April 18, 2017
The United Kingdom has been compared to George Orwell’s 1984 dystopia before, especially in the last two decades with their increasing amount of surveillance technology. Once more UK citizens face privacy invasion reports the Guardian in “UK Public Faces Mass Invasion Of Privacy As Big Data And Surveillance Merge.” The UK’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter expressed his worry that government regulators were unable to keep up with technological advances.
Big data combined with video surveillance, facial recognition technology, and the profuse use of more cameras is making it harder to protect individuals’ privacy. People are being recorded 24/7 and often without their knowledge. Another worry is that police are not being vigilant with private information. One example is that license plate information has not been deleted after the two-year limit.
Porter wants changes to be made in policies and wants people to be aware of the dangers:
Porter’s new strategy, published on Tuesday, points out that an overwhelming majority of people currently support the use of CCTV in public places. But he questions whether this support can continue because of the way surveillance is changing.
‘I’m worried about overt surveillance becoming much more invasive because it is linked to everything else,’ Porter said. ‘You might have a video photograph of somebody shopping in Tesco. Now it is possible to link that person to their pre-movements, their mobile phone records, any sensor detectors within their house or locality. As smart cities move forward, these are challenges are so much greater for people like myself. And members of the public need to decide whether they are still happy with this.’
Porter admitted that advanced surveillance technology had allowed law enforcement to arrest terrorists and track down missing people, but it still can lead to worse privacy invasions. Porter hopes is new three-year strategy will inform authorities about how technology will impact privacy.
The good thing about surveillance technology is how it can track down bad guys, but it can be harmful to innocent citizens. The BBC should run some PSAs about video surveillance and privacy to keep their citizens informed. I suggest they do not make them as scary as this one about electricity.
Whitney Grace, April 18, 2017
April 11, 2017
Instant messaging service provider WhatsApp is in a quandary. While privacy of its users is of utmost importance to them, where do they draw the line if it’s a question of national security?
In an editorial published in The Telegraph titled WhatsApp Accused of Giving Terrorists ‘a Secret Place to Hide’ as It Refuses to Hand over London Attacker’s Messages, the writer says:“The Government was considering legislation to force online firms to take down extremist material, but said it was time for the companies to “recognise that they have a responsibility” to get their own house in order.
Apps like WhatsApp offer end-to-end encryption for messages sent using its network. This makes it impossible (?) for anyone to intercept and read them, even technicians at WhatsApp. On numerous occasions, WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has come under fire for protecting its user privacy. In this particular incident, the London attacker Ajao used WhatsApp to send message to someone. While Soctland Yard wants access to the messages sent by the terrorist, WhatsApp says its hands are tied.
The editorial also says that social media networks are no more tech companies, rather they are turning into publishing companies thus the onus is on them to ensure the radical materials are also removed from their networks. Who ultimately will win the battle remains to be seen, but right now, WhatsApp seems to have the edge.
Vishal Ingole, April 11, 2017
March 10, 2017
Monopolies aren’t just for telecoms and zipper manufacturers. The Nation reveals a much scarier example in its article, “5 Corporations Now Dominate Our Privatized Intelligence Industry.” Reporter Tim Shorrock outlines the latest merger that brings us to this point, one between Pentagon & NSA contractor Leidos Holdings and a division of Lockheed Martin called Information Systems and Global Solutions. Shorrock writes:
The sheer size of the new entity makes Leidos one of the most powerful companies in the intelligence-contracting industry, which is worth about $50 billion today. According to a comprehensive study I’ve just completed on public and private employment in intelligence, Leidos is now the largest of five corporations that together employ nearly 80 percent of the private-sector employees contracted to work for US spy and surveillance agencies.
Yes, that’s 80 percent. For the first time since spy agencies began outsourcing their core analytic and operational work in the late 1990s, the bulk of the contracted work goes to a handful of companies: Leidos, Booz Allen Hamilton, CSRA, SAIC, and CACI International. This concentration of ‘pure plays’—a Wall Street term for companies that makes one product for a single market—marks a fundamental shift in an industry that was once a highly diverse mix of large military contractors, small and medium technology companies, and tiny ‘Beltway Bandits’ surrounding Washington, D.C.
I should mention that our beloved leader, Stephen E Arnold, used to work as a gopher for one of these five companies, Booz Allen Hamilton. Shorrock details the reasons such concentrated power is a problem in the intelligence industry, and shares the profile he has made on each company. He also elaborates on the methods he used to analyze the shadowy workforce they employ. (You’ll be unsurprised to learn it can be difficult to gather data on intelligence workers.) See the article for those details, and for Shorrock’s discussion of negligence by the media and by Congress on this matter. We can agree that most folks don’t seem to be aware of this trend, or of its potential repercussions.
Cynthia Murrell, March 10, 2016
March 8, 2017
According to Scylla, their latest release is currently the fastest NoSQL database. We learn about the update from SiliconAngle’s article, “ScyllaDB Revamps NoSQL Database in 1.3 Release.” To support their claim, the company points to a performance benchmark test executed by the Yahoo Cloud Serving Benchmark project. That group compared ScyllaDB to the open source Cassandra database, and found Scylla to be 4.6 times faster than a standard Cassandra cluster.
Writer Mike Wheatley elaborates on the product:
ScyllaDB’s biggest differentiator is that it’s compatible with the Apache Cassandra database APIs. As such, the creators claims that ScyllaDB can be used as a drop-in replacement for Cassandra itself, offering users the benefit of improved performance and scale that comes from the integration with a light key/value store.
The company says the new release is geared towards development teams that have struggled with Big Data projects, and claims a number of performance advantages over more traditional development approach, including:
*10X throughput of baseline Cassandra – more than 1,000,000 CQL operations per second per node
*Sub 1msec 99% latency
*10X per-node storage capacity over Cassandra
*Self-tuning database: zero configuration needed to max out hardware
*Unparalleled high availability, native multi-datacenter awareness
*Drop-in replacement for Cassandra – no additional scripts or code required”
Wheatley cites Scylla’s CTO when he points to better integration with graph databases and improved support for Thrift, Date Tiered Compaction Strategy, Large Partitions, Docker, and CQL tracing. I notice the company is hiring as of this writing. Don’t let the Tel Aviv location of Scylla’s headquarters stop from applying you if you don’t happen to live nearby—they note that their developers can work from anywhere in the world.
Cynthia Murrell, March 8, 2016
March 2, 2017
One of Google’s biggest rivals is Yandex, at least in Russia. Yandex is a Russian owned and operated search engine and is more popular in Russia than the Google, depending on the statistics. It goes to say that a search engine built and designed by native speakers does have a significant advantage over foreign competition, and it looks like France wants a chance to beat Google. Search Engine Journal reports that, “Qwant, A French Search Engine, Thinks It Can Take On Google-Here’s Why.”
Qwant was only founded in 2013 and it has grown to serve twenty-one million monthly users in thirty countries. The French search engine has seen a 70% growth each year and it will see more with its recent integration with Firefox and a soon-to-be launched mobile app. Qwant is very similar to DuckDuckGo in that it does not collect user data. It also boasts mote search categories than news, images, and video and these include, music, social media, cars, health, music, and others. Qwant had an interesting philosophy:
The company also has a unique philosophy that artificial intelligence and digital assistants can be educated without having to collect data on users. That’s a completely different philosophy than what is shared by Google, which collects every bit of information it can about users to fuel things like Google Home and Google Allo.
Qwant still wants to make a profit with pay-per-click and future partnerships with eBay and TripAdvisor, but they will do without compromising a user’s privacy. Qwant has a unique approach to search and building AI assistants, but it has a long way to go before it reaches Google heights.
They need to engage more users not only on laptops and computers but also mobile devices. They also need to form more partnerships with other browsers.
Bon chance, Qwant! But could you share how you plan to make AI assistants without user data?
Whitney Grace, March 2, 2017
February 24, 2017
Bad news, Google. The article titled Smartphone Apps Now Account for Half the Time Americans Spend Online on TechCrunch reveals that mobile applications are still on the rise. Throw in tablet apps and the total almost hits 60%. Google is already working to maintain relevancy with its In Apps feature for Androids, which searches inside apps themselves. The article explains,
This shift towards apps is exactly why Google has been working to integrate the “web of apps” into its search engine, and to make surfacing the information hidden in apps something its Google Search app is capable of handling. Our app usage has grown not only because of the ubiquity of smartphones, but also other factors – like faster speeds provided by 4G LTE networks, and smartphones with larger screens that make sitting at a desktop less of a necessity.
What apps are taking up the most of our time? Just the ones you would expect, such as Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, and Google Maps. But Pokemon Go is the little app that could, edging out Snapchat and Pinterest in the ranking of the top 15 mobile apps. According to a report from Senor Tower, Pokemon Go has gone beyond 180 million daily downloads. The growth of consumer time spent on apps is expected to keep growing, but comScore reassuringly states that desktops will also remain a key part of consumer’s lives for many years to come.
Chelsea Kerwin, February 24, 2017
February 23, 2017
The article on Mercury News titled Secretive Foe Attacks Google Over Government Influence reports on the Transparency Project, an ironically super-secret group devoted to exposing Google’s insane level of influence. Of course, most of us are already perfectly aware of how much power Google holds over our politicians, our privacy, and our daily functions. Across Chrome, Google search, YouTube etc., not a day goes by that we don’t engage with the Silicon Valley Monster. The group claims,
Over the past decade, Google has transformed itself from the dominant internet search engine into a global business empire that touches on almost every facet of people’s lives — often without their knowledge or consent,” the group’s first report said. Another report, based on White House guest logs, cites 427 visits by employees of Google and “associated entities” to the White House since January 2009, with 21 “small, intimate” meetings between senior Google executives and Obama.
While such information may be disturbing, it is hardly revelatory. So just who is behind the Transparency Project? The article provides a list of companies that Google has pissed off and stomped over on its path to glory. The only company that has stepped up to claim some funding is Oracle. But following the money in this case winds a strange twisted path that actually leads the author back to Google— or at least former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. This begs the question: is there anything Google isn’t influencing?
Chelsea Kerwin, February 23, 2017
February 1, 2017
With all the recent chatter around “fake news,” one researcher has decided to approach the problem scientifically. An article at Fortune reveals “What a Map of the Fake-News Ecosystem Says About the Problem.” Writer Mathew Ingram introduces us to data-journalism expert and professor Jonathan Albright, of Elon University, who has mapped the fake-news ecosystem. Facebook and Google are just unwitting distributors of faux facts; Albright wanted to examine the network of sites putting this stuff out there in the first place. See the article for a description of his methodology; Ingram summarizes the results:
More than anything, the impression one gets from looking at Albright’s network map is that there are some extremely powerful ‘nodes’ or hubs, that propel a lot of the traffic involving fake news. And it also shows an entire universe of sites that many people have probably never heard of. Two of the largest hubs Albright found were a site called Conservapedia—a kind of Wikipedia for the right wing—and another called Rense, both of which got huge amounts of incoming traffic. Other prominent destinations were sites like Breitbart News, DailyCaller and YouTube (the latter possibly as an attempt to monetize their traffic).
Albright said he specifically stayed away from trying to determine what or who is behind the rise of fake news. … He just wanted to try and get a handle on the scope of the problem, as well as a sense of how the various fake-news distribution or creation sites are inter-connected. Albright also wanted to do so with publicly-available data and open-source tools so others could build on it.
Albright also pointed out the folly of speculating on sources of fake news; such guesswork only “adds to the existing noise,” he noted. (Let’s hear it for common sense!) Ingram points out that, armed with Albright’s research, Google, Facebook, and other outlets may be better able to combat the problem.
January 31, 2017
Does a European’s “right to be forgotten” extend around the globe? (And if not, is one really “forgotten”?) Can one nation decide what the rest of the world is allowed to see about its citizens? Thorny questions are at the heart of the issue MediaPost examines in, “Google Draws Support in Showdown Over ‘Right to Be Forgotten’.”
Privacy-protection rights, established by European judges, demand Google remove search-result links that could embarrass a European citizen at the subject’s request (barring any public interest in the subject, of course). French regulators want Google to extend this censorship on its citizens’ behalf around the world, rather than restrict access just within that country’s borders. No way, says Google, and it has some noteworthy support—the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations agree that what France is attempting sets a dangerous precedent. Writer Wendy Davis elaborates:
Google argues that it can comply with the ruling by preventing links from appearing in the results pages of search engines aimed at specific countries, like Google.fr, for French residents. But the French authorities say Google must delete the links from all of its search engines, including Google.com in the U.S. Earlier this year, France’s CNIL [Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés ]rejected Google’s position and fined the company $112,000. Google is now appealing that ruling, and the Center for Democracy & Technology and others are backing Google’s position.
The CDT argues in a blog post that authorities in one country shouldn’t be able to decide whether particular search results are available in other countries—especially given that authorities in some parts of the world often object to material that’s perfectly legal in many nations. For instance, Pakistan authorities recently asked Google (unsuccessfully) to take down videos that satirized politicians, while Thai authorities unsuccessfully asked Google to remove YouTube clips that allegedly insulted the royal family.
Google itself has argued that no one country should be able to censor the Web internationally. ‘In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place,’ global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer wrote on the company’s blog last year.
Indeed. As someone whose (most) foolish years occurred before the Web was a thing, I sympathize with folks who want to scrub the Internet of their embarrassing moments. However, trying to restrict what citizens of other countries can access simply goes too far.
Cynthia Murrell, January 31, 2017
January 19, 2017
Let us reminiscence for a moment (and if you like you can visit the Internet archive) about the Internet’s early days, circa late 1990s. It was a magic time, because there were chatrooms, instant messaging, and forums. The Internet has not changed these forms of communication much, although chatrooms are pretty dead, but one great thing about the early days is that the Internet was mostly anonymous. With the increase in tracking software, IP awareness, and social media, Internet anonymity is reserved for the few who are vigilant and never post anything online. Sometimes, however, you want to interact online without repercussions and TechCrunch shares that “Secret Founder Returns To Anonymous Publishing With Launch Of IO.”
David Byttow, Secret co-founder, started the anonymous publishing app IO that is similar to Postcard Confessions. IO’s purpose is to:
IO is a pseudo-resurrection of Secret that Byttow told us in November came into being partly because “the downsides of current social media products MUST be addressed,” an imperative he felt was especially urgent following the results of the last U.S. election. IO’s stated mission is to achieve “authentic publishing,” by which Byttow means that he’s hoping users having an option to publishing either anonymously, using a pseudonym or as their actual selves will allow for easier sharing of true thoughts and feelings.
IO really does not do much. You can type something up, hit publish, but it is only shared with other people if you attach social media links. You can remain anonymous and IO does include writing assistance tools. I really do not get why IO is useful, but it does allow a person to create a shareable link without joining a forum, owning a Web site, etc. Reddit seems more practical, though.
Whitney Grace, January 19, 2016