Your Privacy for a Sweet Treat

When a Brooklyn artist set up shop at a festival offering cookies in exchange for personal data, she expected a torrent of refusals to make her point about privacy in the Internet age. Instead, 380 New Yorkers gave up sensitive personal information — from fingerprints to partial Social Security numbers — to taste her wares.

“Most people – even the people who were skeptical, even the people who made snarky comments – looked at the cookies and were like, ‘Well, OK, I’ll give you something,' " Lois Beckett, who covered the story last week, tells Engelberg and her fellow podcast guests, reporting colleagues Julia Angwin and Justin Elliott.

Like the artist, Risa Puno, ProPublica Editor-in-Chief Stephen Engelberg was shocked: “How could people not have been aware that, turning over this sort of information -- the next step, generally speaking, is that nude pictures of you appear on the Internet?” he says.

Elliott agrees, asking Beckett, “Did she sort of come to the conclusion that we’re living in a society of ‘sheeple’?” But he acknowledges that the project “dramatizes the decisions that people are making every day and every hour online” and, quite valuably, shows the “remarkable level of deference that people have” to requests for their personal data.

Indeed, although Puno referred anyone with questions to her very long, small-print disclosure form, Beckett says, very few people even read through it before handing over the kind of information many people use as answers to their online security questions.
“If you read all through the terms of service,” Beckett says, “you would see that she had the right to display your information that you gave her, to share the information with other people, to keep it, to store it. She wasn’t making any promises about the security of the data that you gave her.”

Angwin, who’s reported for years on the ways online companies use personal data, agrees with Beckett that people simply aren’t thinking about where their data could end up; they see a nice woman in a hair bow offering them home-baked sweets for what is presumably just an art project.

“And that’s actually the problem of privacy in general,” Angwin says. “We don’t have a good discounting strategy the way we do for buying milk, and you know it’s going to go bad in seven days.”

Google is a perfect example, she continues. “You and I have never written a check to Google, but we use all their services,” allowing our personal information to be repackaged for advertisers. “The truth is, you’re making an exchange of your data, and you have no idea where that data is going to end up.”

Engelberg tries to make sense of it all: Does the younger generation simply not value its privacy?

Beckett says the opposite may be true. “A lot of it is that people already feel like their data has been taken from them, that without their knowledge, it’s suddenly all out here,” she says. “And so why not get something out of it?”

Something like, say, a delicious cookie.

Hear the full podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher, or read more:

How Much of Your Data Would You Trade for a Free Cookie?


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How exactly is ‘Top Secret’, ‘Secret’, ‘Confidential’ and ‘Restricted’ defined?

The department of defence production has just announced it publicly while the Ministry of Home Affairs keeps the classification secret


For a clear vision, both eyes need to look at same direction. If this is not the case then the condition is called as cross-eyes or strabismus. Unfortunately, various ministries and departments of the Indian government are showing off this same condition. According to information procured under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) keeps record classification criteria secret, while Department of Defence Production (DDP) advertises it publicly!


Venkatesh Nayak from the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI), says, "Since past several years, the MHA has stubbornly refused to disclose the criteria for marking official records 'Top Secret', 'Secret' and 'Confidential'. I demanded publication of the secretive Manual of Departmental Security Instructions (MoDSI), which contains the classification criteria and procedures under the RTI Act a few years ago and failed in my efforts. Even the Central Information Commission refused to order its disclosure despite hearing strong arguments based on legal concepts and international practices in support of disclosure."


"However," he said, "the Department of Defence Production (DDP) of the Ministry of Defence has laid down the criteria for and procedure for classifying records as 'Top Secret', 'Secret' and 'Confidential' in a manual publicised in June this year for- believe it or not - private sector companies and firms that obtain licenses for producing defence-related commodities. Readers may access the Security Manual for Licensed Defence Industries, on the DDP website.


The criteria for classifying sensitive documents of private companies engaged in defence production according to the manual are given below:


TOP SECRET” shall be applied to information and equipment, the unauthorised disclosure of which could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the National Security or national Interest. This category is reserved for the nation’s closest SECRETs and is to be used with great reserve.


SECRET” shall be applied to information and equipment, the unauthorized disclosure of which could be expected to cause serious damage to the National Security or National Interests or cause serious embarrassment to the Government in its functioning. This classification should be used for highly important matters and is the highest classification normally used.


CONFIDENTIAL” shall be applied to information and equipment, the unauthorised disclosure of which could be expected to cause damage to National Security or could be prejudicial to the National Interests or would embarrass the Government in its functioning.


RESTRICTED” shall be applied to information and equipment which is essentially meant for official use only and which should not be published or communicated, to anyone except for official purpose.


Nayak said, "While arguing my case, before the CIC in 2009, I had pointed out that rules and regulations themselves cannot be kept secret. The CIC in its wisdom did not buy that argument. However, the MoD thinks differently and that should be welcomed. I had also pointed out last year that a chapter on classification procedures and criteria is published online in the Manual of Office Procedure of the Andaman and Nicobar Administration which is a division in the Home Ministry. This was the first instance of making the criteria for classifying official documents public. The DDP's disclosure is the second in this line of proactive disclosure. The Home Ministry has little reason to keep the original Manual secret."


In 2001, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government lifted curbs on private sector participation in defence production. Since then the limit on foreign investments, including foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign institutional investment (FII) and foreign portfolio investment has been reduced bit by bit. At present, private companies can manufacture almost any kind of defence equipment in India ranging from battle tanks to aircrafts and their component parts as well as spare parts. Therefore, it is obvious that such private companies will be required to generate, or hold, a range of information whose public disclosure would be harmful to the defence and security interests of the country. This lead to creation of DDP's Manual containing instructions for classifying documents and also ensuring the safety of equipment and manufacturing or assembly premises.


Nayak said, "The wheel has turned a full circle since 2009 when the CIC bought the government's argument that if the MoDSI used in government offices is disclosed under RTI, it will fall into the hands of terrorists- an argument that the CIC bought hook, line and s(t)inker and rejected my appeal for disclosure. I wonder if the MHA, which was the party to my case still thinks that the Security Manual will also be used by terrorists as it is accessible online to any person sitting in any corner of the planet."


According to the DDP's website, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) has issued 222 Letters of Intent or Industrial licenses to private companies. Of these 46 companies are reported to have commenced production as of August 2014 (see details on DDP's website. The DIPP has disclosed names and contact details of a range of companies that have been licensed to start production in various sectors of the economy including the defence sector.


Although DIPP has made this disclosure to comply with its proactive disclosure obligation under Section 4(1)(b)(xiii) of the RTI Act the extent and quality of disclosure leaves much to be desired, feels Nayak. In some cases, the total amount of investment approved is not known, in others the number of persons employed is not known. Perhaps readers might like to hunt for these details on MCA21 website if the private entity is registered as a company in India. All companies bringing in FDI must be registered in India according to the FDI policy relating to defence production. The DIPP must disclose similar details of all licensee companies immediately, to comply with the promise of increased transparency made by the NDA Government, he added.

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Veeresh Malik

5 years ago

It would be good also if the NCPRI and it's allies the ISI also followed as much transparency at they demand of the Indian Government?

National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI)

Indian Social Institute (ISI)

NGOs typically have more lack of transparency than they choose to admit and with all due respect, Nayak's NGOs need to open up some more, too.

As for the definitions of TOP SECRET and downwards, yes, they work like Non Dislcosure Agreements or similar. Fair enough, and why not?

J Thomas

5 years ago

In the US of A, private companies and universities often work on classified projects. Employees working on such projects are required to obtain security clearance just like govt officials. We need to establish a similar system in India.

Americans to get 10 year visa, PIO cards validity extended for lifetime

According to a Gazette notification, US nationals would be provided a 10-year visa for India, while the PIO card would remain valid for the lifetime of the cardholder


The Indian government on Tuesday decided to give a 10-year visa to US nationals while extending the validity of person of Indian origin (PIO) cards to lifetime from 15 years. This follows announcements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his US visit.


"Fulfilling yet another announcement made by the Prime Minister, instructions have been issued to Embassies and Consulates that unless there are exceptional circumstances, visas to US nationals should normally be given for 10 years. Systems are in place to introduce visa on arrival for US tourists in October itself," government said in a release.


According to a Gazette notification issued on 30 September 2014, all PIO cards are now valid for the lifetime of the cardholder, instead of 15 years. In addition, the PIOs would be exempt from police reporting. In the same notification, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHS) issued instructions stating that PIO cardholders would not be required to report to a police station even if their visit to India exceeds 180 days.


PM Modi made a number of announcements on consular and visa issues during his address at the Madison Square Garden in New York City on 28 September 2014.




Gopalakrishnan T V

5 years ago

The Government has acted very fast and this should be appreciated.

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