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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 23rd Feb 2016


On Sunday, a hacker threatened to dump the contact information of thousands of FBI and Department of Homeland Security employees online. Then on Monday, the hacker made good on said threat and released the information, first from the DHS, then from the FBI. The hacker who released the information claimed to have had access to up to 200GB further of information, meaning there could be plenty more releases to come in the days ahead. So how did a person break into the systems of two of America’s most high-profile agencies? A phone call, it appears.

From Motherboard:

The data was obtained, the hacker told Motherboard, by first compromising the email account of a DoJ employee, although he would not elaborate on how that account was accessed in the first place. (On Monday, the hacker used the DoJ email account to contact this reporter). From there, he tried logging into a DoJ web portal, but when that didn't work, he phoned up the relevant department. “So I called up, told them I was new and I didn't understand how to get past [the portal],” the hacker told Motherboard. “They asked if I had a token code, I said no, they said that's fine—just use our one.”

As is so often the case, the easiest way into a secure system is by asking someone for the key. This is the same tactic that a teen hacker claims to have used to gain access to CIA chief John Brennan’s personal email. And it’s fairly similar to “spearphising” attacks, where emails with links to download malicious software are sent to specific people inside a network, in the hopes that they’ll open the email, follow the link, and compromise the system. This is reportedly how Russian hackers got into a Pentagon email server, Ukrainian power stations, and even less conspicious targets, like a German steel mill. Even as the Director of National Intelligence warns that the Internet of Things is a major threat, it appears IRL networks of people are at least as vulnerable. Fortunately for companies that want to find the vulnerabilities in their human networks, there’s an app for that.

Source: popsci.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 23rd Feb 2016

The row between Apple and the FBI over access to a dead murderer's phone should start a debate about government requests for data, says Bill Gates.

The FBI wants Apple to unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook who killed 14 people in December last year.
Apple has resisted the demand saying the FBI order was "dangerous" and "unprecedented".

Speaking to the Financial Times, the Microsoft founder said complying would not put a backdoor in all iPhones.

"This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information," he said in the interview. "They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case."

Mr Gates said the case was similar to the requests regularly made to phone companies and banks for information.

In a separate interview with the BBC, Mr Gates reiterated his view that the issue came down to a debate about whether governments can get at data they use to protect citizens.

"Should governments be able to access information at all or should they be blind, that's essentially what we are talking about," he told the BBC.

Microsoft itself has not formally commented on the row between the FBI and Apple. However, when pushed on the issue Microsoft referred to a statement issued by the Reform Government Surveillance group of which it is a member.

That statement sides with Apple saying: "Technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users' information secure."

It emerged this week that the US Department of Justice is asking for Apple's help to get at data on iPhones relevant to more than a dozen separate investigations. The Wall Street Journal said the cases came from several different criminal investigations and data locked on the handsets would help law enforcement.

None of the cases is believed to be related to terrorism and many involved older iPhones that lack the stronger security protections found on newer devices.

More recently, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said he was "sympathetic" to Apple's stance in the row.

The attack in San Bernadino by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik in December last year left 14 people dead and 22 injured.

In a statement published on Sunday, FBI director James Comey said its demand for access to the data on the phone was "about the victims and justice".

Slightly more than half of all Americans, 51%, when asked whether Apple should unlock the phone, believe it should comply with the FBI's order, according to a survey carried out by the Pew Research Center. Of those questioned, 38% said Apple should resist the call and 11% had no opinion.

On Monday, Apple boss Tim Cook sent a letter to the firm's employees about the row saying its refusal was about a broader civil rights issue not just this one case.

It also called for the US government to set up a government panel on encryption to look into the ways law enforcement can ask for access to data.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 22nd Feb 2016

Computer code written by women has a higher approval rating than that written by men - but only if their gender is not identifiable, new research suggests.

The US researchers analysed nearly 1.4 million users of the open source program-sharing service Github.
They found that pull requests - or suggested code changes - made on the service by women were more likely to be accepted than those by men.

The paper is awaiting peer review.

This means the results have yet to be critically appraised by other experts.

The researchers, from the computer science departments at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and North Carolina State University, looked at around four million people who logged on to Github on a single day - 1 April 2015.

Github is an enormous developer community which does not request gender information from its 12 million users.

However the team was able to identify whether roughly 1.4m were male or female - either because it was clear from the users' profiles or because their email addresses could be matched with the Google + social network.

The researchers accepted that this was a privacy risk but said they did not intend to publish the raw data.

The researchers found women fared better if their gender was not clear

The team found that 78.6% of pull requests made by women were accepted compared with 74.6% of those by men.

The researchers considered various factors, such as whether women were more likely to be responding to known issues, whether their contributions were shorter in length and so easier to appraise, and which programming language they were using, but they could not find a correlation.

However among users who were not well known within the community, those whose profiles made clear that they were women had a much lower acceptance rate than those whose gender was not obvious.

'Bias nonetheless'

"For outsiders, we see evidence for gender bias: women's acceptance rates are 71.8% when they use gender neutral profiles, but drop to 62.5% when their gender is identifiable . There is a similar drop for men, but the effect is not as strong," the paper noted.

"Women have a higher acceptance rate of pull requests overall, but when they're outsiders and their gender is identifiable, they have a lower acceptance rate than men.

"Our results suggest that although women on Github may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless," the researchers concluded.

Developer Isis Anchalee started a social media campaign last year when people questioned her career
Despite various high profile initiatives, tech firms continue to face challenges in terms of the diversity of their staff, in terms of both gender and ethnicity, particularly in more technical careers.

Just 16% of Facebook's tech staff and 18% of Google's are women according to figures released in 2015.

However the researchers' findings are still encouraging, computer scientist Dr Sue Black OBE told the BBC.
"I think we are going to see a resurgence of interest from women in not only coding but all sorts of tech-related careers over the next few years," she said.

"Knowing that women are great at coding gives strength to the case that it's better for everyone to have more women working in tech.

"It was a woman - Ada Lovelace - who came up with the idea of software in the first place, we owe it to her to make sure that we encourage and support women into the software industry," Dr Black added.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 22nd Feb 2016

A new app that turns a smartphone into a mobile seismometer is being rolled out by California scientists.

Known as MyShake, it can sense an earthquake even when the cell device is being carried in a pocket or a bag.

The researchers want users to download the app, in the first instance, to help test and improve its capabilities.

But ultimately the idea is that recruited phones will be part of a network that not only gathers data but also issues alerts.

Destructive ground motions take time to move out from the epicentre of a large tremor, meaning people at more distant locations could receive several seconds' vital warning on their phones.

"Just a few seconds' warning is all you need to 'drop, take cover and hold on'," said Prof Richard Allen from the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

"Based on what social scientists have told us about past earthquakes, if everyone got under a sturdy table, the estimate is that we could reduce the number of injuries in a quake by 50%," he told BBC News.

Prof Allen has a paper about MyShake in this week's Science Advances journal, but he has also been demonstrating it here in Washington DC at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The app relies on a sophisticated algorithm to analyse all the different vibrations picked up by a phone's onboard accelerometer.

This algorithm has been "trained" to distinguish between everyday human motions and those specific to an earthquake.

The achieved sensitivity is for a Magnitude 5 event at a distance of 10km (6.2 miles) from the epicentre.

In simulations, the app detects a quake correctly in 93% of cases.

All this is done in the background - much like health apps that monitor the fitness activity of the phone user.

Once triggered, MyShake sends a message to a central server over the mobile network. The hub then calculates the location and size of the quake.

Napa Quake: Downtown San Francisco got eight seconds' warning of impending shaking
False positives are filtered out because the server is connected to existing seismic and GPS monitoring stations, and - if the public take up MyShake - thousands of other phones.

"We took the data from our traditional network gathered during the 2014 La Habra earthquake near Los Angeles, and downgraded its quality to something similar to what might be recorded on your smartphone, and then we applied the MyShake algorithm blindly to that data," Prof Allen explained.

"The system triggered rapidly and accurately, and that's really given us the confidence to now take MyShake out to the public for its big, real test."

For this release, MyShake is available for Android devices; an iOS version is very likely to come in the future. And to be clear, enrolled phones will not be receiving alerts of earthquakes - not yet.

Prof Allen is a leading figure behind ShakeAlert, the earthquake early warning system now in development for California.
Only a few such systems exist in the world.

They work on the principle of being able to detect the faster-moving but not-so-damaging P-waves in a seismic event ahead of its S-waves, which cause most destruction.

California has several hundred state-of-the art seismic stations in the ShakeAlert system, and during the 2014 South Napa earthquake an eight-second warning of shaking was delivered to trial participants in downtown San Francisco. This included the city's metro system, BART, which wants to be able to slow its trains ahead of the biggest tremors.

"The MyShake approach can contribute to and enhance earthquake monitoring in those parts of the world that have traditional seismic networks, like California. But perhaps even more importantly, because we can do a lot of this 'in the cloud', MyShake could help provide earthquake early warning in locations that have no traditional seismic network - places such as Nepal or India where we get very damaging earthquakes."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 22nd Feb 2016

Cybersecurity experts have said parents should boycott or at least be cautious of VTech's electronic toys because of how it has handled a hack attack.

They gave the advice after it emerged that VTech's new terms and conditions state that parents must assume responsibility for future breaches

More than 6.3 million children's accounts were affected by last year's breach, which gave the perpetrator access to photos and chat logs.

VTech says it stands by the new terms.

"Since learning about the hack of its databases, VTech has worked hard to enhance the security of its websites and services and to safeguard customer information," said a spokeswoman.

"But no company that operates online can provide a 100% guarantee that it won't be hacked.

"The Learning Lodge terms and conditions, like the T&Cs for many online sites and services, simply recognise that fact by limiting the company's liability for the acts of third parties such as hackers.

"Such limitations are commonplace on the web."

'Full responsibility'

The new terms were flagged by a blog by the Australian security specialist Troy Hunt.
In it, he detailed additional flaws with VTech's products and alleged that it was misleading for the firm to have described the attack as being "sophisticated".

VTech has said 6.3 million children's accounts and 4.9 million parents' accounts were affected by the hack attack
He also disclosed that the company had issued new terms and conditions on 24 December for the software that lets parents add apps to its devices and copy off photos and other saved files.

They tell parents:
"You acknowledge and agree that you assume full responsibility for your use of the site and any software or firmware downloaded.
"You acknowledge and agree that any information you send or receive during your use of the site may not be secure and may be intercepted or later acquired by unauthorised parties.
"You acknowledge and agree that your use of the site and any software or firmware downloaded there from is at your own risk."

Another security researcher, Scott Helme, later confirmed the terms appeared when Europe-based owners of the VTech's InnoTab Max tablets updated its firmware.

Mr Hunt was dismayed.
"People don't even read these things!" he wrote.
"If [VTech] honestly feel they're not up to the task of protecting personal information, then perhaps put that on the box and allow consumers to consciously take their chances rather than implicitly opting into the 'zero accountability' clause."

'Unforgiveable and ignorant'

His condemnation of the firm has since been echoed by four other security experts.
"This is an unbelievably arrogant and derogatory response considering their track record with data security," said Ken Munro from Pen Test Partners.

"If VTech think that those T&Cs are the answer to their problems I think they should be given a bigger problem to deal with. Boycott them and take your money somewhere else."
Prof Angela Sasse - director of the UK Research Institute in Science of Cyber Security - added that she would be "cautious" about all of the firm's products.

"The nature of the security flaws identified, and their displayed lack of urgency in fixing them, casts doubt on their security competence," she told the BBC.

"Instead, they change the T&Cs to 'dump' any risk on their customers - I would not trust a vendor who behaves in this way."
University College London's Dr Steven Murdoch also guided potential shoppers elsewhere.

"The existence of vulnerabilities that result from beginners' mistakes in the VTech website is disappointing, as is their handling of the situation, so it raises serious questions about whether there are vulnerabilities in their other products," he said.

"It would be understandable that potential customers will look elsewhere."

Meanwhile, Trend Micro's Rik Ferguson said the firm's behaviour was "unforgivable, ignorant and indefensible".

"Would I advise consumers to avoid an organisation that attempts to take advantage of its customers' goodwill and to absolve itself of its legal responsibilities with weasel words? Unequivocally, yes."

A lawyer added that VTech's approach was "odd".

"It's unusual to see these terms in consumer contracts and it's questionable if they would be enforceable," said Callum Murray, head of commercial technology at Kemp Little.

Under scrutiny

VTech's reach is about to grow following a deal to take over its US rival Leapfrog, which makes child-centric tablets computers, smartwatches and apps of its own.

But one company-watcher commented that the impact went even further.

VTech has agreed to buy its US rival Leapfrog in a deal worth $72m (£50m)
"A lot of eyes are on VTech because nothing on this kind of scale has happened in the toy industry before," said Billy Langsworthy, editor of the Toy News trade magazine.

"Toy firms need to be aware that these kinds of cyber-attacks are going to become more common, so right from how they set up their security to how they deal with the PR of a breach is something that this sector is going to have to look at."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 22nd Feb 2016

When my digital media students are sitting, waiting for class to start, and staring at their phones, they are not checking Facebook. They’re not checking Instagram or Pinterest or Twitter. No, they’re catching up on the news of the day by checking out their friends’ Stories on Snapchat, chatting in Facebook Messenger or checking in with their friends in a group text. If the time drags, they might switch to Instagram to see what the brands they love are posting, or check in with Twitter for a laugh at some celebrity tweets. But, they tell me, most of the time they eschew the public square of social media for more intimate options.
The times, they are a-changing

For a few years now, alarms have been sounded in various quarters about Facebook’s teen problem. In 2013, one author explored why teens are tiring of Facebook, and according to Time, more than 11 million young people have fled Facebook since 2011. But many of these articles theorized that teens were moving instead to Instagram (a Facebook-owned property) and other social media platforms. In other words, teen flight was a Facebook problem, not a social media problem.
Today, however, the newest data increasingly support the idea that young people are actually transitioning out of using what we might term broadcast social media—like Facebook and Twitter—and switching instead to using narrowcast tools—like Messenger or Snapchat. Instead of posting generic and sanitized updates for all to see, they are sharing their transient goofy selfies and blow-by-blow descriptions of class with only their closest friends.
messaging apps

For example, in a study published in August last year, the Pew Research Center reported that 49% of smartphone owners between 18 and 29 use messaging apps like Kik, Whatsapp, or iMessage, and 41% use apps that automatically delete sent messages, like Snapchat. For context, note that according to another Pew study, only 37% of people in that age range use Pinterest, only 22% use LinkedIn, and only 32% use Twitter. Messaging clearly trumps these more publicly accessible forms of social media.

Admittedly, 82% of people aged 18 to 29 said that they do use Facebook. However, that 82% affirmatively answered the question, “Do you ever use the Internet or a mobile app to use Facebook?” (emphasis added). Having a Facebook account and actually using Facebook are two different things. While Pew does have data on how frequently people report using Facebook (70% said at least once a day), those data are not broken down by age. And anecdotal evidence such as what I’ve gathered from class discussions and assignments suggests that many younger people are logging in to Facebook simply to see what others are posting, rather than creating content of their own. Their photos, updates, likes, and dislikes are increasingly shared only in closed gardens like group chat and Snapchat.

Why would they leave?

Although there is not a great deal of published research on the phenomenon, there seem to be several reasons why younger people are opting for messaging over social media. Based on my discussions with around 80 American college students, there appears to be three reasons for choosing something like Snapchat over Facebook.

1. My gran likes my profile picture

As Facebook has wormed its way into our lives, its demographics have shifted dramatically. According to Pew, 48% of Internet users over the age of 65 use Facebook. As social media usage has spread beyond the young, social media have become less attractive to young people. Few college students want their parents to see their Friday night photos.

2. Permanence and ephemerality

Many of the students I’ve spoken with avoid posting on sites like Facebook because, to quote one student, “Those pics are there forever!” Having grown up with these platforms, college students are well aware that nothing posted on Facebook is ever truly forgotten, and they are increasingly wary of the implications. Teens engage in complex management of their self-presentation in online spaces; for many college students, platforms like Snapchat, that promise ephemerality, are a welcome break from the need to police their online image.

3. The professional and the personal

Increasingly, young people are being warned that future employers, college admissions departments, and even banks will use their social media profiles to form assessments. In response, many of them seem to be using social media more strategically. For example, a number of my students create multiple profiles on sites like Twitter, under various names. They carefully curate the content they post on their public profiles on Facebook or LinkedIn, and save their real, private selves for other platforms.

Is this a problem?

We may be seeing the next evolution in digital media. Just as young people were the first to migrate on to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they may now be the first to leave and move on to something new.
usage of social networkingYoung adults still are the most likely to use social media.(Pew Research Center)

This exodus of young people from publicly accessible social media to messaging that is restricted to smaller groups has a number of implications, both for the big businesses behind social media and for the public sphere more generally.

From a corporate perspective, the shift is potentially troubling. If young people are becoming less likely to provide personal details about themselves to online sites, the digital advertising machine that runs on such data (described in detail by Joe Turow in his book The Daily You) may face some major headwinds.

For example, if young people are no longer “liking” things on Facebook, the platform’s long-term value to advertisers may erode. Currently, Facebook uses data it gathers about users’ “likes” and “shares” to target advertising at particular individuals. So, hypothetically, if you “like” an animal rescue, you may see advertisements for PetSmart on Facebook. This type of precision targeting has made Facebook into a formidable advertising platform; in 2015, the company earned almost $18 billion, virtually all of it from advertising. If young people stop feeding the Facebook algorithm by clicking “like,” this revenue could be in jeopardy.
From the perspective of parents and older social media users, this shift can also seem troubling. Parents who may be accustomed to monitoring at least some proportion of their children’s online lives may find themselves increasingly shut out. On the other hand, for the growing number of adults who use these platforms to stay in touch with their own peer networks, exchange news and information, and network, this change may go virtually unnoticed. And, indeed, for the many older people who have never understood the attraction of airing one’s laundry on social media, the shift may even seem like a positive maturation among younger users.

From a social or academic perspective, the shift is both encouraging—in that it is supportive of calls for more reticence online—and also troubling.

As more and more political activity migrates online, and social media play a role in a number of important social movement activities, the exodus of the young could mean that they become less exposed to important social justice issues and political ideas.

If college students spend most of their media time on group text and Snapchat, there is less opportunity for new ideas to enter their social networks. Emerging research is documenting the ways in which our use of social media for news monitoring can lead us to consume only narrow, partisan news. If young people opt to use open messaging services even less, they may further reduce their exposure to news and ideas that challenge their current beliefs.

The great promise of social media was that they would create a powerful and open public sphere, in which ideas could spread and networks of political action could form. If it is true that the young are turning aside from these platforms, and spending most of their time with messaging apps that connect only those who are already connected, the political promise of social media may never be realized.

The ConversationThis post originally appeared at The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

Source: qz.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 22nd Feb 2016

HSBC is launching voice recognition and touch security services in the UK in a big leap towards the introduction of biometric banking.

The bank says its phone and mobile banking customers will no longer have to remember a password or memorable places and dates to access accounts.

Barclays has already introduced voice recognition software, but it is only available to certain clients.

RBS and NatWest have offered finger print technology for the last year.

The move comes weeks ahead of the launch of Atom Bank, which will allow its customers to log on via a face recognition system.

HSBC says its service will be offered to up to 15 million banking customers.

First Direct's customers will be offered the voice and fingerprint recognition system over the next few weeks, followed by HSBC's in the summer.

Francesca McDonagh, HSBC UK's head of retail banking and wealth management, described the change as "the largest planned rollout of voice biometric security technology in the UK".

She said: "The launch of voice and touch ID makes it even quicker and easier for customers to access their bank account, using the most secure form of password technology - the body."

Touch ID is available on all Apple mobile devices for both HSBC and First Direct. Customers must download the mobile banking app and follow the instructions to link their fingerprint to it.

The future
Nuance Communications is supplying the voice biometrics technology, which works by cross-checking against over 100 unique identifiers including both behavioural features such as speed, cadence and pronunciation, and physical aspects including the shape of larynx, vocal tract and nasal passages.

Customers who want to use the service will have to enrol their "voice print" and will no longer need to use passwords or PINs.
The bank says the system will still work when someone is ill.

"We will be able to cope with people who have got colds or slight impediments," Joe Gordon, UK head of customer contact at HSBC, told the BBC.

"Things such as the size of your mouth or your vocal tract don't change. Neither do your cadence or your accent when you've got those little colds."

A YouGov survey of 2,038 people, commissioned by HSBC and published on Friday, found that 55% of those polled said they rarely changed passwords, while 74% felt that biometric security would become the default "password" of the future.

Barclays says it was the first bank to offer voice recognition software. However, the service is only available to corporate clients at the moment.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 22nd Feb 2016

A generation of young people has grown up accustomed to use smartphone apps for pretty much everything, including dating. But maybe it's just as fun, awkward, nerve-wracking and occasionally wonderful as it was before? And if it doesn't work out, the options for the next date are almost limitless.

"I'm a little nervous," says Whitney as she battles against the icy Manhattan wind. It's Friday night and she's on her way to a date with a guy she's never met before. They matched on the dating app Tinder a few days ago and, after promising witty banter, agreed to take things offline.

To be honest, I'm a bit nervous for Whitney too. I've spent quite a bit of time with her over the past week and found myself warming to her openness and infectious enthusiasm for life. Just for a second, I feel what I think Whitney must be feeling: that excitement of meeting someone for the first time, all jumbled up with vulnerability and the nagging worry you've got something stuck in your teeth. I really want it to go OK.

Also, this is her second first date of the week, and the first one didn't go well.

For starters, the guy she was meeting deleted his profile on the OKCupid app where she'd found him. So she was worried she wouldn't actually recognise him once she got to the bar - she's in contact with so many men on different dating apps it's not always easy to remember who's who.

Luckily, he recognised her, but it was downhill from there. She found him overbearing, his insistence on touching her hands at every opportunity a bit weird.

But, in the era of the dating app, it's not just that there are plenty more fish in the sea; now you're armed with an industrial-sized fishing net that fits in your handbag.

Whitney's 24 and works in marketing. She's one of those people who uses her smartphone for everything. "We use apps for food, we use Uber to get around, we have a laundry app. It's like, why wouldn't we have a dating app?"

As Whitney speaks to me, she's absent-mindedly swiping through profiles of men on Tinder.
"Swipe left if you don't like 'em, swipe right if you do."

I get her to stop on one - a good-looking 29-year-old whose profile pictures look suspiciously professional, if you ask me. It says he's based in Amsterdam, but currently is two miles away from Whitney.

"Now if I know they're not New Yorkers, I'll swipe no," Whitney says. "That usually just turns out to be someone looking for a quick booty call."

A booty call or hook-up is casual sex. Some apps - Tinder in particular - have a reputation for being only about casual hook-ups. But actually it seems you find people using them for anything and everything.

These days, Whitney says she's looking for something a bit more steady.

After leaving her to her date, I walk a few blocks away and find a bar to have some dinner. It's full of friends and colleagues meeting after work with the kind of waitresses who are so efficient they don't need to bother with being friendly.

It's not an obvious date venue and I'm taken aback when of all the bars in all of New York, Whitney and a man I assume is her date walk into mine. I make eye contact with her as they go past and I try quickly to wipe the look of recognition off my face and stare at the floor. A minute later, Whitney texts from the other side of the bar to explain: the first place they went to was too full, and by pure coincidence they ended up here.

On my way to the toilet, I have a sneaky glance at Whitney and her date - it looks like it's going well.

Dating apps are certainly a quick and easy way to meet new people. But they have their downsides too. With so many options out there, how can you settle on just one?

"You're racking up all these people digitally," one of Whitney's friends tells me, "but I don't get to know them and they don't get to know me. I feel like technology has really made dating very impersonal. It's depressing."

Another friend agrees: "If you're doing this right before bed and first thing in the morning, you can get in a very dark place."

People, it seems, have a love/hate relationship with dating apps. They talk about them having an addictive, game-like quality; they worry about how they're superficial and relationships can be fickle. But they keep coming back for more.

It feels like looking for love is becoming more and more like online shopping.

As for Whitney, she's said goodbye to the man from Tinder and slipped back into the bar to give me the verdict. Had I blown my cover when I spotted her? Thankfully, as a man having a beer on a Friday night, I'd blended in perfectly. And - even better news - the date went so well that Whitney stopped pursuing the other options she had lined up for that weekend.

There's since been a second and a third date and Whitney's sounding optimistic. She's promised that if they end up getting married, I'll be a guest of honour at the wedding.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 22nd Feb 2016

The company says it will "continue to make tweaks"

Google is switching up how it displays ads on desktop searches, removing them from the right-hand side of results and putting them only at the top and bottom of the page. The change was first reported by The SEM Post with Google later confirming the move. Usually Google's ads are shown all over the page — a mixture of top, bottom, and right-hand positions, based on the specific query — but this change leaves the sidebar free for Google's Product Listing Ads.


But while the right-hand side ads are being removed for all queries, a fourth (additional) ad will be placed at the top of the page for certain lucrative searches — those for hotels or car insurance, for example. "We’ve been testing this layout for a long time so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries," said the company in a statement given to The Verge. "We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers." Google also confirmed that the change is global and affects all languages.


Source: theverge.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 22nd Feb 2016

Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, which has been ordered to help the F.B.I. get into the cell phone of the San Bernardino shooters, wrote in an angry open letter this week that “the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create.” The second part of that formulation has rightly received a great deal of attention: Should a back door be built into devices that are used for encrypted communications? Would that keep us safe from terrorists, or merely make everyone more vulnerable to hackers, as well as to mass government surveillance? But the first part is also potentially insidious, for reasons that go well beyond privacy rights.

The simple but strange question here is exactly the one that Cook formulates. What happens when the government goes to court to demand that you give it something that you do not have? No one has it, in fact, because it doesn’t exist. What if the government then proceeds to order you to construct, design, invent, or somehow conjure up the thing it wants? Must you?

The F.B.I.’s problem is that it has in its possession the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, but the phone is locked with a passcode that he chose. (The phone, which investigators found while executing a search warrant for Farook’s car, is actually the property of the San Bernardino County Health Department, Farook’s employer, which has consented to its search—and so, as Orin Kerr points out, on the Washington Post blog the Volokh Conspiracy, there is no Fourth Amendment issue there.) If the F.B.I. enters the wrong passcode ten times, the data may be turned to gibberish. And if the F.B.I. disables that feature, allowing it to enter every possible passcode until it hits the right one, it may still come up against another barrier: a built-in delay between wrong entries, so that typing in five thousand possibilities, for example, might take thousands of hours. Both sides agree that Apple has given significant technical assistance with the San Bernardino case already; in response to a separate warrant, it gave the F.B.I. the iCloud back-ups for Farook’s phone (the most recent was from some weeks before the shooting). In the past, in response to court orders, Apple has helped the government extract certain specific information from older iPhones—perhaps seventy times, according to press reports. But there is apparently no way for the company to do so on the newer operating system, iOS 9, which the shooter was using and which was built without a “back door.” In other words, there is no set of instructions or a skeleton key in a drawer somewhere in Cupertino that Apple could give the F.B.I. to allow it to get in.

And so Judge Sheri Pym, a California district-court magistrate, has ordered Apple to come up with a new software bundle that can be loaded onto the phone and, in effect, take over the operating system and tell it to let the F.B.I. in. (Apple will have a chance to object to the order in court.) As an added point of convenience, this bundle is also supposed to let the agents enter passcodes electronically, rather than tapping them in, which is one of the many points on which the government seems to have moved from asking for compliance with a subpoena to demanding full-scale customer service. In its request for the order, the government says that “Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search,” for a number of reasons. One is that iPhones look for a cryptographic signature before accepting operating-system software as legitimate. But the government, again, is not asking for a signature or even for the equivalent of a handwriting guide (which would be problematic, too) but for an entire ready-to-run bundle. It has said that it wants Apple to put in a code that makes the bundle usable only on Farook’s phone—but that is a desire, not a description of an existing, tested, software protection. (The government also says that it will pay Apple for its work.) The other reasons that the government says that Apple should be compelled to do this work come down to Apple being Apple—being a smart company that designs this kind of thing. What is the government’s claim on that talent, though? Would it extend to a former engineer who has left the company? The government’s petition notes that the operating system is “licensed, not sold,” which is true enough, but conveys the darkly humorous suggestion that Apple’s terms of service are holding the F.B.I. back.

It is essential to this story that the order to Apple is not a subpoena: it is issued under the All Writs Act of 1789, which says that federal courts can issue “all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” Read as a whole, this simply means that judges can tell people to follow the law, but they have to do so in a way that, in itself, respects the law. The Act was written at a time when a lot of the mechanics of the law still had to be worked out. But there are qualifications there: warnings about the writs having to be “appropriate” and “agreeable,” not just to the law but to the law’s “principles.” The government, in its use of the writ now, seems to be treating those caveats as background noise. If it can tell Apple, which has been accused of no wrongdoing, to sit down and write a custom operating system for it, what else could it do?

In the motion filed on Friday, the government dismissed Apple’s objection by saying that it “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy,” and that writing new code shouldn’t be an “undue burden”—one of the standards for applying the All Writs Act—since Apple writes a lot of code. This particular use of the All Writs Act is fairly novel, however. The precedent the government’s supporters cite is the use of All Writs in a 1977 Supreme Court decision involving telephone taps, called pen registers. In that case, the F.B.I. wanted New York Telephone, which was already helping it to set up a tap in an illegal-gambling sting, to let it use some spare cables that were, physically, in the same terminal box as those hooked up to the suspect’s phone. The telephone company told the F.B.I. to get its own wires and string them into the apartment of one of the alleged gamblers some other way. When the F.B.I. objected that the suspects might spot the rigged cables, the Court agreed that it could legitimately ask the telephone company for its technical help and “facilities.” But the F.B.I. wasn’t asking New York Telephone to design a new kind of cable.

If a case involving a non-digital phone network could be applied to smartphones, what technologies might an Apple precedent be applied to, three or four decades from now? (The N.S.A. used, or rather promiscuously misused, another pen-register case from the same era to justify its bulk data collection.) It no longer becomes fanciful to wonder about what the F.B.I. might, for example, ask coders adept in whatever genetic-editing language emerges from the recent developments in CRISPR technology to do. But some of the alarming potential applications are low-tech, too. What if the government was trying to get information not out of a phone but out of a community? Could it require someone with distinct cultural or linguistic knowledge not only to give it information but to use that expertise to devise ways for it to infiltrate that community? Could an imam, for example, be asked not only to tell what he knows but to manufacture an informant?

This is the situation that Apple is in, and that all sorts of other companies and individuals could be in eventually. There are problems enough with the insistence on a back door for devices that will be sold not only in America but in countries with governments that feel less constrained by privacy concerns than ours does. And there are reasons to be cynical about technology companies that abuse private information in their own way, or that jump in to protect not a principle but their brands. But the legal precedent that may be set here matters. By using All Writs, the government is attempting to circumvent the constitutionally serious character of the many questions about encryption and privacy. It is demanding, in effect, that the courts build a back door to the back-door debate.

Source: newyorker.com
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