Entertainment

But not just entertainment. This documentary certainly stands out because of the number of female experts in it. That is still rare.

(I seem to remember that North Korea as behind the Sony hack was later disputed or doubted, however. Either North Korean hackers got careless at one point by skipping encryption at some point, I seem to remember, or someone made it look that way.)

Also, the information given about Tor in this documentary is not complete. Your internet provider can still see what you do.

In the earlier days of the internet, there used to be a site where you could track which transatlantic cable your e-mail was using or something like that. I also remember an instance when e-mail broke down for a day or so because there was a problem with one of those cables. In those days, a lot of services were still based in the US, so your message to someone in Germany might even have to go through a server in the US, stuff like that.

How hackers wiped out a restaurant, and a lot more

That particular restaurant got wiped out in a month after having been in business for about two decades. Just for fun. Because hackers didn’t like the restaurant owner. Maybe because the name of the restaurant.

In this video, it’s a hacker who says this. He says that hackers wiped out this business because they didn’t like the owner.

(He also says that there is something really fishy going on with Google’s business listings.)

It probably happens much more often than most people are aware of.

AI can predict whether your relationship will last based on how you speak to your partner


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I’m TALKING.
Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

Ian McLoughlin, University of Kent

Any child (or spouse) who has been scolded for their tone of voice – such as shouting or being sarcastic – knows that the way you speak to someone can be just as important as the words that you use. Voice artists and actors make great use of this – they are skilled at imparting meaning in the way that they speak, sometimes much more than the words alone would merit.

But just how much information is carried in our tone of voice and conversation patterns and how does that impact our relationships with others? Computational systems can already establish who people are from their voices, so could they also tell us anything about our love life? Amazingly, it seems like it.

New research, just published in the journal PLOS-ONE, has analysed the vocal characteristics of 134 couples undergoing therapy. Researchers from the University of Southern California used computers to extract standard speech analysis features from recordings of therapy session participants over two years. The features – including pitch, variation in pitch and intonation – all relate to voice aspects like tone and intensity.

A machine-learning algorithm was then trained to learn a relationship between those vocal features and the eventual outcome of therapy. This wasn’t as simple as detecting shouting or raised voices – it included the interplay of conversation, who spoke when and for how long as well as the sound of the voices. It turned out that ignoring what was being said and considering only these patterns of speaking was sufficient to predict whether or not couples would stay together. This was purely data driven, so it didn’t relate outcomes to specific voice attributes.

How a tone of voice can change the meaning of a few words.

Interestingly, the full video recordings of the therapy session were then given to experts to classify. Unlike the AI, they made their predictions using psychological assessment based on the vocal (and other) attributes – including the words spoken and body language. Surprisingly, their prediction of the eventual outcome (they were correct in 75.6% of the cases) was inferior to predictions made by the AI based only on vocal characteristics (79.3%). Clearly there are elements encoded in the way we speak that not even experts are aware of. But the best results came from combining the automated assessment with the experts’ assessment (79.6% correct).

The significance of this is not so much about involving AI in marriage counselling or getting couples to speak more nicely to each other (however meritorious that would be). The significance is revealing how much information about our underlying feelings is encoded in the way we speak – some of it completely unknown to us.

Words written on a page or a screen have lexical meanings derived from their dictionary definitions. These are modified by the context of surrounding words. There can be great complexity in writing. But when words are read aloud, it is true that they take on additional meanings that are conveyed by word stress, volume, speaking rate and tone of voice. In a typical conversation there is also meaning in how long each speaker talks for, and how quickly one or other might interject.

Consider the simple question “Who are you?”. Try speaking this with stress on different words; “Who are you?”, “Who are you?” and “Who are you?”. Listen to these – the semantic meaning can change with how we read even when the words stay the same.

Computers reading ‘leaking senses’?

It is unsurprising that words convey different meanings depending on how they are spoken. It is also unsurprising that computers can interpret some of the meaning behind how we choose to speak (maybe one day they will even be able to understand irony).

But this research takes matters further than just looking at the meaning conveyed by a sentence. It seems to reveal underlying attitudes and thoughts that lie behind the sentences. This is a much deeper level of understanding.

The therapy participants were not reading words like actors. They were just talking naturally – or as naturally as they could in a therapist’s office. And yet the analysis revealed information about their mutual feelings that they were “leaking” inadvertently into their speech. This may be one of the first steps in using computers to determine what we are really thinking or feeling. Imagine for a moment conversing with future smartphones – will we “leak” information that they can pick up? How will they respond?

Congratulations. Changes in your voice, pulse and pupil size all indicate you’ve found a romantic match.
Astarot/Shutterstock

Could they advise us about potential partners by listening to us talking together? Could they detect a propensity towards antisocial behaviour, violence, depression or other conditions? It would not be a leap of imagination to imagine the devices themselves as future therapists – interacting with us in various ways to track the effectiveness of interventions that they are delivering.

Don’t worry just yet because we are years away from such a future, but it does raise privacy issues, especially as we interact more deeply with computers at the same time as they are becoming more powerful at analysing the world around them.

The ConversationWhen we pause also to consider the other human senses apart from sound (speech); perhaps we also leak information through sight (such as body language, blushing), touch (temperature and movement) or even smell (pheromones). If smart devices can learn so much by listening to how we speak, one wonders how much more could they glean from the other senses.

Ian McLoughlin, Professor of Computing, Head of School (Medway), University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

World War Three is being waged in cyberspace

 

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Dr. Mike Sosteric, Athabasca University

My introduction to advanced communication technology (i.e. the Internet and World Wide Web) came in 1999.

Having grown up in the two-channel universe of the 1960s and ‘70s, I was agog at the power it represented. The technology was nascent at that time — not many web pages yet existed — but I could still see the potential for good. Here was a technology that I felt could really save the world.

I am not ashamed to say that when I first saw the Web, I was filled with schoolboy naivete. I wanted to help, so I did. I created the first electronic sociology journal, did a few more things after that, and with a massive anticipatory grin, watched and waited for utopia.

Unfortunately, utopia didn’t emerge. In fact, my naive grin soon melted away.

The melting began when I learned that researchers at Cornell University, working without ethical oversight and possibly in collusion with the U.S. Department of Defense, were learning how to use Facebook, a technology we keep by our beds, to manipulate mass emotion.

The grin melted even further when I saw fellow scientists had learned to use search engines to manipulate political preferences.

Manipulating Trump supporters

The grin turned to an outright frown when I read in that same study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a multidisciplinary scientific journal, that moderate Republicans, moderate libertarians, male Republicans and the “deplorable” poor — President Donald Trump’s base — were the most susceptible to manipulation.

I became a little worried when the scholars who wrote the study suggested that Google, by manipulating its algorithms, might already have decided a foreign election, in India in 2014, in favour of a right-wing candidate.

Then there was the historic 2016 election of Trump. That’s when my smile turned to a grimace. During that election campaign, Trump called out to Russia to hack the election, which they did. Spewing hundreds of thousands of dollars of fake ads into Facebook, Twitter and probably Google, they attacked America full-on. They didn’t do it with bullets and bombs; they did it with bits and with bytes, and with the help of American CEOs and American technology.

It was certainly an attack, and there were definitely explosions, but they were in cyberspace. Desensitized by Hollywood violence, we are not paying attention to the attack on our minds.

You can argue about whether the Russian attacks were effective, or puzzle if Trump and his family are traitors, but the fact remains — we are under attack, and if something isn’t done, it’s going to get worse.

Annual hacking event

You don’t have to be a prophet to see what’s coming. The battle plan is in plain sight. In the midst of Cyber Security Awareness Month, it’s time to open our eyes.

Consider the Russian company Positive Technologies. This firm holds an annual event known as PHDays, or “Positive Hack” days. At this event, which started back in 2011, the world’s best and brightest hackers get together to train.

It doesn’t sound too threatening until you learn about “The Standoff.” The Standoff is a military hacking competition with a blatant military goal: Take out a city’s telecom, heat, power, oil, and rail infrastructures. The city’s citizens are even offered up as a resource for the hackers. They are easy to exploit, says the rule book. They use “smart gadgets every day.” “They are vulnerable to social engineering.” They are “prepared to share [their] secrets.”

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Sitting back in my chair with a thump, I see it clearly.

There’s a global war going on, and a global arms race to go with it. The arms race is not a race for physical weapons, it is a race to develop cyber-weapons of psychological, emotional, financial and infrastructure attack. By now, the arms race is so far advanced that it makes the leaflet campaigns of the Second World War and the U.S. government’s Operation Cornflake look like toddler’s play.

ISIS and the far-right are using Twitter and other online networks to radicalize our youth, bringing the war to our streets. Russian cyber-marines engage in massive cyber-attacks, going so far as to target our voting machines.

Just recently, the sensitive financial data of almost half the U.S. population was stolen by state-sponsored professionals. There is even, as is becoming increasingly clear as the Mueller investigation into Trump’s Russia connections unfolds, a “highly coordinateed disinformation campaign” — a propaganda campaign, aimed at destabilizing American society.

Wake up and realize we’re at war

If the horrific recent gun violence in Las Vegas, exploding racial tensions and political polarization of Western democracies are any indication, destabilization is proceeding apace.

So what do we make of this?

No. 1: Realize that global war has been declared. It’s a little hard to pin down who fired the first shot right now, but the aggressors are active and engaged.

No. 2: Understand we are all under attack, even Republicans, perhaps especially Republicans, and the poor. There may be short-term financial gain for those who benefit from the destabilization, but only a fool would think the enemy is our best friend.

Finally, if you are a private citizen, you need to start taking the cyber threat seriously. Combatants are trained to see you as easy-to-manipulate resources. You are being viciously manipulated through social media.

Your financial data is stolen and could easily be used against you. Cyber-marines are training to take out the life-giving infrastructure of your cities. Are government and corporate leaders blithely unaware, or engaged in traitorous collusion? Only time will time tell.

The ConversationUntil then, wake up, gather your loved ones, lock down your social media, and batten the hatches — the war for your mind has begun.

Dr. Mike Sosteric, Associate Professor, Sociology, Athabasca University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

IP addresses aren’t passport photos

I hear it time and time again. If someone is bothering you electronically, such as by e-mail, you can identify them on the basis of the IP address, take that to the police and be done with it. An IP address is like someone’s passport photo, right?

Not so.

Most people make the mistake of assuming that cyber stalkers and hackers behave the same way they do. They think that cyber stalkers and hackers automatically reveal their own IP addresses when they approach a target electronically.

Wrong.

Anyone who’s ever used a torrent stream or tunnelled to access a TV show or some other online content in another country knows better.

Most people haven’t.

Cyber stalkers and hackers aren’t stupid and usually hide behind an electronic wall called a proxy. They can also use a series of proxies. Sometimes, a cyber stalker or hacker gets sloppy and forgets this step. It’s been said that’s what happened in the recent hacking of Sony. Others think that it was just a smart hacker who made it seem that way, though.

Grow your own food inside a computer

At least, that is what it looks like, like you’re growing vegetables inside a computer case. This is a TED Talk by Caleb Harper.

TED Talks won’t let me embed this TED Talk, so you will have to click on the above link.

You can grow your own tasty Isle of Wight, Spanish or Floridian tomatoes, lettuces, broccoli, and a lot more, by recreating local climate and nutritional conditions with the aid of a computer, using recipes that you can exchange for free.

I want one!!!

This YouTube video show you how you can build one. This is not for everyone, so it is a great projects for neighborhood communities!

How far most people are behind on reality

Read this article on CNET.

The jokes themselves are not the problem. The problem is that just about anything these days can be hacked. The internet of things. People are starting to catch up on that. The realization is slowly sinking in and United Airways appears to be freaking out over it, understandably.

You pay too much attention to Caller IDs

Wanna bet?

See, caller IDs can be spoofed, just like e-mails.

There are web sites and software that let you spoof phone numbers. I bet that if I really wanted to, I could call you pretending to be you. But why would I?

Here is one such site: http://www.spoofcard.com/

This one even lets you add background noise.

Internet trolls and the law

The first time I had the word “troll” within the context of the internet, I had no idea what it meant. I found out the hard way, as most people have by now. Internet trolls can make our lives pretty miserable and can cost some people their only means of business advertising.

But what can you do about them? They are anonymous by definition, and police officers are usually just as powerless as you are when it comes to tracking down trolls and identifying them.

In addition, while trolls can be thoroughly unpleasant and sometimes incredibly hurtful, they often aren’t breaking any criminal laws.

Many have developed their pestering skills to perfection. The way they render people powerless and expose them to senseless hurt and insults – such as in the case of Leo Traynor who was viciously stalked by the 17-year-old son of a friend – can be impossible to accept as life as usual and then just forget about. So what do you do?

One option is to sue them in civil proceedings (and for example call them John Doe). That is complicated, and hard. It forces you to be as persistent as your troll. Another one is to trap them, but it only works if the troll is not particularly tech-savvy. You can read about both methods in this Forbes article about Leo Traynor and the case of Carla Franklin who forced Google to reveal who was tormenting him. (Read more here.) Two years later, she sued Chico Shon Moss.

There are a few web pages out there that claim that Mr Traynor made up the entire story. It does not actually matter whether he did or not because the trolling he described is very real. He is not the only person who undergoes this kind of abuse. I too have some experience with this kind of stuff and I am certainly not the only one. In another account, you can read about a man called Chris Andrews in real life, a politician who quit his party when unmasked as a Twitter troll.

Nicola Brookes is a woman in the British seaside town Brighton. She asked the court to force Facebook to reveal the identity of the anonymous trolls who tormented her for months, even suggesting she was actively involved in sexual child abuse as well as a drug dealer. The High Court ruled in her favour, a legal first (see also this EU report Cybercrime and Punishment- New Developments & Challenges by Sylvia Kierkegaard).

One of the trolls turned out to be police officer Lee Rimell. He was arrested, but not suspended, says a follow-up article in the Daily Mail and this BBC article. Apparently he worked out of Birmingham.

He received a serious written warning, according to this detailed article on the web site of Sophos. It shows you in detail what kind of horrific abuse Nicola Brookes was subjected to. Not that different from what Leo Traynor said happened to him.

Yelp trolls

Last year, a New York steakhouse took legal steps to force Yelp to identify who wrote a certain post on Yelp. The writer claimed to be a waiter habitually spitting into the food served at the steak house. The writer used the name of a real person who said he had nothing to do with it and apparently filed a police report about the matter. The steak house took Yelp to court in an attempt to track  down the real poster. (Read more here, here and here.)

Earlier, another company had taken a similar matter to the courts in Virginia, claiming defamation. These cases force the US courts to carry out a delicate legal balancing act. The Virginia Appeals Court initially ruled that Yelp had to reveal the identities of seven posters, but Yelp appealed against that decision (read more here, here and here). The Virginia Supreme Court heard the matter in October 2014.

I haven’t been able to find recent information on the internet about these cases so it’s not clear to me how either of them ended. As there is a great deal of debate about the validity of Yelp reviews and the company’s ability to manipulate reviews, the point may be moot.

 

How the Magistrates Court deals with data thieves

The April 2015 newsletter from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) contains an item on the powers of the UK’s Magistrates Courts.

The Data Protection Act (DPA) has been updated and now allows magistrates to dole out unlimited financial penalties. This is the result of the implementation of section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 on 12 March 2015.

Until this recent change, the maximum fine a Magistrates Court could impose was £5,000 and it had to send more serious offences to the Crown Court.

“Solicitors should not use email at all”

In an article in Computing News last year about the warning ICO issued to the legal profession after a series of data breaches, Richard Anstey, CTO EMEA for collaboration tools provider Intralinks, was asked for his input on ICO’s top tips for barristers and solicitors. computerHe said the following:

“instead of ensuring email is encrypted or password-protected, solicitors should not use email at all”

You can read what he recommends using instead in the article in Computing News.

7 out of 10 UK law firms affected by cyber crime in 2014?

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has reported that in 2014, nearly 70% of UK law firms reported a cyber security incident.

cyber security guy or hackerRead more: here.

The first half of the article focuses on bogus law firms. The second paragraph under the ad is about how cyber crime affects law firms.

 

Uber Technologies – not a law firm – has billions at its disposal; that allowed it to do some investigating that enabled it to file a John Doe lawsuit after its recently reported hacking incident. Which it discovered about half a year after the fact and then kept silent about for another six months. Give or take a few days.

Data security in the legal profession

ICO, the Information Commissioner’s office, issued a warning last year after several data breaches at law firms.

circuitAccording to the ICO, there were fifteen reported incidents of data breaches in the legal profession within a period of three months.

You can read more about it in this article in the online magazine Computing News and on
this article on the ICO website as well as in this pdf file by ICO.

  • How many legal professionals have ever built a computer from scratch? I have. It worked fine right away, too. (To my own amazement.)
  • How many legal professionals were taught a little bit of computer programming at university? I was.

Loophole in Seagate’s Business Storage 2-Bay NAS products

If you use one of Seagate’s Business Storage 2-Bay NAS products, you will want to hear this. It may concern all versions up to 2014.00319 but certainly

  • Business Storage 2-Bay NAS version 2014.00319
    and
  • Business Storage 2-Bay NAS version 2013.60311
The vulnerability allows unauthorized root access. Seagate knows about it but has kept quiet about it, alleges this article in the Hacker News.

Another mark against Uber

There are many misgivings regarding the app-based taxi company Uber. One of those is a belief that Uber’s databases will get hacked.

Apparently, they already did. Get hacked.

Uber found out four months after the fact and kept quiet about it for months afterward. Last Friday, it finally came clean. In the New York Post, you can read more about Uber getting hacked.

Uber has meanwhile started a lawsuit against the hacker, identifying him or her as John Doe. This is also how you can sometimes take action against anonymous internet trolls as the FindLaw blog explains.

Hard disks can have backdoors

And running Linux or formatting your hard disk won’t help.

How so?

A hacker can build a backdoor on your hard disk by targeting and reprogramming the controller, a tiny computer of its own that makes sure the hard disk works.

First, the hacker needs to gain (remote) access to your computer, and he or she has to be pretty good. That means that you don’t need to lose much sleep over it yet, but when it happens, you’re toast.

Unless, for example, you keep your computer offline afterward and make sure it can’t be accessed via powerline networking either. Would you be able to tell that there is a backdoor on your hard disk?

Read more here.

Source: ArsTechnica

Keeping a PC offline keeps it safe, right?

Wrong.

Cyber crime is much sneakier than most people think. It is not limited to someone accessing your hotmail or Facebook account. it can take over your life. And gobble up your business.

There are various ways to access a computer that is offline. A term sometimes used for an offline computer is ‘air-gapped’, but for starters, a true air-gapped computer should never ever have been connected to the internet to minimise the chance that there is any software (code) on it that shouldn’t be on it. It should be brand-new, out of the box.

Unless you put it in a Faraday cage, some of the information on an offline computer can still be accessed although this is usually merely passive. It concerns information displayed on a screen or entered on a keyboard, for example. This can be accessed but not altered.

Here are a few technical articles for those who want some background:

Here is a really nice old video about it:

And this one, in German and much more recent, is quite clear too:

Here is another one:

In addition to the above, I see at least four more or less regular ways to access a computer and tamper with it:
– via cable or telephone line, directly;
– via cable or telephone line, using unused capacity on the line;
– wireless/wifi network;
– powerline networking.

In the case of powerline networking, there may be a need for that computer to have been hacked before it was taken offline. That also seems to be the case for at least one of the air-gap hopping methods.

It may also be possible to access printer memory via powerline networking and acquire information that way.

A computer does not have to be accessed through its operating system such as Windows, as is often thought. Computers can be accessed at a much more basic level as well, but it depends on the hardware and its settings.

Hackers can also purchase or build scanning equipment that can detect your mobile equipment. Phone hacking and spying software is available from regular retailers and its use has ‘reached epidemic proportions‘ (article in the Independent).

Here are four more articles, in The Independent and the Huffington Post:

If you are really intrigued now, read this article in NewScientist about new bugging devices.

Hacking: What you can do

Hackers can do incredible damage to businesses and contrary to what is often thought, hackers don’t only go after large corporations with vast amounts of credit card data and e-mail addresses. They go after tiny outfits too and after people like you and me. Below are a few things you need to know about hacking.

Picture of me 1-crop4In 2009, British police was given the power to hack into personal computers without a court warrant. It is called remote searching. You can read more about it in this article in The independent. By the way, it ends with this important bit of information:

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Britain’s policy of retaining samples from people never convicted of a crime – including children – breaches human rights.

However, there have also been reports that the British police runs hopelessly behind with regard to fighting cyber crime, because it lacks the knowledge and technology (see here). “The police are becoming more aware of the cyber threat, but remain behind in terms of their own technology, knowledge and intelligence”. How does this add up? To police not being able to do much, in practice. Cyber crime investigations are expensive and require the kind of expert knowledge few people possess.

The least you can do?

  • Always cover your web cam when it’s not in use. Read more about web cams and hacking here and here.
  • Never tell anyone you do not really know what computer equipment you have and what software you run. The chances that you are talking with a hacker may be slim, but if you are, particularly if it is someone you have exchanged e-mail with (meaning that the person has your IP address), the person may not even have to use software intended to test computer security (such as Metasploit) to examine your computer from a distance and then use software like MeterPreter to target the vulnerabilities in your equipment.
  • Be aware that any e-mail you receive may be spoofed. Faked. There is no way to tell whether an e-mail is spoofed or not. E-mail that appears to come from a potential new client may contain a link that causes you to download code (and even the mail itself may contain code). Do a web search instead of clicking on the link and call that possible new client instead of e-mailing back.
  • If you are in the habit of filling out online surveys to make an extra few pennies, mail announcing a new survey can be spoofed too. Keep that in mind before you announce to the world (Facebook, Twitter) that you are filling out online surveys. Such an e-mail can then take you to the computer of a hacker who can ask you to tell him or her truthfully what kind of computer equipment you are using and all sorts of other things he or she wants to know.
  • Internet traffic can be redirected with internet port relay software. I don’t know how exactly it works. If you know what a traceroute is and suspect that some of your traffic is being rerouted, run a traceroute and direct its output to your printer (so that you have a hardcopy that cannot be tampered with). A traceroute can be redirected as well, however. Having traceroute results that show tampering is no good for police, but it can tell you that you are not going paranoid after all. That’s worth a lot.
  • If you use Facebook, Skype or anything else that has a chat possibility, use it on one specific piece of equipment, not on your main computer if you want to keep that computer safe. If you use anything with a chat feature on your main computer, it provides a hacker with a direct conduit into your PC. Particularly Facebook seems to be very leaky. If you keep all those social media communications limited to one device that you don’t use for anything else, you can easily reset or reinstall it in the event of a problem (generally without losing any data).
  • If you’ve just had broadband or cable installed and someone calls you claiming to be from your provider asking you any of the numbers on the side of the router or the like, don’t give it to the caller.
  • If you use a mobile phone for business, get several phones and only allow one phone number to be known publicly. That’s like the e-mail address on which you don’t mind getting spam. Use it only to receive calls, from mostly unknown parties. Use a non-published phone number on a different mobile to communicate much more securely with your trusted clients.
  • There is a lot of free and cheap software out there that you really don’t want to know about. Particularly if you have a persistent suitor, ex or an envious competitor, you should be aware, though, that there are all kinds of software that enable someone to modulate his or her voice when they call you or Skype with you, including changing gender. it works well, too.
  • I have no idea how tablets get hacked (Facebook use and hacking of mifi hotspots?), but regularly resetting one’s tablet, always verifying downloads, and backing up or removing personal files regularly is probably a good idea and anyone who tells you that there is not much hackers can do with a tablet still has a lot to learn.
    Below is an example of a tablet hack. You may have to play the (converted) video a few times and watch the tablet screen at the beginning to see that the tablet screen is filling up all by itself. There were pages and pages and pages of the stuff. The original recording is 7 seconds long and is continuous but has a bit rate of 64 kbps; the converted file seems to consist of only three images.

In spite of what most people think, though, many hackers are good for society and some may even help you on occasion.

IP addresses aren’t passport photos

I hear it time and time again. If someone is bothering you electronically, such as by e-mail, you can identify them on the basis of the IP address, take that to the police and be done with it. An IP address is like someone’s passport photo, right?

Not so. <!–more–>

Most people make the mistake of assuming that cyber stalkers and hackers behave the same way they do. They think that cyber stalkers and hackers automatically reveal their own IP addresses when they approach a target electronically.

Wrong.

Anyone who’s ever used a torrent stream or tunnelled to access a TV show or some other online content in another country knows better.

Most people haven’t.

Cyber stalkers and hackers aren’t stupid and usually hide behind an electronic wall called a proxy. They can also use a series of proxies. Sometimes, a cyber stalker or hacker gets sloppy and forgets this step. It’s been said that’s what happened in the recent hacking of Sony. Others think that it was just a smart hacker who made it seem that way, though.

Facebook getting away with it?

I haven’t heard of huge numbers of users quitting Facebook over its recent experiments and I haven’t heard of any court cases on behalf of one or more users yet.

That could mean that from now on, Facebook will be free to do exactly as it pleases. If that ticks off or disadvantages its users, those users take responsibility from now on as their continued use of Facebook in spite of all the publicity about what Facebook has been up to can surely be seen as informed consent.

Understandably, the scientific community appears to be appalled.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) in the US has filed an official complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission about the Facebook experiment.

On this side of the big pond, a UK regulator is launching a probe into the experiment.

Facebook in trouble?

Facebook appears to know it is in trouble over the experiment it conducted (see previous post). On CNN, I read this morning that a spokesperson said it was research “to improve our services”.

It looks like Facebook is trying to jump through hoops. But Facebook doesn’t fit through the hoops.

When users consented to their data being used to improve Facebook’s services, most users will have assumed that this referred to services provided to the users, not services Facebook provides to advertisers. (When you’re happy, you are more optimistic, hence more likely to click on advertisements. Pessimists have a more realistic view of the world than optimists, but optimists likely see themselves as more successful than pessimists.)

And when Facebook users consented to their data being used to improve the services, they sure as hell did not consent to psychological experiments being conducted on them.

They may have expected Facebook to analyse the data and make use of the results of those analyses, yes, but they were likely thinking in terms of technology or something along those lines. Upgrading server x that delivers Facebook to country y. They may also have expected to see baby products being advertised to those who clicked on such ads and posted baby pictures, and office products being shown to people who stated that they are self-employed.

Facebook tweaking the streams of users to bring them the items it thought users wanted to see, that is one thing. I can be annoyed about Facebook not showing my friends’ posts in my timeline, no matter how many boxes I tick to try and get them to show and I can be annoyed about commercial posts I get shown no matter how many boxes I tick in an attempt to get rid of posts about products I cannot even buy because I am many miles away on the other side of the world, but that is an entirely different ballpark compared with Facebook deliberately tweaking the streams of users to make them feel happy or make them feel miserable, or even attempting to see whether it can or not.

Facebook – and the two university researchers along with it – has crossed a line, again. This time, Facebook has made an unforgivable mistake.

It is true that other media manipulate us all the time. But we expect that. We know that the BBC only reports what it wants to report and does not present an objective overview of society. We know that commercials feed us bullshit, that buying that car or buying that dress or perfume won’t make glamorous models suddenly find us irresistible. And I know that when CNN – CNN Money, that is – writes that “it does not appear that Facebook faces any legal implications”, CNN is trying to manipulate its audience too.

That does not apply when it comes to messages from our friends. It may still be true that we have one or two friends – or children – who may consciously or subconsciously try to manipulate us, but when it comes to messages our friends post combined, we do not expect those messages to be manipulated by a third party in such a way that we become happier. And we certainly don’t expect our Facebook streams to be manipulated to make us miserable.

Happy or sad?

 

Facebook could have conducted this experiment equally well after explaining what it wanted to do and allowing users informed consent. It chose not to.

The US Army provided some of the funding for this experiment. That does not help.

I have meanwhile realised how Facebook may be able to get away with this in a court of law. Facebook could claim that it was carrying out this experiment because it was concerned about the number of suicides and other problems precipitated by bullying on Facebook. It could say that it was trying to figure out how it could tweak the streams of its users to prevent such problems for its users. Unless some whistleblower provides evidence to refute this, that might very well work.

Facebook in for a major battle?

I just learned that Facebook made the blunder of conducting a massive psychological experiment on the users of its English-language version without their explicit consent. This is extremely unethical.

This is bound to have legal consequences.court

The Independent published about it today. The paper reporting the results of the experiment appeared in PNAS.

I hope to see class actions in every country that uses the English version of Facebook because this is most definitely not right. No amount of word-twisting by Facebook (or the researchers) can cover up that no users ever consented to this kind of experiment being carried out on them.

In addition, the university researchers involved in the study should be investigated and disciplined. If they were in my employ, I would sack them instantly.

They have damaged the scientific reputation of their universities and, in my view, do not belong in academia. I trust that Cornell University and the University of California will take the appropriate steps.

On the other hand, these researchers are highlighting a serious danger that lurks behind social media, but it does not appear that this was the motivation for their unforgivable conduct.

 

“You have no idea”

A British hacker was arrested on Friday because he allegedly hacked into thousands of American databases, including many government systems, such as the Army’s, the US Missile Defense Agency’s, and NASA’s.

In one of his chats, he apparently wrote “You have no idea how much we can fuck with the US government if we wanted to.”

This one surely fits the tag “stuff you didn’t want to hear”. If you do want to hear, you can read more about it here.

Source: ArsTechnica