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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 7th Dec 2015

2015 in binary - 11111011111 - will be the last of its kind for over 30 years....

2015 is the last binary palindrome year we’ll have until 2047, so enjoy it!

Last year was so 11111011110. That’s 2014 in binary, and it looks, well, a little unbalanced. This year though? Behold the beauty of 2015:

11111011111

How symmetrical! How elegant! It reads the same way forwards and backwards! It’s a palindrome!

So live it up. Enjoy the harmony, the balance, and the forward/reverse/any-which-way of it all. Here’s to 11111011111. May life’s joys be ones and life’s troubles be zeros for you and yours.

Source: mentalfloss.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 2nd Dec 2015

UK companies have started to realise how vulnerable they really are in the wake of numerous data breaches over the past few years, none more so than the recent hack of TalkTalk.

Customer data, business reputation and even high-level jobs are at risk from sophisticated hackers, and firms now understand the need to tighten security or face mass data theft and potential financial ruin.

But will this drive an influx of investment into cyber security? It took a number of successive breaches on our own shores before UK firms properly took note, according to a number of security experts, despite major breaches at the likes of the US Office of

Instead, it was the hack on mobile and internet provider TalkTalk which experts agree has left a lasting impression on business leaders in the UK.

"The TalkTalk data breach has certainly forced boardrooms to look at their cyber security strategy and question if they are properly equipped," Bharat Mistry, cyber security consultant at Trend Micro, told V3.

"When the CEO of TalkTalk had to face the media, it was distressing to see that she did not know the extent of the breach. She was unsure of what systems were breached, or the type and amount of data affected. The negative media coverage has been a big factor in companies looking at security, and no business wants to be the next TalkTalk."

Five arrests have been made since the hack in October that resulted in the loss of sensitive customer records, including names, addresses, email addresses and partial credit card details.

Focused minds
David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, told V3 that the scale of the breach and the fall out has "definitely focused minds" at other firms.

"Companies now realise that the most worrying aspect of the TalkTalk case is that it didn't take much effort to breach its security," he said.
"The consensus is that, while nobody can be 100 percent protected, nobody should be vulnerable to trivial and unsophisticated attacks."

Mark James, a security specialist at ESET, agreed that the breach at TalkTalk was a wake-up call for UK firms. "Companies large and small now realise that it is a very real threat and they need to take measures to protect themselves," he told V3.

"Often only when it hits the headlines do companies look and listen and make significant changes because most of the time these big companies are overseas. TalkTalk in the UK is a lot closer to home [but] making companies look at their security and procedures in case of a breach can only be a good thing."

Andy Herrington, head of cyber professional services at Fujitsu, also agreed with this assetment, nothing that the firm has had more conversation about security since the breach took place.
"I can honestly say that since TalkTalk we have had more and higher level conversations at C-level. There's always some amount of finger pointing but they are not going to be an isolated case. It's very easy to point the finger but it's yet another company that has been damaged and that can't be good for any economy," he said at a roundtable event attended by V3.
"People are thinking ‘I don't want to have to make those calls' and actually the conversation has changed for the better in the UK since TalkTalk. It was the catalyst that has changed [attitudes] and that's got to be a good thing."


Making the case for cyber investment
One aspect of this rising threat of breaches is the realisation that the problem is no longer confined to the IT department and upper management must take an interest.

"Only when cyber security becomes a board-level issue will businesses be one step ahead of hackers," Richard Olver, EMEA vice president at security firm Tanium, told V3.

"The simplest questions are often the hardest to answer, which is why cyber security strategy has to permeate all business levels including, and especially, the board.

"How many companies can correctly answer ‘How many computers are on the network?', ‘What applications are running on my computers?', ‘What is the vulnerability and patch status across all my devices?'. Until they can, risk will prevail."
Olver explained that hackers are not becoming more sophisticated but that weak business security strategies make it easier for criminals to get in.

Spend, but spend wisely
So will UK firms now throw more money at cyber crime protection?
"Major breaches generate motivation and excuses. Spending isn't the same thing as investment, and excuses don't prevent breaches," said Tim Erlin, director of security and product management at Tripwire.
"There's little doubt that a significant breach affects security investment, and it's not always new product purchases. If you find yourself explaining why your organisation can't be the next TalkTalk, pause and examine whether you're making excuses or describing actual defences you have in place."
Kaspersky's Emm mirrored this statement, saying that spending is important but that combating cyber crime is "not always about money".
"The TalkTalk CEO said that the company didn't know what data was encrypted, and knowing information of this sort doesn't have a price in the way that purchasing and deploying hardware or software does. The key, therefore, is to have a risk assessment and strategy in place," he said.
Indeed, given all the awareness that's now out there from the recent breaches, there is now no excuse for a company to claim that it was not prepared for a cyber hit, according to Fraser Kyne, principal systems engineer at Bromium.
"The TalkTalk incident has been a wake-up call for people. But it's not the first. Certainly it will provide a clear message to chief execs that if something like this happens they can expect to be paraded in front of a voracious media - and they'd better have some good answers to some tough questions," he told V3.
Fending off cyber crime is more important than ever for UK firms, and the hackers will not relent. Most recently, toy manufacturer VTech was hit with a breach that resulted in the loss of up to five million customer records.
V3 heard last week from some leading security at major organisations about the most important steps to take to protect data, with most urging firms to focus on protecting their 'crown jewels', in order to minimise their risk.

Source: v3.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 2nd Dec 2015

The widespread use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems by UK police forces represents one of the largest surveillance systems in the world, but lacks any legal framework or governance.

This was the warning from Tony Porter, the UK’s surveillance camera commissioner, during a speech at Stirling University.
"ANPR in the UK must surely be one of the largest data gatherers of its citizens in the world," he said.

There are currently 8,300 ANPR cameras in use submitting 25 to 35 million ‘read’ records to the National ANPR Data Centre daily, but the legal framework governing such mass data collection lacks clarity, which Porter considers a major concern.

“I would like to put forward that the use of ANPR cameras has an extremely unsteady legal framework,” he said.

He noted that there is no law to govern the use of ANPR systems, although this does not necessarily make it illegal. However, attempts to clarify this with the government have not resolved the problem.

“I am not 100 percent clear on this and when I’ve spoken to the Home Office they’ve informed me that ANPR is just another tool in the policing toolkit and does not require a statutory authority," said Porter.

“So, as long as National ANPR Standards and Procedures offers sufficient safeguards to protect against the article 8 right against intrusion into privacy any legal challenge is set to fail. Or is it?”

Porter warned that the sheer scope and scale of the ANPR systems make it one of the "world’s largest non-military surveillance systems" and therefore needs far better rules regarding governance and oversight, none of which has ever existed.

"But who gave their consent to this? Where is the legislation, and where was the debate in parliament? So I argue that some forms of surveillance have no legislative framework whatsoever," he added.

Another area of concern raised by Porter is the huge database of face images that police forces gather with custody photos, often of those who are never charged or are found innocent of any crime.

“In the UK our database is touching 18 million images made up of custody photos. They include photos of people never charged, or others cleared of an offence. Why are these innocent people on these databases? This is something that causes me a great deal of concern.”

Daniel Nesbitt, research director of Big Brother Watch, said it was clear a discussion was needed about the ANPR system as part of the wider debate on surveillance.

“Although ANPR was first installed to tackle specific issues with 350 images now being captured every second it is impossible for motorists to travel without having their details captured and stored, regardless of whether or not they are doing anything wrong," he said.

“An open and honest debate about how this technology is being used as well as how far it invades the privacy of ordinary motorists is now long overdue. For starters we need to see regular reports being published on how the system is being run and exactly what safeguards can be put in place to protect the public.”

The concerns come during a period of intense debate and activity around surveillance as the government looks to introduce new legislation under the Investigatory Powers Bill to better monitor digital data.

Source: v3.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 2nd Dec 2015

Mark Zuckerberg announced Tuesday that he's giving away 99% of his Facebook shares — valued at $45 billion today —during his lifetime.

The Facebook CEO announced the news in a letter to his newborn daughter, Max.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, created the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Its mission mimics much of what Zuckerberg and Chan's donations have focused on in the past: personalized learning, curing diseases, and connecting people.

The move is not surprising given that five years ago Zuckerberg signed the "Giving Pledge" — along with other tech billionaires such as Bill Gates — to give away the majority of his wealth.

Zuckerberg will retain control of the majority of Facebook voting rights for the foreseeable future, and has limited himself to giving away no more than $1 billion in Facebook stock each year for the next three years, according to an SEC filing.

Because of Facebook's unique dual-class structure, where he owns special super voting shares, Zuckerberg can give away ordinary shares of stock while still maintaining majority control of the social network he founded in 2004.

The Facebook CEO announced his donation in a letter to his newborn daughter, Max.

Today your mother and I are committing to spend our lives doing our small part to help solve these challenges. I will continue to serve as Facebook's CEO for many, many years to come, but these issues are too important to wait until you or we are older to begin this work. By starting at a young age, we hope to see compounding benefits throughout our lives.
As you begin the next generation of the Chan Zuckerberg family, we also begin the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation. Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.
We will give 99% of our Facebook shares -- currently about $45 billion -- during our lives to advance this mission. We know this is a small contribution compared to all the resources and talents of those already working on these issues. But we want to do what we can, working alongside many others.
Chan and Zuckerberg made a video before Max was born about their new project.

'Wow'
With the announcement, philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Bono congratulated the young couple on giving away the majority of their money.

Bill and Melinda Gates wrote in a press release:

As for your decision to give back so generously, and to deepen your commitment now, the first word that comes to mind is: Wow. The example you’re setting today is an inspiration to us and the world. We can be confident of this: Max and every child born today will grow up in a world that is better than the one we know now. As you say, 'seeds planted now will grow.' Your work will bear fruit for many decades to come.

Zuckerberg and Chan have already donated more than $1.6 billion to charity in the past decade, including a $100 million gift to the Newark Public School System, a $25 million donation to the CDC to stop the spread of Ebola, and a $120 million commitment to education in the Bay Area.

Bono, the lead singer of U2, said:

In these troubled times, Mark and Priscilla’s announcement today is life-affirming and will be life-changing for tens of millions of people. The scope of their commitment will be stunning to many, but to their friends it is not surprising. This is who they are. Community for Mark and Priscilla isn’t just a word, it’s a core value. I can’t wait to see what they achieve, not just with their wealth, but by their example and with their ingenuity, creativity and vision applied to some of the biggest challenges — and opportunities — of our time.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 30th Nov 2015

Budget-computer company Raspberry Pi has launched a crazily cheap and small new computer.

It's called the Raspberry Pi Zero, and it costs just $5 (£3.30).

It boasts some pretty impressive specs, despite its price point. It comes with a 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, and can output to a 1080p screen using HDMI at 60 frames a second. There is no onboard storage at all, but it comes with a Micro SD card slot so users can pick how much memory they think they need.

To put those figures into context, the iPhone 4 — which launched in 2010 — also had 512MB of RAM, and only had an 800MHz processor.
To actually use this thing, users will need to plug in their own screen, mouse, and keyboard, and by default it runs the operating system Raspbian — a version of Linux. With that done, it would operate much like any "normal" desktop computer.

Its size and cost also makes it an attractive candidate for building DIY "connected" objects. A user could buy a handful and rig them up to various sensors in order to turn their house into a "smart home." Older versions of the Raspberry Pi have been used for exactly this purpose.

"We've gone from the cost of four lattes to the cost of one latte," says Raspberry Pi Trading CEO Eben Upton in a video introducing the device.

In fact, it's so small, and so cheap, that the company is giving it away as a freebie in Magpi, the official Raspberry Pi magazine. "We're the first computer magazine ever to give away a computer as a cover gift," Upton claims.

The first Raspberry Pi was launched in 2012, and the company's mission is to produce low-cost devices to introduce people to the world of computer science. Nominally aimed at kids, the budget computers have become beloved by hobbyists.

"Of all the things we do at Raspberry Pi, driving down the cost of computer hardware remains one of the most important," says a company blog post introducing the Pi Zero. "Even in the developed world, a programmable computer is a luxury item for a lot of people, and every extra dollar that we ask someone to spend decreases the chance that they’ll choose to get involved."

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 30th Nov 2015

A new method of delivering data, which uses the visible spectrum rather than radio waves, has been tested in a working office.

Li-fi can deliver internet access 100 times faster than traditional wi-fi, offering speeds of up to 1Gbps (gigabit per second).

It requires a light source, such as a standard LED bulb, an internet connection and a photo detector.

It was tested this week by Estonian start-up Velmenni, in Tallinn.

Velmenni used a li-fi-enabled light bulb to transmit data at speeds of 1Gbps. Laboratory tests have shown theoretical speeds of up to 224Gbps.

It was tested in an office, to allow workers to access the internet and in an industrial space, where it provided a smart lighting solution.

Speaking to the International Business Times, chief executive Deepak Solanki said that the technology could reach consumers "within three to four years".

How li-fi sends data

The term li-fi was first coined by Prof Harald Haas from Edinburgh University, who demonstrated the technology at a Ted (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in 2011.

His talk, which has now been watched nearly two million times, showed an LED lamp streaming video.

Prof Haas described a future when billions of light bulbs could become wireless hotspots.

One of the big advantages of li-fi is the fact that, unlike wi-fi, it does not interfere with other radio signals, so could be utilised on aircraft and in other places where interference is an issue.

While the spectrum for radio waves is in short supply, the visible light spectrum is 10,000 times larger, meaning it is unlikely to run out any time soon.

But the technology also has its drawbacks - most notably the fact that it cannot be deployed outdoors in direct sunlight, because that would interfere with its signal.

Neither can the technology travel through walls so initial use is likely to be limited to places where it can be used to supplement wi-fi networks, such as in congested urban areas or places where wi-fi is not safe, such as hospitals.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 30th Nov 2015

Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and a roster of other high-profile tech figures are launching a new organisation designed to invest in renewable energy technologies.

It is called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, and says its aim is to create "a network of private capital committed to building a structure that will allow informed decisions to help accelerate the change to the advanced energy future our planet needs."

Announced ahead of a major UN climate change conference in Paris this week, the coalition's members say that enough isn't being done from established organisations to drive forward research and investment into clean energy.

Writing on Facebook late Sunday night, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that "solving the clean energy problem is an essential part of building a better world ... yet progress towards a sustainable energy system is too slow, and the current system doesn't encourage the kind of innovation that will get us there faster."

Likewise, the Coalition's website says that "the existing system of basic research, clean energy investment, regulatory frameworks, and subsidies fails to sufficiently mobilize investment in truly transformative energy solutions for the future. We can’t wait for the system to change through normal cycles."

In short: Established investors are moving much too slowly towards the renewable energy, and it's too important to wait for that to sort itself out naturally.

"The world is going to be using 50 percent more energy by mid-century than it does today. That should be good news, especially for the world’s poorest, because right now more than 1 billion people live without access to basic energy services," former Microsoft CEO and serial philanthropist Bill Gates wrote in a blog post. "Affordable and reliable energy makes it easier for them to grow more food, run schools and hospitals and businesses, have refrigerators at home, and take advantage of all the things that make up modern life. Low- and middle-income countries need energy to develop their economies and help more people escape poverty."

But, he goes on: "the world’s growing demand for energy is also a big problem, because most of that energy comes from hydrocarbons, which emit greenhouse gases and drive climate change. So we need to move to sources of energy that are affordable and reliable, and don’t produce any carbon."

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition says it will look at "early stage companies that have the potential of an energy future that produces near zero carbon emissions and provides everyone with affordable, reliable energy." It says it will invest in multiple sectors, including agriculture, transportation, and electricity generation.

There's no word yet on how much the Coalition intends to invest, but it's likely to be substantial: Many of its members are worth tens of billions of dollars.

Members include Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce; Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; Richard Branson, founder of Virgin; Jonn Doerr, a general partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Bill Gates; LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman; Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba, Neil Shen, founding managing partner of Sequoia Capital; George Soros; Mark Zuckerberg, and more.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 23rd Nov 2015

Microsoft's Windows 10 is finding favour with businesses and large organisations, according to figures from Forrester Research indicating that half of all enterprise firms expect to upgrade to the new operating system by the end of 2016.

Windows 10 was officially released at the end of July, and the company has recently made the first major update available that adds many of the promised features and capabilities intended to make the platform more appealing to business customers.
These capabilities appear to be doing the trick, if Forrester can be believed, as the analyst firm published a report this week claiming that 49 percent of IT decision makers canvassed said that their company plans to upgrade to Windows 10 by the end of next year.

This is a remarkable claim, since enterprise firms tend to be somewhat conservative in adopting new products and technologies, and will typically evaluate a new operating system for an extended period before beginning a migration. This strategy also allows time for any early kinks in the platform to be ironed out.

For comparison, Forrester said that similar results for Windows 8 in 2012 showed that just 26 percent of IT decision makers at the time expected the platform to be the one most frequently installed on new company-issued PCs in the year following its release.

The authors of the Forrester report noted that "such intentions always prove optimistic", but that this difference is still quite significant.

There are three key areas where Windows 10 is ticking the right boxes to drive corporate enthusiasm for the new OS, according to Forrester.

These are security, owing to OS-level encryption and better identity and authentication methods; greater usability after the return of the Start menu and there being no need to switch between the Windows desktop and a separate touch environment; and management, with new enterprise mobility management features and in-place updates that make it easier for IT departments to keep endpoints up to date.

In other words, enterprise enthusiasm for Windows 10 can be attributed to the fact that it should require less effort and thus cost less to operate than earlier versions of Windows, while the familiarity factor of the Start menu will keep employees happy and reduce the requirement for retraining.

Forrester's figures still appear somewhat optimistic in light of the fact that many companies have only recently completed a migration away from Windows XP as that platform approached end of life.

A migration from Windows 7 is likely to be much less challenging than XP proved to be, but many companies are expected to defer the cost of any further migrations for several years, given that the extended support period for Windows 7 does not end until 2020.

However, Forrester's report recommends that organisations start their migration plans for Windows 10 now, if they have not already done so.

"Start the piloting and testing phase for Windows 10 early in 2016, if you haven't already, to allow time to test applications and make plans to update them if necessary. Budgets for 2016 should include line items for the Windows 10 licences and upgrade costs," Forrester said.

Source: v3.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 23rd Nov 2015

The short answer? Nothing that made me feel particularly good about the state of technology today.

Last Wednesday, I woke up to two emails from Facebook. One let me know that the primary email address on my account had been switched to a Hotmail account I haven't used since 2009. The other let me know the password had been changed on my Facebook account. I'd been hacked.

Fortunately, both emails contained links to pages where I could secure my account in the event the action was unauthorized. Unfortunately, the pages came up in Turkish. (I'd soon discover why this was the case.) Google Chrome, the browser I was using, offered to auto-translate the text, but the translations weren't very helpful.


This was bad. I'm a fairly heavy Facebook user, partly because a big social following is a useful thing for a journalist and partly because I'm a ham who likes the attention I get from posting funny or provocative things. Also, organizing stuff not being a strength of mine, I have a bad habit of treating Facebook as a catchall for photos, email addresses, all sorts of things I want to hang onto.

Now it was all in someone else's hands. But to get it back, I reasoned, all I had to do was convince a company whose bread and butter is digital identity that I was me. Easy, right?

Actually: no. I was about to find out just how time-consuming, absurd, and infuriating a process that actually is.

Panicking a little, I emailed half a dozen people I know who work at Facebook. A few were personal friends, a few PR contacts I know from covering the company. But it was before 7 a.m. in California, so I didn't expect an immediate response.

In the meantime, I knew one thing for sure: This was my fault. Since 2011, Facebook has offered two-factor authentication, a security measure that makes it impossible to log into an account without a one-time PIN you can only receive by text message. Two-factor authentication is extremely secure, but I'd never enabled it. It was also, I realized immediately, really dumb to have an old email address associated with my account. I'd kept it on there in case I ever got locked out of Facebook, but the password on my Hotmail was weak by 2015 standards.

So, yes: guilty. In my defense, however, I'd had reason to think Facebook was watching out for me. Like many journalists, I'm a verified user, with a little blue check mark to show that Facebook has confirmed my identity. It wasn't an easy status to get. I had to upload my driver's license to get it.

At least they know who I am. Right?
Facebook knows practically everything about me. Its facial-recognition software is so good, it recognizes me in photos I'm not tagged in. If, despite that, I had to clear a high bar to prove I'm me, surely anyone trying to pose as me to my thousand-plus friends and 50,000 followers would have to clear the same bar. Right?

At the suggestion of a friend who speaks computer, I switched browsers from Chrome to Safari and was rewarded with an English version of the Secure Your Account page. It wasn't much use, however. As far as Facebook was concerned, I no longer had an account to secure. The hacker had changed the name, email address, and even profile photo to his own. As far as Facebook was concerned, I was a nonperson. After some trial and error, however, I was able to locate The Account Formerly Known as Jeff Bercovici. It now belonged to a man in Turkey named Hamza.


I clicked the This Is My Account button and answered a security question to initiate a review. It should be pretty obvious, I thought, that I hadn't changed my name to Hamza, changed my email address, moved to Turkey, and had plastic surgery, all within a span of hours.

Come to think of it, it was pretty strange that someone could do all those things without tripping some alarms. As it happens, while all this was going on, I got a text from my bank asking me to confirm a small purchase I'd made at a supermarket, just because I hadn't shopped there before. Isn't changing every detail of your life overnight at least as suspicious as buying a straw hat and an iced coffee? And we're talking about Facebook, a company so niggling about the need for real identities, for a long time it wouldn't even let transgendered people use their preferred names.

With pique now replacing my panic, I turned my attention to Hotmail. Microsoft's online account recovery form requires the account holder to supply information about recent activity on the account--people you've emailed, subject lines of those emails, that sort of thing. Like most people I know, I'd stopped using Hotmail around 2009, so remembering the details of the last few emails I'd sent was a tall order. I email-blasted my friends and family, asking them to dig through their old emails to find their last correspondence with me at that address, but what I got back wasn't enough to satisfy Microsoft's security engine. After three unsuccessful attempts, I was told I'd reached my limit for the day. Try again tomorrow.

I finally heard back from one of my Facebook PR contacts, who told me to sit tight while she tried to get my case in front of someone who could do something about it. Later, she told me a hold had been placed on the account. A guy named Andrew from Facebook's Community Operations team emailed me to ask some questions. I answered them and went to bed.

I woke up Thursday morning to an email letting me know I could log back into my account. Relieved, I did. Only it was no longer my account. Everything had been deleted--my friends, my photos, my posts. Aside from a few page "Likes," all evidence of my nine years as an active Facebook user had been erased. Wedding photos, birthday greetings, random exchanges with childhood friends I haven't seen in 20 years--all of the stuff Facebook mechanically orders you to reminisce about, gone.

It took some effort, but I stayed calm. It wasn't really gone gone. After all, Facebook itself says it takes up to 90 days to delete your data, even when you want it all erased. I emailed Andrew asking him to restore all that stuff. I quickly heard back.

"Unfortunately, Facebook does not have the ability to restore content that has been removed from accounts," he wrote. "We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you."

"We apologize for any inconvenience"?

That's when I hit the ceiling.

For nine years, Facebook had been enjoining me to treat it as my phone book, my photo album, my diary, my everything. Yet wherever it had been storing all my stuff was so ephemeral, a half-assed fraudster could wipe it all out irrevocably? After I went on a bit of a Twitter rant to this effect, my Facebook PR contact emailed me again, to say don't give up hope just yet.

To pass the time, I started ranting again about Hotmail. By now, I'd gotten an email from Microsoft letting me know recovery had failed permanently. There was no recourse--until a college friend who'd worked at Microsoft after graduation saw my increasingly desperate tweets and offered to help out. Within a few hours, Microsoft Outlook's Online Safety Escalations team had taken up the case and solved it. It turned out that technically I hadn't been hacked at all. Hamza didn't have to. Because my account had been dormant for more than 270 days, my email address had gone back into the pool of available addresses.

I wasn't aware of this policy, which creates obvious security vulnerabilities for ex-Microsoft users. (Maybe Microsoft sees it as a customer-retention tool: Keep using your account or have it used against you?) In any case, after determining Hamza's use of my account was an obvious Terms of Use violation--Microsoft's safety team told me he'd also tried to reset my Twitter and Instagram passwords--Microsoft shut it down.

While waiting on Facebook, I reached out to Hamza. I wasn't expecting a response, but I was curious: As far as I could tell, he'd used his real name. Or at least it was the same name and photo as on his Twitter account, which also links to his website, where he identifies himself as a "social media expert."

What kind of hacker uses his real name?

Then, after I called him out on Twitter, he even liked a bunch of my tweets. Who was this guy?

To my surprise, I heard back from him several times. His English was even worse than Chrome's auto-translations, but a friend of a friend translated his Turkish.


Hamza apologized for hacking me. He'd done it because he wanted a verified account, he said, but now he felt bad. He had saved my photos and could restore them--if I gave him my password.

I declined this generous offer and asked him why he had tried to steal my Twitter and Instagram accounts as well. He apologized again and said it was only my blue check mark from Facebook he was after.

Then he asked me to add him as a friend.

That Hamza was such a weird outlier of a hacker was partly why he was able to get away with stealing my account for as long as he did. On Friday, I talked to Jay Nancarrow, head of communications for Facebook's security team. He told me Facebook does use fraud-detection software to detect suspicious activity on accounts. Had Hamza, say, sent messages to all my contacts, or liked specific pages, it might have triggered an automatic security review. But because he didn't, and because he accessed the account using an email address that had been associated with it for many years, he had a window before I was able to report him.

Once I did, his account was eventually suspended--though, weirdly enough, only for a day or so. He's back on Facebook now. As hackers go, he seems relatively benign, so I don't particularly care, but still: Really?

How could I have avoided all this in the first place? Nancarrow told me what I pretty much already knew. Always enable two-factor authentication, because using it is a much smaller pain in the ass than trying to repair the damage from a hack. By the same token, conduct periodic reviews of the personal info on all your accounts to make sure the information is up to date. Outdated, unsecure accounts can and will be used against you.

Oh, yeah: By the time I talked to Nancarrow, pretty much all of my content had been restored to my Facebook page. I was relieved but, to be honest, not terribly surprised. I may not be Kara Swisher, but I'm still a tech journalist, one who has interviewed Sheryl Sandberg, met Mark Zuckerberg, and covered Facebook extensively. I figured the company would pull out the stops for me.

But in a funny way, that only served to reinforce the most important lesson I learned from this episode, one about the nature of the big digital platforms upon which we now conduct so much of our lives. They're not our friends. They don't care about us. As an ordinary user, I would have gotten next to nowhere with either Facebook or Microsoft. With both companies, I dead-ended after exhausting all the resources available to the general public. I recovered "my" Facebook account, but there was no button to report that all my data had been deleted, no email address I could report it to.

They always could recover all my content, but as long as they thought I was just another civilian, they weren't going to try. It was only because I happen to have a job that gives me access to people at Facebook--and because I happen to have a sizable Twitter following and went to a college that has a top computer science department--that I got the attention I needed.

The biggest companies in the online world have hundreds of millions or even billions of users, which can make them seem impersonal to deal with. But it's not impersonal. It's still all about who you know. It's just that for most of us, the answer is: no one.

And that's exactly who most of us are to them.

Source: inc.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 23rd Nov 2015

"BlackBerry is still around?"

That's the most common reaction I get when I show people the "Priv," BlackBerry's first Android phone. It's hard to believe the original iPhone came out more than eight years ago, but only now would we say BlackBerry has something that might compete in the modern smartphone era.

BlackBerry limped along for years with the old-school BlackBerry OS, and the company didn't come out with a revamped smartphone platform until the 2013 release of BlackBerry 10. By then BlackBerry had already lost the ecosystem war, though, and a new platform from a single manufacturer had no chance of gaining a foothold in the app market. Strategy Analytics recently ranked BB10 fifth in worldwide market share behind Android, iOS, Windows, and even Samsung's Tizen—ouch. It's no wonder people are surprised to hear that BlackBerry still exists.

With the Priv, the company finally joins the mobile operating system duopoly by jumping into bed with the only major app ecosystem available to third parties: Android. The Priv runs an old version of Android: 5.1.1 Lollipop, the first of many disappointments the Priv will throw our way. Being a BlackBerry, the Priv of course has a hardware keyboard, but the keyboard isn't any good. It's so flat and tiny that it's awful to type on; we greatly preferred the packed-in software keyboard. Still, the biggest disappointment is the price: a whopping $700. It's not an unheard of sum for a mobile phone, but build quality issues and a long list of compromises just aren't worth $700.

BlackBerry's lack of value makes a lot of sense in the context of the company. Just as it struggled to compete with the smartphone app revolution of the past eight years, it's now struggling to compete with the high-quality, low-cost Android devices out there. The Priv is priced like an Android flagship from several years ago, and it probably could have competed in the era of janky, plastic flagships like the Galaxy S4 or 5. Today, though, $700 for this level of quality just doesn't cut it. Even with a "modern" OS, BlackBerry still feels like it's a few years behind the competition.

Design and Build Quality


SPECS AT A GLANCE: BLACKBERRY PRIV
SCREEN 2560×1440 5.43" (540ppi) curved AMOLED
OS Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
CPU Six-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 (two 1.8 GHz Cortex-A57 cores and four 1.4 GHz Cortex-A53 cores)
RAM 3GB
GPU Adreno 418
STORAGE 32GB plus MicroSD slot
NETWORKING Dual Band 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, NFC
BANDS FD-LTE 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 17, 20, 29,30
HSPA+ 1, 2, 4, 5/6, 8Quad band GSM/GPRS/EDGE
PORTS MicroUSB 2.0, 3.5mm headphone jack
CAMERA 18MP rear camera with OIS, 2MP front camera
SIZE 147.0 (184 opened) x 77.2 x 9.4 mm
WEIGHT 192 g
BATTERY 3410 mAh
STARTING PRICE $699
OTHER PERKS Sliding hardware keyboard, hardware convenience key, RGB notification LED, Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0, Qi and PMA wireless charging, SlimPort
The Priv might not run Marshmallow, but it sure feels like it's made out of one. Our primary complaint is the rubbery plastic back. BlackBerry isn't using a solid, hard plastic here; it's more like a skin that was stretched across a supporting inner shell. It's squishy and deforms when you press on it, which you can see in the above picture. This wouldn't be a huge deal for a bargain device, but it's unacceptable for a $700 phone. The rubber skin is at least very grippy, with a carbon fiber-like weave pattern in it. It looks nice enough.

The display curves down on the left and right side like a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. Similar to that phone, the curve is a rather useless gimmick, and it seems out of place on a business phone like the Priv. The display is a plastic AMOLED display, reminding us a lot of what we've seen from the LG G Flex. For some colors, the display puts out an uneven color and ends up looking dirty or grainy. It's not as bad as the G Flex, but it's still noticeable.

While the display bend isn't as extreme as the S6 Edge, it does still distort the side of apps. BlackBerry doesn't try to make use of the curved display much—there's a menu of app shortcuts you can pull out from the side of the display, and the curve shows charging information while the screen is "off."

The buttons are plastic with a shiny faux-chrome finish, and the real surprise is that there are four buttons: Power, volume up, volume down, and a button BlackBerry calls "mute." Pressing the mute switch when the phone is actively making noise will mute the device, but that is the only scenario when the button will do something. A "preemptive" mute with the mute button isn't possible. Common sense would dictate that pressing the mute button at any point would set the phone volume to silent, but in reality, the mute button won't do anything unless noise is actually coming out of the phone. Press it at any other point and the volume slider will appear on the screen, but nothing will actually happen. It's counterintuitive to the point that it seems broken.

A speaker grill runs along the entire bottom "chin" on the phone, but it's mostly aesthetic. A single front-facing speaker is on the left side, right below the on-screen back button. We've got no complaints about the speaker—it's quite loud. Along the bottom of the phone there's a headphone jack and a MicroUSB 2.0 port, and on the top is a SIM and—an increasingly rare item on Android phones—a MicroSD slot.

The slide-out keyboard feels like the Priv's entire reason for existing, but it just isn't any good. BlackBerry's hardware keys might have had a leg up on 3.5-inch devices, but today the keys are microscopic compared to the software keyboard on any 5-inch phone. The tiny keys make it easy to press the wrong button, and typing becomes a cramped, uncomfortable experience.
To fit the keys under the screen, BlackBerry made them almost completely flat. You won't find the nice raised ridges here like on a classic BlackBerry keyboard. Two edges of each key will be beveled to get a similar look but not the same feel. The keys are backlit and have a good click action, though.

The keys sit at the bottom of a dish formed by the tall, front-facing speaker grill and the bottom edge of the sliding screen. The keys are far enough from the speaker that it doesn't cause a problem, but it's easy to have your fingers crash into the bottom edge of the display when using the top row of the keyboard. This is only a four-row keyboard, remember, so access to the top QWERTY row is critical.

We didn't like BlackBerry's sliding mechanism, either. We'd want the sliding feature on a $700 phone to glide and be as smooth as butter, but the Priv has a scratchy, friction-filled slider. You can hear plastic scrape against plastic when you open or close the device. Again, there isn't room for these kinds of compromises on such an expensive phone. Springs do lock the device open or closed, at least.

When open, the Priv becomes nearly the height of a seven-inch tablet. Only the screen of the Priv slides up to reveal the keyboard, leaving most of the weight stationary and in your hands, but it can still be top-heavy, depending on your grip.

The keys are actually touch-enabled, too, allowing you to do swipe gestures across the keyboard. While not typing, the swiping on the keyboard usually acts just like swiping on the screen. On the home screen, swiping left or right across the keyboard will change screens, and in the browser, swiping will scroll up, down, left, or right. While typing, swiping right-to-left will delete the entire previous word. Our favorite functionality kicks in when you tap on the text input box to bring up the draggable text cursor—swiping the keyboard will move the cursor through the text, just like pressing left or right on a keyboard. Hold the shift key and you can even highlight text! This is a lot more accurate than dragging with a finger, which usually covers up the text.

Weirdly, if the keyboard is open and the phone falls asleep, pressing on the keyboard won't wake it up. This makes sense on a BlackBerry with exposed keys, but not on the Priv, where any "pocket presses" will be protected by the closed phone.

Autocorrect still works on the hardware keyboard, and the standard row of three suggested words shows up on the bottom of the screen. The problem is, the very bottom of the screen is still reserved for the on-screen navigation buttons, so from bottom to top, there's the hardware keyboard, navigation keys, and keyboard suggestions. Having three buttons, each of which will whisk you away to some other task, wedged in between your keyboard and typing suggestions is... less than ideal.

The autocorrect bar actually counts as a software keyboard, which makes the normal Android back button change from pointing left to pointing down, as if there were a full keyboard open. So with the keyboard open, the first press on the back button will only close the tiny autocorrect bar, which seems kind of silly. You have to press back a second time if you actually want to go back.

Remember, this is a hardware keyboard, so the changing status of the "shift" and "alt" keys can't be represented by the keyboard buttons. The old-school way to indicate this was to put a triangle on top of the typing cursor for alt and a triangle on the bottom for shift. For some reason BlackBerry only implemented half of this—shift puts a little triangle on the cursor like you would expect, but alt does not. The only indication you've pressed the alt key is all the way up at the top of the screen in the status bar. Keep in mind the Priv is about seven inches tall when it's open, so the status bar is likely out of your field of vision while typing.

There's also a "sym" key, which will open a full on-screen keyboard of symbols. Along with the hardware keyboard, navigation bar, and auto-correct bar, this works out to nine rows of buttons.

BlackBerry has also included a custom software keyboard that works a bit like the BB10 keyboard and mixes the auto-correct suggestions around in the vertical margins in the keys. So after typing "key," a suggestion for "keyboard" will appear above the "b" button. Swiping up on the "b" key will select the suggestion, place "keyboard" in the text field, and it's on to the next word. With the suggestions jumping all around the keyboard as we type (and being partially covered by our fingers), it was hard to ever identify and swipe on a correction faster than just finishing the word.

If we were forced to live with the Priv, we would ignore the hardware keyboard completely and use the software keyboard. Nothing can really match larger keys. Having a hardware keyboard and not wanting to use it seems like the ultimate sign of failure for the Priv, though.

The software: It's stock Android with some extras. One of those extras is the little tab on the right side of the center image.

BlackBerry doesn't have any Android update history to speak of, but the Priv does ship right out of the gate with an old version of Android—5.1.1—which isn't a good sign. The Priv stands for "privacy," but shipping with 5.1.1 means it's missing one of the best privacy features to come to Android in some time: Android 6.0's user-controlled app permissions.

BlackBerry has, at least, committed to Android's monthly security update program for unlocked devices and to carriers "that have agreed to participate in our regular monthly update program and facilitate rapid approval of our monthly updates for over-the-air (OTA) to subscribers." Who are those carriers, though? We'll have to wait and see who gets the next monthly update and when. BlackBerry also says it will provide hotfixes for "some critical Android vulnerabilities." We'd love to say something like "BlackBerry really seems to be taking Android updates seriously," but talk is cheap and, again, the company is shipping phones with an old version.

We wouldn't really call BlackBerry's Android distribution a "skin," as most of stock Android has either been left alone or can be restored via the settings. BlackBerry has added a few extra button features, though, which you can use if you like or turn off if you don't. If you're going to mess with Android, this is definitely the method we prefer. "Branding" the interface by aesthetically changing things like the icons, settings screen, and notification panel just to be different doesn't help users.

By default, the biggest core OS feature BlackBerry changed is the Recent Apps screen, which now is an exposé-like tiled interface of variously sized thumbnails. You're never quite sure what this screen will look like before you open it, as sometimes it will be a bunch of little thumbnails, and sometimes there will be a huge thumbnail that takes up half the screen. We felt like the continually changing layout added a few extra beats to recognizing and selecting a thumbnail.

Head to the settings (the "display" settings, oddly), and you'll see this Recent Apps mode is called "Masonry." You can also change to two other Recent Apps interfaces: the stock Android Recents interface, which BlackBerry calls "Rolodex," or one called "Tiles." We love that we can restore the stock functionality, and "Tiles" is even pretty good. It's a simple two-wide grid of thumbnails that you can scroll through, which displays six full thumbnails on the screen plus another half row of apps. It's simple but effective.

There's a floating tab on the right side of the screen called the "Productivity Tab." Pull it out and an overlay will pop up showing your calendar. You can then switch to BlackBerry Hub (the e-mail/text app), a task list, and contacts. We never found it particularly useful, but we could see how some people would like quick access to some of this. The good news is that if you don't like it, you can turn it off. BlackBerry's design philosophy seems to be "put shortcuts everywhere"—swiping up from the home button reveals another set of shortcuts, which are three customizable icons.

BlackBerry added app categories to the top of the notification panel. A strip of app icons sits above the notification panel, and tapping on an icon will show notifications for only that app. There's also iOS-style red badges on the home screen icons when you have a notification.

The Priv comes with a suite of BlackBerry apps. There's BBM, BlackBerry's Messaging service, which is available on any Android or iOS device. BlackBerry's e-mail app is the "BlackBerry Hub," which also throws text messages and the call log into the inbox. Multiple inboxes can be fed into a single list, making it a one-stop-shop for all your non-proprietary communication needs. You can swipe messages left to delete them or right to snooze them, and overall it seems like a competent e-mail app. The one oddity is that while it will list text messages, it's not actually a texting app—tapping on a text will kick you out to Hangouts or the stock messaging app.

BlackBerry has an odd new unlock method called "Picture unlock." You set a lock screen background and pick a number from zero to nine. Then you're asked to drag your number somewhere on the picture, and that number+location is your unlock code. When the lockscreen kicks in, a random grid of numbers is overlaid on top of the picture, and you have to tap on your correct number and drag it to the correct spot. Because the number grid is random every time, you aren't able to look at screen smudges to try and guess the unlock pattern. You also get the bonus of a third party having no idea what to even do with a lock screen like this.

The number location is very precise. We first set our picture lock screen by picking the colored square background and remembering "9 on black square" as the password. You have to be nearly pixel-accurate, though, so our mental description wasn't accurate enough—we ended up failing 10 times and having the phone auto-wipe. You're better off picking some kind of crosshair to line the number up with. Even then, we found the lock screen to be slow and prone to errors. If all you want to do is protect against smudge reading, a pin lock screen with a randomized keypad would work fine and wouldn't have these accuracy issues.

Camera

The BlackBerry Priv has an 18MP rear camera with optical image stabilization and phase detection autofocus. It's bad.

It's especially bad for a $700 device. In our camera test it was absolutely wrecked by the $380 Nexus 5X, and it fell behind the Moto X Pure and Galaxy Note 5, too. Most shots tended to be very gray and low-contrast. Low light performance isn't great, either.

This is the best the BlackBerry could do on a bright, sunny day. There's a blue haze over this picture, for some reason.

In indoor lighting the Priv is still washed out and yellow.

It's hard to tell when the Priv camera does this poorly in low light, but there are some Nintendo plushies in here.

Performance

We saw no surprises from the Priv's 1.8GHz Snapdragon 808 processor. Performance is similar to what we've seen from other 808 devices like the Nexus 5X. Ditto for the 3410mAh battery—it has similar specs to the Nexus 6P and similar performance in our test. The 6P will have a leg up in standby, though, thanks to Marshmallow's Doze mode. Again, we're comparing the $700 Priv to $380 and $500 devices.

BlackBerry: better off but still can't compete

With Google, Motorola, Xiaomi, and OnePlus pumping out high-end devices in the $300-400 range, pricing your Android phone at $700 is a boastful statement that you've made a kick-ass, no compromise device. The BlackBerry Priv can't back up that kind of bragging, though, and that's why it's a failure. Other than the subpar keyboard and camera, everything on the Priv is merely passable. It's a "C" student, but the price demands we grade on a curve that flunks the Priv.
Even at a competitive price of $400-$500, we'd be hard pressed to buy a phone with a hardware keyboard when the hardware keyboard is bad. The keys are small and flat, the keyboard is cramped, and hardware keyboard autocorrect is shoehorned into an operating system layout where it clearly isn't welcome. Closing the Priv and using the more spacious software keyboard wasn't just faster, it was a relief. That's the real deal-breaker for the Priv—the hardware keyboard needed to be spectacular, and it isn't.

From BlackBerry's perspective, the company is in way better shape with the Priv than it was with any of its BB10 devices. The Priv can't stand up to the competitive Android smartphone market, but it is at least a livable smartphone that you could make do with. Maybe BlackBerry will convince some enterprise customers to buy a few Privs for their business, but for normal consumers, there is nothing compelling here. The Nexus 6P has better specs, a better camera, an aluminum body, and stock Android with updates direct from Google. It's also $200 less than the Priv. There is still no reason to buy a BlackBerry.

Good

BlackBerry's Android distribution sticks very close to stock Android. It mostly only adds extra features, and those extra features can be turned off.

This device isn't worth $700.
The tiny keyboard is cramped, flat, and unpleasant to type on.
The camera is gray and colorless.
It has a scratchy, friction-filled sliding mechanism.
It features a spongy back material that feels like a plastic frame with a rubber skin wrapped around it.
Like other flexible PAMOLED displays, some colors show a dirty-looking "grain" pattern instead of a solid color.
Android 5.1.1. BlackBerry pushes the "privacy" angle, but shipping with an old version of Android means it's missing Android 6.0's great privacy features.
The hardware "mute" button doesn't mute the phone.
Ugly

A phone with an awful hardware keyboard? Nope, not buying that at any price.

PROMOTED COMMENTS
Ron AmadeoReviews Editor jump to post
mrseb wrote:
close wrote:
Several other reviews pointed out that the devices they had were preproduction units. Also they were saying the slide mechanism was great. Any chance some of the woes will be ironed out in mass production with a final unit?

Also, the physical keyboard is mostly a love or hate affair. Some people hate it even when done right. See BB Bold which I personally consider to have a great keyboard but that opinion is by no means shared by the majority.


As I understand it, Ron used a retail device for this review.


Yes this is a retail device that I bought from the AT&T store.
258 posts | registered Aug 18, 2013

Source: arstechnica.com
 
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