Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nine real technologies that will soon be inside you

Nine real technologies that will soon be inside you

By MIKE EDELHART Yahoo US
October 19, 2014, 10:20 am

Given the frenzy of interest following the announcement of the Apple Watch, you might think wearables will be the next really important shift in technology.

Not so.

Wearables will have their moment in the sun, but they're simply a transition technology.

Technology will move from existing outside our bodies to residing inside us.

That's the next big frontier.

Here are nine signs that implantable tech is here now, growing rapidly, and that it will be part of your life (and your body) in the near future.

1. Implantable smartphones

Sure, we're virtual connected to our phones 24/7 now, but what if we were actually connected to our phones?

That's already starting to happen.

Last year, for instance, artist Anthony Antonellis had an RFID chip embedded in his arm that could store and transfer art to his handheld smartphone.

Researchers are experimenting with embedded sensors that turn human bone into living speakers.

Other scientists are working on eye implants that let an image be captured with a blink and transmitted to any local storage (such as that arm-borne RFID chip).

But what takes the place of the screen if the phone is inside you? Techs at Autodesk are experimenting with a system that can display images through artificial skin.

Or the images may appear in your eye implants.

2. Healing chips

Right now, patients are using cyber-implants that tie directly to smartphone apps to monitor and treat diseases.

A new bionic pancreas being tested at America’s Boston University, for instance, has a tiny sensor on an implantable needle that talks directly to a smartphone app to monitor blood-sugar levels for diabetics.

Scientists in London are developing swallowable capsule-sized circuits that monitor fat levels in obese patients and generate genetic material that makes them feel "full".

It has potential as an alternative to current surgery or other invasive ways to handle gross obesity.

Dozens of other medical issues from heart murmurs to anxiety have implant/phone initiatives under way.

3. Cyber pills that talk to your doctor

Implantables won’t just communicate with your phone; they’ll chat up your doctor, too.

In a project named Proteus, after the eensy body-navigating vessel in the film Fantastic Voyage, a British research team is developing cyber-pills with microprocessors in them that can text doctors directly from inside your body.

The pills can share (literally) inside info to help doctors know if you are taking your medication properly and if it is having the desired effect.

4. Bill Gates' implantable birth control

The Gates Foundation is supporting an MIT project to create an implantable female compu-contraceptive controlled by an external remote control.

The tiny chip generates small amounts of contraceptive hormone from within the woman's body for up to 16 years.

Implantation is no more invasive than a tattoo.

And, "The ability to turn the device on and off provides a certain convenience factor for those who are planning their family.", said Dr Robert Farra of MIT.

Gives losing the remote a whole new meaning.

5. Smart tattoos

Tattoos are hip and seemingly ubiquitous, so why not smart, digital tattoos that not only look cool, but can also perform useful tasks, like unlocking your car or entering mobile phone codes with a finger-point?

Researchers at the University of Illinois have crafted an implantable skin mesh of computer fibers thinner than a human hair that can monitor your body's inner workings from the surface.

A company called Dangerous Things has an NFC chip that can be embedded in a finger through a tattoo-like process, letting you unlock things or enter codes simply by pointing.

A Texas research group has developed microparticles that can be injected just under the skin, like tattoo ink, and can track body processes.

All of these are much wiser choices than the name of a soon-to-be-ex.

6. Brain-computer interface

Having the human brain linked directly to computers is the dream (or nightmare) of sci-fi.

But now, a team at Brown University called BrainGate is at the forefront of the real-world movement to link human brains directly to computers for a host of uses.

As the BrainGate website says, "using a baby aspirin-sized array of electrodes implanted into the brain, early research from the BrainGate team has shown that the neural signals can be ‘decoded' by a computer in real-time and used to operate external devices."

Chip maker Intel predicts practical computer-brain interfaces by 2020.

Intel scientist Dean Pomerleau said in a recent article, "Eventually people may be willing to be more committed to brain implants."

"Imagine being able to surf the Web with the power of your thoughts."

7. Meltable bio-batteries

One of the challenges for implantable tech has been how to get power to devices tethered inside or floating around in human bodies.

You can't plug them in.

You can't easily take them out to replace a battery.

A team at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is working on biodegradable batteries.

They generate power inside the body, transfer it wirelessly where needed, and then simply melt away.

Another project is looking at how to use the body’s own glucose to generate power for implantables.

Think the potato battery of grammar school science, but smaller and much more advanced.

8. Smart dust

Perhaps the most startling of current implantable innovations is smart dust, arrays of full computers with antennas, each much smaller than a grain of sand, that can organize themselves inside the body into as-needed networks to power a whole range of complex internal processes.

Imagine swarms of these nano-devices, called motes, attacking early cancer or bringing pain relief to a wound or even storing critical personal information in a manner that is deeply encrypted and hard to hack.

With smart dust, doctors will be able to act inside your body without opening you up, and information could be stored inside you, deeply encrypted, until you unlocked it from your very personal nano network.

9. The verified self

Implantables hammer against social norms.

They raise privacy issues and even point to a larger potential dystopia.

This technology could be used to ID every single human being, for example.

Already, the US military has serious programs afoot to equip soldiers with implanted RFID chips, so keeping track of troops becomes automatic and worldwide.

Many social critics believe the expansion of this kind of ID is inevitable.

Some see it as a positive: improved crime fighting, universal secure elections, a positive revolution in medical information and response, and never a lost child again.

Others see the perfect Orwellian society: a Big Brother who, knowing all and seeing all, can control all.

And some see the first big, fatal step toward the Singularity, that moment when humanity turns its future over to software.



Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mobile Payments Soar

Cash Is King No More As Mobile Payments Soar

10/18/2014 @ 7:11AM

Debit and credit transactions are taking the place of cash around the world — faster in developing countries than in North America and Europe, according to a recent report by Cap Gemini and RBS, the UK bank. Total non-cash transactions will reach 365.5 billion in 2013, growing at more than 20 percent in developing markets but only 5.6 percent in mature markets.

In some cases, developing countries will be able to leapfrog mature markets by moving directly to newer, more flexible technologies in payments, similar to their rapid adoption of wireless without the burden of wire legacy systems.

“Developing markets are establishing initiatives and upgrading infrastructure in order to boost non-cash volumes,” the report found. Mobile phones are making a huge impact and that will only increase as inexpensive smartphones proliferate.

“M-payments are expected to grow by 60.8 percent annually through to 2015. E-payments will decelerate to 15.9 percent growth during the same period. There is a gradual convergence of e- and m-payments as the distinction between the two diminishes.”

Although the report doesn’t hesitate to take its measurements and projections to a single decimal point — that always suggests such precision? — the consultancy and the bank admitted being unsure of how to measure hidden payments.

“Unreported payment niches are being formed as payments move away from the highly regulated banking sphere. Although non-banks continue to pursue digital innovations and capture more of the payments market, we are yet to witness any concrete action on improving and reporting of data for the hidden market.”

The future of cards should be interesting as the study found that direct debit continues to grow, although cards still contributed most of the growth in non-cash transactions at 12.3 percent in 2012.

Debit cards have proven to be highly popular, especially among young people. Companies like Moven and Simple offer a combination of a debit card and a mobile phone app to help people track and control their spending. They have suggested a generational change and a wariness of credit. The World Payments report suggests another contributing factor — banks “reduced their focus on the credit card business to avoid an increase in bad debts” after the 2008 financial crisis.

Direct debit could be a sign of economic recovery.

“Growth in direct debit in mature markets can be attributed to an improved economy and easing of credit flows compared to 2008.  In this improved environment, it is possible that consumers are less cautious about the timing of their payments and are willing to pay periodic monthly bills directly from their accounts.”

Checks have almost disappeared in many markets, making up just 4.8 percent on non-cash transactions in Europe in 2012. The U.S. remains a checking account powerhouse, a somewhat dubious distinction, accounting for 65.1 percent of global check transactions.

The report producers note that while the non-cash picture does not show substantial shifts, big changes may be on the way in developing markets because some countries are upgrading their infrastructure to boost the use of non-cash transactions. In the U.S., the Fed is expected to release a recommendation later this year on moving to a real-time payment infrastructure. Consultants count more than 20 countries that already have real-time payment systems, including Japan which has had one for 40 years and Mexico which recently developed its own.

Meanwhile nonbanks will increase the number of transactions they handle from 1.1 billion in 2012 to 7 billion in 2015, but banks will maintain the lion’s share reaching 39.9 billion in 2015.

“The mobile payments space is increasingly competitive with banks and non-banks striving for insightful data, market dominance and consumer loyalty.” In mobile, non-banks are expected to grow faster than banks. PayPal processed more than $27 billion in mobile payments in 2013, around 15 percent of total payment volumes, it said.

The data on the Walmart and American Express Bluebird prepaid card wasn’t any fresher than the Amex presentation at Money2020 last year, but the growth in the Starbucks card was impressive — 10 million customers making nearly 5 million transactions per week, totaling 250 million transaction in 2013, double the previous year. Talk about the value of a good brand!

Turning to the U.S., the report found significant innovation, such as Square, that could push change even if individual companies fail.

”While many of these fledgling companies could fail, they nonetheless open the way for others to play a bigger role in the payments. This is causing the overall payments industry to fragment.”

Earlier this week I reported on McKinsey’s view of the payment industry. Philip Bruno, a senior partner in McKinsey’s Global Payments Practice, noted that some of the players in payments now — such as Google and Apple — are huge companies with ample financial resources and will create a different of competitive threat than the payment startups from the days of Internet 1.0.

Cap Gemini ’s report said that despite areas of innovation “the U.S. market generally lags the rest of the world in certain other payments trends. Checks are still in high use, there is no real-time payment clearing and settlement system, and adoption of EMV technology has been slow.”



Rise of the machines Computers could achieve superhuman levels of intelligence in this century. Could they pose a threat to humanity?

By The Week Staff | 8:00am ET

How smart are today's computers?

They can tackle increasingly complex tasks with an almost human-like intelligence. Microsoft has developed an Xbox game console that can assess a player's mood by analyzing his or her facial expressions, and in 2011, IBM's Watson supercomputer won Jeopardy — a quiz show that often requires contestants to interpret humorous plays on words. These developments have brought us closer to the holy grail of computer science: artificial intelligence, or a machine that's capable of thinking for itself, rather than just respond to commands. But what happens if computers achieve "superintelligence" — massively outperforming humans not just in science and math but in artistic creativity and even social skills? Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, believes we could be sleepwalking into a future in which computers are no longer obedient tools but a dominant species with no interest in the survival of the human race. "Once unsafe superintelligence is developed," Bostrom warned, "we can't put it back in the bottle."

When will AI become a reality?

There's a 50 percent chance that we'll create a computer with human-level intelligence by 2050 and a 90 percent chance we will do so by 2075, according to a survey of AI experts carried out by Bostrom. The key to AI could be the human brain: If a machine can emulate the brain's neural networks, it might be capable of its own sentient thought. With that in mind, tech giants like Google are trying to develop their own "brains" — stacks of coordinated servers running highly advanced software. Meanwhile, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has invested heavily in Vicarious, a San Francisco–based company that aims to replicate the neocortex, the part of the brain that governs vision and language and does math. Translate the neocortex into computer code, and "you have a computer that thinks like a person," said Vicarious co-founder Scott Phoenix. "Except it doesn't have to eat or sleep."

Why is that a threat?

No one knows what will happen when computers become smarter than their creators. Computer power has doubled every 18 months since 1956, and some AI experts believe that in the next century, computers will become smart enough to understand their own designs and improve upon them exponentially. The resulting intelligence gap between machines and people, Bostrom said, would be akin to the one between humans and insects. Computer superintelligence could be a boon for the human race, curing diseases like cancer and AIDS, solving problems that overwhelm humans, and performing work that would create new wealth and provide more leisure time. But superintelligence could also be a curse.

What could go wrong?

Computers are designed to solve problems as efficiently as possible. The difficulty occurs when imperfect humans are factored into their equations. "Suppose we have an AI whose only goal is to make as many paper clips as possible," Bostrom said. That thinking machine might rationally decide that wiping out humanity will help it achieve that goal — because humans are the only ones who could switch the machine off, thereby jeopardizing its paper-clip-making mission. In a hyperconnected world, superintelligent computers would have many ways to kill humans. They could knock out the internet-connected electricity grid, poison the water supply, cause havoc at nuclear power plants, or seize command of the military's remote-controlled drone aircraft or nuclear missiles. Inventor Elon Musk recently warned that "we need to be super careful with AI,'' calling it "potentially more dangerous than nukes.''

Is that bleak future inevitable?

Many computer scientists do not think so, and question whether AI is truly achievable. We're a long way from understanding the processes of our own incredibly complex brains — including the nature of consciousness itself — let alone applying that knowledge to produce a sentient, self-aware machine. And though today's most powerful computers can use sophisticated algorithms to win chess games and quiz shows, we're still far short of creating machines with a full set of human skills — ones that could "write poetry and have a conception of right and wrong," said Ramez Naam, a lecturer at the Silicon Valley–based Singularity University. That being said, technology is advancing at lightning speed, and some machines are already capable of making radical and spontaneous self-improvements. (See below.)

What safeguards are in place?

Not many thus far. Google, for one, has created an AI ethics review board that supposedly will ensure that new technologies are developed safely. Some computer scientists are calling for the machines to come pre-programmed with ethical guidelines — though developers then would face thorny decisions over what behavior is and isn't "moral." The fundamental problem, said Danny Hillis, a pioneering supercomputer designer, is that tech firms are designing ever-more intelligent computers without fully understanding — or even giving much thought to — the implications of their inventions. "We're at that point analogous to when single-celled organisms were turning into multicelled organisms," he said. "We're amoeba, and we can't figure out what the hell this thing is that we're creating."

When robots learn to lie

In 2009, Swiss researchers carried out a robotic experiment that produced some unexpected results. Hundreds of robots were placed in arenas and programmed to look for a "food source," in this case a light-colored ring. The robots were able to communicate with one another and were instructed to direct their fellow machines to the food by emitting a blue light. But as the experiment went on, researchers noticed that the machines were evolving to become more secretive and deceitful: When they found food, the robots stopped shining their lights and instead began hoarding the resources — even though nothing in their original programming commanded them to do so. The implication is that the machines learned "self-preservation," said Louis Del Monte, author of The Artificial Intelligence Revolution. "Whether or not they're conscious is a moot point."


Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users

Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users

Some Whisper users monitored even after opting out of geolocation services
Company shares some information with US Department of Defense
User data collated and indefinitely stored in searchable database
Whisper app tracks ‘secret’ users
Whisper app rewrites terms of service and privacy policy
How the ‘safest place on the internet’ tracks its users
Whisper: the facts

A Whisper user posted this message from the vicinity of the White House. The red icons signify someone who has posted a Whisper. Potentially identifying information has been redacted by the Guardian. Photograph: Guardian

Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe
Thursday 16 October 2014 11.35 EDT

The company behind Whisper, the social media app that promises users anonymity and claims to be “the safest place on the internet”, is tracking the location of its users, including some who have specifically asked not to be followed.

The practice of monitoring the whereabouts of Whisper users – including those who have expressly opted out of geolocation services – will alarm users, who are encouraged to disclose intimate details about their private and professional lives.

Whisper is also sharing information with the US Department of Defense gleaned from smartphones it knows are used from military bases, and developing a version of its app to conform with Chinese censorship laws.

The US version of the app, which enables users to publish short messages superimposed over photographs or other images, has attracted millions of users, and is proving especially popular among military personnel who are using the service to make confessions they would be unlikely to publish on Facebook or Twitter.

Currently, users of Whisper are publishing as many as 2.6m messages a day. Facebook is reportedly developing its own Whisper-style app for anonymous publishing. The trend toward anonymity in social media has some privacy experts concerned about security.

Approached for comment last week, Whisper said it “does not follow or track users”. The company added that the suggestion it was monitoring people without their consent, in an apparent breach of its own terms of service, was “not true” and “false”.

But on Monday – four days after learning the Guardian intended to publish this story – Whisper rewrote its terms of service; they now explicitly permit the company to establish the broad location of people who have disabled the app’s geolocation feature.

Whisper has developed an in-house mapping tool that allows its staff to filter and search GPS data, pinpointing messages to within 500 meters of where they were sent.

The technology, for example, enables the company to monitor all the geolocated messages sent from the Pentagon and National Security Agency. It also allows Whisper to track an individual user’s movements over time.

When users have turned off their geolocation services, the company also, on a targeted, case-by-case basis, extracts their rough location from IP data emitted by their smartphone.

The Guardian witnessed this practice on a three-day visit to the company’s Los Angeles headquarters last month, as part of a trip to explore the possibility of an expanded journalistic relationship with Whisper.

After reviewing Whisper’s back-end tools and speaking extensively with the company’s executives, the Guardian has also established that:

User data, including Whisper postings that users believe they have deleted, is collated in a searchable database. The company has no access to users’ names or phone numbers, but is storing information about the precise time and approximate location of all previous messages posted through the app. The data, which stretches back to the app’s launch in 2012, is being stored indefinitely, a practice seemingly at odds with Whisper’s stated policy of holding the data only for “a brief period of time”.

A team headed by Whisper’s editor-in-chief, Neetzan Zimmerman, is closely monitoring users it believes are potentially newsworthy, delving into the history of their activity on the app and tracking their movements through the mapping tool. Among the many users currently being targeted are military personnel and individuals claiming to work at Yahoo, Disney and on Capitol Hill.

Whisper’s policy toward sharing user data with law enforcement has prompted it on occasions to provide information to both the FBI and MI5. Both cases involved potentially imminent threats to life, Whisper said, a practice standard in the tech industry. But privacy experts who reviewed Whisper’s terms of service for the Guardian said the company appeared to require a lower legal threshold for providing user information to authorities than other tech companies.

The company is cooperating with the US Department of Defense, sharing information with researchers investigating the frequency of mentions of suicide or self-harm from smartphones that Whisper knows are being used from US military bases. Whisper stressed that “specific user data” is not being shared with the DoD, adding that the company was “proudly working with many organisations to lower suicide rates and the US military is among them”.

Whisper is developing a Chinese version of its app, which received a soft-launch earlier this month. Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are banned in mainland China. Whisper executives said they had agreed to the demands China places on tech companies operating in its jurisdiction, including a ban on the use of certain words.

Whisper’s targeted monitoring of some people who use the app – even some of those who have declared they do not want to be followed by opting out of geolocation – is likely to surprise its users, who are drawn to the app by the bold promises the company makes about their anonymity.

“Whisper isn’t actually about concealing identity. It’s about a complete absence of identity,” the company’s co-founder and CEO, Michael Heyward, recently told Entrepreneur magazine. “The concept around Whisper is removing the concept of identity altogether, so you’re not as guarded.”

He has called Whisper the “safest place on internet” and portrays the app as a secure place in which users should feel free to express their innermost feelings and confessions.

Whisper, which was recently valued at over $200m, has grown rapidly since its launch two years ago. It is among the fleet of confessional apps, such as Secret and Yik Yak, which backers say enable users to be more candid than they are on other social media platforms.

To stamp out inappropriate behaviour, Whisper has an offshore base in the Philippines, where more than 100 employees screen messages 24 hours a day. Whisper described the process as “extremely secure”.

In an attempt to promote content posted on the app, Whisper has worked hard to build relationships with news organisations. Its longest-standing partnership is with Buzzfeed, and Whisper’s executives said they are now in discussions with newspapers and TV networks.

On Thursday, a Buzzfeed spokesperson said the news outlet is now halting its partnership with Whisper. “We’re taking a break from our partnership until Whisper clarifies to us and its users the policy on user location and privacy,” a spokesperson said.

Over the last year, Whisper has promoted revelations posted by anonymous users about the dismissal of Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel, and accusations about Gwyneth Paltrow’s private life.

In September, Whisper returned to the headlines when an apparently suicidal man in Texas used the app to broadcast messages and photographs from the middle of a standoff with armed police.

Whisper’s in-house mapping tool identifies users who have posted in the vicinity of the National Security Agency, Maryland, using their GPS data. Occasionally, the company uses IP address location data to establish the rough location of some users who have opted out the app’s geolocation services. Photograph: Guardian

The Guardian had previously worked with Whisper to find Iraq war veterans who wanted to share their opinions of Isis, find an undocumented immigrant to write an opinion article and post people’s confessions about Valentine’s Day. At no point during those collaborations did Whisper indicate it was ascertaining the location of individual users who had disabled their geolocation feature.

The Guardian visited the Whisper offices to consider the possibility of undertaking other journalistic projects with the company and sent two reporters last month to look in detail at how the app operates. At no stage during the visit were the journalists told they could not report on the information shared with them.

The Guardian is no longer pursuing a relationship with Whisper.

Whisper introduced its optional geolocation feature earlier this year, enabling users to view other people’s messages that have been posted by users within a set-mile radius, known as the “nearby” function. Crucially, the app also contains a button that allows users to opt out of its geolocation service, a facility its terms state is “purely voluntarily”.

That system provided Whisper with a hoard of easily analysed location data from those who opted into the service, and the company has become increasingly open with journalists that its in-house technology allows it to locate users. The company now uses geolocation to make judgments about the “veracity” of users posting on the site.

In July, during the recent Israeli war in Gaza, Whisper was able to monitor Israeli Defense Force soldiers on the frontline. “We had 13 or 14 soldiers who we were tracking – every whisper they did,” one Whisper executive said during the Guardian’s visit.

Separately, Whisper has been following a user claiming to be a sex-obsessed lobbyist in Washington DC. The company’s tracking tools allow staff to monitor which areas of the capital the lobbyist visits. “He’s a guy that we’ll track for the rest of his life and he’ll have no idea we’ll be watching him,” the same Whisper executive said.

Now the company plans to make its database and a version of its mapping tool available to select journalists in the coming months.

When Guardian reporters visited Whisper last month, Zimmerman and another executive said that when they wanted to establish the location of individual users who are among the 20% who have opted out of geolocation services, they simply asked their technical staff to obtain the “latitude and longitude” of the phones they had used.

One of the users that Whisper suggested the Guardian could be interested in researching, for example, claimed to be soldier who could be imminently deployed to Iraq.

The user had apparently turned off their geolocation facility, denying the company permission to track them. Yet Whisper was able to ascertain the dates the user had been in Afghanistan and Fort Riley, Kansas.

Whisper later explained that when it wants to establish the location of users who have disabled their geolocation services, the company uses their IP location.

On Thursday last week, the Guardian contacted Whisper, explained it planned to write a story about the company’s internal practices and asked for comment.

Whisper acknowledged that it researches the location of specific users it believes are posting newsworthy information, but emphasised it typically uses GPS data.

Whisper stressed the IP location data it uses for people who have asked not to be followed is rough and unreliable.

“We occasionally look at user IP addresses internally to determine very approximate location,” the company said. “User IP addresses may allow very coarse location to be determined to the city, state or country level.”

It added: “Whisper does not request or store any personally identifiable information from users, therefore there is never a breach of anonymity. From time to time, when a user makes a claim of a newsworthy nature, we review the user’s past activity to help determine veracity.”

The company strongly rejected any assertion of wrongdoing. “The Guardian’s assumptions that Whisper is gathering information about users and violating user’s privacy are false,” it said. “The privacy of our users is not violated in any of the circumstances suggested in the Guardian story.”

Four days later, Whisper rewrote large sections of its terms of service and introduced an entirely new privacy policy.

Whereas the previous terms and conditions described all of Whisper’s tracking of user location as “voluntary”, the new terms now warn users to “bear in mind that, even if you have disabled location services, we may still determine your city, state, and country location”.

Since becoming aware that the Guardian planned to publish its story, the anonymous app has also inserted a new line into its privacy policy.

It now warns users that turning on the app’s geolocation feature may “allow others, over time, to make a determination as to your identity”.



Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users

Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users

Some Whisper users monitored even after opting out of geolocation services
Company shares some information with US Department of Defense
User data collated and indefinitely stored in searchable database
Whisper app tracks ‘secret’ users
Whisper app rewrites terms of service and privacy policy
How the ‘safest place on the internet’ tracks its users
Whisper: the facts

A Whisper user posted this message from the vicinity of the White House. The red icons signify someone who has posted a Whisper. Potentially identifying information has been redacted by the Guardian. Photograph: Guardian

Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe
Thursday 16 October 2014 11.35 EDT

The company behind Whisper, the social media app that promises users anonymity and claims to be “the safest place on the internet”, is tracking the location of its users, including some who have specifically asked not to be followed.

The practice of monitoring the whereabouts of Whisper users – including those who have expressly opted out of geolocation services – will alarm users, who are encouraged to disclose intimate details about their private and professional lives.

Whisper is also sharing information with the US Department of Defense gleaned from smartphones it knows are used from military bases, and developing a version of its app to conform with Chinese censorship laws.

The US version of the app, which enables users to publish short messages superimposed over photographs or other images, has attracted millions of users, and is proving especially popular among military personnel who are using the service to make confessions they would be unlikely to publish on Facebook or Twitter.

Currently, users of Whisper are publishing as many as 2.6m messages a day. Facebook is reportedly developing its own Whisper-style app for anonymous publishing. The trend toward anonymity in social media has some privacy experts concerned about security.

Approached for comment last week, Whisper said it “does not follow or track users”. The company added that the suggestion it was monitoring people without their consent, in an apparent breach of its own terms of service, was “not true” and “false”.

But on Monday – four days after learning the Guardian intended to publish this story – Whisper rewrote its terms of service; they now explicitly permit the company to establish the broad location of people who have disabled the app’s geolocation feature.

Whisper has developed an in-house mapping tool that allows its staff to filter and search GPS data, pinpointing messages to within 500 meters of where they were sent.

The technology, for example, enables the company to monitor all the geolocated messages sent from the Pentagon and National Security Agency. It also allows Whisper to track an individual user’s movements over time.

When users have turned off their geolocation services, the company also, on a targeted, case-by-case basis, extracts their rough location from IP data emitted by their smartphone.

The Guardian witnessed this practice on a three-day visit to the company’s Los Angeles headquarters last month, as part of a trip to explore the possibility of an expanded journalistic relationship with Whisper.

After reviewing Whisper’s back-end tools and speaking extensively with the company’s executives, the Guardian has also established that:

User data, including Whisper postings that users believe they have deleted, is collated in a searchable database. The company has no access to users’ names or phone numbers, but is storing information about the precise time and approximate location of all previous messages posted through the app. The data, which stretches back to the app’s launch in 2012, is being stored indefinitely, a practice seemingly at odds with Whisper’s stated policy of holding the data only for “a brief period of time”.

A team headed by Whisper’s editor-in-chief, Neetzan Zimmerman, is closely monitoring users it believes are potentially newsworthy, delving into the history of their activity on the app and tracking their movements through the mapping tool. Among the many users currently being targeted are military personnel and individuals claiming to work at Yahoo, Disney and on Capitol Hill.

Whisper’s policy toward sharing user data with law enforcement has prompted it on occasions to provide information to both the FBI and MI5. Both cases involved potentially imminent threats to life, Whisper said, a practice standard in the tech industry. But privacy experts who reviewed Whisper’s terms of service for the Guardian said the company appeared to require a lower legal threshold for providing user information to authorities than other tech companies.

The company is cooperating with the US Department of Defense, sharing information with researchers investigating the frequency of mentions of suicide or self-harm from smartphones that Whisper knows are being used from US military bases. Whisper stressed that “specific user data” is not being shared with the DoD, adding that the company was “proudly working with many organisations to lower suicide rates and the US military is among them”.

Whisper is developing a Chinese version of its app, which received a soft-launch earlier this month. Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are banned in mainland China. Whisper executives said they had agreed to the demands China places on tech companies operating in its jurisdiction, including a ban on the use of certain words.

Whisper’s targeted monitoring of some people who use the app – even some of those who have declared they do not want to be followed by opting out of geolocation – is likely to surprise its users, who are drawn to the app by the bold promises the company makes about their anonymity.

“Whisper isn’t actually about concealing identity. It’s about a complete absence of identity,” the company’s co-founder and CEO, Michael Heyward, recently told Entrepreneur magazine. “The concept around Whisper is removing the concept of identity altogether, so you’re not as guarded.”

He has called Whisper the “safest place on internet” and portrays the app as a secure place in which users should feel free to express their innermost feelings and confessions.

Whisper, which was recently valued at over $200m, has grown rapidly since its launch two years ago. It is among the fleet of confessional apps, such as Secret and Yik Yak, which backers say enable users to be more candid than they are on other social media platforms.

To stamp out inappropriate behaviour, Whisper has an offshore base in the Philippines, where more than 100 employees screen messages 24 hours a day. Whisper described the process as “extremely secure”.

In an attempt to promote content posted on the app, Whisper has worked hard to build relationships with news organisations. Its longest-standing partnership is with Buzzfeed, and Whisper’s executives said they are now in discussions with newspapers and TV networks.

On Thursday, a Buzzfeed spokesperson said the news outlet is now halting its partnership with Whisper. “We’re taking a break from our partnership until Whisper clarifies to us and its users the policy on user location and privacy,” a spokesperson said.

Over the last year, Whisper has promoted revelations posted by anonymous users about the dismissal of Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel, and accusations about Gwyneth Paltrow’s private life.

In September, Whisper returned to the headlines when an apparently suicidal man in Texas used the app to broadcast messages and photographs from the middle of a standoff with armed police.

Whisper’s in-house mapping tool identifies users who have posted in the vicinity of the National Security Agency, Maryland, using their GPS data. Occasionally, the company uses IP address location data to establish the rough location of some users who have opted out the app’s geolocation services. Photograph: Guardian

The Guardian had previously worked with Whisper to find Iraq war veterans who wanted to share their opinions of Isis, find an undocumented immigrant to write an opinion article and post people’s confessions about Valentine’s Day. At no point during those collaborations did Whisper indicate it was ascertaining the location of individual users who had disabled their geolocation feature.

The Guardian visited the Whisper offices to consider the possibility of undertaking other journalistic projects with the company and sent two reporters last month to look in detail at how the app operates. At no stage during the visit were the journalists told they could not report on the information shared with them.

The Guardian is no longer pursuing a relationship with Whisper.

Whisper introduced its optional geolocation feature earlier this year, enabling users to view other people’s messages that have been posted by users within a set-mile radius, known as the “nearby” function. Crucially, the app also contains a button that allows users to opt out of its geolocation service, a facility its terms state is “purely voluntarily”.

That system provided Whisper with a hoard of easily analysed location data from those who opted into the service, and the company has become increasingly open with journalists that its in-house technology allows it to locate users. The company now uses geolocation to make judgments about the “veracity” of users posting on the site.

In July, during the recent Israeli war in Gaza, Whisper was able to monitor Israeli Defense Force soldiers on the frontline. “We had 13 or 14 soldiers who we were tracking – every whisper they did,” one Whisper executive said during the Guardian’s visit.

Separately, Whisper has been following a user claiming to be a sex-obsessed lobbyist in Washington DC. The company’s tracking tools allow staff to monitor which areas of the capital the lobbyist visits. “He’s a guy that we’ll track for the rest of his life and he’ll have no idea we’ll be watching him,” the same Whisper executive said.

Now the company plans to make its database and a version of its mapping tool available to select journalists in the coming months.

When Guardian reporters visited Whisper last month, Zimmerman and another executive said that when they wanted to establish the location of individual users who are among the 20% who have opted out of geolocation services, they simply asked their technical staff to obtain the “latitude and longitude” of the phones they had used.

One of the users that Whisper suggested the Guardian could be interested in researching, for example, claimed to be soldier who could be imminently deployed to Iraq.

The user had apparently turned off their geolocation facility, denying the company permission to track them. Yet Whisper was able to ascertain the dates the user had been in Afghanistan and Fort Riley, Kansas.

Whisper later explained that when it wants to establish the location of users who have disabled their geolocation services, the company uses their IP location.

On Thursday last week, the Guardian contacted Whisper, explained it planned to write a story about the company’s internal practices and asked for comment.

Whisper acknowledged that it researches the location of specific users it believes are posting newsworthy information, but emphasised it typically uses GPS data.

Whisper stressed the IP location data it uses for people who have asked not to be followed is rough and unreliable.

“We occasionally look at user IP addresses internally to determine very approximate location,” the company said. “User IP addresses may allow very coarse location to be determined to the city, state or country level.”

It added: “Whisper does not request or store any personally identifiable information from users, therefore there is never a breach of anonymity. From time to time, when a user makes a claim of a newsworthy nature, we review the user’s past activity to help determine veracity.”

The company strongly rejected any assertion of wrongdoing. “The Guardian’s assumptions that Whisper is gathering information about users and violating user’s privacy are false,” it said. “The privacy of our users is not violated in any of the circumstances suggested in the Guardian story.”

Four days later, Whisper rewrote large sections of its terms of service and introduced an entirely new privacy policy.

Whereas the previous terms and conditions described all of Whisper’s tracking of user location as “voluntary”, the new terms now warn users to “bear in mind that, even if you have disabled location services, we may still determine your city, state, and country location”.

Since becoming aware that the Guardian planned to publish its story, the anonymous app has also inserted a new line into its privacy policy.

It now warns users that turning on the app’s geolocation feature may “allow others, over time, to make a determination as to your identity”.



Former WaPo chief warns of ruin when advertisers 'wake up' and pull out of Print Media

Former WaPo chief warns of ruin when advertisers 'wake up' and pull out
BY PAUL BEDARD | OCTOBER 17, 2014 | 11:19 AM

A former executive editor of the Washington Post is warning of a massive shake out in print journalism once advertisers “wake up” to the reality that they are wasting money on newspaper and magazine advertising, not digital, where their audience is.

Robert G. Kaiser wrote for the Brookings Institution that print media, presumably including his former employer, is getting more than they should from advertisers and it won’t last much longer.

“Americans spend about five percent of the time they devote to media of all kinds to magazines and newspapers. But nearly 20 percent of advertising dollars still go to print media. So print media today are getting billions more than they probably deserve from advertisers,” he wrote.

“When those advertisers wake up, revenues will plummet still further,” warned Kaiser, editor from 1991-1998.

Of course, the shift is already happening. “This explains why even as newspaper revenues have plummeted, the ad revenue of Google has leapt upward year after year — from $70 million in 2001 to an astonishing $50.6 billion in 2013. That is more than two times the combined advertising revenue of every newspaper in America last year,” wrote Kaiser.

The result could be the end of some print outlets.

“The great institutions on which we have depended for news of the world around us may not survive. These are painful words to write for someone who spent 50 years as a reporter and editor at The Washington Post,” he wrote.

Kaiser detailed the economic plight of print: The WaPo lost $40 million last year, “Newsweek magazine failed, and Time magazine is teetering.”

Many media, including the Post, he said can be saved by billionaire benefactors, but not all.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Android 5.0 Lollipop ushers in the new era of Android with a design overhaul

Android 5.0 Lollipop ushers in the new era of Android with a design overhaul

16 October 2014, 3:06 am AEDT

After giving us all a taste of Android L in June 2014, at the I/O developer conference, Google is finally releasing the next version of Android to the world, version number 5.0, code-named Lollipop.

The release, which comes nearly one year after 4.4 KitKat, ushers in a brand-new design throughout the operating system, enhanced notifications, changes to how you multitask, and handful of other features.

Material Design

The most obvious change in Lollipop is the fresh design aesthetic, called Material Design. It uses a lot of bright, rich colors and adds depth with shadows to give Android a sleeker, more minimal look.

There's more white space, especially around text, and more transparent touches. There's also and animated effects when you interact with the screen, such as ripples of color. It's the first real makeover Android has had in several years -- not counting the design changes from the KitKat Google Now Launcher.

Notifications

Lollipop also introduces a new notification setup, with notification cards in the middle of the lock screen, similar to iOS. You can respond to notifications from the lock screen and control what kind of information appears there, to protect your privacy. Google promises that your phone will prioritize notifications that it thinks are important to you, while keeping less important updates hidden away.

Google unveils Nexus 9 tablet, Nexus 6 phone and -- surprise -- an Android TV player

There's also the new Heads Up notifications that pop up at the top of the screen, showing you a glimpse of an email, text, or incoming call while you're watching a video or playing a game. You can respond to the notification and then move on, without even needing to open the notification drop-down menu. Or, if you'd rather not deal with it right now, just swipe it up to store it in your notification menu for later. The new priority mode, which you can turn on with your device's volume rocker, only shows the most important notifications. It's like a "Do Not Disturb" mode, where only calls and text from select contacts show up.

Multitasking

Multitasking gets a makeover in Lollipop. A new menu called "Recents" shows apps that are running in the background as a stack of cards, instead of the previous list view. The design is similar to browsing open tabs on Chrome's Android app, and you can scroll through the stack to switch between apps quickly.

Device sharing

Android Jelly Bean introduced multiple user profiles for tablets, and now phones can use them, too. You can create multiple accounts for you, your family, and your kids, and control which profile has access to which apps and settings. What's more, if you don't have your phone, you can now log in to another Lollipop device to access your contacts, messages and photos. There's also a guest mode, where someone can access only certain parts of your phone or tablet, and not others.

Quick settings

The swipe-down quick settings is getting a makeover, with new controls. Just swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen to bring up controls for a flashlight, hotspot, screen casting and more. The Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Location services toggles have been improved and you can now manually adjust your brightness for certain situations, without turning off automatic brightness.

Battery saving

Lollipop adds the new Battery Saver mode, which clocks down the CPU and turns off background data when your phone needs a little extra juice. You can turn it on manually or program it to turn on automatically when your battery drops too low, and Google says it can add up to 90 minutes of extra life.

You can now also see how much time your phone has left before it's fully charged when you pull it in, and in the battery settings menu, you can see approximately how much time your phone's battery has left before you need to charge it.

Extras

Other additions to Lollipop include a new way to unlock your device using a compatible Bluetooth device, such as the Moto 360. With the personal unlocking feature enabled, your phone will automatically unlock when your Bluetooth device is close by. When you're too far away from it, your PIN, password, or pattern lock will switch back on.

Here's a run-down of the other added features in Lollipop:

"OK, Google" voice command works when the screen is off on the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9.

A faster set up process for a new device, using NFC to tap your new phone to your old one to migrate your accounts over.

Improved multimedia performance, including lower latency audio and USB audio accessory support.

Professional photography features, including support for raw images; control settings for the camera lens, sensor and flash; and capture full-resolution frames at 30 frames per second.

You can switch between tap and pay NFC payment apps more easily.

Print preview and the ability to select a specific page range when printing.
Improved network handoffs when moving from a Wi-Fi signal to a data signal.
For example, you can continue a Wi-Fi call or video chat when you leave your home Wi-Fi and switch to data.

You phone will now connect to Wi-Fi if there's a verified Internet connection available, instead of searching for any available network.

A more power-efficient scanning protocol for searching for Bluetooth low energy devices and beacons.

New ART Android runtime, which improves performance and responsiveness in your apps.

Support for 64-bit devices, like the Nexus 9, and 64-bit native apps.
Support for more than 68 languages. Google added Basque, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese (Hong Kong), Galician, Icelandic, Kannada, Kyrgyz, Macedonian, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Sinhala, Tamil and Telugu in this release.

When you can get it

Google announced Lollipop with the launch of the Nexus 6 smartphone and Nexus 9 tablet, and those devices will be the first to get 5.0. The Nexus 5, Nexus 7, Nexus 10 and Google Play Edition devices, including the HTC One M8 and Moto G, will also get 5.0 in the coming weeks. There are few definitive details about when other Android devices will get the update, but you can expect most high-end phones to get Lollipop eventually.