Categories
Gadgets Media News Technology

Mind Your Language in front of the TV

Samsung-F8500-plasma-review-smart-tv

Privacy

I have a friend who puts tape over the webcam on his laptop while he is working, because he believes that people can hack into his computer and watch what he is doing. I must admit I thought it was a bit strange at first, but then hunting information I discovered that it was not only possible, but a well known crime involving organized gangs.

The UK recently took down a Russian website that was showing live webcam, taken without the knowledge of the people that were taking the footage. The incident not only involved security cameras, but all types of baby monitors and practically anything that has a camera and transmits data wirelessly.

Check out this article here.

Smart TV

But this is small fry really when you read this week’s news. A large TV manufacturer which has a product that recognizes voice controls seems to have been transmitting everything said in front of the TV to a third party.

They do this so that said third party can sieve through the words used to see if a command has been given. But there are many unanswered questions. Who is the third party? What are they doing with my data? Is it secure? The list goes on.

But said company are not trying to hide what they are doing:

Voice Recognition

You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands.

If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, ******* may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.

I am not sure that everyone who buys a TV of this type reads the Global Privacy Policy – SmartTV Supplement however, and they might be giving away a lot more than they would like to without knowing.

The BBC carries an article about this news with all of the names included. I think it is probably true though that if one company do it, then so do all the others.

Categories
News

Radar Searches of Private Houses

ranger-radar

Police Use

I think it is fair to say that the police force don’t have an easy job. News is coming out of the USA though of a new controversy. Many forces have apparently issued officers with hand held radars like the one in the picture above. These radars can be used to determine if a house is occupied or not.

Now as we might imagine this is military technology. No longer do you have to get your head blown off as you open a door to find the enemy inside with a weapon. No you can use your radar. You hold it against the outside off the building and it will tell you how many people are inside the building, where they are, and if they are moving, still, breathing, etc.

And this is great technology for fire fighters too. No longer will they have to risk sending people in to burning houses to see if anyone is inside, this machine will help them determine that the building is empty, or if the person inside is moving or even breathing.

And so certain police forces have started to use them. But things are a little different for the police. They have to have permission to search a house, and it is up for debate if the use of such a tool represents a search. There have been other similar instances, including determination that (in the USA) the use of heat imaging technology does constitute a search and even leading a police “sniffer” dog onto the front porch requires a warrant.

Privacy and Dual Use

So once again we reach a fine line, safety on the one side, and privacy on the other. And at the moment we are talking about government institutions using such devices. I am sure a certain section of my local community wouldn’t mind having one too, particularly those who like to steal computers from other people’s property while they are away.

But we should also remember that we live with military cast offs every day. The Internet itself is a military tool, both in terms of its development and current use. And even the search engine TOR and some of the things that are sometimes seen as unsavoury, benefit from their interactions with various secret service organizations. And nanotechnology development in the USA has greatly benefited from defense money.

There are plenty of articles available if you search this topic, some more technical than others, so I won’t attach any links and you can find your own.

Categories
Internet Media News Search Engines Technology

Tor, An Ethical Dilema

tor

Over the summer I have been following reporting surrounding the TOR project. I have learnt some interesting things. I must admit that I tried to download the browser but I couldn’t work out how to get it up and running, but that is probably more due to my own incompetence than anything else.

Tor has some serious issues as far as ethics goes, because it is designed to help people to remain anonymous as they use the net. This may to some seem perfectly justified given that Google and their friends are monitoring our every move and storing it all for resale later, but it is also great for criminal activity.

Recently reports emerged from Russia that the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) has personally ordered preparations for laws that would block the Tor anonymity network from the entire Russian sector of the Internet. Obviously his aim is not to stop people from anonymously using the Internet, but to fight crime. The agency initiated the move as internet anonymizers were used by weapon traffickers, drug dealers and credit card fraudsters, giving the FSB an obvious interest in limiting the use of such software.

Other reports claim that not all of Russian law enforcement are in agreement, because criminals tend to overestimate the protection provided by the Undernet, act recklessly and allow themselves to get caught. Here the so-called Undernet is the key though, as anonymity is difficult to police.

Other reports state that “Security experts have accused US law enforcement of taking advantage of a flaw in the Firefox Internet browser then exploiting it to identify and potentially monitor subscribers to Tor”. It appears that the malware comes from the USA, but nobody is admitting to creating it, and as the Russians accuse the FBI and vice versa, any truth will be difficult to find.

One truth is however that Tor allows for the proliferation of various forms of criminality and exploitation that I would rather not go into here. The problem remains though, do we have the right to online anonymity? If not who has the right to stop us?

To return to following the news, I read that workers at the NSA and GCHQ in the UK have been accused of leaking information that they have regarding flaws in the workings of Tor. These two organizations are extremely interested in the browser for the obvious reasons above, but there is more that you might expect here. According to the BBC “The BBC understands, however, that GCHQ does attempt to monitor a range of anonymisation services in order to identify and track down suspects involved in…….crimes”.

But! Tor was originally designed by the US Naval Research Laboratory, and continues to receive funding from the US State Department. It is used by the military, activists, businesses and others to keep communications confidential and aid free speech.

And it turns out that the investigating agency rely on Tor for their own work, to keep themselves safe and anonymous, so they seem to be in a bit of a contradictory position to say the least.

So there appear to be many unanswered questions about the level of anonymity achieved, who has access, who works to destroy and who works to aid the project, and once more I find myself looking into a murky world.

Categories
Business Internet News

Blind Date (More Unauthorized Online Experimenting)

blind-date

Following up from news a couple of weeks ago about Facebook manipulating its users, this week news abounds regarding a dating agency that has been conducting some experiments on its users.

The New York Times reports that the online dating agency OK Cupid has been manipulating the data it gives to its clients, to find out how compatibility and looks effect the dating process. The company conducted 3 different experiments, in one it hid profile pictures, in another, it hid profile text to see how it affected personality ratings, and in a third, it told some hopeful daters that they were a better or worse potential match with someone than the company’s software actually determined.

So as we might imagine they came up with a series of findings, that we could loosely interpret as the following:

1. If you are told that the person is more compatible you are more likely to contact them.

2. Users are likely to equate “looks” with “personality,” even in profiles that featured attractive photos and little if any substantive profile information

3. When the site obscured all profile photos one day, users engaged in more meaningful conversations, exchanged more contact details and responded to first messages more often. They got to know each other. But when pictures were reintroduced on the site, many of those conversations stopped cold.

Well as far as I can see number 1 is pretty self evident. If you send me a note saying that a person is not compatible then I probably won’t bother them with my personal issues., 2 is quite interesting, if I like the looks of someone I am more likely to think that they are an interesting person, may be fun and without doubt the perfect match for me. And also the third is quite obvious, if I don’t know what a person looks like I might imagine their looks and would be more likely to want to get to know them.

The OK Cupid blog will fill you in on the details.

One interesting line from the blog states that “guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work”. Wise words, but I wonder if everybody realizes that. And what power they wield!

Now I would like to raise the issue of how someone can design an algorithm to measure my compatibility with another person. What will make us more compatible? Height? Interests? Worldview (and if so how can you put that into numbers)?

There is an interesting book by Hubert Dreyfus called “What Computers Can’t Do”, and in it he argues that there are some areas and situations that cannot fully function. A computer program is based on expertise, on experience that can be categorized. If there are subject matters that are impossible to completely formalise, then they are impossible to formalize in computer programs (such as the one they use to find my perfect partner if they exist).

As a human I think we make decisions based upon generalizations of a situation. Characteristics are judged based upon experiences, I once knew someone with those characteristics and they were great, or stubborn, or nasty, etc. Research suggests that we play games such as chess in this way. We do not think about a long series of possible moves in the way a computer plays, but we see a situation, it reminds us of another situation that we have confronted in the past, and we act according to our experience of action in similar situations.

I am sure some readers have experience in this field, and I would be very happy to get some comments and expand my understanding.

Categories
Media News Smartphones Technology

Mobile Phones and the Right to Search (and Privacy)

cnn.police

Earlier this year I wrote an article about whether the police had the right to search your laptop when you are passing immigration into the USA. The discussion has moved on however, and this week there is a Supreme Court case about whether the police have to right to search an individual’s mobile phone when they are stopped upon suspicion of having committed a crime.

Given the UK governments discussion about the stop and search powers currently in use, there are some serious questions to address here. We now carry our lives with us on our mobile devices. To call them phones is to do them an injustice, they are computers with the possibility of making phone calls. They have our medical, personal, business, banking and emotional data, and the question is whether this is public or private information if the police stop you.

Here in the USA the law has allowed police to search these devices without a warrant, although they could not search your computer in your house without a judge’s permission, and this seems to be an anomaly given changes in how we carry our lives with us.

The case before the court involves David Riley, who was pulled over for driving with expired license plates in 2009. When his car was impounded and inventoried, police found guns in the boot and decided to investigate further.

They looked into his phone and found evidence that he might be in a gang, they downloaded videos, contacts etc and some of this information was used to convict him.

Here in the US the case has been followed by journalist Nina Totenberg, and she has a fantastic account on her blog. You can either listen to her radio report or read a transcript of it. I have taken some of it below to give you an idea of how the debate is unfolding. The question is of whether a warrant should be required, but the following snippets give an idea of how wide the implications for the debate really are:

“It’s not just what can be looked at,” it’s the fact that information from cellphones can be downloaded and kept in “ever-growing databases.”

A person can be arrested “for anything,” including driving without a seat belt, and the police could search that person’s cellphone and “look at every single email” — including “very intimate communications” — as well as medical data, calendar and GPS information to learn everyplace the person has recently been.

People “choose” when they carry their cellphones with them — and thus they should have “no expectation of privacy” if they are arrested.

So some of the questions could be, when the police stop and search you, what do they have the right to look at? If you are then arrested should they need a warrant to search your mobile devices? Do you have the right to privately carry digital information?

Categories
Browsers Computers Internet Media Reviews Technology

Why not try Lightbeam?

I have just downloaded and taken a quick look at the new Mozilla add-on called Lightbeam.

I am an UBUNTU user myself, so I don’t know if this will work for other systems, but I would like you to help me decide if it’s an interesting tool either way.

I have always heard that companies share your information. So you go on one site and they share your habits with other organizations. Well Lightbeam shows you who they are sharing your information with.

One thing that I should say is that I do not know what the information they are sharing actually is. If anyone does know I would love to hear. So that is job number one for you down in the comments below.

The actual view that you are presented with when you open this program is very nice. A series of connected triangles that drift around the screen, all tied together like one of those kinnect toys that my kids play with. Some of the triangles have website logos on them, others are blank. It’s almost a snowdrop kind of effect.

Mozilla Lightbeam
Mozilla Lightbeam screenshot

The lines are either white or blue, the blue depicting that the sites use cookies. Probably half of them do.

And it makes a nice little educational game. As you visit another site it joins the page with its connections, the entity wobbles and bounces before coming static. Many of these connections are the same, creating a central mass, but some sites do not share with anyone that the others do, and live in their own little detached bubble.

I was surprised to find that ebay UK is not connected to any of the other sites. It has 3 satellite sites but they are all ebay subsections. I would have to draw the conclusion that ebay do not share your information. Job number 2, correct me in the comments below please.

The Weather channel divulge to another weather channel and 3 or 4 others, CNN and the BBC are about the same. TECHNOLOGY BLOGGERS DOES NOT SHARE WITH ANYONE! Read it and weep and respect where it is due Christopher. My employer the Bassetti Foundation are linked to Twitter, and nobody else.

Oh and guess who is in the middle of the blob, tentacles everywhere, yes of course, Facebook. I have not visited the site but they appear through the mist to take centre stage. No wonder profits are up!

Without understanding more this add on is just a toy to me, but I am sure if I was a bit more savvy it could give me a lot of insight into the dark and murky workings of the web. I think it might also present an opportunity, as we can now see who is prostituting our information and who is not, and maybe we should put more trust in those that keep our data in their own hands, and some others a little less.

Definitely worth a look I would say.

Oh on a final note, I went to Microsoft, Ubuntu and Mozilla. Microsoft share with 10 satellites, 5 of which use cookies. Ubuntu and Mozilla do not share with anyone. I visited 15 sites in total during my research, and that meant that I unwittingly connected to 76 third party sites.

Categories
Apps Media News Social Media Technology

Yawn Free Coffee

Colourful

EDITOR NOTE: This is Jonny’s 100th post From his humble beginnings writing about elective amputation, Jonny has taken Technology Bloggers by storm! Jonny started as a contributor, soon after earning himself author status and he has recently been awarded editor status. Congratulations and thank you from me and the rest of the community Jonny, you deserve it. Here is to the next 100! 😉 – note by Christopher

Oh I am rather tired this morning, like many others. I need to have my daily coffee. Sometimes I imagine a world where my surroundings understand me, my needs and wishes. I had a teas-maid once, that was the closest I ever came to automated good life, but times have moved on.

Face recognition software offers the dream of a newly serviced life. And the dream is here already, well not here exactly but in South Africa.

Yes coffee producer Dowe Egberts have built a coffee machine that uses a camera and software that can read your face. When it sees a person yawn it automatically produces a free cup of coffee for them. Check out this video on Youtube. Or get a free coffee by yawning next time you pass through the O.R. Tambo International Airport.

This is of course all done for publicity, but it does open up a train of thought that leads into science fiction.

This is not my first post about face recognition software. I wrote one earlier this year about Verizon’s project to fit it to TV top cable boxes, and the year before about mobile recognition apps, and since then there have been a few developments that I would like readers to note.

Researchers have been working on identifying individual animals using the same software. Cameras are often used to count wildlife in studies, but the problem often arises of determining which animals may have been counted twice. This problem could be overcome if the software could recognize the individual beasts, and scientists at Leipzig zoo have been working on such a project.

Do you know this one?
Do you know this one?

They have 24 chimpanzees to work with, and have designed a system that recognizes individual animals with up to 83% accuracy. The difficulty is getting good photos in the wild though, and in dim light the accuracy quickly drops, so the researchers have been designing new parameters to improve broader recognition.

Check out the article here to learn more.

On a slightly less positive note Facebook are again at the helm of recognition privacy. Once again, proposed changes to its privacy policy mean that already uploaded information is to be used differently.

Facebook has indicated that it will now reserve the right to add user profile pictures to its facial recognition database. Currently, only photos that a Facebook friend uploads and tags with a user’s name go into the facial recognition system. By opting out of the tag suggesting feature and declining to allow friends to tag him or her, a user can avoid being included in the social network’s facial recognition database.

No More might this be the case!

The change would mean that every user, of a population of a billion, whose face is visible in his or her profile photo would be included in the database. To sidestep the new feature, users will have to avoid showing their faces in their profile photos and delete any previous profile photos in which their faces are visible.

Facebook have however had problems implementing their recognition policies in Europe, and in fact the system was turned off in August of last year, but the new regulations seem to be another attempt at opening the door. See this article for a review of the arguments.

Regardless of whether you as an individual take these precaution, millions will not, and the database will grow massively overnight. And that will be worth a lot of money to somebody somewhere down the line, and have implications for all of us.

Categories
Charity Internet

Blog Action Day 2013

Blogs all across the world are talking about human rights today. For the fourth year in a row I am taking part in Blog Action Day.

Blog Action Day's logoThis year the topic is human rights.

I am going to share with you might thoughts on the relationship between the Internet and human rights.

Imagine what it would be like if every day, a cloaked figure followed you around, observing your every action and taking notes. It would be a bit creepy wouldn’t it, not to mention the privacy issues.

Back in 2011, I wrote a post asking whether everyone should be entitled to use the Internet and whether in fact it should be a human right. Founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg believes that it should be; make your own decision as to whether this is only because he wants more business for his site.

So, imagine what it would be like with Mark Zuckerberg following you around all day, taking notes on what you do, invading your privacy… hold on, if you are on Facebook, he kind of does.

See how I linked that. 😉

I am no stranger to complaining about Facebook, but it isn’t the only culprit, Google is also a huge threat to online privacy. It stores all information it collects about you for at least 18 months. Why? In the words of Hungry Beast, because “Google wants to know who you are, where you are and what you like, so it can target ads at you.Check out Hungry Beast’s video to scare yourself.

So to get to the point, I don’t believe access to the Internet need be a human right, (not yet anyway) however I do believe that the right to privacy online should be. The United Nations logoArticle 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Why does this not cover our online lives too? Should Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo and Apple (and others) be allowed to monitor us so much?

I shall keep this short and sweet and leave you with those thoughts.

Categories
News Social Media

Bodybook – Because Facebook owns your face

Facebook owns the word Face. No, it really does. In the United States, Facebook owns the trademarks to the words ‘Face’, ‘Book’, ‘Wall’ and ‘Facepile’ as well as the aberration ‘FB’. It also has the rights to be the only company to use a single letter ‘F’ as their logo. Check out section 5.6 of their terms and conditions for the proof.

Cheers Facebook, there goes my plan of publishing my book ‘A book about my face on the wall’ in the US. Guess I will have to rename it ‘Pages of text about the front of my head on the structural divider.’ Only joking, I don’t plan on re-publishing it in the US.

Facebook Owns Your Content

As Jonny mentioned a while back, Instagram has the right to sell your pictures, and no doubt Facebook will soon too. Any picture you post on Facebook the social network already owns anyway. Check out section 2.1 of the terms I link to above:

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos, you specifically give us the following permission… …you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook…”

So Facebook owns your pictures, your videos and your statuses. Don’t worry, if you delete them, usually most of the rights will transfer back to you, however so long as they remain live on Facebook, it can use them how it wants, as well as share them with its ‘partners’. This means that you could very easily become a victim of mistaken identity.

Terms of Service; Didn’t Read note how “Facebook automatically shares your information with Bing, Pandora, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes, Clicker, Scribd, and Docs, unless you manually opt-out.” how lovely of them to share your stuff for you!

Terms of Service; Didn't Read logoRemember my 7th ever post on Technology Bloggers? Of course you do! 😉 I questioned whether or not Facebook was exploiting users by using status information to provide tailored advertising – without asking.

Facebook Own Your Face

Facebook has taken targeted advertising a step further since then. It has been using the names and pictures of around 150 million people in ‘Sponsored Stories’ without their permission and as a result sent out an email checking that this was okay. Those who responded to Facebook’s message will receive a $15 USD payment as compensation. Is that really all it costs to buy your identity? Did you get an email? Did you ignore it?

Facebooks email to users about updating its privacy policy
The email Facebook sent to me letting me know it was updating its privacy policy.

Anyhow, Facebook don’t like having to pay for your permission, so they have recently changed their terms and conditions. If you have a Facebook account, you will have been sent an email on the 30th of August about this change. If you deleted it, you can find an image of my email to the right.

The new terms state that Facebook can now use your face to claim you endorse its advertisers products. You know that face you are wearing, you no longer own the exclusive rights to it. Facebook legally part-owns your face.

Will everyone remove pictures of their faces and just have shots of their body? Or maybe people will use pictures of their pets. Then again, who wants Facebook to own their pets face…

Bodybook

I doubt many people will pay any attention to Facebook’s latest changes.

Will this spark the rise of a new Facebook, a Bodybook? Probably not, as most people seem to trust Facebook with their privacy… oh, and Facebook also owns the word book, so it would need to be Bodyjournal, which sounds like a totally different thing.

Christopher Roberts with no head
Which do you think should be my new profile picture, the one on the left or the one on the right?

Oh and don’t forget, there is a strong correlation with Facebook addiction and depression

Categories
Media News

Somebody is Watching You (Via TV)

Last week my local Congressman Michael Capuano introduced some important legislation into the house regarding privacy and TV.

Like many of us residing in the US, Capuano was astonished and troubled by the revelations that home TV and telephone operator Verizon was required to give the government lots of data about our telephone use. They provide a daily list of all calls, duration and codes to identify mobile devices so that the government can look for terrorists.

Capuano decided to look further into issues of privacy surrounding this particular operator, and his legislation is a result of his findings.

He found that cable TV companies are developing systems that allow the TV set to watch the viewer. The idea is that a box sits in your house and watches you watch the TV so that advertisers can market their wares better.

A woman watching TV in the dark
Watching TV

The systems will be fitted with face recognition software (see this article for an idea of how far this software has come) so that publicity can be tailor made for the consumer.

So if I am watching something the publicity will be aimed at me, and probably cross referenced with data about my interests, life and Google searches. Fast cars, motorbikes and concert tickets.

If my wife is in the room maybe the publicity will also take her presence into account, and offer her shampoo, a fitness package or the likes, or maybe target us both with a cruise or a romantic weekend in the sun for 2 or likewise. If we are sat at opposite ends of the sofa maybe some counselling or a good divorce lawyer, who knows.

I can only imagine that if the watcher is eating a bag of crisps (chips) and drinking a bottle of beer then publicity for pizza and wine would be in order, the right message at the right time if you see what I mean.

What Capuano and his co sponsor are trying to do is to pass legislation to force producers to build and market a version of their cable interface box without the cameras integrated, and that the TV must show the message “I am watching you” when the machine is watching you.

Not too much to ask you might think but in free market led America I await the outcome. Read more about the legislation here.

I was fortunate enough to interview Congressman Capuano for my Bassetti Foundation blog a couple of years ago. We spoke about technology and his responsibility as a politician to society and his electorate. A transcription of the interview is available here.

Just as a sideline the BBC has an article out about hackers taking over webcams to spy on people covertly. Apparently there is a market for access to your computer, although the stated motivations are different and the practice is not legal.

EDITOR NOTE: Don’t forget the post I wrote about keeping Java up to date Jonny; it mentions about webcam hacking too 🙂 – note by Christopher