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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 16th Jan 2017

Super Mario RunImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

An insatiable desire by gamers to jump to the next level generated record revenues for App Store developers in 2016, according to Apple.

Developers who sell their apps through Apple earned a record $20bn in 2016, up 40% on the previous year.

Games dominated App Store's bestsellers, including Pokemon Go and Nintendo's Super Mario Run.

Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw, said in-app purchases, such as paying to upgrade a character, drove the rise.

Since 2008, when the App Store first launched, developers have earned a total $60bn in revenue.

Last year alone accounted for $20bn, or a third of total sales.

Mr Dawson attributed the acceleration to a relatively new business model where people download a game app for their iPhone or iPad for free, then pay to buy additional features such as opening secret levels or new powers.

In 2016, Apple also also changed its revenue sharing deal with developers of subscription apps such as Netflix or HBO Now.

In the first year of a customer's subscription, the existing agreement remains in place which gives the developer 70% of revenue and Apple 30%.

Under the new terms, if the subscription continues for a second year Apple takes a smaller cut of 15% and the developer keeps the lion's share, giving them a greater incentive to work to retain customers' interest.

Apple also extended the scope of who can offer customers subscriptions to their product. Previously, only categories such as music services and magazines offered this service. In 2016 the option became available to all 25 categories on the App Store, including game makers.

Last year, revenue from subscriptions rose by 74% to $2.7bn. Also, the number of apps available through Apple grew by 20% to 2.2 million.

Mr Dawson said subscriptions give Apple more "predictable" revenue streams as sales of iPhone, iPad and Macs slow.

App sales made a strong start to the year, with customers spending $240m on the App Store on New Year's Day alone.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 16th Jan 2017

Mark ZuckerbergImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Mark Zuckerberg has announced plans to spend 2017 touring the US - in the Facebook founder's latest ambitious New Year's resolution.

He posted that this year's personal challenge is to "have visited and met people in every state in the US".

The 32-year-old tech titan added that he needs to travel to about 30 states to fulfil the pledge.

His previous New Year challenges have included running 365 miles, reading 25 books and learning Mandarin.

The US tour comes amid speculation that a future personal challenge by Mr Zuckerberg could include running for president of the United States.

"After a tumultuous last year, my hope for this challenge is to get out and talk to more people about how they're living, working and thinking about the future," Mr Zuckerberg said in his Facebook post.

"For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected.

"This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone."

He added that the road trips would help him to make "the most positive impact as the world enters an important new period".

"My trips this year will take different forms - road trips with [wife] Priscilla, stops in small towns and universities, visits to our offices across the country, meetings with teachers and scientists, and trips to fun places you recommend along the way," the statement continued.

Last year there was speculation that he could one day launch a bid for the White House.

That was fuelled by documents showing he has made provisions to keep control of the company if he works for the government.

Mr Zuckerberg also said last week that he was no longer an atheist.

He posted a Christmas message, prompting someone to ask: "Aren't you an atheist?"

Mr Zuckerberg replied: "No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important".

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 16th Jan 2017

New approach promises faster, smaller devices

Scientists could have found a way to boost Moore's Law

Scientists could have found a way to boost Moore's Law

Scientists have announced a promising development in the quest for producing smaller and more efficient microcircuits as the basis for wearables and other small mobile devices.

With Moore's Law approaching a hard limit scientists are looking at new ways to speed up processing. One is quantum computing which is still some way off as a general purpose computing platform for everyday use, while another approach is to change the way memory works.

A new technology called Redox-based resistive switching random memory (ReRAM) is being developed by a number of major semiconductor firms and should be commercially available soon. ReRAM is a non-volatile RAM that works by changing the resistance across a dielectric solid-state material. It has a good long-term storage capacity and can be produced at nanoscale. It promises to increase I/O speeds while also reducing power consumption.

ReRAM is not only a promising alternative to traditional RAM; it may also be used as a processing platform as assistant professor Anupam Chattopadhyay from Nyang Technology University in Singapore, professor Rainer Waser from RWTH Aachen University in Germany and Dr Vikas Rana from Forschungszentrum Juelich have discovered. The scientists are working on processing data held on ReRAM in situ rather than moving it to and from a CPU. This approach is far more efficient, allowing for faster and thinner mobile devices.

There is another feature of the prototype circuitry should also allow for quicker processing too. Rather than operating on the familiar binary system (0,1), the ReRAM based circuitry being developed by the scientists stores and processes data using a quaternary number system (0,1,2,3). This should increase the processing efficiency because a quaternary number is shorter than its binary equivalent. Chattopadhyay explained that in current computer systems, all information has to be translated into a string of zeros and ones before it can be processed.

"This is like having a long conversation with someone through a tiny translator, which is a time-consuming and effort-intensive process," he said.

"We are now able to increase the capacity of the translator, so it can process data more efficiently."

Professor Waser explained that the new system is promising for the development of future IoT and wearable devices.

"These devices are energy-efficient, fast, and they can be scaled to very small dimensions," he said.

"Using them not only for data storage but also for computation could open a completely new route towards an effective use of energy in the information technology."

The findings will be published in Scientific Reports.

Source: v3.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 16th Jan 2017

Media captionWATCH: A device that lets children create their own bedtime stories is just one of thousands of new products that will go on show at CES

CES provides a first glimpse at the future.

Pretty much all of the tech giants attend the vast Vegas expo - either to unveil new products or to clinch deals behind the scene.

But in recent years it's been start-ups that have had many of the most eye-arresting and sensational reveals.

There are more at this year's show than ever before, thanks in part to crowdfunding. They now have to convince retailers - hunting through the halls for the next bestsellers - that the promise of their concept videos has been delivered upon.

 

Media captionWATCH: A start-up offering virtual reality thrills without the need for a headset is one of more than 200 French companies at CES this year

Dozens of start-ups are also there thanks to help from governments and other national bodies - France, Israel, Ukraine and the Netherlands all have stands where they'll fly the flag for local talent.

But China may make the biggest splash with more than 1,300 registered exhibitors.

"Every year at CES I meet the people who work on the technology that affects our lives and you can see literally every part of the tech industry represented," innovation evangelist Robert Scoble told the BBC.

Of course, there's a lot of crud too - the challenge is to distinguish the potential hits from the glitch-ridden flops.

Below, we have picked what could be some of the week's highlights:


Voice control and other new interfaces

CES marks the beginning of a land grab by three of the leading virtual assistants: Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana and the Google Assistant.

The companies all want their voice-controlled AIs to power third-party products. And Amazon looks to have the head start.

C by GEImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionThe C by GE table lamp has a central blue ring that responds when Alexa is summoned

The headphones specialist OnVocal will be showing off wireless earphones that link up to Alexa, and GE has also preannounced a table lamp that doubles as a speaker powered by Amazon's voice service. Sonos too aims to add the facility to its wireless speakers, though we believe it isn't quite ready to show off its efforts.

But don't count the other two out.

We know Microsoft is working with Harman Kardon on a "premium audio" speaker, and the firm has teased adding Cortana to other types of products, including toasters. And Google has secured at least one bit of kit at CES - the Aivia speaker - to host its cloud-based intelligence.

AiviaImage copyrightAIVIA

Image captionAivia says its smart speaker will be equipped with Google Assistant

One expert suggested others will also try to gatecrash the party.

It's not all about voice though.

The French start-up Bixi will be making the case for gesture controls. It will be demoing the final design of a gizmo that lets you control smartphones and tablets with a wave of a hand.

 

Media captionWATCH: Bixi's glowing pad lets smartphones and tablets be controlled with a wave of the hand

More groundbreaking perhaps is the Blitab, a tactile tablet described as the iPad for the blind.

The Austrian innovation produces small physical bubbles in an area above its touchscreen which delivers refresh double lines of dynamic Braille.

BlitabImage copyrightBLITAB

Image captionBlitab plans to show off an Android tablet with a dynamic braille display


Year of the robot?

We're still decades away from having the type of androids seen on TV shows such as Westworld or Humans.

But CES is still an opportunity to see how far along more specialised kit has become.

London-based Emotech is one to watch.

Olly robotImage copyrightEMOTECH

Image captionThe Olly robot learns over time how best to behave with different users

It will unveil Olly - a tabletop bot with its own smart assistant that recognises different household members and adapts it personality to suit each one.

The project was developed with help from academics at University College London, Imperial College and Edinburgh University, and has already secured $10m (£8.2m) of investment from China.

There will also be a range of modular robots.

Several companies are backing the concept, which allows users to switch about parts to change skills and manoeuvrability.

UnibiotImage copyrightEVOVACS

Image captionThe Unibot offers changes function depending on which modules are connected to its base

Examples will include Modi, a Lego-style kit that lets owners build a bot out of small cubes - each offering different functions such as motors, lights and infra-red detectors.

Another is Unibot, a robotic vacuum cleaner that trebles up as a mobile home security camera and an air purifier/humidifier.

Meanwhile, OAPs can look forward to Cutii, a robot that resembles an iPad on wheels, which will supposedly become their "companion".

And there will also be bots that zoom round tennis courts picking up balls, remove droppings from cat litter, and even move physical chess pieces around a board.

RobotsImage copyrightITRI TAIWAN/AUTO-PETS/YUMII/TENNIBOT

Image captionThere will be a range of robots specialising in niche tasks at the show

Keep an eye out for Laundroid, too. The Japanese clothes-folding machine raised $60m from Panasonic and others for its giant clothes-folding droid following an appearance at last year's CES.

Some have described the idea as ridiculous.

But it will be interesting to see if it works well enough to go on sale later this year, as planned.

LaundroidImage copyrightSEVEN DREAMERS

Image captionPotential buyers of the Laundroid will have to make sure they have room to install it


Health and wearables

Pregnancy seems to be one of health tech's preoccupations this year.

There is both Ava, a sensor-equipped wristband that apparently alerts women to when they are most fertile, and Trakfertility, a DIY sperm count test that tells an associated app what steps the owner should take to boost their numbers.

Ava wristbandImage copyrightAVA SCIENCE

Image captionAva claims its wearable will help women "understand" their bodies better to help them get pregnant

And just in case you are tempted to pair off with the wrong partner, Milo Sensors is in town with what it describes as the world's first blood alcohol wearable.

It's easy to joke, but health tech is booming and analysts are competing to predict how many billions of pounds it will be worth in a decade's time.

The ultimate goal is to create something resembling Star Trek's Tricoder - an all-in-one device that diagnoses any ailment.

An Israeli start-up will be showing off a gadget that promises to get us at least partly there.

Tyto HomeImage copyrightTYTOCARE

Image captionTytoCare says it wants to put "health in the hands of consumers" with its diagnostic devices

The TytoHome is designed to let families take heart, lungs, throat, abdomen and other organs' readings and send them to their clinicians. Its slogan is a "check-up without the check-in", but medics may need convincing.

There will doubtless be new twists on the fitness tracker too. It would be unwise to suggest the market for such devices has peaked - Fitbit's app topped Apple's App Store this Christmas, indicating people are still buying them in droves.

But a more intriguing development is wearables with built-in airbags.

Air bag wearablesImage copyrightINEMOTION/ACTIVEPROTECTIVE

Image captionAt least two companies at CES are trying to adapt the car's airbag for the human body

ActiveProtective is promising to show off a prototype smart belt for the elderly that triggers a cushioning action over their hips if it detects a fall.

And Inemotion has developed ski racing clothes with a similar function to prevent injuries on the piste.

France's Wair has a different spin on discreet wearable tech with a internet-connected scarf that doubles as an air filter.

 

Media captionWATCH: Wair's smart scarf promises cleaner air with a focus on fashion

But the question remains whether wearable tech has a profitable future beyond health.

There will be more app-laden smartwatches - including the possibility of the first Android Wear 2.0 devices - at the show, but the sector has not been the hit many had predicted.

We're also promised the world's first vibrating tight cut jeans that offer their wearers directions without having to look at a screen.

Spinali DesignImage copyrightSPINALI DESIGN

Image captionSpinali Design's jeans connect to a smartphone to buzz different sides of the wearer's body to direct them to turn left or right


Televisions

If you had asked the experts a decade ago, they would probably have predicted OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs would be the norm by now. But the tech has faced several setbacks.

It's stubbornly refused to become as cheap to manufacture as hoped, it doesn't go as bright as LED equivalents and some complain that it "crushes the blacks" making it hard to distinguish detail in the shadows.

Panasonic OLED TVImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionPanasonic was once famed for its plasma TVs, now its focus is OLED

Even so, OLED retains a wow factor thanks to its ability to control the light of each individual pixel, helping its images to have more "pop", and its screens to be ever thinner.

Panasonic has hinted it will show off an OLED display at CES that will better handle dim scenes, and there is speculation Sony has similar news.

Plus there's reason to believe prices are about to drop.

Until recently, LG manufactured all the OLED panels used by itself and other brands. But now BOE - a Chinese company - has a rival component. The question is who will break ranks to adopt it.

Samsung TVsImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionQLED, UHD, HDR, HLG - OMG!!! - be prepared to get your head round a lot of acronyms if you want to understand the latest TV tech

Expect Samsung to make a loud noise about QLED, a new spin on its "quantum dot" technology that allows its screens to be brighter than ever before.

That's important because of HDR - another acronym you're going to have to get used to. It refers to high dynamic range, which allows images to appear more vibrant and detailed - especially in scenes containing both glints of light and shadows.

Dolby Vision

Image captionDolby claims its version of HDR offers the best picture quality, but most TV-makers have opted to support the open source HDR10 standard instead

The problem is that there are three rival HDR standards - HDR10, Dolby Vision and the BBC's forthcoming HLG - meaning the potential for another format war.

But it is possible to support all three, so it will be revealing to see if any of manufactures make a commitment to do so with their new screens.


Smart home and other "internet-of-things"

It's now relatively cheap and power-efficient to add sensors and wireless data links to products. That's led to an explosion of ideas - some more sensible than others.

GenicanImage copyrightGENICAN

It's debateable how many of us really need Genican, for example, a device that scans rubbish's barcodes as it is thrown away in order to build up a shopping list of replacement items.

Likewise, it's not clear whether an aromatherapy diffuser needs to be smartphone-controlled, even if its scents really boost memory and clean lungs, as claimed.

 

Media captionWATCH: A new gadget at CES allows users to change the smell of a room via a tap of an app.

Where things get more interesting is when tech genuinely makes lives simpler without requiring too much effort.

One way firms are trying to do this is by focusing on the refrigerator.

LG has a model that activates a sterilisation process when it senses temperature and/or humidity issues in order to extend food's shelf life.

And for those who would prefer to retrofit their existing equipment, UK start-up Smarter Applications has Fridgecam: a device that keeps track of what its owners have in stock and when it expires, sending alerts to buy new items when necessary.

FridgecamImage copyrightSMARTER APPLICATIONS

Image captionThe Fridgecam shows owners what's in their fridge and can suggest recipes based on the contents

But one expert says if the sector is to achieve its potential, consumers need to be reassured that the risks do not outweigh the benefits.

"In the last 18 months the conversation about security and privacy has moved from the tech pages to the front pages of newspapers," said John Curran from the consultancy Accenture.

"To make these devices easy to connect and easy to use, some companies have hardcoded passwords or put no security measures in place, and that made them an easy target.

"At CES we're looking for businesses to be more transparent about what data is being collected, how it's being used and with whom it's being shared.

"And they need to make it easier for consumers to adjust their security settings."


Virtual and augmented reality

GettyImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionHTC beat Sony and Oculus to bring a virtual reality headset to market in April

There are rumours that HTC will unveil a second-generation Vive VR headset at CES - possibly introducing wireless capabilities - but the system is only nine months old, so that seems a tad optimistic.

The two other big virtual reality firms - Sony and Facebook's Oculus division - launched their kit even more recently.

Even so, there should still be lots of developments.

Huawei has just hired Steve LaValle, one of the brains behind Oculus, and the Chinese firm is set to reveal more about its VR plans at the show.

It's a safe bet that several third-party headsets previously teased by Microsoft will also be on display.

Windows 10 eventImage copyrightMICROSOFT

Image captionIn October, Microsoft disclosed that several firms were working on Windows 10 compatible VR headsets

And we will also see the introduction of Fove, a crowdfunded VR headset with eye-tracking abilities, allowing gamers to control action with shifts in their gaze.

Fove won't be the only one trying to offer new ways for users to interact with virtual experiences.

FoveImage copyrightFOVE

Image captionFove raised $480,000 for its eye-tracking headset via Kickstarter and plans to start delivering them during the week of CES

A foot controller that lets you direct where your character walks, a sensor-laden T-shirt that tracks your torso's movements, and various haptic devices that try to let consumers feel virtual objects are just some of the products with CES stands.

With augmented reality - where graphics and real-world views are mixed together - things are still at an early stage.

But Asus and others may reveal handsets that include Google's Project Tango depth-sensing technology, adding basic AR capabilities.

Project AlloyImage copyrightINTEL

Image captionMost augmented headsets overlay graphics over the real world, but Intel is taking the reverse approach

Intel will have more to say about Project Alloy - a headset that lets you see your hands and other real-world objects within VR worlds.

And a start-up called Occipital will demo a contraption that uses an iPhone to create something akin to Microsoft's HoloLens mixed-reality headset.

While hardware may dominate the headlines, it could be content that determines which products are winners.

Occipital BridgeImage copyrightOCCIPITAL

Image captionOccipital's Bridge headset scans the surrounding area to create a digital copy in which the user can interact with virtual characters

"In the US the National Basketball Association recently announced that it will broadcast games in virtual reality," noted Mr Curran.

"And as other big media and content companies get involved, they will attract more types of consumers to VR, rather than just the tech-enthused.

"So, I'll be looking to see which platforms the media providers target as they pursue opportunities in this space."


Transportation

There's going to be a lot of talk and demos of self-driving cars by the big automakers on and off the Las Vegas strip.

RinspeedImage copyrightRINSPEED

Image captionRinspeed will be exhibiting a concept vehicle designed for a self-driving future

Menawhile, rival chipmakers - including Intel, Nvidia and Qualcomm - will be excitedly pitching their processors and 5G chips as the potential heart of the autonomous vehicle revolution.

But you'll have to wait for a future CES to find anything road-ready that allows the "driver" to really ignore the steering wheel.

BMW HoloActivImage copyrightBMW

Image captionBMW says the functions of its concept car can be controlled without any physical contact

This time round, look instead for new ways to interact with your vehicle.

BMW will unveil its HoloActiv Touch system, in which motorists use finger gestures to interact with graphics that project out of dashboard screens.

And Continental will demo facial recognition tech that recognises who is driving and adjusts mirror and seat positions accordingly.

Faraday Future is also back for a second year to convince sceptics that it can launch an electric car before its funds dry up.

Faraday Future teaser videoImage copyrightFARADAY FUTURE

Image captionFaraday Future has posted teaser videos in which it claims its car can accelerate from standstill more quickly than the Tesla Model X

There will also be all kinds of alternative transport ideas including an intelligent scooter that shuts off its power if it detects an accident, a motorised rideable suitcase and the latest evolutions of the hoverboard.


Odds and ends

And we've still barely scratched the surface. There are zones dedicated to drones, beauty tech and 3D printing.

Plus there's room for oddities, such as a device that claims to be able to record smells.

Selfie stock drone and Mi GuitarImage copyrightAEE/MAGIC INSTRUMENTS

Image captionAEE will be showing off a "flying selfie stick" while Magic Instruments claims people can learn to play its Mi Guitar in minutes

The BBC tech team will do its best to keep you across all the major developments from the first press day on Tuesday until the show floors shut on Sunday.

You can keep up to date at bbc.co.uk/ces2017 and by following our Twitter list of those covering CES.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 11th Jan 2017

 

Big Ben during New Year's celebrations in 2016Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionThe leap second caused Cloudflare software to 'panic'

Web firm Cloudflare was briefly caught out by the leap second added to the end of 2016.

A small number of the firm's servers failed to handle the added second properly making them return errors.

The problem meant that the sites of some of its customers were hard to reach in the early hours of 2017.

The second was added to compensate for a slowdown in the earth's rotation and helps to co-ordinate time-keeping among nations that use GMT.

Time lost

In a statement, Cloudflare said that its engineers had fixed the problem within 90 minutes of it affecting its servers.

Anyone falling victim would have got an error message saying servers could not be reached rather than seeing the page they wanted to visit.

Content delivery firm Cloudflare acts as a go-between for websites aiming to speed up access to a site as well as stopping malicious traffic and attacks reaching that destination.

It said that the problem affected about 1% of the requests its servers processed during the glitch period.

A detailed analysis of why the bug emerged found that it was triggered by a mismatch between the time-stamps Cloudflare servers were expecting and the ones they actually got from the separate systems that keep time on the wider net.

This caused an internal system to "panic" the firm wrote, causing the server errors.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 11th Jan 2017

Josh Coombes is a hairdresser with a huge salon: the streets of London.

The 29-year-old has been giving free haircuts to homeless people for the past year. Photos of the results are posted on an Instagramaccount which has thousands of followers.

It's part of an campaign by Josh and friends Matt Spracklen and Dave Burt, which is using the the hashtag #DoSomethingforNothing, to encourage people to help others, any way they can.

Video Journalist: Alvaro A. Ricciardelli

For more videos subscribe to BBC Trending's YouTube channel. Or find us on Facebook.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 11th Jan 2017

Tech collageImage copyrightREUTERS/GETTY/BBC

Another year of tech news is nearly over.

It has been an eventful 12 months. Samsung smartphones exploded, GoPro drones dropped out of the air and Pebble smartwatches met an untimely end.

Facebook became embroiled in a fake news controversy, Yahoo revealed several mega-breaches, we identified the supposed creator of Bitcoin - who then went AWOL - and millions indulged in a game of Pokemon Go.

Yet none of those stories made our most-read-of-the-month list - based on the number of times an article was clicked - as you can see below.


January: Licence to spy

Office workersImage copyrightTHINKSTOCK

There is a good rule of thumb: if you do not want your employer to know what you are up to online, wait until you are not on the job. And at the start of 2016, a Romanian company successfully argued it was within its rights to read Yahoo Messenger chats sent by one of its staff.

The sales engineer had claimed his privacy had been invaded as he had posted details about his health and sex life, but the European Court of Human Rights noted he had previously been warned not to send personal messages within working hours. However, later in the year, the man appealed and the case was reconsidered. The ECHR will now issue a fresh ruling in early 2017.


February: iPhone lockout

iPhone with FBI symbolImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Apple clashed with the FBI when it refused to unlock an iPhone used by a murderer. Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik had killed 14 people in a shooting spree in California before being shot dead themselves. Farook's iPhone 5C was password-protected and the FBI feared that if it tried and failed to guess the combination, the device would auto-delete.

The agency demanded a bypass, but Apple refused to help saying it would set a dangerous precedent. A legal battle ensued, but then suddenly ended when the FBI declared an unnamed third party had found its own way to access the data. For now, the matter rests. But at the height of the stand-off, Donald Trump called on consumers to boycott Apple. That is likely to serve as a warning to any tech firm tempted to take a similar stance in a future dispute.


March: Amazon's shock tactics

Amazon warehouseImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Amazon's bosses sounded somewhat distrustful when it was reported that they had started screening videos of staff caught stealing on the job via big TVs in their US warehouses. The alleged offenders were said to have been silhouetted with the words "arrested" and "terminated" superimposed over them.

It was not the only time working conditions at the company made headlines. Earlier this month, Amazon was also accused of threatening to axe workers if they took four days off for sickness even if they had a doctor's note.


April: Google's awkward April Fool

MinionsImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

It must have seemed like a hilarious idea. To celebrate April Fool's Day, Google added a button to its Gmail app to let users send a gif of a Minion cartoon character dropping a microphone. The meme symbolises a triumphant moment and had been popularised by rappers, actors and even a fast food chain.

So what could go wrong? Well, because of a "bug" some users reported the gif had been added even if they clicked Gmail's normal "send" button. People complained of having the yellow henchman pop up in inappropriate messages. One man even claimed it had cost him his job. Despicable Google!


May: Microsoft's "nasty trick"

Microsoft boxImage copyrightMICROSOFT

As the shutters began to close on Microsoft's free Windows 10 offer, it faced a challenge. Many were ignoring its pop-up plea to upgrade and were opting instead to stick with earlier versions of the operating system.

So, in an effort to spur them on, the firm embarked on a mischievous strategy: clicking on the cross in the pop-up's top right-hand corner no longer dismissed the Windows update but triggered it instead. The move was widely denounced and Microsoft soon added a further notification message providing users with another chance to opt out before the software was installed. The firm's chief marketing officer recently acknowledged the whole affair had been "a lowlight" for all involved.


June: Shattered glass

 

Media captionDan Simmons tests the world's longest glass-bottomed bridge

BBC Click's Dan Simmons was invited to visit the world's highest and longest glass-bottomed bridge ahead of its launch in China. He took a sledgehammer with him. You can view the results in the clip above. It's smashing! The bridge opened to the public in August, but was closed again a fortnight later for urgent maintenance work. We understand Dan was not to blame.


July: Self-drive death

Crashed Tesla vehicleImage copyrightREUTERS

Image captionA Tesla driver died in Florida in May after colliding with a lorry

While other car-makers talked up their self-driving vehicle plans, Tesla went ahead and deployed a restricted form of the tech. The firm described its Autopilot feature as being a "beta" test, but it faced criticism when a former Navy Seal died after his Model S car failed to recognise a tractor trailer and ploughed into it.

Weeks later, another non-fatal crash involving Autopilot occurred in the US, and then unconfirmed reports emerged from China that another motorist had died in a motorway crash while using the feature. Tesla continues to roll out updates to Autopilot and its chief executive Elon Musk says the technology has the potential to save many lives. But critics - including the German and Dutch authorities - have urged Tesla to rebrand the system to discourage drivers from putting too much trust in it.


August: Android alert

Android smartphone

Every summer, many of the world's top hackers, cybersecurity experts and government officials descend on Las Vegas for the Defcon and Black Hat conferences. To mark the events, a flurry of new cracks and bugs are revealed as researchers compete for recognition from their peers and the wider public.

This year's break-out revelation was about flaws in software used on Android devices powered by Qualcomm chips, which could be exploited to reveal their users' data. By the time the news was made public, Qualcomm had already developed a patch and Google fixed outstanding issues in an Android update released in September.


September: Hit the road, jack

Apple iPhone 7Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Usually new hardware is all about what has been added. But the iPhone 7 made headlines because of Apple's decision to build it without a headphone jack - a decision that took "courage" apparently. To be fair, the move helped Apple make the handset more water-resistant, and others - including Samsung - are now rumoured to be considering similar moves.

But the path to a wireless music-playing future was not totally smooth after Apple had problems getting its accompanying AirPod earphones to market after running into manufacturing issues. The hiccup has now been addressed, but a backlog in orders means many users will not be able to pop the new tech into their ear canals until the new year.


October: Snapchat slapdown

Sasha ObamaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Daughters... it does not matter how powerful you are, they are still prone to gain the the upper hand. President Obama revealed on TV that his youngest child, Sasha, had recorded him "lecturing" his family on Snapchat and other social media. He said she then secretly posted her reaction - a look of boredom - to her friends via the app. The anecdote sparked a brief media frenzy as gossip writers and others sought to track down Sasha's Snapchat account, but to no avail.


November: ...now with added dongle

AppleImage copyrightAPPLE

Apple clocked up its third "win" of the year after it offered a discount on connector adapters following criticism that its latest laptops lacked legacy ports. The firm has a habit of dropping support for historic hardware standards ahead of the competition and often before many of its consumers are ready. But this time even it acknowledged that it was surprised by the scale of the backlash it had provoked.


December: Back to the phone future

NokiaImage copyrightNOKIA

Nostalgia had a certain role to play in our last popular story of the year, as Nokia revealed that handsets emblazoned with its brand are being promoted via its website once again. The Finnish firm is not actually making the mobiles this time round - a start-up called HMD Global is taking charge - but has lent its name for a fee.

Nokia itself is more interested in virtual reality and smart health tech these days. But for many, its brand, ringtone and Snake game will be forever associated with the dawn of the mobile age. Whether or not many people will actually buy one of the existing featurephones or forthcoming Android smartphones is another matter.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 11th Jan 2017

 

DroneImage copyrightDFID

Image captionThe Zip drones are launched from a catapult

The UK government is to fund a trial of drone-based deliveries of blood and other medical supplies in Tanzania.

The goal is to radically reduce the amount of time it takes to send stock to health clinics in the African nation by road or other means.

The scheme involves Zipline, a Silicon Valley start-up that began running a similar service in Rwanda in October.

Experts praised that initiative but cautioned that "cargo drones" are still of limited use to humanitarian bodies.

The Department for International Development (Dfid) has not said how much money will be invested in the Tanzanian effort or for how long.

It also announced plans to fund tests of drones in Nepal to map areas of the country prone to damage from extreme weather, so help prepare for future crises.

"This innovative, modern approach ensures we are achieving the best results for the world's poorest people and delivering value for money for British taxpayers," commented the International Development Secretary Priti Patel.

Nepal mapImage copyrightDFID

Image captionDfid believes that drones can help map routes in Nepal that could help if a disaster like last year's earthquake reoccurs

Parachute deliveries

Zipline's drones - called Zips - are small fixed-wing aircraft that are fired from a catapult and follow a pre-programmed path using GPS location data.

The advantage of the design over multi-rotor models is that the vehicles can better cope with windy conditions and stay airborne for longer. In theory, they can fly up to about 180 miles (290km) before running out of power, although Zipline tries to keep round trips to about half that distance.

Their drawback is that they require open space to land - in Zip's case an area about the size of two car parking slots.

Zipline gets round this issue by having its drones descend to heights of about 5m (16.4ft) when they reach their destinations and then release their loads via paper parachutes. Afterwards, they regain altitude and return to base before coming to rest.

Zip droneImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionThe Zip drones can carry supplies weighing up to 1.5kg (3.3lb)

The aircraft fly below 500ft (152m) to avoid the airspace used by passenger planes.

Tanzania, Rwanda and Malawi - which uses a different type of drone for medical deliveries - all take a permissive approach to unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] regulations, helping make them attractive places for such trials.

Earlier in the year, Tanzania also authorised the use of drones in its Tarangire National Park as part of an effort to deter animal poachers.

Saved lives

Dfid estimates that flying blood and medical supplies by drone from out of Tanzania's capital, Dodoma, could save $58,000 (£47,400) a year compared to sending them by car or motorcycle.

But a spokeswoman suggested that the time savings were more crucial.

"Flights are planned to start in early 2017, and when they do it is estimated that [the] UAVs could support over 50,000 births a year, cutting down the time mothers and new-borns would have to wait for life-saving medicine to 19 minutes - reduced from the 110 minutes traditional transport methods would take," she explained.

The Ifakara Health Institute - which specialises in treatments for malaria, HIV, tuberculosis as well as neonatal health issues - will be the local partner.

 

Media captionZipline already offers a medical supplies delivery service in Rwanda

The Humanitarian UAV Network and other non-profit bodies recently surveyed the use of drones to carry out human welfare tasks.

The study highlighted the work Zipline was doing, noting the firm was capable of setting up a new drones launch hub in as little as 24 hours, meaning it was well suited to rapid response efforts as well as longer-term projects.

But the study also noted that humanitarian cargos are often measured in tonnes rather than kilograms, and need to be transported across longer distances than a Zip can manage.

Zip droneImage copyrightREUTERS

Image captionThe Zip drones land on an inflatable pad

"Given these current trade-offs relative to manned aviation, the specific cases in which cargo drones can currently add value are particularly narrow in the context of the universe of needs that humanitarian organisations typically face," it said.

And it added that more research was needed to properly evaluate whether existing schemes were as reliable as claimed.

"Organisations considering the use of cargo drones need statistics on flights performed, hours logged, failure rates and other performance measures."

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 11th Jan 2017

As I step into the hallway in Simon Daykin's New Forest home, his smartwatch goes into overdrive.

He is receiving messages from the house itself, warning him there is somebody inside it doesn't recognise.

"As you come in, you've already been spotted by some of our tech," he says.

"There are cameras in the burglar alarm sensors, and a facial recognition system in the house.

"If it's someone it 'knows', it will tell me. If it's someone it doesn't know, it will tell me."

He selects one of the CCTV images he has received and adds my name to it. That seems to satisfy the house - for now.

The combination of devices also enables him to talk to delivery drivers via his phone if the house is empty (and make sure they leave the parcels in the right place) - and was handy when his daughter had a fall and the family were able to share footage with hospital doctors to help them understand her injury.

sensors on the coffee table

Image captionMany of the sensors are discreet

It's one of many systems Mr Daykin has rigged up over the past four years years as he has painstakingly created his own unique smart home, using a combination of off-the-shelf kit, a few credit-card-sized Raspberry Pi computers and his own tech expertise.

He says the hardest part has been getting them all to coordinate with each other.

It's a labour of love and it hasn't all been cheap - but he says it is slowly paying for itself because of the savings on the household bills.

The house monitors everything and uses energy only where and when it needs to.

bathroom cable

Image captionThis small wire is the only evidence that the toilet flush is monitored

The Daykins also get a government incentive for using a wood pellet boiler, which is programmed to fire up just once a day, and have reduced their water costs by 40% through rainwater harvesting.

LED light bulbs have dramatically decreased the electricity bills.

Mr Daykin's primary motivation was to reduce his family's energy consumption, and he is very proud of the results.

He carries out data mining to fine-tune the house to ever greater efficiency - sensors monitor everything from humidity and air quality to temperature and toilet flushes.

Near the washing machine, in the spot where many people might keep their detergent, the Daykins have a hi-tech "nerve centre" where 2km (1.2 miles) of cabling feeds data to the home's central server.

"The house has modes," he says.

"It knows when you're awake, it knows when you're asleep, it knows when you're not here and it reconfigures security, heating, lighting."

If a room is empty, the electricity on a specially wired bank of plug sockets shuts off, and once the lights go off at night, the house goes into "sleep mode".

smart house nerve centre

Image captionWhere most people keep their washing powder, the Daykins have a technology hub

Family members have their own preferences pre-programmed - when Mr Daykin's mother-in-law arrives, the heating turns up because she feels the cold more.

At the moment, controlling this data requires his input - but with the rise of artificial intelligence, Mr Daykin hopes to reduce his own role in the proceedings.

"I get a lot of updates from the house, but it's very experimental and I like it because I know what's going on," he says.

"One of the big next steps is being able to talk to the house or use a digital assistant so you don't have to touch anything.

"My ultimate aim is that the house is so aware of what it wants and what you want it to be that it reacts to you without you having to tell it."

Personal data

The downstairs toilet flush is also kept track of (a double flush boosts the air circulation, for those with delicate noses); and in the process of monitoring the air quality, Mr Daykin has discovered some unexpected correlations between certain adult activities and the corresponding levels of carbon dioxide.

"Maybe in the future we'll be able to predict when we'll need midwives in the house," he says wryly.

It's certainly intensely private information. But if you install a smart home operated by a tech giant, it's exactly the sort of thing you could inadvertently be sharing.

"We are all generating huge amounts of data - and big companies are using that and exploiting that to give us better services and also create better advertising.

"The system I have created, the vast majority of the data never leaves the house unless I choose to access it remotely," he says.

"I am uncomfortable about giving data to other people unless I know how it is going to be used."

bath ducks

Image captionEven the bath ducks play their part

As a senior IT professional, it's not surprising that he takes cyber-security very seriously, and has invested in an expensive enterprise-grade firewall "as good as a bank would have".

"It's not just because I don't want people looking into my house," he says.

"I want to protect the data but also I don't want somebody taking control of my house or exploiting it to do something else as we've seen with recent botnet attacks. I won't let that happen to my house."

But he admits that his family has had to get used to the concept of being monitored - and that by mutual agreement the upstairs bedrooms are off-limits.

"I'm comfortable with [the monitoring], the family are getting used to it, it does worry some people. I think that's one of the biggest challenges that tech faces - how do you make these things accepted?"

'Stuck with it'

In fact, people in modern life are very used to being observed, says psychology professor Tim Buchanan, from Westminster University - whether that's through CCTV, smartphone use or even car registration.

"I think most people genuinely aren't aware of all the data that is collectible about them at any point in time or what the value of that data is," he says.

"I think there are many people who are uncomfortable with it - who go to great pains to try to protect their privacy - but even those people will surrender their privacy in order to access services that they need.

"Unless you were to completely strip technology out of your life, I'm afraid we are stuck with it."

Some tech has more longevity than others.

One of Mr Daykin's early experiments was a bathroom-based sound system controlled by rubber ducks that became magnetic controls when placed against the metal bath tub, allowing bathers to control the sound and change the music.

"It was good fun," he says.

"But these days they prefer watching the iPad."

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 9th Jan 2017

Get your loved ones off Facebook.

 17 minute read

I wrote this for my friends and family, to explain why the latest Facebook privacy policy is really harmful. Maybe it’ll help you too. External references – and steps to get off properly – at the bottom.

A few factual corrections have been brought to my attention, so I’ve fixed them. Thanks everyone!

“Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask you why you’re getting off Facebook,” is the guilty and reluctant question I’m hearing a lot these days. Like we kinda know Facebook is bad, but don’t really want to know.

I’ve been a big Facebook supporter - one of the first users in my social group who championed what a great way it was to stay in touch, way back in 2006. I got my mum and brothers on it, and around 20 other people. I’ve even taught Facebook marketing in one of the UK’s biggest tech education projects, Digital Business Academy. I’m a techie and a marketer – so I can see the implications – and until now, they hadn’t worried me. I’ve been pretty dismissive towards people who hesitate with privacy concerns.

Just checking…

Over the holidays, I thought I’d take a few minutes to check on the upcoming privacy policy change, with a cautious “what if” attitude. With our financial and location information on top of everything else, there were some concerning possibilities. Turns out what I suspected already happened 2 years ago! That few minutes turned into a few days of reading. I dismissed a lot of claims that can be explained as technically plausible (or technically lazy), based on a bit of investigation, like the excessive Android app permissions. But there was still a lot left over, and I considered those facts with techniques that I know to be standard practice in data-driven marketing.

With this latest privacy change on January 30th, I’m scared.

Facebook has always been slightly worse than all the other tech companies with dodgy privacy records, but now, it’s in it’s own league. Getting off isn’t just necessary to protect yourself, it’s necessary to protect your friends and family too. This could be the point of no return – but it’s not too late to take back control.

A short list of some Facebook practices

It’s not just what Facebook is saying it’ll take from you and do with your information, it’s all the things it’s not saying, and doing anyway because of the loopholes they create for themselves in their Terms of Service and how simply they go back on their word. We don’t even need to click “I agree” anymore. They just change the privacy policy and by staying on Facebook, you agree. Oopsy!

Facebook doesn’t keep any of your data safe or anonymous, no matter how much you lock down your privacy settings. Those are all a decoy. There are very serious privacy breaches, like selling your product endorsement to advertisers and politicianstracking everything you read on the internet, or using data from your friends to learn private things about you - they have no off switch.

Facebooks gives your data to “third-parties” through your use of apps, and then say that’s you doing it, not them. Everytime you use an app, you’re allowing Facebook to escape it’s own privacy policy with you and with your friends. It’s like when my brother used to make me punch myself and ask, “why are you punching yourself?” Then he’d tell my mum it wasn’t his fault.

As I dug in, I discovered all the spying Facebook does – which I double-checked with articles from big reputable news sources and academic studies that were heavily scrutenised. It sounds nuts when you put it all together!

  • They have and continue to create false endorsements for products from you to your friends - and they never reveal this to you.
  • When you see a like button on the web, Facebook is tracking that you’re reading that page. It scans the keywords on that page and associates them to you. It knows much time you spend on different sites and topics.
  • They read your private messages and the contents of the links you send privately.
  • They’ve introduced features that turn your phone’s mic on – based on their track-record changing privacy settings, audio surveillance is likely to start happening without your knowledge.
  • They can use face recognition to track your location through pictures , even those that aren’t on Facebook. (Pictures taken with mobile phones have time, date and GPS data built into them.)
  • They’ve used snitching campaigns to trick people’s friends into revealing information about them that they chose to keep private.
  • They use the vast amount of data they have on you, from your likes, things you read, things you type but don’t post, to make highly accurate models about who you are – even if you make it a point of keeping these things secret. There are statistical techniques, which have been used in marketing for decades, that find correlating patterns between someone’s behaviour and their attributes. Even if you never posted anything, they can easily work out your age, gender, sexual orientation and political views. When you post, they work out much more. Then they reveal it to banks, insurance companies, governments, and of course, advertisers.

“I have nothing to hide”

A lot of people aren’t worried about this, feeling they have nothing to hide. Why would they care about little old me? Why should I worry about this when I’m not doing anything wrong?

One of the more obvious problems here is with insurance companies. The data they have on you is mined to predict your future. The now famous story of the pregnant teenager being outed by the store Target, after it mined her purchase data – larger handbags, headache pills, tissues – and sent her a “congratulations” message as marketing, which her unknowing father got instead. Oops!

The same is done about you, and revealed to any company without your control.

From the Terms Of Service (not the Privacy Policy – see what they did there?):

You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content and information in connection with commercial, sponsored or related content (such as a brand you like), served or enhanced by us.

And later: > By “information” we mean facts and other information about you, including actions taken by users and non-users who interact with Facebook.

So this includes everything they’re collecting about you but not telling you. Everything you read online, everything someone ever posts about you, all your private financial transactions.

And, your data starts to get combined with your friends data to make these models more accurate. It’s not just about you and your data but what gets done with all of it put together.

The issue here isn’t what we have to hide, it’s maintaining an important right to our freedom – which is the right to privacy, and the right to have a say in how information about us is used. We’ve giving up those rights forever by using Facebook.

If you’ve ever admitted to something illegal in a private Facebook message, or even mentioned your support for a political cause, this can be used against you in the future, especially by another country’s governement. You may find yourself arrested for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or just pulled aside at the airport one day, now facing jail time because you revealed you did something that government considers illegal 5 years ago. One New York comedian had a SWAT team break into his house based on a joke post. Law enforcement often acts in error, and you’re giving them more power and more chance of error. You’re loading the gun, pointing it at your head, and handing it to every trigger-happy “enforcer” who’s willing to buy your data.

There’s no need to talk hypothetically about government surveillance here. One of the first Facebook investors called Greylock has board connections to a CIA investment firm called In-Q-Tel. According to their website, it “identifies cutting-edge technologies to help the Central Intelligence Agency and the broader US Intelligence Community to further their missions”. And if you haven’t heard - it was revealed that Facebook data is delivered directly to the PRISM programme.

Commercial data brokers

And as I’ll explain later, most of this information finds its way into the public anyway. No need for NSA programmes because of marketing data companies who de-anonymise all your data to sell it again and again. This is done systematically and automatically. There’s an industry around this. There are marketplaces to buy and sell consumer data, orginally started around credit agencies and direct mail companies, then growing with the browser toolbar industry when Internet Explorer was big - now they’re filled with more information than ever before. A recent example is RapLeaf which collected and released personally identifiable information, including Facebook and MySpace IDs. They stopped after serious controversy, but not only was the damage done, there were other companies who escaped the bad PR and kept up the same practice. It’s not about how marketers target ads to you, it’s that your data is bought and sold to try.

Where might you travel in the future? Do you trust their law enforcement with this information about you? Because they’re buying it.

Intercepting your communication

The thing is that you don’t need a conspiracy theory to be concerned. Mark Zuckerburg himself has been public and consistent to his investors about his intentions:

1) To be the middle-man in all personal communication.

That’s why they made Messenger and bought WhatsApp, but don’t forget that they’ve tried worse. When they made Facebook email, they took advantage of users who were syncing their Facebook contacts. They made it so everyone’s @facebook.com address would be the default. Why? So that your friends would email you at your @facebook.com address instead, and they’d be able to read your emails too.

2) To make all personal communication public over time.

That’s why they slowly changed the default privacy settings to public, made privacy settings harder and harder to use, and now are pretending that their privacy helper will change this.

In reality, there a loads of privacy breaches you can’t turn off, like allowing advertisers to use your endorsement to your friends, turning off how Facebook tracks what you read on the internet, or disallowing Facebook from collecting other information about you. You can’t turn them off!

“I have something to share”

Even if you have nothing to hide, you have to worry about the opposite, what Facebook chooses to hide that you want to be shared. They filter you.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you why you’re getting off” usually comes after something like, “didn’t you see my post last week?”

If you’ve ever had that conversation, you’ve noticed that there’s a big disconnect between your expectations when you communicate on Facebook and what really happens. Basically, Facebook filters out your posts based on whether or not people will use Facebook more if they don’t see it.

It feels like Facebook is the only way to stay in touch. Through pictures and comments. It feels like everyone’s on there and you’re getting a good feed on their life.

In reality, lots of your posts are never seen by anyone! And you miss out on their stuff too. Even if your friends’ stuff gets to you fine, it doesn’t mean your stuff gets to them.

Private messages suck too. How many Facebook messages do you send with no reply? How many Facebook messages do you think you forget to get back to, or miss altogether? Is that how you want to treat your friends?

Facebook a really unreliable way to stay in touch.

In the last month, I simply stopped using Facebook. Something amazing happened. People phoned me, and we really caught up. My family was more in touch. My brother emailed me with updates. Friends popped into my place to say hi.

It was, like, social.

Political censorship

Facebook’s blocks posts based on political content it doesn’t like. They blocked posts about Fergusson and other political protests. When Zuckerberg alledgedly went a bit nuts and banned the word “privacy” from meetings at Facebook, it was also blocked from any Facebook post. You just got an error message about “inappropriate content”. Yeah, uh huh. Inappropriate for who?

We shouldn’t be surprised though. Facebook isn’t a neutral platform - we need be aware of the agendas of the people behind it. Zuckerberg’s been public about his intentions. So has the first board member of Facebook - the politically conservative Peter Thiel. In his younger years, he wrote a book challenging multi-culturalism at Stanford, and now promotes a theory called Memetic Desire which, among other positive things, can also use people’s social groups to manipuate their wants and intentions. (I’m a fan of Thiel when it comes to startups - but we often forget that everyone else out there doesn’t know this stuff.)

Facebook goes so far as to let political organisations block your communication. It just takes a few people to mark the same news article as offensive, and it drops from everyone’s feed. This is often abused. I can block any article from Facebook by getting a few friends to mark it as offensive. Cheap and easy censorship.

All this points to the fact that it’s bad to rely on Facebook to communicate with people who are important to you. Your Facebook habit means other people have to rely on Facebook.

It’s a vicious cycle.

It actually hurts your relationships with a lot of people because you think you’re in touch with them, but you’re not. At best, you’re in touch with a filtered version of your friends. Those relationships fade, while your relationships with people who make “Facebook-friendly” posts take their place.

Not only does Facebook want to read all your communication, it wants to control it too.

Ratting on your friends

Even if you’re sort of okay with this for you, by using Facebook, you’re forcing your friends and family to accept the same. Even the ones who aren’t on Facebook or go as far as to use fake names.

If you’ve ever used Facebook contact sync, or used Facebook on your mobile phone, Facebook took your complete contact list. Real names, phone numbers, addresses, emails, everything. They then use that to create “shadow profiles” of the people you know who aren’t on Facebook. Non Facebook users often see this in action, in the form of emails to them from Facebook, containing their personal information. Facebook users can see this when they upload a picture of a non-Facebook user, and they’re automatically tagged. My friend’s not on Facebook, but since me and a few friends used Facebook on our phones, Facebook has his name and contact information, plus knows who his friends are because it sees him in their address book and calling records. A couple of pictures uploaded with his face, and presto - they can identify him in pictures – adding location data from the pictures to his shadow profile. Lots of Facebook’s other techniques work on shadow profiles too. On top of all this, they can very accurately infer a lot about him based on statistical similarities to his friends.

So basically, we’ve all inadvertantly been ratting on our friends who wanted to remain private. Facebook tricked us.

But Facebook’s tricks go further.

“Privacy” doesn’t apply to what Facebook digs up

Like shadow profiles of people, Facebook can “infer a like” based on other information it has about you, like what you read all over the internet or what you do in apps where you log in with Facebook. Call it a “shadow like.” This allows them to sell you to more advertisers.

It’s already well-documented that Facebook collects this information. The “shadow like” technique is simply the standard use of statistical techniques in database marketing. If you read alot about a topic, you probably like it. That sort of thing. These techniques have used in marketing since the 80s, and you can hire university statistics students to do them, though of course, Facebook hires the best in the field and are looking to pioneer state-of-the-art artificial intelligence for this. In Europe, Facebook is legally oblidged to share exactly what information it has about you - but they refuse. So there’s yet another class action lawsuit against them.

Permission

Through it’s labyrinth of re-definitions of words like “information”, “content” and “data”, you’re allowing Facebook to collect all kinds of information about you and expose that to advertisers. With your permission only they say, but the definition of “permission” includes using apps and who knows what else.

And you thought those Farmville requests were annoying. Every time you saw one, that friend was revealing your information to “third parties.”

So effectively, all that stuff you marked as “friends only” doesn’t matter so much. By being on Facebook, there’s way more information about you that’s collected, combined, shared, and used.

They say they “anonymise” this, but in reality, it’s a simple step to de-anonymise it. A lot of the anonymous data, like what and when you posted, pictures of you, your location at a given time, is enough for a huge number of companies to tie that anonymous data back to you – and sell it on.

On top of this, they allow all the Facebook apps full access to your information - with your name and everything. And even if you never use any apps on Facebook, your friends do. When they use apps, your friends share all your information for you. There’s a whole industry behind this.

Some things DO have off buttons, but keep in mind they are temporary, and as Facebook has done in the past, it will switch them back on without letting you know. When Facebook started (and probably when you joined) it was clearly a safe place to share with your friends only. That was their big promise. Over time, they switched the default privacy setting to public so that if you still wanted to keep Facebook for friends only, you had to manually find over 100 settings on multiple hidden settings pages. Then, they started dropping those settings and forced information to be public anyway.

Why are you still punching yourself? :)

You might have noticed Facebook ads with your friends’ endorsement under it. Basically, Facebook gives advertisers the right to use you as an endorser, but you have no control over it. It’s not limited to when you’ve actually clicked a like button. There have been known cases of vegetarians endorsing McDonalds, a long- and happily-married woman endorsing dating sites, and even a young boy endorsing a sex club to his own mother!

Those cases were so embarrasing that the person found out. People called them up. But in most cases, these are endorsements that don’t get discovered – people assume them to be true. That’s even scarier because Facebook is used heavily for political advertising, and product endorsements. People know I raised money for kids with cancer before, so they might not be surprised if they see an ad where I’m endorsing a Christian outreach programme poor kids in Africa. But I categorically only support programmes that don’t have religious allegiances, since they’re known to bias their support to people who convert. Worse, a lot of people might assume things about my religious beliefs based on these false endorsements. Don’t even get me started on all the hypey startup stuff I don’t condone!

Abusing your friends’ trust in you

We can have no idea if our endorsement has been used to sell flakey crap in our name. I don’t want to think about my mom wasting her money on something she thought I was endorsing, or my startup founder clients seeing adverts for useless products with my face under them.

Using Facebook means this happens all the time. Advertisers can buy your endorsement on Facebook and your information from third-party data brokers. You never get to know about it, and you can’t turn it off.

The latest privacy change

Finally, I want to explain how this latest privacy change makes things way worse, and way more out of your control if you stay on Facebook.

Facebook is demanding to track what you buy, and your financial information like bank account and credit card numbers. You’ve already agreed to it in the new Terms Of Service. It’s already started sharing data with Mastercard. They’ll use the fact that you stayed on Facebook as “permission” to make deals with all kinds of banks and financial institutions to get your data from them. They’ll call it anonymous, but like they trick your friends to reveal your data to the third-parties with apps, they’ll create loopholes here too.

Facebook is also insisting to track your location via your phone’s GPS, everywhere and all the time. It’ll know extactly who you spend your time with. They’ll know your habits, they’ll know when you call in sick at work, but are really out bowling. “Sal likes 2pm Bowling at Secret Lanes.” They’ll know if you join an addict support group, or go to a psychiatrist, or a psychic, or a mistress. They’ll know how many times you’ve been to the doctor or hospital, and be able to share that with prospective insurers or employers. They’ll know when you’re secretly job hunting, and will sell your endorsement for job sites to your friends and colleagues – you’ll be revealed.

They’ll know everything that can be revealed by your location, and they’ll use it however they want to make a buck.

And – it’ll all be done retrospectively. If you stay on Facebook past January 30th, there’s nothing stopping all of your past location and financial data to get used. They’ll get your past location data from when your friends checked-in with you, and the GPS data stored in photos of you. They’ll pull your old financial records - that embarrasing medicine you bought with your credit card 5 years ago will be added to your profile to be used as Facebook chooses. It will be sold again and again, and likely used against you. It will be shared with governments and be freely available from loads of “third-party” companies who do nothing but sell personal data, and irreversibly eliminate your privacy.

This is irreversible now.

Location and financial data are not just really sensitive, they allow the “third-parties” de-anonymise information about you. This massively empowers these third-parties to collect all avaiable information about you, including calculated information that you never revealed. This is a situation where even Facebook itself will have trouble maintaining the privacy of its data – not that they care.

This is unprecedented, and just like you’d never have guessed that Facebook would sell your endorsements when you signed up in 2009, it’s too hard to predict what Facebook and those third-party data sellers will do with this new power.

This is simply a consequence of their business model. Facebook sells you out, because that’s exactly how they make money. And they’re under heavy pressure from their investors to make more.

What can you do about this? Facebook gives you two options: accept all of this, or get off the Facebook bus.

To be honest, this bus is getting loud, annoying and bit smelly, isn’t it? And the ticket is way too expensive in the first place. You know, I’m not even sure it’s heading in the right direction…

How to get out of this mess

According to the FTC settlement from a few years ago, after Facebook was sued by the US goverment for its privacy practices, Facebook is “required to prevent anyone from accessing a user’s material more than 30 days after the user has deleted his or her account;”

There are different interpretations of this. Some say you need to delete each post separately, others say delete your account, and some say they’ll still keep your data anyway – that all you can do is stop giving them more data.

I’m going to do both as a precaution. There are a few helpful browser add-ons that will delete your posts individually, which I’m running now but needs some baby-sitting to keep running. And some great instructions on actually deleting your account while Facebook tries to trick you into deactivating it instead.

Then there are all the apps you’ve used. This is one of Facebook’s best loopholes because they say they can’t control what the apps do with your data once you give it to them. So, I’ve saved the settings page that shows what apps I’ve used onto my hard drive, and removed access to each of them manually. Each of those apps have their own privacy policy – most of them are a lost cause, claiming unlimited rights to my data, so I’m just shutting them down and moving on.

To stop Facebook from tracking what I read on the web, (they do this even if you don’t have a Facebook account) I’ve installed ~~ Ghostery.~~ It’s been pointed out to me that Ghostery provides information to advertising networks if you enable GhostRank, and have been recommended Privacy Badger or disconnect.me instead. (And while you’re at it, the EFF made this great plugin that automatically chooses the most secure web connection, making it more difficult for governements and ISPs to snoop your web activity.)

I used Facebook’s archive found under general settings. (It includes pictures, but not full size.)

I also downloaded my friends page - just by scrolling to the bottom to load everyone, and hitting File -> Save. (Honestly, so far I haven’t needed the file yet.)

I considered a bunch of Facebook alternatives, and might end up on Diaspora but email and phone have actually been much better! After a month off Facebook, I don’t feel the need for a direct replacement. The phone - go figure. Everyone already has one, and we forget how super easy and convenient they are to use. I see fewer pictures, but I actually talk to people.

If you have any other ideas or advice, please get in touch. This is what I see as a responsible step to prevent myself, my family and my friends from having their freedom taken from them, and their personal relationships made to suffer.

Remember, this isn’t just about the technical stuff. By staying on Facebook, you’re granting them permmission to collect and use information about you, regardless of you even using the Internet. And by staying on, the data they collect on you gets used to create models about your closest friends and family, even the ones who opted out.

The Internet doesn’t equal spying

Lastly, the world is full of people who say “it’ll never happen”, and when it does, they switch to “there’s nothing we can do.” There is. The Internet was decentralised for 50 years, and is full of options, by design, that allow us to maintain privacy. We have a say in the world we want to live in – if we take action ourselves. Plus, we can help everyone understand, and help them make their own choices more informed.

This post has been read by 1,000,000 people now. It’s a positive sign that we can inform and educate ourselves!

Please share this with people who are important to you. But to be honest, even though this post is really popular, it’s clear a lot of people are assuming what’s in it. Sharing a link isn’t as good as talking to someone.

If you got this far and want to share it with someone close, I suggest you do what I did – pick up the phone.

A question for you

Sources

A note on the quality of these sources: I tried to find references from major news outlets, with a range of political biases. These articles are less technically aware, but we can expect they’re more rigorous than blogs at checking their sources. For the more technical stuff, sources like The Register are known to be more credible, and Techcrunch is notoriously unreliable at fact-checking. I’ve included some of their articles though, because they’re good at explaining things.

Facebook likes reveal sensitive personal information eff.org

Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior pnas.org 
table of top likes

New Facebook Policies Sell Your Face And Whatever It Infers forbes.com

You are what you Facebook Like washingtonpost.com

Criticism of Facebook - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia en.wikipedia.org

Facebook stallman.org

Forcing users onto Messenger huffingtonpost.com

Permissions telegraph.co.uk

WhatsApp hackread

Europe vs Facebook irishtimes.com

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/05/01/a_developer_tool_so_users_can_log_in_with_facebook_but_stay_anonymous.html

http://europe-v-facebook.org./EN/Objectives/objectives.html

Facebook info sharing created Zoosk.com dating profile for married woman cbc.ca

@facebook.com e-mail plague chokes phone address books arstechnica.com

Facebook Knows Your Friends—Even if They’re Not on Facebook - IEEE Spectrum spectrum.ieee.org

Facebook Now Wants To ‘Spy’ On Android Phone Users! efytimes.com

Facebook adds naggy “ask” button to profile pages arstechnica.com

Facebook users unwittingly revealing intimate secrets, study finds theguardian.com

Facebook’s Generation Y nightmare theguardian.com

Facebook Knows Your Friends—Even if They’re Not on Facebook - IEEE Spectrum spectrum.ieee.org

Facebook’s New Privacy Rules Clear the Way for Payments Push and Location-Based Ads recode.net

Dutch Regulator Investigates Facebook’s Privacy Policy bits.blogs.nytimes.com

Facebook prunes its privacy policy, lays groundwork for location-based ads - GeekWire geekwire.com

Stalking on Facebook Is Easier Than You Think - IEEE Spectrum spectrum.ieee.org

Millions Will Flow to Privacy Groups Supporting Weak Facebook Settlement | WIRED wired.com

Facebook Is Recycling Your Likes To Promote Stories You’ve Never Seen To All Your Friends forbes.com

Is Facebook damaging your reputation with sneaky political posts? | ZDNet zdnet.com

Even Google won’t be around for ever, let alone Facebook theguardian.com

Facebook reforms user settings dailyemerald.com

Facebook Privacy: A Bewildering Tangle of Options - Graphic - NYTimes.com nytimes.com

Corrupt Personalization blogs.law.harvard.edu

Facebook is not your friend theguardian.com

Facebook violates German law, Hamburg data protection official says | Sci-Tech | DW.DE | 02.08.2011 dw.de

The World from Berlin: ‘Every User Can Decide Alone What Facebook Knows’ - SPIEGEL ONLINE spiegel.de

Q&A: Facebook privacy changes bbc.co.uk

Famous Facebook Flip-Flops pcworld.com

No Death, No Taxes - The New Yorker newyorker.com

Facebook censors political satire after complaint from JobCentre Plus tompride.wordpress.com

TED: The curly fry conundrum: Why social media “likes” say more than you might think tedtranscripts.blogspot.com

With friends like these … Tom Hodgkinson on the politics of the people behind Facebook theguardian.com

Facebook Must Face Lawsuit Over Scanning of Users’ Messages, Judge Says recode.net

How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did forbes.com

War on General Purpose Computers is the difference between utopia and dystopia boingboing.net

Don’t Worry About Selling Your Privacy To Facebook. I Already Sold It For You | Just Well Mixed jasonlefkowitz.net

Facebook’s Hidden “Like” Isn’t Just Good For Mobile Developers, It’s Good For Facebook techcrunch.com

Mastercard to access Facebook data theage.com.au

Three transactions can reveal your identity pcworld.idg.com.au

Look who’s lurking around your Facebook page: Your insurance company! insure.com

NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others theguardian.com

Everything We Know About What Data Brokers Know About You propublica.org

Source: salimvirani.com
 
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