It may be the case that you chose your Internet browser because you liked the way it looked, or thought it was faster than the rest.
Your choice, however, could reveal much more.
According to a new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, those who use Firefox or Chrome are more likely to remain in their jobs than Safari or Explorer users.
Professor Adam Grant used research conducted by Michael Housman, which involved 30,000 customer service agents. It found that employees who used Firefox or Chrome remained at their posts 15% longer than those who used Safari or Explorer.
A second test found that Firefox and Chrome users were 19 per cent less likely to miss work, and had higher sales and shorter call times.
Firefox has blocked all versions of Flash player
Their customers were also happier. Ninety days from the start of their job, the Firefox and Chrome users had higher customer satisfaction than Safari and Explorer users had after 120 days.
Professor Grant suggests that making the effort to download Firefox or Chrome, which are not pre-installed on PCs or Macs, shows resourcefulness and initiative.
Mr Housman told Freakonomics Radio that ‘the fact that you took the time to install Firefox on your computer shows us something about you.’
Everything we know about Apple’s Amazon Echo competitor
For almost a decade now—since the first iPhone popularized the smartphone and basically saved the computer industry from stagnation—people have been wondering what the next major device would be that would offer the same paradigm shift in computing.
Some thought it would be tablets, but those turned out to be evolutionary products instead of revolutionary: they fulfilled many of the tasks our smartphones and laptops already could. Next up was wearable technology. Wearable tech launched into the limelight with the now-failed Google Glass line of eyewear and it hasn’t fared much better now that the smartwatch has taken up the mantra.
Apple Watch Sales have been lackluster—and by all reports the Apple Watch is the most popular smartwatch. Next up was VR tech, which legitimately looks to be more of a bigger hitter as far as new device technology goes than wearables. But VR tech still requires bulky headsets, which limits their usefulness and practicalities to the areas of industry, medicine, and gaming (that last of which is an area they will be truly revolutionary).
So if none of those things will be the next big device that changes the way people compute and will be as prolific as the laptops on our desks and the smartphones in our pockets, what will? It will most likely be smart speakers with a digital artificially intelligent assistant living inside them. These devices have all the qualities necessary to radically alter the way we interact with the computer and the Internet at home. And that’s exactly why Amazon has been working on its Echo for years and Google is launching its Home smart speaker later this year.
Smart speakers like Echo and Home allow users to perform tasks they would usually need to tap away at their computer for by simply using their voice. The AI’s that power smart speakers—especially the one shown off in Google’s Home—have gotten so advanced it can follow multiple queries along the length of a conversation; it’s no longer limited to answering one plainly-spoken question at a time.
Siri is about to get A LOT better as well. According to Tech Insider, Apple has acquired VocalIQ, a UK based company, who’s technology makes Google Now and Cortana’s voice recognition look practically remedial. VocalIQ’s technology can not only better understand what you’re saying, but it can also understand and remember context like, for example, if you’re a vegetarian.
It can also handle multi-layered queries: “For example, imagine asking a computer to ‘Find a nearby Chinese restaurant with open parking and WiFi that’s kid-friendly.’ That’d trip up most assistants, but VocalIQ could handle it. The result? VocalIQ’s success rate was over 90%, while Google Now, Siri, and Cortana were only successful about 20% of the time,” said the report.
It added: “VocalIQ remembers context forever, just like a human can. That’s a massive breakthrough. Let’s go back to the Chinese restaurant example. What if you change your mind an hour later? Simply saying something like ‘Find me a Mexican restaurant instead,’ will bring you new results, while still taking into account the other parameters like parking and WiFi you mentioned before. Hound, Siri, and any other assistant would make you start the search session over again. But Vocal IQ remembers. That’s more human-like than anything available today.”
Think of the Scarlett Johansson-voiced “Samantha” AI assistant from the 2013 film Her or JARVIS from the Iron Man movies. Assistants like those who can carry out complicated or time consuming tasks that you can command with just your voice—and speak to them as you would another human being, using natural language—will indeed represent a paradigm shift in computing.
So the question is: where is Apple in all of this? Well, it turns out, if the latest rumors are to be believed, Apple has been preparing for this paradigm shift for years and the Siri we have in our iPhone right now is nothing compared to the Siri they have been working on behind the scenes that will power their Amazon Echo competitor. Here’s everything we know about it so far…
It will be open to third party developers According to the Information, which broke news of the unannounced device, Apple isn’t going to mess up the product by keeping it off limits from developers.
“Apple is upping its game in the field of intelligent assistants. After years of internal debate and discussion about how to do so, the company is preparing to open up Siri to apps made by others. And it is working on an Amazon Echo-like device with a speaker and microphone that people can use to turn on music, get news headlines or set a timer.
Opening up its Siri voice assistant to outside app developers is the more immediate step. Apple is preparing to release a software developer kit, or SDK, for app developers who want their apps to be accessible through Siri, according to a person with direct knowledge of the effort.”
The Information reports that this SDK could be announced as in few as two weeks, which is when WWDC begins.
Apple’s Siri Speaker might have facial recognition tech A report from CNET says Apple’s Siri Speaker could have a camera or cameras in addition to a microphone to detect users in a room. “The device would be ‘self aware’ and detect who is in the room using facial recognition technology. That would let the device automatically pull up a person's preferences, such as the music and lighting they like, the sources said.”
CNET goes on to say the hardware could be released by year's end, but a 2017 launch is more likely. The site’s sources cautioned, however, that Apple could kill the device before it ever launches.
The new Siri AI could be powered by tech from a company Apple bought in 2015 Last year Apple acquired a UK-based company called VocalIQ. The company was reportedly working on a digital assistant app that was so good it put not just Siri to shame, but Google Now, Microsoft Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa too. Matter of fact it was so good Apple bought the company before they ever released the product. Now TechInsider is saying that VocalIQ’s tech will be the backbone of the new Siri AI—and it’s perfect for a device with no screen:
“Because VocalIQ understands context so well, it essentially eliminates the need to look at a screen for confirmation that it’s doing what you want it to do. That’s useful on the phone, but could be even better for other ambitious projects like the car or smart speaker system Apple is reportedly building. (VocalIQ was being pitched as a voice-controlled AI platform for cars before Apple bought the company.) In fact, VocalIQ only considers itself a success when the user is able to complete a task without looking at a screen. Siri, Google Now, and Cortana often ask you to confirm tasks by tapping on the screen.”
Urgent action is needed to deal with the UK's digital skills crisis, warn MPs, or it risks damaging the country's productivity and competitiveness.
It is thought 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills, while 5.8 million have never used the internet at all. "Stubborn digital exclusion and systemic problems" with education and training need to be urgently addressed, the report said. It urged the government's digital strategy to be published without delay.
The report found that:
22% of IT equipment in schools is ineffective
Just 35% of computer science teachers had a relevant qualification
Only 70% of the required number of computer science teachers have been recruited
The UK needs another 745,000 workers with digital skills by 2017
90% of jobs require digital skills to some degree
Skills gap costs economy around £63bn a year in lost income
"Digital exclusion has no place in 21st Century Britain," the Commons Science and Technology Committee said."While the government is to be commended for the actions taken so far... stubborn digital exclusion and systemic problems withdigital education and training need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in the government's forthcoming digital strategy," it continued.
The report calls for businesses to invest more and better training at all levels of education.
"The UK leads Europe on tech, but we need to take concerted action to avoid falling behind. We need to make sure tomorrow's workforce is leaving school or university with the digital skills that employers need," said the committee's chairwoman, Nicole Blackwood.
In response a government spokesperson said: "This government recognises the crucial role digital skills play in our society and economy. Our Digital Strategy, to be published shortly, will set out how we will help employers and individuals access the tools they need to power our digital economy.
"This will make sure we are well placed to remain a tech leader in Europe. We will consider the Select Committee's report and respond in due course," they added.
What is a digital skill?
The Science and Technology Committee says there is no single definition but is generally understood to be the ability to use computers and digital devices to access the internet, the ability to code or create software and the ability to critically evaluate media, and "to navigate knowingly through the negative and positive elements of online activity and make informed choices about the content and services they use".
Amazon is launching a full online supermarket service in the UK.
From Thursday, Amazon Prime customers in central and east London will be able to order a full weekly shop and get it delivered the same day.
It plans to roll the deliveries out further across the UK, but has not set a specific date. "We are launching with a comprehensive offer in a limited area and will take our time to hone our service," said Ajay Kavan from
That service has been running in the US since 2007. Can Amazon win over grocery customers? Amazon UK has so far sold only a very limited amount of fresh food through its Prime Now service. It also sells long-life products such as cereals, pasta and nappies.
According to retail expert Bryan Roberts, from TCC Global, although Thursday's launch is limited to 69 postcodes in London, it will be the last thing the big four grocers - and Ocado - wanted to hear. "While there is no cast-iron guarantee of success... I'm tempted to believe that we'll look back on today as something of a disruptive game-changer up there with the entry of Aldi and Lidl," he said. Amazon recently did a deal with Morrisons, making hundreds of products available through its website. This is now being increased and food from other suppliers will also be on offer. It means that customers will be able to shop from 130,000 products, including fresh fruit and vegetables, at prices which Amazon claims will be more competitive than the main grocers. It will also offer specialty food from 50 local suppliers. "Convenience, ultra-competitive pricing and customer service will find favour with urban shoppers and will heap immediate pressure on retailers that do sizeable business in the capital. The model is scalable and the popularity of the Amazon Prime ecosystem around the UK will mean that it will find a receptive audience," said Mr Roberts. Amazon will also offer food from local suppliers
Amazon has built a behemoth around easy, one-stop shopping. Food is one of its final frontiers and unlike the established players, it does not seem too concerned about profits, in the short term at least. Its focus will be building market share.
"The market has been waiting for the arrival of AmazonFresh for a very long time. There has been endless speculation about what it might entail," said Adam Leyland, editor of the Grocer magazine. The service will not be free. You have to be a member of Amazon Prime as well as pay a flat fee of £6.99 a month. "In a well established online grocery market like the UK, that's a lot more realistic than the US proposition, with its annual sign-on fee of several hundred dollars," added Mr Leyland.
The smartphone market has reached technical maturity and there's not really that much left to argue about cellphones
So, BlackBerry 10 is as dead as a can of Spam, Windows Phone is rapidly following it into the dustbin of tech history, and the only real choice in mobile today is between Google's Android and Apple's iOS (which is also, notably, losing market share). And, let's face it, nothing is likely to come of Canonical's belated Ubuntu phone initiative. But does anybody really care anymore?
In the early days of a new technology it seems like there's something exciting coming out every week. There are worthy debates to be had about technological directions, microprocessors, user interface choices, development languages, everything.
But then, over time, the market sorts out the men/women from the boys/girls (delete as applicable), standards are decided and almost everything begins to look the same.
PCs turn into boring beige boxes all running pretty much the same operating system, smartphones turn into black or white rectangles, again most of them running the same operating system. The radical design of the BlackBerry Passport seems to have been roundly rejected by the market.
That's not to say that the world of smartphones has become entirely moribund. Apple's 64-bit ARM-based microprocessor developments, for example, could lead to genuinely converged platforms, or maybe Microsoft will get there first. But these are somewhat peripheral to the smartphone itself.
Sure, whenever we write about smartphones there are always plenty of fanboys who come out of the woodwork to support their favourite operating system or company, including, quite remarkably, BlackBerry fans. Yes, they're still around. This is an attitude I find mystifying - we're talking about profit-making companies and what are ultimately inanimate tools - but to each their own.
Yet the operating system battles that pitted Symbian and its various derivatives, Apple, Android, FirefoxOS, PalmOS, WebOS, Windows Mobile/Phone and Tizen against each other are as good as over. Quite simply, smartphones have largely ceased to be interesting. What more of consequence is there to say or to obsess over?
Smartphone hardware platforms are all pretty similar, the form factors of the devices are all more or less the same and they all do much the same in pretty much the same way. All the great artists have wisely copied the best from each other.
Sure, if you want the best camera a Microsoft Lumia 950 is terrific, and BlackBerrys remain top-class for email with the Messaging Hub. But whatever feature you want, pretty much any smartphone will do it competently with only the most trivial of operating system twists depending on how much you want to spend. So what's there to get excited about?
All that's left for the fanboys to squabble over is the vanity of petty differences, which perhaps explains why some of them can be so vociferous (or 'passionate', if you prefer). But arguing the toss over smartphones will soon be as big a waste of time as arguing in favour of DR-DOS over MS-DOS.
The tech wagon is already moving on. Indeed soon, perhaps, the fanboys will argue about cloud providers and machine learning, if they can get their heads around it, and debate the various merits of one brand of robots compared with another.
A woman from Cairns, Australia, used Siri to call an ambulance for her one-year-old daughter when she stopped breathing.
Stacey Gleeson grabbed her iPhone and ran to the child's room to help her but dropped it as she turned on the light.
She shouted at the handset to activate Siri and told it to get the emergency services on speakerphone as she began CPR.
Ms Gleeson told the BBC she feels it may have saved her daughter's life.
She instructed Siri to call an ambulance on speakerphone and was able to communicate with the emergency services while resuscitating Giana.
Giana, who had been battling a chest infection and bronchiolitis, was breathing again when the ambulance arrived,
The child made a full recovery and doctors have told Ms Gleeson there was no lasting damage, but that every second had been vital.
It happened in March but the story has now gone viral after Ms Gleeson contacted Apple, who alerted Australian news outlet 7 News.
"As cheesy as it sounds I wanted to say thank you," she told the BBC.
"I've only had the phone since the start of the year.
"I had played around with Siri, I thought it was a fun feature. Now I have that feature turned on all the time and it will never be turned off again."
She had previously used it to call her husband Nic, who is in the Navy, on loudspeaker while getting the children ready for bed.
The function doesn't work on all iPhone models but Ms Gleeson has an iPhone 6S.
She said that even if she hadn't dropped the phone, she may have struggled to dial the number in the heat of the moment. "Saving me the trouble of having to physically dial emergency services was a godsend."
Soon enough, robots may wander permanently in our sewers, just below our homes and neighbourhoods, analyzing our diets and our health as they suck up what we flush down.
It's already started under the streets of Cambridge, Mass., venerable home of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Canadian architect Newsha Ghaeli oversees a team of lab-coated MIT research fellows staring down an open manhole cover into the oozing sludge below. Down there are the answers, and the hope of detecting viral outbreaks long before doctors are even called, using a system of sensors that quickly and inexpensively monitors public health.
Robots like this one are being lowered into city sewers to sample human waste. In doing so, they may be able track people's health and look for diseases in different neighbourhoods. (CBC)
The team works on a project called Underworlds. They lower Luigi — a tube-like robot — to just above the sewage. Then, controlled by a smartphone app, Luigi drops tubes into the stream. A small pump sucks up the liquid and runs it through a filter.
Subsequent analysis in the laboratory typically finds 50,000 different bacteria, a host of viruses and other matter that, until a short time earlier, were inside a person.
"We are learning about the people that live in each of those neighbourhoods," researcher Jessica Snyder explains. The data can provide information about the residents' health habits, nutrition, and their lives.
By the time sewage sludge reaches a treatment plant, it's been watered down and is useless as a sample. But where it exits homes, as much as 70 per cent can be human waste and a rich source of biological information.
Salt intake test
MIT has partnered with Kuwait City in this project. Its residents have some of the highest salt intakes in the world, which can lead to a variety of health problems. The Kuwaiti government is working to change that — but needed a way to measure salt intake honestly and widely. So Luigi analyses poop and — over time — can tell if neighbourhood salt levels are declining.
Salt worse than sugar, says Canada's leading sodium doctor The researchers now run specific projects manually, measuring repeatedly in the same spot over several weeks or months. They need to take the robots back to the lab to analyze the samples.
Newsha Ghaeli robot
Canadian architect Newsha Ghaeli holds the sewer robot Luigi. Once it has been lowered into the sewers, it's controlled by a smartphone app. A small pump sucks up sewage samples and runs them through a filter. (CBC)
In the future, however, they plan to have self-propelled robots with extremely long battery lives, capable of navigating among neighbourhoods, analyzing sewage contents while in the sewer itself and relaying information wirelessly to a central authority.
"One of the holy grails of this project during its inception was to identify viral outbreaks," says Snyder.
Long before people visit a doctor's office, they visit the toilet. So a highly contagious pathogen, such as norovirus or Ebola, could be identified soon after infection — and treatment could be targeted at that neighbourhood.
And once patterns of sickness are visible for certain illnesses, such as the seasonal flu, says Snyder, "medical support would be able to anticipate these outbreaks and help mitigate them."
But the work on virus identification is in its earliest stage. It will be years before science is able to quickly identify specific viral dangers hidden in the mass of excrement, urine and wastewater. Work is being done in New York City and Shanghai to isolate and categorize the thousands of micro-organisms.
Tracking illegal drug use
More immediately though, the city of Boston is now using Luigi (and its predecessor Mario, both named after the protagonists of the sewer-based video game Super Mario Bros.) to identify neighbourhoods where heroin use is spiking. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh then plans to focus law enforcement and health resources on those areas.
Right now, samples need to be brought back to the lab for analysis. But in the future, researchers hope the robots will be able to do the analysis right in the sewers and report back to them wirelessly. (CBC)
In Europe, a continent-wide study of sewage revealed cocaine and ecstasy use was greatest in large cities on weekends, but cannabis and methamphetamine use was more evenly distributed throughout the week.
In Chicago, work is being done on a battery-powered sensor housed inside a suitcase-sized casing that runs DNA amplification reactions. It can search for 385 commonly found organisms — such as different kinds of bacteria, in a single sample of wastewater — and transmit the findings via Bluetooth.
Few cities are using the Smart Sewer technology worldwide, but as the capabilities of robots expand to work longer underground with the ability to rapidly analyse micro-organisms, more are expected to adopt the idea.
Vast distances in space mean speed is essential for exploration beyond our solar system
The announcement this week of a plan to send a fleet of small, light-powered spacecraft to our nearest neighbouring star, Alpha Centauri, shows that starships of the future won't carry hundreds of crew, as they do in science fiction. If you want to go far and fast, you have to go small.
The plan, called Breakthrough Starshot, is being funded by billionaires Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg. Support is coming from astrophysicists Stephen Hawking and Freeman Dyson, who worked on a starship project in the 1970s called Daedalus.
But unlike Daedalus, or fictional starships such as the Enterprise of Star Trek fame, which are huge vessels carrying hundreds of crew, the Breakthrough project involves a fleet of tiny spacecraft. Each one is only a few centimetres across and would be blown across space on a powerful laser beam, like leaves scattered by a leaf blower.
The extremely lightweight craft could potentially reach 20 per cent of the speed of light and arrive at the nearest star to our sun in just two decades.
While this concept has its challenges, such as building the world's most powerful laser, pointing it skyward while telling everyone it's not a space weapon or making sure the high velocity craft are not destroyed by a passing piece of space dust, the idea of sending something very small, very far away, has a lot of merit.
Britain Extraterrestrials Russian tech entrepreneur Yuri Milner wants to deploy thousands of tiny spacecraft to travel to our nearest neighbouring star system. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)
Space is so vast that if you want to go anywhere beyond our solar system, you need to travel extremely quickly.
Otherwise, it will take longer than your lifetime to get there. And when it comes to speed, small, light objects take much less energy to move than massive vessels that have to act as space colonies to keep the crew alive during the voyage.
You can also send a lot of small ones, so if some are lost, the mission can still succeed. A giant starship has all the eggs in one basket, so to speak.
Hard on the human body
The other reason to go small is for the health of the crew.
Astronauts such as Scott Kelly, who just spent a year aboard the International Space Station, have shown that spaceflight is hard on the human body.
Bones lose calcium, the immune system is depressed and vision problems can appear, in addition to the psychological stress of living in a tin can, separated from family, friends and the great outdoors for long periods of time.
Setting out on a journey that would take decades makes little sense from a health point of view. Instead, we can explore remotely, with tiny machines that carry artificial versions of our senses, to find out what's out there.
hi-852-starship-enterprise-rtr1g12y Future long distance space travel is unlikely to look like the Starship Enterprise. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)
So, until faster-than-light travel is invented — which, so far, defies the laws of physics — interstellar ships will be small.
That raises an interesting question: Have other civilizations on other planets come to the same conclusion? Are there fleets of tiny alien spacecraft, wandering among the stars, that are too small for our telescopes to detect?
Maybe tiny alien spaceships do exist
In science fiction, alien spaceships are usually portrayed as large vessels, usually saucer-shaped, that carry strange-looking occupants of some kind.
But from an efficiency standpoint, that is not the best way to explore the galaxy. Perhaps tiny, robot, alien spaceships are passing by all the time, but they are too small to show up in our telescopes or we mistake them for interstellar space dust, micro-meteoroids or small asteroids.
I was thinking about this one warm summer evening, when a small insect began buzzing around my head. At one point, it hovered motionless right in front of my face, then made a series of very precise motions involving 90-degree angles.
I wondered, "Is this an alien spaceship checking me out?"
123456 is tops again, but lots of new entries are longer or Star Wars themed
If your password is on this list, you better change it ASAP. The 25 worst passwords of 2015 have been released by Los Gatos, Calif.-based SplashData.
The company, which makes password management software, compiles the annual list from the most common passwords leaked online each year — more than two million in 2015.
Fake answers make online security questions less secure Think 1qaz2wsx is a strong password? Think again. It's based on the first two columns of keys on a standard keyboard, and it made No. 15 on this year's list.
It was among several new and longer passwords on the list for the first time, along with qwertyuiop and 1234567890. They suggest users and websites may be making more of an effort to make their passwords more secure, SplashData said.
"But they are each based on simple patterns that would be easily guessable by hackers," the company added in a news release, making their extra length "virtually worthless as a security measure."
Of course, not everyone is even making an effort.
The password 123456 and "password" itself remain the top two commonly used passwords, respectively – as they have every year since SplashData started compiling the annual list in 2011.
"Baseball" and "football" both made the top 10, as usual, but football (#7, up from #10) overtook baseball (#10, down from #8) in popularity.
Three new popular passwords on the list may be blamed, in part, on this year's release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens: starwars, solo and princess.
"As we see on the list, using common sports and pop culture terms is also a bad idea," SplashData CEO Morgan Slain said in a statement.
Three other new appearances were welcome, login and passw0rd.
Passwords: 7 ways to make them stronger
Here's the complete list, along with each word's place last year in brackets:
Facebook founder's privacy breach demonstrates how bad many of us are at keeping data protected
Even tech billionaires get hacked sometimes.
Case in point — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's Twitter and Pinterest accounts were recently compromised.
And according to CBC Radio technology columnist Dan Misener, it's a cautionary tale for all of us.
How did Mark Zuckerberg get hacked?
You might remember that back in May, LinkedIn confirmed that more than 100 million passwords had been leaked.
If you have an account on LinkedIn, you might have received an email about this. And it seems Mark Zuckerberg's LinkedIn password was part of the breach.
According to the group claiming responsibility for the hack, his password was pretty weak — "dadada." It was known that he'd recently become a father, so that's not a hard password to guess.
So it seems hackers were able to gain control of his Twitter and Pinterest accounts, by using that same password.
The implication is that Mark Zuckerberg, like many of us, used the same password for a number of different sites and services.
Are there other password leaks we should be worried about?
During the same weekend news broke about the Zuckerberg hack, news emerged that the social network VK was also hacked, and 100 million passwords were leaked. VK isn't big in here in Canada, but it is the largest social network in Europe, and it's especially popular in Russia.
These VK passwords were reportedly stored in plain text, with no encryption. And that leak gives us some interesting insight into the kinds of passwords people choose.
Spoiler alert: most people's passwords are not very strong.
The most popular leaked password was "123456." The second most popular password was "123456789." And in the third spot: "qwerty."
Another major breach came to light in May, when the website LeakedSource — which maintains a searchable database of leaked records — said more than 360 million MySpace accounts were being shopped around on dark web marketplaces.
Once again, the Myspace breach gives us a peek into our collective bad password hygiene. Among the most popular passwords were "password1," "abc123," and the ubiquitous "123456."
I'm not Mark Zuckerberg and I don't use LinkedIn. Do I need to worry about these breaches?
Yes. Even if you're not a high-profile target like Mark Zuckerberg, and even if your own personal password never gets leaked, these types of data breaches affect us all.
When millions of passwords get leaked — as we've seen with LinkedIn and MySpace and VK — that information helps hackers get better at their jobs, according to Carleton University computer science professor Anil Somayaji.
"In order to crack passwords, they have to guess passwords," he said.
"What's the best way of guessing a password, other than having examples of passwords? It's no question that these big data dumps teach the password crackers what kind of passwords people pick."
So even if your personal details aren't leaked, these massive data breaches have negative security consequences for everyone, because it's one more tool in the hackers' toolkit.
How do I know if my password has been part of a leak?
There are tools out there that can help with this. My favourite is a site called HaveIBeenPwned.com.
It's a searchable database of accounts that have been compromised in data breaches. You go to the website, enter your email address or username, and it searches through almost a billion records of accounts that have been leaked.
What I like most about the site is that it has an option to notify you about future breaches. So if, for instance, next month there's a major data breach of a social network, and your account is part of it, they'll email to let you know. And that, of course, is a good indication you should change your password immediately.
What can I do to keep my accounts safe?
It seems that Mark Zuckerberg's Pinterest and Twitter accounts got hacked because he used the same weak password across more than one site. So rule number one: don't re-use passwords. You want a unique password for every site and service you use.
Second, Anil Somayaji suggests that you turn on two-factor authentication for your most important accounts.
That may involve, for example, entering a code that's sent to you by text message along with your usual username and password combination.
"Do it for the ones that you really care about — your email accounts, which are generally the foundation of your online identity, and your financial institutions," he recommends.
Finally, you want a good strong password. That means easy for you to remember, difficult for someone else to guess.