino, Gal said he asked for permission to call his bosses and/or a lawyer to see if he would get into trouble by handing over access. When this request was repeatedly refused, we’re told, he clammed up, taking the Fifth, and citing constitutional rights against unwarranted searches.

Irked by Gal’s refusal, it is claimed, the border agents told him he had no constitutional nor any legal protections, and threatened him with criminal charges should he not concede to the search. He said he was eventually allowed to leave with his belongings, the devices still locked, and no charges were pressed. Gal said the agents did take away his Global Entry pass, which allows express entry through customs, as punishment for not complying with their demands.
How random is random?

Gal believes the ordeal was not a random search gone awry, but rather a targeted attempt by the government to send a message. Certainly more and more security researchers report being grilled by US border patrol, if they can even get a visa to enter the country, that is.

“My past work on encryption and online privacy is well documented, and so is my disapproval of the Trump administration and my history of significant campaign contributions to Democratic candidates,” Gal noted. “I wonder whether these CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] programs led to me being targeted.”

Now, Gal has enlisted the help of the ACLU to probe into the brouhaha, and determine whether his civil rights were violated. The civil-liberties watchdog has filed a complaint [PDF] with the Department of Homeland security to determine whether the search violated the US Constitution and demand an investigation of whether the CBP’s entry policies are illegal.

“CBP’s baseless detention and intrusive interrogation of Andreas Gal and the attempted search of his devices violated his Fourth Amendment rights,” ACLU Northern California senior counsel William Freeman said of the complaint.

“Furthermore, CBP’s policies lack protections for First Amendment rights by allowing interrogation and device searches that may be based on a traveler’s political beliefs, activism, nation of origin, or identity.”

CBP declined to comment. ®

Google Fined $1.7 Billion by E.U. for Unfair Advertising Rules

The Monopolists and Oligopolists party that keeps rolling on. The U.S. needs to get on board NOW with Europe. In fact even Europe is a bit weak. It is time to break up the monopolies and oligopolies and spur real competition across many sectors.

This article underlies just one example. It is not just Google, but several other tech companies including those in Telecoms, shopping, and so on. The U.S. is now the land of Oligopolies and Monopolies. Vigorous anti-trust enforcement is needed now!
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LONDON — European authorities on Wednesday fined Google 1.5 billion euros for antitrust violations in the online advertising market, continuing its efforts to rein in the world’s biggest technology companies.

The fine, worth about $1.7 billion, is the third against Google by the European Union since 2017, reinforcing the region’s position as the world’s most aggressive watchdog of an industry with an increasingly powerful role in society and the global economy. The regulators said Google had violated antitrust rules by imposing unfair terms on companies that used its search bar on their websites in Europe.

Europe’s regulatory approach was once criticized as unfairly focusing on technology companies from the United States, but is now viewed as a potential global model as governments question the influence of Silicon Valley. Europe is at the forefront of a broad debate about the role of tech platforms like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, and whether their size and power hurt competition.

With the announcement on Wednesday, the European fines against Google total roughly 8.2 billion euros, or $9.3 billion. But the bloc has not received any of the money yet; Google is appealing the earlier decisions, and is mulling whether to appeal the most recent ruling.

“Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anticompetitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites,” Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s top antitrust watchdog, said in a statement. “This is illegal under E.U. antitrust rules.”

The fine centers on contracts that license the use of Google’s search bar on websites run by newspapers, blogs, travel services and other companies. European regulators said the operators of the third-party websites using Google’s search bar had been required to display a disproportionate number of text ads from Google’s own advertising services over competing digital advertising companies.

The practice, regulators said, undercut competitors, such as Microsoft and Yahoo, that were trying to challenge Google in search.

“There was no reason for Google to include these restrictive clauses in its contracts, except to keep its rivals out of the market,” Ms. Vestager said at a news conference in Brussels. She said the ruling covered 2006 to 2016, when Google stopped the practices.

Europe’s actions against Silicon Valley are influencing policy debates around the world, but some critics question the overall effectiveness of the penalties.

The European Union spent a decade investigating Google, a slow and deliberate process, during which the company’s business and power continued to grow. Annual revenue at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, reached $137 billion last year, compared with $22 billion a decade earlier. On Wednesday, Google shares rose 2 percent.

The Google cases highlight a larger question policymakers face in overseeing the digital economy.

“As it becomes increasingly clear that antitrust fines or after-the-fact remedies are not enough to bring vibrant competition to the market, governments will need to move to deeper tech sector regulation to remedy problems,” said Gene Kimmelman, a former antitrust official in the Justice Department who is now president of Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group. He suggested rules preventing tech platforms like Google from favoring their own services.

In the United States, where there has been limited regulation of tech companies, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, has made breaking up Google and other tech giants a priority in her presidential campaign. This week, Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, called for a federal antitrust investigation of Facebook.

In response to the ruling on Wednesday, Google said, “Healthy, thriving markets are in everyone’s interest.”

“We’ve already made a wide range of changes to our products to address the commission’s concerns,” Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, said in a statement. “Over the next few months, we’ll be making further updates to give more visibility to rivals in Europe.”

The case is the last of three investigations the European Commission has pursued against Google, which has headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Last year, Ms. Vestager fined Google a record €4.34 billion for using its ownership of the Android mobile operating system to unfairly undercut rivals in the mobile phone market, a decision that also forced the company to change how it bundled its apps on smartphones. In 2017, the company was fined 2.4 billion euros for unfairly favoring its own shopping services over those of rivals.

The two previous rulings have not had a big impact on Google’s financial health, but they have forced the tech giant to adjust some business practices.

After the Android ruling last year, Google for the first time began charging handset makers to pre-install Gmail, Google Maps and other popular applications for Android devices in the European Union.

Perhaps in an attempt to head off additional inquiries, Google announced a number of further changes to services across Europe on Wednesday, after rivals complained that it continued to benefit from anticompetitive business practices.

For the first time, the company said, it will ask Android phone users in Europe if they want to switch to a web browser and search engine not owned by Google. To allow more competition when customers shop with Google, it will give other shopping sites more prominence in its search results, the company also said. Google said it would do the same with local search queries in Europe, such as when a person searches for a restaurant, a move that could help companies like TripAdvisor and OpenTable.

Outside of its review of practices by Google and others, the European Union has adopted tough new privacy rules that many countries outside Europe now view as a template. Regulators here have also investigated tech companies’ tax practices and called for more scrutiny of artificial intelligence.

The decision on Wednesday against Google will be one of the final major antitrust rulings in the five-year term of Ms. Vestager, whose crackdown on Silicon Valley while competition commissioner has made her a minor celebrity in the often-staid world of European politics.

Ms. Vestager has expressed openness to serving another term as the bloc’s top antitrust watchdog, but she is also considered a contender to become president of the European Commission, the most powerful executive position in the European Union. Her future will depend in part on the outcome of European parliamentary elections in May.

Even with her possible departure, pressure on the technology industry is not easing.

The European Union is expected to adopt new copyright regulations as early as next week that would impose restrictions to stop unlicensed content, like music and videos, from being shared on tech platforms like Google and Facebook. Another proposal tries to block the sharing of hate speech and extremist content, a policy that some critics say could lead to censorship.

At the same time, regulators across Europe are pursuing several lines of inquiry.

Ms. Vestager’s office announced last year that Amazon was under investigation for its treatment of independent sellers who use its website to reach customers.

Apple, which in 2016 was ordered to pay Ireland $14.5 billion in back taxes, is now under scrutiny for its App Store policies. Facebook is facing separate inquiries related to its business practices and handling of user data. Google’s advertising practices are also being monitored by privacy advocates who are urging regulators to begin a new investigation for violating privacy rights.

“Businesses and consumers, they depend on platforms to get the best out of digitization,” Ms. Vestager said. “Illegal behavior in these cases is a very serious affair.”