Google Glass may not be inevitable after all

A guest post from my favorite editor William Falk of The Week. In these grim times, there is some hope for our species: Google Glass may not be inevitable after all.

Mat Honan of Wired, the bible of the technorati, spent a year trying out Google Glass, a futuristic pair of eyeglasses equipped with a voice-activated wireless computer and camera and a tiny Internet display in one lens. The trial didn’t go well. Honan reports back that the Glass’s ostentatious techiness—and its ability to photograph or video anything the wearer wants—made him the subject of derision and threats wherever he went. People “talk about you openly,” Honan marvels; he got used to hearing himself called a Glasshole. And despite some “cool” features, Honan found Glass “more novelty than utility”—just another way of “documenting rather than experiencing.”

You need not be a Luddite to be heartened by the Glass rebellion. It suggests we haven’t yet been seduced into surrendering the last vestiges of privacy and spontaneity. In recent months, young techies have been publicly questioning the toll that constant connectivity has taken on their relationships, their attention spans, and their ability to sit quietly with their thoughts. Burnouts are treating themselves to Internet “holidays” or checking into retreats promising “digital detox.” Last week, Web journalist David Sessions published a mea culpa in which he called much of Web journalism “stupid and worthless,” saying it “exists simply to produce the act of clicking.” His chastened advice: “New tools should be scrutinized intensely and skeptically, as should the people who stand to gain vast new forms of power and wealth when they are widely adopted.” Wise words, which I immediately shared with everyone I know via the Internet.

-As seen in The Week
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Drones: Google’s sky-high ambitions

Google is spreading its wings, said Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic. The tech giant unveiled a drone delivery project called Project Wing last week, which aims to use “self-flying vehicles” to transport and deliver goods. The project has been in development for two years at Google X—the research lab responsible for Google’s self-driving cars and the Google Glass headset—and has run more than 30 test flights in Queensland, Australia, delivering items such as radios, candy bars, and cattle vaccines to farmers. With a wingspan of 5 feet and a weight of 19 pounds, the Project Wing drones take off vertically and then hover and winch packages down to the ground. Though Google says it will be years before the vehicles are ready for commercial use, it imagines a future in which its drones help reduce the carbon footprint of traditional delivery vehicles like planes and trucks, and goods can be delivered mere minutes after orders are placed.

Google is clearly trying to give Amazon a run for its money, said Will Oremus in Slate.com. The Internet retailer announced its own drone delivery ambitions last year, with plans to develop a system that could deliver orders to customers within half an hour. Both companies’ commercial aims are years away, but the drones they develop could have other applications, such as delivering emergency relief more efficiently or letting people rent certain items, like a power drill, “for only the few minutes that they need them before sending them on their way.” It’s too early to say how Google’s efforts stack up against Amazon’s. But one thing is clear: The drone war has begun.

Amazon may have at least one advantage, said Alex Wilhelm in TechCrunch.com. The company is already experienced in sourcing, shipping, and delivering goods. Still, “non-military drones remain a nascent area of technology,” and Google could quickly catch up. For now, both companies will face similar challenges if they want their drone experiments to really take off. That means building “fleets that are safe, and useful enough for the average consumer to want to summon,” but also economically viable. Government regulations will make that tough task more difficult, said Conor Dougherty in The New York Times. The Federal Aviation Administration has banned commercial drones in the U.S. pending new rules that are due next year, and the vehicles haven’t been tested in densely populated cities. That won’t stop Google or Amazon from moving forward, but the days of receiving “dog food, toothpaste, or whatever else a modern family might need” via hovering drone are still a distant prospect.

-As seen in The Week
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As governments invade privacy, tools for encryption grow more popular

In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA collecting massive amounts of user meta-data, many people went in search of safer, more secure ways to use the internet anonymously. Once thought to be something only used by the tech-savvy, increased interest in end-to-end e-mail encryption has prompted both Google and Yahoo to develop user-friendly versions of the protocol that would, in theory, make personal messages exceedingly difficult to intercept.

GeeksPhone, a Spanish hardware manufacturer, and Silent Circle, U.S. communication firm, promise to provide the same kind of privacy with Blackphone, the first fully encrypted smartphone meant for the average consumer. While technically an Android device, Blackphone runs a forked version of the operating system called PrivatOS that rids the phone of any and all connections to Google’s servers.

Encrypting e-mail is effective, but requires that both the sender and recipient of a message use the same specific encryption protocol to maintain privacy. Blackphone, for all of the protection that it provides, cuts users off from most of the services–like games, maps, and other functions–so as to make sure that there are absolutely no gaps through which information might be extracted.

The Onion Router also known as Tor, a browser designed keep users entirely anonymous, is something of a happy medium, and the NSA is actively trying to scare people away from it. Tor guides its internet traffic through complex networks of layered encryption that hide a computer’s physical location and make it nearly impossible to monitor the IP addresses that it visits.

Post-Snowden, Tor saw a substantial increase in the number of people using its browser and network, undoubtedly in-part due to privacy concerns. Documents published by The Guardian revealed that the NSA were actively engaged with attempting to infiltrate Tor’s network, and considered the browser to be “the king of high-secure, low-latency anonymity.” Following widespread, successful-attempts at tracking Tor users’ activity, the FBI openly admitted to exploiting a loophole in Tor’s infrastructure as a part of a larger operation in pursuit of a child pornography ring.

Authorities have justified their pushes into the “anonymous internet,” asserting that by and large, much of Tor’s traffic is related to illegal activities, but that seems to be changing. Richard David James, better known by his stage name Aphex Twin, is a fixture in the electronic music scene. Earlier this week James announced his latest album using a website that could only be accessed using Tor, drawing in a significant number of pageviews in a single day.

The attention, says Tor executive director Andrew Lewman, is both a blessing and a curse. While Tor’s network was able to handle the 133,000 visits that Aphex Twin drew, he doubts whether it could withstand the kinds of gargantuan traffic that Facebook sees on a daily basis. Tor users, comparatively speaking, are rare–a fact that Lewman asserts is what makes them targets for governmental organizations.

“It’s been co-opted by GCHQ and the NSA that if you’re using Tor, you must be a criminal,” Lewman explained to The Guardian. “I know the NSA and GCHQ want you to believe that Tor users are already suspect, because, you know, god forbid who would want their privacy online, they must be terrorists.”

Proponents of Tor and other forms of ubiquitous encryption have called for the public to adopt the technologies on a larger scale, logic stating that if everyone is using encryption, then no one can be singled out for it. Rather than adopting the small, experimental proofs of concept like Tor, Lewman says, true privacy on the internet will come when internet juggernauts like Facebook, Twitter, and Google incorporate the technology into their platforms, making them the standard rather than the exception.

-As seen on PBS
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Facebook ready to spend billions to bring whole world online

Facebook is prepared to spend billions of dollars to reach its goal of bringing the Internet to everyone on the planet, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Friday.

"What we really care about is connecting everyone in the world," Zuckerberg said at an event in Mexico City hosted by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

"Even if it means that Facebook has to spend billions of dollars over the next decade making this happen, I believe that over the long term its gonna be a good thing for us and for the world."

Around 3 billion people will have access to the Internet by the end of 2014, according to International Telecommunications Union (ITU) statistics. Almost half that, 1.3 billion people, use Facebook.

Facebook, the world's largest social networking company, launched its Internet.org project last year to connect billions of people without Internet access in places such as Africa and Asia by working with phone operators.

"I believe that ... when everyone is on the Internet all of our businesses and economies will be better," Zuckerberg said.

-As seen on Reuters
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California passes law mandating smartphone kill switch

Smartphones sold in California will soon be required to have a kill switch that lets users remotely lock them and wipe them of data in the event they are lost or stolen.

The demand is the result of a new law, signed into effect on Monday, that applies to phones manufactured after July 1, 2015, and sold in the state.

While its legal reach does not extend beyond the state’s borders, the inefficiency of producing phones solely for California means the kill switch is expected to be adopted by phone makers on handsets sold across the U.S. and around the world.

The legislation requires a system that, if triggered by an authorized user, will lock a handset to essentially make it useless. The feature must be installed and activated in new smartphones, but users will be able to deactivate it if they desire, and it must be resistant to attempts to reinstall the operating system.

Police can also use the tool, but only under the conditions of the existing section 7908 of the California Public Utilities Code. That gives police the ability to cut off phone service in certain situations and typically requires a court order, except in an emergency that poses “immediate danger of death or great bodily injury.”

The law doesn’t specify how the system locks the phone, nor what happens to the data on the phone when it’s locked. Each manufacturer can come up with their own system.

The law follows pressure on phone makers from the state’s law enforcement community to do something about rising incidents of smartphone theft, which has become one of the most prevalent street crimes in the state.

Apple has already responded and added a feature called Activation Lock into its iOS 7 operating system, which meets all requirements of California’s kill switch law bar one—it doesn’t come enabled in new phones. That will have to change.

Both Google and Microsoft have said they are introducing similar features in upcoming revisions to their smartphone operating systems.

“California has just put smartphone thieves on notice,” California State Senator Mark Leno, the sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement. “Our efforts will effectively wipe out the incentive to steal smartphones and curb this crime of convenience, which is fueling street crime and violence within our communities.”

The law makes California the second state in the U.S. to pass legislation aimed at reducing smartphone theft. Minnesota passed a law in June, but it doesn’t require the kill switch to be enabled as default. Law enforcement says that’s key because it will increase the chance that a new smartphone has the kill switch enabled, hopefully reducing its attractiveness to thieves.

The kill switch function was actively opposed by the wireless industry until earlier in 2014, when carriers and their lobbying group reversed course and came out in favor of the plan. They received more persuasion in the form of two additional bills introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

- As seen on PC World
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Goodbye To MSN Messenger, An Aughties Relic

Call it the Gchat effect.

MSN Messenger, the ubiquitous instant messaging platform of the early aughties, is no more. After 15 years of facilitating hookups between high school kids, Microsoft will finally pull the plug on its online chat program this fall.

Windows Live Messenger (as it's currently known) will officially be put to bed on October 31. And, while many believed it already extinct, it is still operational in China.

At its peak, Messenger claimed 300 million users, and held the title of the most widely used messaging service in the world. However, as Microsoft began focusing its attention on Skype — after purchasing the video chat platform for $8.5 billion — and Google unveiled their acclaimed Gchat, Messenger suddenly felt antiquated.

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2014 Survey: The Year of Encryption

Market survey 2014: The Year of Encryption[Source: Egress Software Technologies Ltd.]

People like Emojis, I prefer Emoticons :-)

Hieroglyphics are making an unlikely 21st century comeback, and it's all thanks to millennials' insatiable appetite for texting. Young people might hate history class, but they can't get enough of the cute little characters known as emoji, according to Daniel Wroclawski by Reviewed.com.

You're probably familiar with the bright yellow smiling, winking and frowning faces that seem to follow every text message these days. You probably even use them yourself. But you might not be aware that there are more than 1,500 to choose from.

Designed to symbolize everyday objects, expressions and ideas, they range from smiley faces, to foods, to sporting equipment, to holiday decorations and everything in between. And they're expressive enough to act as stand-ins for words or entire phrases.

Their eye-catching designs have propelled them to pop-culture fame, and that's made them fertile ground for research and experimentation by academics and artists. Just last summer, Emoji Dick, a translation of Moby Dick into emoji, was accepted into the Library of Congress. In December, the first all-emoji art exhibition was held in New York City.

Perhaps more important, the sheer diversity of emoji makes them a viable tool for crossing language and cultural barriers -- and could see them effectively become a pidgin language of their own. Italian art director Giorgio Mininno recently used emoji to help teach Chinese students about art, even though he couldn't speak a word of their language.

"The emoji helped them to find new ideas and facilitated the communication with us, sometimes breaking the language gap," Mininno told us. Eventually, he asked his students to create art out of the universally understood characters.

But while the characters seem simple, their meanings can vary in surprising ways.

"An emoji can mean a completely different thing to completely different people," said Nick Kendall. He's the co-creator of Emojicate, an app that asks its users to communicate solely through emoji.

Kendall has noticed this effect while chatting with his friends. Take the dumbbell emoji: Some friends use it to say, "Let's go to the gym," while others use it to tell him to "toughen up."

Despite their global appeal, emoji actually originated in Japan, and their unique cultural roots have created confusion over the intended meaning of certain symbols. Take the icon that depicts a woman with one hand outstretched, palm up. The official name of this emoji is "information desk person."

"There's something about her pose or the look on her face that people have read into," said Matthew Rothenberg, creator of Emojitracker. The site monitors emoji use on Twitter, revealing both real-time and long-term usage trends. "Everyone I know who uses that one, they use it to mean like ... she's the 'whatever' girl. Like, whatever."

(He pronounced that last "whatever" in a dead-on valley girl accent.)

But for all their diversity and flexibility, Mark Davis, president of the Unicode Consortium, says it doesn't take long before emoji users hit a conversational wall. There are only so many ideas the tiny pictographs can convey.

Still, that hasn't stopped people from trying. Some teenagers and young adults routinely converse using more emoji than words -- a trend reflected in the emoji-heavy lyric video for Katy Perry's 2013 hit single Roar.

While the video shows the pop star texting with the well-established WhatsApp messenger, new apps like Emojicate and an upcoming competitor called Emojli are swooping in to capitalize on the fad with specialized, emoji-only chat services.

Emojicate founder Kendall thinks emoji are especially useful because of their artful economy.

"Ten or 15 years ago, the idea that everything can be condensed into a 140-character tweet seemed ridiculous," Kendall said. But a single-character emoji, he argued, can convey the same information as 10 or more letters.

Unicode's Davis said he thinks emoji will be around for the next few years. What they'll evolve into after that is anyone's guess. For now, 1,500 emoji characters will have to do. Which do you prefer, emojis or emoticons?

- As seen in USA Today
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The Selfie Boom: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


Infographic courtesy of TeenSafe.com

Apple and Home Depot Tread Lightly on Hacking Attacks

Don’t blame us. That’s what Apple is saying in a very carefully worded statement about the hacking of nude photos of celebrities. “None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud or Find my iPhone,” the company says.

According to a report filed by Richard Davies of ABC News Radio, if any weaknesses or bugs in Apple’s cloud-based systems were found, it would be a major embarrassment. The attacks come less than one week before Apple shows off its new iPhone.

“After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet,” Apple said in a statement. “To protect against this type of hacking attack, we advise all users to always use a strong password and enable two-step verification.”

Apple says the hacking attack involved user names, passwords and security questions of specific celebrity iCloud accounts.

ABC News’ Alex Stone reports: “In 2012, a Florida man admitted to – and was sent to prison for – hacking into celebrity email accounts and stealing nude photos,”

“He would get a celebrities’ email address and then click Forgot Password on the email welcome screen. When prompted to answer security question – like a mother’s maiden name – he was able to find the answers online and then gain access.”

Home Depot is also dealing with a possible hacking attack. The No 1. home improvement retailer says “we’re looking into some unusual activity.” The company is working with banks and law enforcement, including the Secret Service, after reports of a major credit card breach. “Protecting our customers’ information is something we take extremely seriously, and we are aggressively gathering facts at this point,” a spokeswoman said.

Hackers have broken security walls for several big retailers in recent months – including Target. The rash of breaches has rattled shoppers’ confidence in the security of their personal data and pushed retailers, banks and card companies to increase security by speeding the adoption of microchips into U.S. credit and debit cards.

Supporters say chip cards are safer because, unlike magnetic strip cards that transfer a credit card number when they are swiped at a point-of-sale terminal, chip cards use a one-time code that moves between the chip and the retailer’s register. The result is a transfer of data that is useless to anyone except the parties involved. Chip cards are also nearly impossible to copy, experts say.

The possible data breach at Home Depot was first reported by Brian Krebs of Krebs on Security, a website that focuses on cybersecurity. Krebs said multiple banks reported “evidence that Home Depot stores may be the source of a massive new batch of stolen credit and debit cards” that went on sale on the black market.

The breach may have affected all 2,200 Home Depot stores in the United, Krebs says. Several banks that were contacted said they believe the breach may have started in late April or early May.

“If that is accurate — and if even a majority of Home Depot stores were compromised — this breach could be many times larger than Target, which had 40 million credit and debit cards stolen over a three-week period,” the Krebs post said. Krebs said that the party responsible for the breach may be the same group of Russian and Ukrainian hackers suspected in the Target breach late last year.

It’s an open question whether repeated reports of hacking will change consumer behavior. Periodic cases fuel outrage, but there’s no retreat from digital engagement or any imminent promise of guaranteed privacy.

“We have this abstract belief that privacy is important, but the way we behave online often runs counter to that,” said author Nicholas Carr, who wrote the 2010 book, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

“I’d hope people would understand that anything you do online could be made public,” Carr said. “Yet there’s this illusion of security that tempers any nervousness. It’s hard to judge risks when presented with the opportunity to do something fun.”

-As seen on ABC
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