Security

The Circle Book Review

Book Review
The Circle
By Dave Eggers
491 pages. Alfred A. Knopf/McSweeney’s Books. $27.95

Review by Allen Earle

I have a Facebook account. I’ve looked at it occasionally, posted practically nothing on it, and from time to time look at a picture posted by an acquaintance, or something “interesting” shared by a connection. I have never tweeted. (At my age, it takes more characters for me to say “hello” than Twitter permits me.) Needless to add that like many people of my generation (and yes, I’m a Boomer), I don’t “follow” anyone or anything.

Dave Egger’s novel The Circle describes a world that I’m just now really beginning to see and understand – but not like very much. It’s a very odd thing to find oneself in a setting that appears both very true-to-life, and at the same time utterly dystopian. And frankly, it’s just as hard to figure out whether Eggers’ intended world is one or the other.

“The Circle” of the title is the name of a company which seems to be an amalgam of Apple, Google, Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and who knows what else. (Perhaps LinkedIn is too focused to have merited inclusion?) And The Circle is huge – over a billion customers and growing, each and every one with a single identity (“TruYou”). And each and every user can access everything in digital space to which The Circle has access.

The newest employee in this vast organization is Mae, who from the get-go thinks, “My God, [i]t’s heaven.” Mae starts as a kind of help-desk intern, answering clients’ questions and resolving their issues, always striving for service ratings measuring within a point or two of 100 (out of 100), and providing feedback on everything (“smile,” “frown” or “meh”). Her frenzied participation in everything begins making her increasingly popular and followed by The Circle clientelle. As we progress through Mae’s career in The Circle, we learn more and more about the leaders of this behemoth – the “Gang of 40” – and their focus (as befitting an organization controlling 90% of all data searches on earth) on increasing information available to everyone on the planet, to making everything – individuals, corporations, governments – transparently available to all.

And here is where the dystopian view creeps in. If, as the company’s motto affirms, “All that happens must be known,” then what happens to privacy? Who is the “private person” when everything in their life (with the exception of brief bathroom breaks) is under the possible scrutiny of all the other subscribers of The Circle?

And Mae certainly finds this out! Mae’s performance isn’t always perfect, but her willingness to open up publically about “what went wrong” leads to Mae herself helping to devise some of The Circle’s more important (and Orwellian) maxims: “Secrets are lies,” “Sharing is caring” and “Privacy is theft.” Mae sees, through her own experiences, much of the downside of this constant, but seems unable to acknowledge what she really ought to see. Rather, after one serious infraction against the “everything that happens must be known” rule (she takes a secret kayak trip off-camera), she commits to The Circle to “going transparent;” to making her life totally visible to all the membership of The Circle, except for brief bathroom breaks. (Yes, this leads to a little toilet humour – and sex.)

The reader wonders, as we move along, whether Mae will eventually realize the dangers of what’s going on and help free the world of it due to her immense popularity, or if she will commit the world to a 1984-like “Big Brotherhood.” I’ll avoid the spoiler, here.

A few days ago, the physicist Steven Hawking, commenting on the Artificial Intelligence that has speeded up the translation of his thoughts to vocalization, opined that there may well come a time when technology is so advanced – when AI can create its own advanced versions of itself while humans are condemned to wait upon the tediously slow process of evolution – that humanity might be rendered superfluous.

Are our technologies, and our increasing dependence and reliance upon (and perhaps even addiction to) them, leading us to a place where we cease to be humans capable of behaving like humans? Is the human mind capable of living sanely in a world in which that mind has no private place of its own? Those seem to me to be some of the questions that Eggers is asking, although I’m not sure he’s answered them. In a few plodding sections of the novel, Mae’s family and ex-boyfriend, the tedious Mercer, provide us with rather trite set speeches that say, “no.”

What frightened this reader most, though, was the simple recognition that in many ways, almost everything described in The Circleis happening today – or will happen very, very soon. But perhaps I ought to keep my thoughts on that eventuality private?


 allen

Allen Earle is a long-time IT techie, developer and manager, who presently takes good care of all of P4Digital’s contractors in the field, as well as keeping a sharp eye on our production stats. An insatiable reader, who also enjoys writing, he is P4Digital’s authority on all things Shakespeare.

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A Pirates Life for No One

It might be the end of the road for all the pirates out there.

Let’s face it, most of us can attest to digitally pirating something in our lives. Whether it was an ill-gotten song when we were kids, to downloading the newest episode of Game of Thrones, the odds are we’ve all been guilty of this behaviour at some point.

Of course, all of us realized that this was wrong. I’m sure all of our readers are honest and upstanding citizens and don’t use products that have been illegally downloaded.

Right?

Well, things are about to get a lot harder for those individuals who continue to download all manner of things illegally from the Internet. At least if they use Google.

Google and Piracy

Google doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to online piracy. They’ve been blasted time and time again by Hollywood and other content owners for not doing enough to prevent links to pirated material from showing up in its search results.

What does online piracy mean exactly?

Now, Google hasn’t been ignoring online privacy by any means.

In 2012, they announced they’d demote the ranking of websites that received a large number of DMCA notices in their search results.

For many, this wasn’t enough. Many music and film rights holders accused Google of not doing enough to tackle copyright infringement.

In fact, an open letter sent mid-September to the European competition commissioner,  News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson branded the company a “platform for piracy and the spread of malicious networks.”

By the Numbers

Now, it can be difficult to put online piracy into perspective to understand why so many are so upset. The internet is a huge beast, using up as much energy as any of the larger countries out there. So how can anyone hope to understand how much of its use is illegal?

Check out these statistics to try to wrap your head around it.

  • According to a survey of Spain, 1 in 2 internet users there download illegal content.
  • More than 1 million illegal downloads of the Game of Thrones season four premiere were recorded in just half a day
  • The US economy loses $12.5 billion in revenue each year to it
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was illegally downloaded more than 8 million times.
  • 42 percent of all computer software used around the world in 2010 was pirated.
  • More than 146 million visits were logged everyday at piracy sites in 2011.

Now that is a huge amount of traffic.

Google’s new front in the Piracy Battle.

In defence to these claims, Google published an updated How Google Fights Privacy report last week. This report explains how the search engine fights piracy across its services. It lists all the official numbers and developments.

Katherine Oyama is the Senior Copyright Policy Counsel. She claims that the Google has been testing many initiatives to combat privacy.

Currently, they are trying out new ad formats in their search results. These results mostly target searches related to music and movies. These ads will direct people to legitimate sources of media, rather than piracy sites.

For the searches for movies that include terms such as ‘download’, ‘free’, or ‘watch’, Google will list sources like Google Play, Amazon and Netflix.

These initiatives are currently only operational in the United States. Google has plans to spread it to the rest of the world.

Google has also developed an improved DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) demotion signal in Search.

What that means is that illegal search results (torrents or downloads) will no longer be at the top of the search page results. Instead they will be on later pages, and near the bottom of those pages. Legitimate, legal sites like Amazon or Google will instead take the top spots.

In addition to this search result demotion, Google is also targeting the searches themselves. More terms are being removed from Google auto-complete, based on legitimate DMCA removal notices.

Despite all these policies and initiatives, Google claims that the best way to battle piracy is for content owners to distribute their works via legitimate digital services.

Google maintains that the best way to battle piracy is for content owners to distribute their works via legitimate digital services.

“As services ranging from Netflix to Spotify to iTunes have demonstrated, the best way to combat piracy is with better and more convenient legitimate services. The right combination of price, convenience and inventory will do far more to reduce piracy than enforcement can.” — How Google Fights Privacy report

 

Repercussions

Updates began rolling out globally last week.

Sites like rapidgator.net, filestube.com and dilandau.eu, each of which has received at least 11 million individual take down requests, will likely be the first targetted.

It will be interesting to see how these new copyright initiatives will affect legimate sources of creative art. There is a bevy of original art on the internet based off of other people’s creations.

Such as this Game of Thrones piece of fanart by artist Gigei deviantart.com

It certainly looks like Winter is Coming for all the Pirates out there!

It knows your face!

I remember going to see Minority Report when I was in high school. The movie was lacklustre, but one thing stuck out in my mind – the custom advertisements that reacted to Tom Cruise’s eyes.

Tom Cruise in Minority Report

For those of you who don’t remember or skipped the movie, the premise was this: advertisements (or billboards in this case) would scan Tom Cruise’s eyes as he walked by to identify him. After identification, these ads would give custom recommendations to our hero based on his data and previous purchases.

Futurist real time data at its finest.

However, headlines in recent weeks have been covering stories that seem like they could have be ripped straight from this dis-utopian world.

Real time data and facial recognition are no longer science fiction- they have become science fact.

What is it?

An individual’s face can be as unique as a fingerprint. It might even be more reliable, as a face won’t smudge or streak on surfaces.

Every face has numerous, unique features. There are the surface identifiers, like scars or skin tone, but there are also deeper, structural landmarks. These include:

  • Distance between the eyes
  • Width of the nose
  • Depth of the eye sockets
  • The shape of the cheekbones
  • The length of the jaw line

Most of us can recognize our friends and family by a quick glance at their faces. It happens so quickly most of us don’t even think about it. (Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but for the sake of length we’re going to skip them for now).

What Facial Recognition technology does is try to give that ability to a computer or algorithm.

Beginnings

As with most innovations we discuss on this blog, this isn’t a new idea.

It began in the mid 1960s. Scientists began to work on using computers to recognize human faces. Since those first tentative steps, the technology has come a long way.

Until recently, facial recognition software used a 2D image database to identify individuals.

Image courtesy of BBC.co.uk

For this to work, the subject needed to be looking directly at the camera. There could be little variance in light or facial expression between the database image, and the one that was being identified.

Obviously, very few pictures met this strict criteria, so facial recognition failed more often than it succeeded.

But technology never truly remains stagnant, and that’s doubly so in the digital revolution.

Facial recognition technology just made the leap from 2D to 3D. New software uses a 3D model, which allows for much looser criteria when comparing photos.

Image courtesy of Smithsonian.com

3D software uses the distinctive features of a face – the eyes, nose, and bone structure – to identify the subject.

Instead of relying on lighting or expression, this new technology relies on the structure of the face itself. It makes the software more reliable and less fallible.

Robocop?

Although these police divisions are not being led by Tom Cruise, law enforcement agencies the world over are using this technology to their advantage.

FBI

Take the FBI for example. They have just finished developing the Next Generation Identification System.

This system is now fully operational and is being used.

The FBI announced two services last fall that completed the system.

  • Rap Back allows officials to receive “ongoing status notifications” about reported criminal history of people “in positions of trust, such as schoolteachers.”
  • Interstate Photo System. This is the big one. This is a facial-recognition program that allows law-enforcement to cross-reference photographic images with criminal databases in real time.

In short, the Interstate Photo System lets the FBI use facial recognition.

Privacy groups don’t like The Next Generation Identification system for obvious reasons. They have repeated time and time again that this system ignores privacy laws.

They claim the lack of oversight raises serious civil liberty and privacy concerns.

Also, This system is largely untested. A report from 2010 found that the Interstate Photo System could potentially fail one in every five times it was used. That could lead to a lot of false positives. As it stands, that is a rate of failure higher than traditional fingerprinting – smudges and all.

Dubai

Dubai is another example of facial recognition being used by law enforcement. That Dubai is using this highly experimental technology should come as so surprise – this is a culture where the police use top of the line sports cars to keep up with the rich population.

Reports indicate  they have moved one step closer to achieving real time facial recognition by adding it to Google Glass.

Did I mention that the Dubai police department will get to use Google Glass? I hope they don’t have to buy their own uniforms!

glass1

According to a Dubai Police representative,  this software allows police to identify criminals’ faces and alert the detective through the glasses.

This initiative will be rolled out in two phases.

  • In the first phase, the technology will be used to fight traffic violations and any other vehicular offences.
  • In the second phase, the police Detectives will get a chance to use the wearables in their day to day crime solving business.

The New York City police department is also testing this. They began using Google Glass at the beginning of 2014, but have not yet posted the results of their tests.

Science fiction or  science fact?

This technology has far reaching implications as well. It is becoming present in many different companies – not just law enforcement. Check out some of the ways that this technology is being used by businesses right now!

Mastercard

Mastercard claims it has completed a “successful” facial recognition payments trial.

Mastercard tested a beta mobile app on over 140 000 transactions. These tests involved Mastercard employees from around the world using both iOS and Android devices.

 

Barcelona

Every laugh at the Teatrenu comedy club in Barcelona will cost you 0.30 euros, with a price cap of 24 euros.

Stand-up idea: A comedy club in Barcelona is betting you can't, and it is even basing its ticket prices on how often comedians can make its audience laugh

That’s right! Facial recognotion is being used to charger per laugh at this comedy club. The software is installed on the back of the seat in front of the customer.

The project was developed to combat falling audience numbers.

Partnering with advertising agency The Cyranos McCann, the experiment was a reaction to increased government taxes on theatre tickets, which in turn led to drops in audience numbers.

The results of the experiment have so far proved positive with ticket prices up by 6 euros, according to the theatre.

The system was so successful, it is now being copied in other theatres around Spain.

A number of people have tried, and reportedly failed, to sit through a comedy show without laughing in an attempt to get a free ticket.

Do Canadian trading platforms need to be modernized for global purposes?

Is Canada falling behind on global trade?

In a world in the throws of the Digital Revolution, the only constant is change.

There are several major trade regulation changes coming in 2014, unprecedented in both number and magnitude.  These changes affect every company that imports into, or exports from, Canada or the U.S.  Some of these regulations require new licensing, and others mandate significant software updates.

Getting trade right is important not just for the economic growth it can create in Canada, but for the signal it sends to North America’s partners.  If North America fails to show leadership and surrenders the chance to be leading the way in the worlds most significant trade partnerships, others will step forward to fill the void. Now-a-days, thanks to the growing powers of Russia, India, Africa and Asia, that void would be filled within moments and be almost impossible to reclaim

Can Canada keep up in that face of all this competition?

P4Capital

Jim:  Over the last few years our trading software has grown stagnant. Oh sure,  the interface has gotten more colourful and interactive, but the core application hasn’t changed at all since it was bought. It’s like you bought a box with a pink ribbon on it. Eventually, the pink ribbon got tattered, so you but a shiny new yellow ribbon on it – but the repair was strictly cosmetic.  The box is still the same. The software that the Canadian banks bought is that box. It was purchased from the late 1980’s to the year 2000. They were able to do whatever they needed to do in those time-frames, but they’ve been lacking for anything new for the last 15 years. In other words, any changes have been strictly cosmetic.

Now you have “giants on the marketplace that were never there before, and those original trading platforms were never made to handle these new behemoths. So the question Canadian traders have to ask is am I happy making the money I’m making, or will these new competitors push me to the sidelines?”

Jeremy: The Canadian trade foundation was based on the 7.5 hour trading day. That model was based on the New York model. In Shanghai today however,  those building never go dark.

When 7.5 hours was the norm, when the ‘bell ends’ traders would take all the results of that day, sum them up, then batch send them to the accounting department. Everyday they would do the same thing and be told by the start of the next trade day how they were doing. Now there is no break in the day for batch updates;  you have to do it in real time. You don’t have an off hour to calculate – so your risk models are lacking.

Archana: The crash of 2010 is a constant reminder of the need and importance to bolster fall-back mechanisms – where the modern systems can apply a hard stop to free-falling stocks. Business is much more complex now than the antiquated systems that were built several years ago. As Jeremy said, stocks are trading 24/7. There is a race to gain supremacy, be it in terms of the overall market reach, or its impact. Not only that, but we are in the midst of a global economy where exchange is happening in multiple currencies. We need a sophisticated system that can counter faulty trades. For us to stay afloat in all of these emerging markets and to be counted as a viable player, our technology needs to be modernized.

P4Capital

What do you think?

Join the conversation! Tweet your responses to @planet4it or comment below in the comment section! The best answers will be featured on our Website!

Rise of the Drones

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a — commercial unmanned drone?

Drones

Welcome to 2014, where in addition to mammals and commercial airlines, flying robots are claiming their parts of the airways.

By now, most of us have heard of drones in some capacity. Whether its about warfare, hobbyists, delivery systems, or even just a passing mention on your favourite television show, it looks like unmanned drones are here to stay.

Modern Family Episode with an unmanned drone

However, this new technology may be appearing and advancing at too rapid a rate. Laws, governments, corporations and people alike all seem confused about what exactly is allowed, or is illegal with these machines.

Courts all over the world, not just in the west, are debating and setting precedents regarding drones. These debates centre around who can use the drones, when they can use them, and what they can use them for.

History

Drones are a relatively new phenomenon. A dozen years ago there were really only two groups who cared about unmanned drones at all:

  • Hobbyists who flew radio controlled planes for fun
  • The Military, which used them to carry out surveillance missions.

Then everything changed, as it’s wont to do, with a massive terrorist attack. 9/11 led to the American invasions of the Middle East, and drones became major part of their offensive. Unmanned surveillance planes suddenly became armed, and began destroying people and objects from thousands of miles away.

More and more advanced unmanned machines were developed with the newest technologies – from cameras to sensors that can measure airborne chemicals and warfare.

To date, the US has now  made and deployed more than 11000 military drones. In 2002, they had fewer than 200.

The United States isn’t alone. At least 50 other countries control their own collection, and countries like China, Israel and Iran manufacture their own!

And those are just the big companies! We haven’t even touched on the tiny start ups that are now in the drone business.

Drones are no longer just for military use. There are many options out there for civilians to purchase them.

That’s right – you can even build you’re own drone with lego now!

It doesn’t stop there – scientists are now cashing in as well, using drones to gather data on volcanoes in Costa Rica, archaeological sites in Russia and Peru, and flooding over the Pacific Mid-west of the United states.

Customs and border officials are using drones to spot smugglers and illegal immigrants in Canada and the United states, and some drones are even used to take a peek into the hearts of hurricanes.

High Tech Peeping Toms?

Anyone can buy a Drone. I could leave my office, walk down the street to Best Buy or Future Shop and pick one up. No paperwork or registration required.

However, that ease of access is making some uncomfortable situations arise. Namely – what can you watch while flying?

Some drones sporting cameras have been spotting hovering outside condo windows, over backyards, even city streets – the question is, are these peeping tom drones illegal?

It makes me very uncomfortable imagining a drone spying on me from outside of my high rise apartment.

So far this year, the Vancouver Police Department has fielded about a dozen drone complaints. These drones aren’t being flown illegally either.

In the spring, an Ottawa resident complained to his city councillor about a drone buzzing around his neighbourhood.

Commercial use of drones falls under Transport Canada regulations, and requires a Special Flight Operations Certificate.

Transport Canada has issued increasing numbers of these in recent years. That number has grown by over 500%  from 155 in 2011to 945 this year.

The maximum penalty for operating a commercial Drone without a certificate is $5,000 for a person, or $25,000 for a corporation, Transport Canada said.

Most of the rules and regulations regarding Drone use only affect ones that weigh more than 35 Kilograms. Anything that weighs less than that is considered a model aircraft, and doesn’t need permission from the federal department to send their devices into the air.

Another element that makes this situation more complex is the difficulty in figuring out who is flying the drone. The operator may be out of sight, and these machines don’t usually have licence plates or other identifying features.

“Under the current privacy complaint intake process, Canadians must be able to identify the organization they want investigated and must also specify what of their personal information was collected,” says Shayna Gersher, a graduate student at the Institute of Political Economy at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Part of the  challenge is to distinguish between planes flown by hobbyists and those used for commercial applications. This has become increasingly difficult, as the technology for model planes has grown more sophisticated.

There have been some gains – in July a man in New York was arrested and charged with unlawful surveillance after he flew a drone outside exam windows at a hospital.

The US is a completely different can of worms, as commercial drone use there is completely illegal.

Laws

Now, this issue isn’t being ignored.

Originally, President Barack Obama signed a law back in 2012 that required the FAA to make American airspace open to drones on September 30 2015, with all the laws in place. However, recently the FAA has said  that “technical and regulatory obstacles” will delay that deadline.

Draganflyer X4

 

Of course, many aren’t happy with the delay. A group including hobbyists, scientists and commercial interest groups filed lawsuits in the US last Friday challenging this September 2015 deadline, asking for the government to relax its drone regulations now.

The three lawsuits asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the validity of the directive. The agency said the directive is an attempt to clarify what is a model aircraft and the limitations on their operation.

Regulations for flights by larger drones are even farther away.

Amazon

Of course, Amazon with its potential Drone package delivery service is weighing in on this issue.

The Economic Times of India claims that Amazon will start testing its delivery drones in India this October!

Want a recap on the Amazon Drone Delivery system? Check out our post HERE.

Amazon had problems in  its initial testing because commercial drone use is currently illegal in the US.

To avoid these domestic constraints, Amazon will start drone trials in India, which doesn’t have any laws about drone usage. The Economic Times pinpointed two Indian cities, Mumbai and Bangalore, where Amazon already has warehouses.

Capital markets riding the cutting edge of the digital revolution

Planet4IT has been a successful IT staffing agency for 15 years.  Recently we started to notice that the ever-changing technology landscape has spawned a subset of talented individuals who don’t fit perfectly into the traditional IT world.  P4Capital is our response.

It’s a division aimed at people who specialize at the point where capital markets and wealth management intersect with technology.

Data is where all of these specialists interact, create, and work. Think of data as the meeting point of Digital and Capital.

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan coined the term global village.

The new electronic independence re-creates the world in the image of a global village.” — Marshall McLuhan

50 years later we are finally arriving at the point where it’s becoming a reality.  It is technology that is enabling this, but if you stop and ask yourself why are we pursuing all these technological advances you will inevitably come to the conclusion that commerce is the driving force behind it.

Commercial society has always been the hallmark of North America, and with the fall of communism and the rise of democracy the rest of the world is pushing commercialism to a whole new level.

There is perhaps no better example of commerce than the traders of Capital around the world.

The major stock exchanges see more volume now than ever before, and those who can find advantages in investment can turn very serious profits.

Big data has provided those who can effectively understand it an advantage that rivals the speculation of films like Limitless.

limitless-movie-poster-new-1

I see every scenario, I see 50 scenarios, that’s what it does Carl – it puts me 50 moves ahead of you.

With big data and good analytics come many advantages in the capital markets trading game:

  • The first is speed.  Real time databases such as Hadoop allow for information to be processed at a rate unprecedented in human history. We’re talking millions of information indices being turned into relevant and useful information in nanoseconds.
  • The second is depth.  Algorithmic programmers now have access to a huge volume of data they can sift through and collect relevant information from.   This has allowed traders to build significantly more accurate predictive models.    Now we are living in a world where data processing gives competitive advantage.
  • Thirdly and lastly for this post, is sales.  The world of commerce doesn’t exist without the private funding of people who are willing to put their money in other people’s hands.  The ability to maximize the amount entrusted is often an overlooked component of the trading game.  Sales teams and traders work side by side in banks around the world.  Big data analytics have given those sales teams ammunition to maximize their investment by building out customer profiles that predict who they should be contacting on any given day.

It’s easy to get distracted by the bright lights of the Digital world, but the reality is commerce is one of the biggest reasons these technological advances are useful to society.

______________________________________________________________________________________

andrew

Guest Blogger: Andrew

Andrew is one of the newest members of Planet4IT, so he brings with him a fresh new perspective.

With one eye on the job market and the other on the IT world, he’s the man to go to for information on how the latest advancements in Data, Digital Marketing and Social Media are effecting business.

Andrew encourages you to reach out to him through not only telephone or email, but LinkedIn and Twitter as well

 

 

Does Consent apply to Facebook?

Facebook has violated your privacy. Well, okay – that’s nothing new. Facebook and its on again off again relationship with your personal details is a rocky road that always seems to be just on this side not okay. That is not news. This – this is something different. And this, is HUGE. 

Facebooks Covert experiment

Unless you’ve spent the last few days under a rock (or under a beer and a Barbecue, as it was the Canada day long weekend over the last few days) you’ve probably heard about Facebooks Emotional Manipulation Study. That’s right! What has been long suspected is now proven beyond a shadow of a doubt – Facebook is manipulating your emotions! It’s all thanks to this man – Adam Kramer.

Adam Kramer – image from Facebook.com

He’s a data scientist over at Facebook. He ran an experiment back in 2012 on 689,003 Facebook users. His goal? To find out if and how emotions can spread throughout social networks. The exact terminology they used was ‘Emotional Contagion.’ The study lasted for a week and was a collaboration with two researchers from Cornell University and the University of California respectively. How did they conduct this study? Well, some of the participants received happy and cheerful items in their newsfeeds, and some received depressing and grim posts exclusively. And yes, it turns out that moods are contagious and can be spread through social media. In other words – people have empathy and that can be spread through social media. From the abstract:

When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks. This work also suggests that … the observation of others’ positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people.

Scientifically speaking, the study is unique in some ways and pretty ordinary in others. The sample size of nearly 700 000 people is truly huge – possibly the largest in the history of psychology. The results are interesting in that they show that very small changes in the emotional state of our environment can effect how we feel and act on our social networks. On the other hand, the effects in the study are tiny, among the smallest significant results ever published. Here is the disturbing part though – Facebook didn’t ask for permission before conducting this study! In fact, the only reason anyone knows about it is because Cornell and their cohorts published their findings in a journal last week!

unlikeFacebook added ‘Research’ to User Agreement 4 Months after study

When this study was published, people were rightfully angry to find out that a social media site was, essentially manipulating users emotions for science without asking them first! A lot of critics were saying that Facebook should have made sure to acquire informed consent before conducting a study like this. Facebook responded by saying that they had permission – from it’s Data Use Policy: The researchers took advantage of the fine print in Facebook’s data use policy to conduct this scientific experiment without informed consent. Even though the academic researchers worked with Facebook when designing the study, it appears that they only obtained ethical approval after the data collection was finished. Since the data was already collected, the ethics committee that granted approval seems to have awarded it an “approval lite”. It seems like the Facebook researchers exploited an ethical loophole. More disturbing, there is no age filter set on the study, so it could very well have included users younger than 18.

Informed consent is a core principle of human research ethics, established in the aftermath of the second world war. In important cases where the question is deemed vital and consent isn’t possible (or would prevent a fair test), it can be legally bypassed. But this is rare, and it is doubtful whether the Facebook study would qualify for such an exemption.

Here’s the kicker though – it wasn’t until four months after the study, in May 2012 that Facebook made changes to its data use policy. That’s when it introduced that line about how it might use your information for research.

Fallout

Facebook is facing more than just user backlash following news that the social network was intentionally manipulating user emotions during a 2012 experiment. Social Media Question The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is a data regulator in the United Kingdom. They announced on Wednesday that they are investigating whether or not Facebook violated data collection laws. At this point, the ICO is unsure whether or not Facebook actually broke any laws. However, since Facebook’s European headquarters is based in Dublin, the agency plans to contact Ireland’s data protection group about the matter, according to the Financial Times.

The IOC can “force organizations to change their policies and levy fines of up to 500,000 British pounds [about $857,000],” the FT wrote.

Financially, that fine won’t really hurt Facebook. Afterall, it brought in $2.5 billion in revenue last quarter. Instead, any type of monetary fine would be symbolic.

“It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it. We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote in a statement given to Mashable. “The study was done with appropriate protections for people’s information and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may have.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebooks COO issued an apology on Wednesday. She admitted that Facebook ‘Communicated Really Badly’ about its experiment on users. Despite all this fallout, Privacy experts in the U.S. are saying that it is unlikely that Facebook broke any laws.

An official complaint has been filed to the US Federal trade commission as well. The complaint was filed by digital rights group the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (Epic). Facebook said it has no comment to make about the complaint. Epic wants Facebook to pay damages and to hand over the algorithm underlying the work.

John Oliver explains Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is still a very hotly contested issue out there.

We’ve written a blog on it here, and you are welcome to check it out – but I have no shame in admitting that John Oliver does a fantastic job explaining the issue.

With a lot of humour, and a call to arms for all trolls as well.

Now, some language is a little on a raunchy side here, so you should probably listen with headphones if you’re at work or there are children about.

 

Privacy in the Digital Age

We all value our privacy. Whether it’s enjoying a quiet place to think, or just wanting to keep your personal items private. Diaries have locks, safes have keys and some people even hide possessions in mattresses and under loose floorboards.

The truth is we all have secrets, and people have become pretty adept and hiding them over the centuries.

So logically, uncovering those hidden secrets can be a pretty lucrative profession.

Today’s post is going to address some of the major privacy issues that have been cropping up in the media ever since Heartbleed bled out the Internet. Hopefully, it will make you a little more aware of how public our secrets really are.

CONVERSNITCH LAMP

When is a lamp not a lamp? When it’s a hidden microphone that is wirelessly recording and tweeting everything you say.

Photo by Kyle McDonald

Photo by Kyle McDonald

Conversnitch is a wireless recorder that resembles a lamp or a light bulb. Built for less than $100, it listens in and records nearby conversations. These aren’t even stored in the lamp itself; instead they are instantly livetweeted to Twitter. As long as there is Wi-Fi, this data can be sent in real time. Once something is recorded and shared, there is no way to take it back.

You can actually check out Conversnitches Twitter feeds HERE 

Conversntich is built using very simple parts that anyone can get. They include:

  • A Raspberry Pi Miniature computer
  • LED light source
  • Plastic Flower Pot

The creators, Kyle McDonald and Brian House, say they created Conversnitch not to earn money, but to raise questions about the nature of public and private spaces in an era when anything can be broadcast by ubiquitous, internet-connected listening devices.

MICROSOFT CAUGHT SNOOPING

 

eyes

Think you’re emails are secure? Think again! A court case back in March in the United States revealed that Microsoft exercises the right to access any content on its email, chat areas, forums and other communication facilities.

This all came to light when lines of code from the Windows 8 operating system were leaked in 2012. Microsoft set out to find the source of the leak, and they admitted to searching through inboxes to do so.

This is especially ironic considering that Microsoft has attacked its rival Google for going through its own customer emails to deliver ads.

How can they do this? Well, we all agree to it when we check the ‘I Agree’ box in those lovely terms and services agreements. Anyone who signs up for a Hotmail or Outlook account gives the company permission to access all information on its ‘communication services,’ which includes email, chat rooms, forums and other services.

LETS TAKE A TEST

Last year, US security contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the government is snooping on Internet accounts. To test this theory, Cyber-security company High-Tech Bridge set out to test the confidentiality of 50 of the biggest internet companies. They did this by using their systems to send a unique web address in private messages. They then waited to see what companies would click on the website.

FAIL

During the 10 day operation, SIX of the companies had opened the link that was only sent in a private message.

Among those six were:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Discussion forum Formspring

We found they were clicking on links that should be known only to the sender and the recipient. If the links are being opened, we cannot be sure that the contents of messages are not also being read –High-Tech Bridge chief executive Llia Kolochenko

 

AOL ZOMBIE ACCOUNTS

Back in April American On-line turned into a Zombie! Well, sort of – but the ramifications were just as dire.

zombie

AoL lost ‘a significant number’ of email addresses, passwords, contact lists and postal addresses to hackers.

They didn’t release the exact numbers, but from their description of the incident the total number could be in the tens of millions. Hackers are bringing these long dead AoL accounts back to life and using them for Spoofing.

Email-spoofing-is-the

These accounts are being used to send both viruses and spam to everyone on their contact lists. That old “NSYNCYFAN” email account could very well be coming back to haunt you and everyone you care about.

INTERNET EXPLORER POSSESSED

ghost

This one has thankfully been fixed by now, but last month there was a virus that may very well have dealt the death blow to the Internet Explorer browser.

If you were using Internet Explorer and clicked on the wrong link, a hacker could hijack your computer remotely

This is how it worked: Hackers set up a website that installed malware when you visited it. If you made the mistake of visiting this website while using the Internet explorer program, that malware would seep into your computer and give a stranger total control. The worst thing? The user might not even notice.

That’s where the real danger lies. Anyone in control of your computer can spy on everything you do. If it’s a PC at work, hackers can reach into anything an employee has access to. If it’s a personal computer, bank codes and Paypal accounts could be up for grabs.

Thankfully a week or so later a patch was released that repaired this problem.

DROPBOX SPRUNG A LEAK

dropbox

Dropbox has fallen victim to an exploit that allows privately shared files to be read by anyone.

Dropbox-is-a-home-for

 

Dropbox is a cloud-storage provider. It allows users to share links to the documents they have stored on the Dropbox server.

The problem lies in the security of those stored documents. But sending those links out, third parties whom you didn’t intend to see it can access them as well.

The technical details about how this is happening are complicated, but what it comes down to is this: people are accidently entering the intended recipient information into an incorrect box. By doing this, the file is not just shared with who you want it to be, but search providers and ad networks as well.

Dropbox says it’s working to fix the problem by disabling any previously shared links that might be vulnerable to leakage.

RESET THE NET

With all of these leaks and concerns, it should come as no surprise that there is now a counter movement occuring.

A group of nearly two-dozen tech companies and civil liberties groups are launching a new fight against mass internet surveillance, hoping to battle the NSA in much the same way campaigners pushed back on bad piracy legislation in 2012.

 

If Reset the Net passes, it will certainly be interesting to see how Privacy laws and securities are effected.

Digital Currency for the Digital Age

 

Money that exists outside of any governing body has arrived. With the rise of digital technology, digital coins that you can send through the internet have been born.

Welcome to the age of decentralized digital currency, and the rise of Bitcoin.

WHAT IS BITCOIN?

Bitcoin-a-digital

 

Bitcoin was first created in 2009 by an anonymous creator. It is a currency that exists without any centralized governing body. Money is transferred directly person to person via the internet- without going through a bank or any other middle man. This means the fees are lower, Bitcoin can be used worldwide, an account cannot be frozen, and there are no prerequisites.

In short, if you want a Bitcoin account, there is nothing and nobody stopping you from getting one. As long as you have access to the Internet, you can have an account.

Technology enthusiasts and capitalists are claiming digital currencies are a fast and cheap alternative to traditional financial systems. They are also great for businesses in countries with unstable currencies.

There are other benefits associated with Bitcoin as well:

  • Low Inflation risk – Bitcoin is designed to be finite. Only about 21 million Bitcoins will ever be generated. The release of Bitcoins is slowing down and is predicted to stop in 2050.
  • Low collapse risk: Regular currencies depend on governments which occasionally fail. Bitcoin is not regulated by any one government so it is safe from this.
  • Untraceable: You don’t have to be afraid of any organization being able to trace the source of your funds

A mysterious creator?

 Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

The origin of Bitcoins makes for a fantastic story. Satoshi Nakamoto is credited to be the creator of the digital currency, but there are no records of his identity or identities prior to the creation of Bitcoin.

On his P2P foundation profile, he claims to be a 37 year old male living in Japan – but few people believe this because of his fluency of English and his Bitcoin software not being documented or labelled in Japanese.

Both The New Yorker and Fast Company tried to solve this mystery, but the results of their investigations were conflicting and inconclusive.

In 2010, Satoshi Nakamoto vanished and has not been heard from since.

HOW IT WORKS

There are several currency exchanges where you can trade your fiat currency for this cryptocurrency.

Vault-of-Satoshi-A

Your bitcoins are kept in your digital wallet on your computer or mobile device. Paying with bitcoin is like sending an email or a text.

 

  • Cryptocurrency: A medium of exchange designed around securely exchanging information  made possible by certain principles of cryptography. The first cryptocurrency to begin trading was Bitcoin in 2009
  • Fiat Currency: Currency that a government has declared to be legal tender

Bitcoin is a peer to peer network. This means that everyone who uses Bitcoin is a tiny piece of the entire bank.

With Fiat money, a central government decides when to print or distribute money. Bitcoin doesn’t have a central government, so currency is issued through Miners and Mining.

Behind the scenes, the Bitcoin network is sharing a public ledge called the ‘Block Chain’.

The-Block-Chain-A-a

This ledger is completely transparent, anyone can access it and people are frequently encouraged to do so!

This block chain is huge – over 6GB of data. This is where the Miners come in.

Miners-People-who

The Miners convert the data of the Block Chain into a hash, which is much shorter than the initial chain, and at first glance, seems no more than a random sequence of letters and numbers. The raw data of the block chain is converted into a hash through an algorithm, which the  Miners calculate.

The process of converting this data and solving this math problem is called mining. 

Still confused? Check out this video from weusecoins for another explanation.

 

 

Are people using it?

It doesn’t cost anything for businesses to start accepting Bitcoins. It’s easy to set up and there are no charge backs. A lot of businesses just get additional business from the Bitcoin economy, at no extra charge to set up.

Below is a map that shows how many establishments in the world are using Bitcoin. The map updates in real time, so if you’d like to see it for yourself, click HERE.

map

By the end of August 2013, the value of all bitcoins in circulation exceeded US $1.5 billion with millions of dollars worth of bitcoins exchanged daily.

Hard Times

In March of 2014, Bitcoins credibility was questioned when two huge events shook the industry.

1. The Tokyo Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy protection when $425 million went missing. Hackers were blamed for the disappearance.

2. Flexcoin, an Alberta Canada based company, lost about $400.000 to a hacker attack. This company actually ended up closing its doors because there were no ‘resources, assets or otherwise to come back from this loss.’

This changed everything. Bitcoin suddenly went from being one of the most stable currencies in the world, to an incredibly risky investment. The very thing that made it so appealing, the non-regulation or governing, is what made it vulnerable to hacking.

After jumping to more than $800 USD a coin in January, the worth has plummeted after these shocking events. They have lost over half their value and are now hovering around the $400.00 mark.

You can check the price in real time HERE 

LITECOIN

litecoin

The silver to Bitcoin’s gold, Litecoin has been growing in popularity even as Bitcoin’s falls.

It is said to be cheaper to generate, more plentiful and easier to use for small transactions than bitcoin.

While prices for both have slid since  the disasters in March, Litecoin’s worth remains about 490 percent higher than six months ago – compared to only 140 percent for Bitcoin.

Right-now-Litecoin-is

More than 36,600 computers are part of the Litecoin network, according to BitInfoCharts. That’s more than half of the 63,000 computers for Bitcoin, which is more prominent and two years older.

At the Vault of Satoshi, Litecoins account for 20 to 25 percent of all trades.

The average number of daily transactions in Litecoins worldwide in April was 155 percent greater than October’s level, according to CoinDesk data. That compares with only a 19 percent increase for Bitcoins.

Despite this, daily transactions in Bitcoins still outnumber those in Litecoins almost seven-fold.