Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Facebook accused of secretly tracking all users...Even after they delete their accounts!

Facebook accused of tracking all users even if they delete accounts, ask never to be followed

Network tracks its users so that it can give them more tailored advertising

By Andrew Griffin Tuesday 31 March 2015

A new report claims that Facebook secretly installs tracking cookies on users’ computers, allowing them to follow users around the internet even after they’ve left the website, deleted their account and requested to be no longer followed.

Academic researchers said that the report showed that the company was breaking European law with its tracking policies. The law requires that users are told if their computers are receiving cookies except for specific circumstances.

Facebook’s tracking — which it does so that it can tailor advertising — involves putting cookies or small pieces of software on users’ computers, so that they can then be followed around the internet. Such technology is used by almost every website, but European law requires that users are told if they are being given cookies or being tracked. Companies don’t have to tell users if the cookies are required to connect to a service or if they are needed to give the user information that they have specifically requested.

But Facebook’s tracking policy allows it to track users if they have simply been to a page on the company’s domain, even if they weren’t logged in. That includes pages for brands or events, which users can see whether or not they have an account.

Facebook disputes the accusations of the report, it told The Independent.

“This report contains factual inaccuracies,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “The authors have never contacted us, nor sought to clarify any assumptions upon which their report is based. Neither did they invite our comment on the report before making it public.

“We have explained in detail the inaccuracies in the earlier draft report (after it was published) directly to the Belgian DPA, who we understand commissioned it, and have offered to meet with them to explain why it is incorrect, but they have declined to meet or engage with us. However, we remain willing to engage with them and hope they will be prepared to update their work in due course”.

The report does not have any legal standing, and was written by independent academics.

With respect to its European data, Facebook is regulated by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who checks that Facebook is acting within the EU’s Data Protection Directive. As part of that regulation, Facebook is regularly audited.

Facebook has a page on its site that gives users’ information about cookies and how they are used on the network. The company makes clear that cookies are used for the purposes of advertising and other functions, and that users can opt out of such tracking if they wish to.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Acceptance of a semi-public digital life worries privacy advocates


The Kansas City Star March 29, 2015 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The government can know about your phone calls, your emails, the way you use the Web.

Private business tracks your clicks. Your boss knows your digital trail. Your online activity is more public than private.

Almost all Americans now realize this. Most still aren't bothered by it.

A poll released this month - two years after startling revelations about the government's digital surveillance capabilities - shows 9 out of 10 Americans recognize their digital lives aren't secret. Yet clear majorities said they weren't overly concerned about the government snooping around their calls and emails.

"I am not doing anything wrong, so they can monitor me all they want," one user told researchers from the Pew Research Center.

That view worries a growing coalition of privacy experts and advocates trying to speed up efforts to block surreptitious peeking into our digital habits.

Their task isn't easy.

Americans - more than Web users abroad, experts say - have come to accept a semi-public digital life. Private businesses make billions of dollars from sweeping up the crumbs of information digital users leave behind. In exchange for all that secret data, private businesses offer a relatively seamless and low-cost Web experience most consumers prefer.

Privacy software can be expensive and is almost always clumsy. And the government wants in: Citing security concerns, the authorities seek "backdoor" access to email accounts and phone records.

So privacy experts are stepping up efforts to convince consumers of the need for digital privacy. A fundamentally private Web won't be a reality, they say, until ordinary Americans demand broad protection from government and business intrusion into their phone and computer use.

"If anyone in society is going to have privacy, then everybody has to have privacy," said Alan Fairless, CEO of SpiderOak, a company that offers encrypted data storage for consumers.

Some early-adopting digital-savvy consumers have started to seek out and invent privacy protection tools, he said. That work may eventually trickle down more broadly to less tech-handy cellphone users and Web surfers.

It hasn't yet partly because most Americans seem satisfied with their current digital experience. Prices are low and access is simple precisely because users can trade their data for an easy Web experience.

"People are very willing to sacrifice privacy for convenience," said Aaron Deacon, managing director of KC Digital Drive, a local group exploring issues related to Internet use and access.

Pew's research shows that over the past two years - since the disclosures of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden - roughly a fifth of Americans have changed the way they use various digital tools. They change email passwords more regularly, for example, and turn to programs to obscure Web surfing habits.

Other users manage passwords through websites such as LastPass or Blur, a step security experts say is essential for protecting unauthorized access to your digital trail.

Some users establish different accounts with different privacy goals. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton now faces criticism for sending and receiving emails stored on her own in-house server in order to protect some communications from public disclosure.

Yet more complicated privacy protection efforts like encoding and decoding emails remain a difficult task for most users. Many abandon the effort, effectively surrendering privacy for simplicity and speed.

The Pew survey found just 2 percent of email users who know about potential government surveillance actually encrypt their digital messages.

"The failure is in making easy-to-use tech," said Mark Jaycox of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, a California-based digital advocacy group. "It's well-known we need to do better at making encryption easier."

A company called ChatSecure, for example, offers free software allowing cellphone users to send coded messages. Yet its developers admit that encrypting even the simplest texts can confuse most of us.

"One of the biggest challenges when creating security software," the company says, "is ensuring it's usable by normal humans."

Even so, the push to simplify privacy protection mechanisms is picking up speed. Major Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo are working on simpler email encryption programs. Other, smaller firms offer off-the-shelf software that promise user privacy.

"Cybersecurity and privacy applications are a huge emerging market," Deacon said.

Broad use of privacy mechanisms in the digital world could provoke a backlash - from private businesses that make millions from their access to digital data and from the government, which wants quick access to phone calls and emails for security reasons.

"Social media and the Internet is the primary way in which these terrorism organizations are communicating," President Barack Obama said in January. "And when we have the ability to track that in a way that is legal, conforms with due process, rule of law and presents oversight, then that's the capability that we have to preserve."

Some officials have argued for "backdoor" access to encrypted communications, giving the government quiet access to emails and phone calls that users may inaccurately believe are secure.

The idea angers civil libertarians and tech groups.

"We have a good policy standard: the U.S. Constitution," said Jeffrey Mittman, director of the Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "There are limits on the government's ability to search and invade Americans' privacy."

Fairless, with SpiderOak, said back doors for encrypted data are a bad idea.

"Back doors are almost never tightly controlled," he said. "If there's a back door, it's basically impossible to guarantee only the good people use them for good reasons."

A company called Wickr offers free "military-grade encryption of text, picture, audio and video," its website says. It, too, resists efforts for backdoor government access.

"While all governments must protect their citizens, we as citizens and as companies must stand up for one of the pillars of freedom - privacy," the company says.

Concerns about truly private digital technologies aren't limited to governments. Private companies now make millions of dollars by tracking online habits and selling that information to others.

The White House recently proposed a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights designed to protect online habits from improper use by private firms. The measure would require businesses to tell consumers what data is being gathered - and offer "reasonable means to control the processing of personal data."

Some industry groups have criticized the plan.

"The proposal could hurt American innovation and choke off potentially useful services and products," the Consumer Electronics Association said.

At the same time, Internet advocacy groups say the bill doesn't go far enough.

"The bill should provide individuals with more meaningful and enforceable control over the collection, use and sharing of their personal information," a coalition of digital and consumer lobbying groups wrote the White House in early March.

The tension reflects a central truth about our digital lives: We want phone and Internet service that's easy, cheap, fast, reliable, safe and private.

Doing all of those things at once isn't easy.

"The way that people want to use the Internet demands that they give up a lot of privacy," Deacon said.

"People want two different things that are sort of contradictory."

Google controls what we buy, the news we read — and Obama’s policies

Google controls what we buy, the news we read — and Obama’s policies

By Kyle Smith March 28, 2015 | 5:30pm

It’s 2020. The New England Patriots, winners of six straight Super Bowls, are having yet another routine meeting with the Commissioner’s Office.

Deputy NFL Commissioner Tom Brady and his chief of staff, Rob Gronkowski, OK a rule change that forgives the Patriots for illegally taping other teams and deflating football over the preceding years. Meanwhile, members of the Patriots continue to happily contribute funding for the commissioner’s new 45-room castle in Turks and Caicos, and Bill Belichick agrees to continue coaching the commissioner’s 12-year-old son in Pop Warner football.

Would that bother anyone? Because the above is pretty much going on today, only the team is called Google and the commissioner is the president of the United States.

Sure, since we’re talking about politics, the giving and taking of favors works in a slightly more indirect way. But only slightly. As Michael Kinsley used to say, the scandal about corruption in Washington is not the stuff that’s illegal but the stuff that’s legal.

A former Google officer is the president’s chief technology adviser. Google employees contributed more to President Obama’s re-election than did employees of any other company except Microsoft. Google lobbyists met with Obama White House officials 230  times. By comparison, lobbyists from rival Comcast have been admitted to the inner sanctum a mere 20 or so times in the same period.

Oh, and on Election Night 2012, guess where Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt was? Working for the president. In the president’s campaign office. On a voter-turnout system designed to help the president get re-elected.

Obama lieutenant David Plouffe boasts: “On Election Night [Schmidt] was in our boiler room in Chicago,” he told Bloomberg News, in a story that revealed that for the campaign Schmidt “helped recruit talent, choose technology and coach the campaign manager, Jim Messina, on the finer points of leading a large organization.”

Schmidt was especially fond of a madcap corner of the Obama campaign office known as “the Cave,” where, at 4:30 every day, staffers would dance madly under a disco ball to the tune of a mashup of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and an automated campaign phone call made to prospective voters.

Favors beget favors. And hey, presto, the FTC, in 2012, ignored the recommendations of its own staffers, which accused Google of abusive trade practices for burying competitors in their search results and recommended a lawsuit.

Instead, the FTC dropped its inquiry. Google enjoys 67 percent market share, 83 percent in mobile. No biggie, declared the FTC.

Google lobbyists have been pushing for implementation of “net neutrality” regulations, particularly a “Title II” provision that would benefit Google. President Obama helpfully came out in support of the plan, including Title II, which was slightly embarrassing because Obama’s FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, had favored a different approach. Wheeler promptly reversed course and backed the Obama-Google plan.

Right before the FCC report was due, but before it was made public, the FCC pulled another odd reversal, removing 15 pages of policy Google apparently found out about but didn’t like.

Google has the power to bump an article it doesn’t like off the table and under the rug.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said that the changes came about after “a last-minute submission from a major California based company.” I wonder which company he’s talking about. In-N-Out Burger?

It’s not like Google is ungrateful for all of this special attention. When the newly launched ObamaCare website was plagued by evil spirits, guess which company was sent to fix it?

Google’s proton packs helped kill off the ObamaCare site’s goblins, but the country got slimed.

Still, all of this is easily forgiven compared to what’s coming next: politically filtered information.

Google says that in the future, its determinations about what is true and what is untrue will play a role in how search-engine rankings are configured.

Google has the power to bump an article it doesn’t like off the table and under the rug. Even moving information off the first page of search results would effectively neutralize it: According to a 2013 study, 91.5 percent of Google search users click through on a first-page result.

To put it mildly, your idea of whether Fox News or MSNBC is a more reliable purveyor of “truth” might differ substantially from your neighbor’s.

Google’s idea of ranking results based on truth is an excellent one that it should implement just as soon as it comes up with an absolutely, unbiased and objective system of determining truth.

I’m not sure the company whose employees ranked second in all of corporate America in campaign donations to Obama can be termed neutral. I’m not sure the nation’s most impartial arbiter is a guy who partied to the sounds of an Obama campaign robocall.

Meet the robot insects that fly, work together and catch objects like chameleons

Meet the robot insects that fly, work together and catch objects like chameleons

30.03.2015 11:19

Automation expert Festo has created three robots inspired by butterflies, ants and a chameleon. They can fly in packs, self charge, work in groups and pick up pretty much anything.

The pick of the bunch is the FlexShapeGripper, a grabbing tool that’s modelled on the incredible tongue of a chameleon. To catch prey, chameleons’ tongues act like suction devices, grabbing flies in an adhesive, form-fitting, interlocking hold.

To replicate this, Festo’s gripper is made from an elastic, silicone cap that adapts to the object it is targeting. It can pick up multiple things, holding many at a time, and reacts to pretty much any shape.

This could be incredibly useful for a range of industries, from automated picking businesses to user aids for those with physical difficulties.

For example Robbie the Robot is a prototype machine made to assist Joanne O’Riordan, a Cork teenager born without arms or legs. Trinity College researchers developed ‘hands’ by filling a balloon with coffee granules.

Inflating it with air meant it could conform with any shape, sucking the air out would then trap, or grab, it – the FlexShapeGripper is better still. It could, basically, be revolutionary to the robotics industry.

Taking flight

Another creation from Festo is its eMotionButterfly. Incredibly light, flying in packs, GPS and infrared cameras coordinate the devices.

“The eMotionButterflies impress with an intelligently employed mechanical system and the smallest possible power units in the tightest space,” says the company. “The reduced use of materials enables the true-to-nature flying behaviour.”

It's pretty exceptional that these devices are small and light enough to ensure flight through the wafting of wings.

Festo's eMotionButterflies mimic the flying capabilities of natural butterflies

Colonise us all

Lastly are the BionicANTs, which are as terrifying looking as they are clever. Again, these tiny robots mimic the behaviour of ants working together to move an object.

They communicate with each other to ensure they never crash together, autonomously deciding where best to position themselves to get the task done.

They also stroll over to the perimeter of their working fired to avail of the self charge points, pressing their antennae against the wall. There’s pretty much no stopping them.

Who needs a sheepdog when you’ve got a drone?

Who needs a sheepdog when you’ve got a drone?

Nicholas Reilly for Metro.co.uk Monday 30 Mar 2015 1:10 pm

Farmers have nearly always relied on the skills of wise old sheepdogs when it comes to rounding up their flock.

But it seems that the role of a sheepdog could now be facing the unlikeliest of threats – a drone.

That’s if this video is anything to go by, which shows what happens when a drone is flown near a flock of sheep.

In the video, the drone essentially becomes a flying sheepdog as it manages to herd a flock of sheep through a gate and into a neighbouring field.

The drone, which has been nicknamed ‘Shep’, captured the footage on a farm in Carlow, South-East Ireland.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pew Poll Finds 59 Percent Support For ‘Completely Changing’ Federal Tax System, Networks Ignore

Pew Poll Finds 59 Percent Support For ‘Completely Changing’ Federal Tax System, Networks Ignore

By Joseph Rossell | March 23, 2015 | 4:21 PM EDT
Tax Day is rapidly approaching and most Americans say the federal tax system “should be completely changed.”
The Pew Research Center recently conducted a poll that found a majority of Americans supported “Congress completely changing the federal tax system.” Pew announced the findings March 19, which showed 59 percent of its respondents agreed with a total overhaul of federal taxation.
Taxpayers’ views were clear from the Pew survey, but the broadcast news networks ignored that clear sign of tax system dysfunction. ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows all ignored Pew’s new poll between March 19 and March 22. Not once did those broadcasts mention majority support for total reform of the federal tax system.
On other questions, Pew survey participants also opposed higher taxes for themselves. Ninety-three percent of individuals said that they already pay “about the right amount” or “more than their fair share” in taxes. Only four percent said they were paying less than their “fair share.”
Conservative groups responded to the poll saying it looks “like a movement” for tax reform, and shows a “bipartisan majority” want the federal code overhauled.
“The bottom line of the Pew Poll: Four percent of Americans think the tax system is fair. Four percent think they pay less than their fair share. Thus 96 percent of Americans want tax reform that does not raise taxes,” Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist told MRC Business. “That looks like a movement.”
National Taxpayers Union Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift said while the “Pew Research Center’s recent poll on federal income taxes shows that Americans may not agree on how much, and who should pay, a bipartisan majority does agree that it's time to scrap the code.”
“This is an opportunity for Congress to enact reforms that would create a fairer, flatter tax code, one that's less complex and doesn't carve out favors, and most importantly - one that doesn’t punish success, but spurs economic development and prosperity,” Swift added.
The networks’ coverage of taxes revealed far different views on taxes than Pew’s latest research. ABC, CBS and NBC anchors and reporters often advocated for higher taxes and slanted coverage of President Barack Obama’s tax policies.
ABC World News anchor David Muir implied that Americans wanted higher taxes during a discussion with current ABC News Political Director Rick Klein in December 2010. Muir argued that extending tax cuts contradicted taxpayers’ wishes, since “voters in the midterms seemed so concerned about government spending and the deficit.”
Klein then said that “all this talk in Washington about deficit and debt, and everything that Congress is set to do is going to make those problems even worse.” This included tax cuts, which Klein said meant “less revenue coming in.”
NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer, who earns somewhere between $22 million and $25 million annually according to Celebrity Net Worth, has also pushed for higher taxes. He pressed Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, about whether he would support “tax hikes” in order to reduce the national debt in an interview May 2011. "Why not use an increase in revenues? Tax hikes to help with that debt problem?” Lauer also challenged Boehner about the economic benefits of tax cuts during the interview.
This liberal bent on taxes also showed up during NBC’s Sunday talk show Meet the Press. Host David Gregory argued that raising taxes on the middle class was required for creating a balanced budget during an interview with Norquist November 27, 2011. “If you really want to get serious about the deficit, let the Bush tax cuts expire for everybody,” Gregory said.
In July 2012, CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell absurdly suggested that raising taxes on middle-class Americans would actually save them money. She said that middle-class tax cuts cost taxpayers $150 billion that year. She said later added that Republicans wanted “to make permanent all of the Bush-era tax cuts, including those for households earning over $250,000. The cost to taxpayers? An additional $850 billion over the next ten years.”
Even though the networks frequently opposed tax cuts, they still chose overwhelmingly to portray Obama as a tax cutter before and after winning his first presidential election. The networks described Obama as cutting taxes more than four times as often as increasing them between September 1, 2008, and August 31, 2010. This occurred despite the fact Obama’s potential tax hikes were nearly 20 times the size of his tax cuts.
Obama’s signature triumph, ObamaCare created or increased at least 13 taxes, costing the middle class an estimated $377 billion, according to a March 12, 2013, Washington Post Fact Checker article. The networks ignored that ObamaCare would increase taxes in 87 percent of stories between November 17, 2014, and February 17, 2015. 


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Feds Financing System to ‘Automatically Detect’ Cyberbullying

Feds Financing System to ‘Automatically Detect’ Cyberbullying

By: Elizabeth Harrington     
March 27, 2015 5:00 am

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is financing the creation of a system for the “automatic detection” of cyberbullying.

The project was awarded this month to Rutgers University, which has received $117,102 so far. The real-time, automatic detection of hurtful online speech is necessary, according to the NSF grant, because cyberbullying is a “critical social problem.” The grant said 40 percent of American teenagers have reported being cyberbullied.

“This project aims to define new approaches for automatic detection of cyberbullying by integrating the relevant research in social sciences and computer science,” the grant said.

The project will involve searching for keywords and studying the relationships between teenagers who send and receive mean online messages.

“Specifically, this research will advance the state of the art in cyberbullying detection beyond textual analysis by also giving due attention to the social relationships in which these bullying messages are exchanged,” the grant said.

“A higher accuracy at detection would allow for better mitigation of the cyberbullying phenomenon and may help improve the lives of thousands of victims who are cyberbullied each year,” it said.

The project hopes to employ “social intervention mechanisms” to prevent cyberbullying. Data on cyberbullying will also “be made available to the larger research community.”

The project begins in July and is set to last through June 2017.

The goal of the project is to create “better cyberbullying detectors.”

“By analyzing the social relationship graph between users and deriving features such as number of friends, network embeddedness, and relationship centrality, the project will validate (and potentially refine) multiple theories in social science literature and assimilate those findings to create better cyberbullying detectors,” the grant said. “The project will yield new, comprehensive models and algorithms that can be used for cyberbullying detection in automated settings.”

The grant added that “text mining” of cyber conversations is not enough, as the project also seeks to conduct data analysis on a “much bigger scale.”

Vivek K. Singh, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, is leading the project.

“I have worked on multiple projects including designing a novel media sharing application, detecting patterns in large scale Twitter feeds, and analyzing community behavior in social media to design mechanisms to ‘nudge’ people into suitable behaviors,” he writes on his website.

Singh previously studied Twitter hashtags, arguing that people, “make a conscious decision to hash-tag their post, because they want to relate it to an event which is relevant to others in the same spatio-temporal volume.”

Singh did not respond to a request for comment.

The Obama administration has placed a priority on preventing cyberbullying. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) runs a website to stop cyberbullying that encourages Americans to report mean online behavior to law enforcement and schools.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the first ever White House conference on the subject in 2011.

“If there is one goal of this conference, it is to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up,” President Obama said.

Other measures to counter cyberbullying have raised concerns about privacy and government overreach.

A new law in Illinois to combat cyberbullying allows school administrators to demand the passwords of student’s social media accounts. Schools only need a “reasonable cause to believe that a student’s account on a social network contains evidence that a student has violated a school’s disciplinary rule of policy,” FOX 2 in St. Louis reported.

Australia is seeking to establish an “Office of the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner,” who can fine social media networks AU$17,000 a day for not taking down a post that the government has deemed cyberbullying. A bill working its way through the Australian senate defines cyberbullying as “seriously threatening, seriously intimidating, seriously harassing, or seriously humiliating.”

Liberal Australian senator Cory Bernardi warned that the legislation might go too far.

“Ultimately, children need to be taught a bit of resilience in some ways,” he said. “There is not always going to be someone there to pick up the hurt feelings.”