Martin Grossner

Martin Grossner

Privacy-focused search engine StartPage has launched an upgraded private image search feature. With extreme concern mounting about plans for ISPs to be granted permission to sell customers' browsing histories without express permission, interest in untrackable browsing is on the increase.

Based in the Netherlands, StartPage is outside the reach of US law enforcement agencies, and it uses a secure connection so there is no way to tell what users have been searching for, and also secures click-throughs using a proxy. In addition to the private image search enhancement, StartPage has also launched Instant Answers to provide searchers with easy access to key information.

StartPage is powered by Google so it is possible to benefit from the power of the search behemoth, but there are none of the downsides of search tracking and targeted advertising. While image searching is not a brand new feature for the site, it has now been greatly improved to allow for filtering and fine-tuning of results. It's a feature that will be of interest to people looking up information about health conditions, for example, without wanting to share that information with all and sundry.

But it is not just the search results themselves that are private and secure, as StartPage explains:

In addition to serving Google search results in privacy, StartPage provides a free proxy link with every search result. When users visit third-party websites through the proxy links, no one can see them or interact with their browsers -- not the websites, their advertising partners, or ISP's. This protects against spyware, viruses, and annoying targeted ads that stalk users across the Internet.

StartPage's new Instant Answers feature is its version of Google's Quick Answer Box, providing at-a-glance information about questions you might ask. This can be used to pull in information from Wikipedia without having to visit the site, quickly look up the weather forecast, flight times, movie screenings and much more.

Head over to StartPage.com to try it out.

Source : betanews.com

After months of countless leaks and rumors, it was starting to feel like this day might never actually come. Believe it or not, however, it’s finally here: Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are finally official. No more specs leaks, no more renders, no more spy shots on Weibo, no more dummy models being compared to rival smartphones, and no more guessing. Samsung on Wednesday finally took the wraps off of its next-generation Galaxy S flagship phones.

We spent some time with the new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ earlier this week, and there’s really only one thing you have to know: You don’t know anything about these phones. You’ve seen all the leaks and you’ve read all the rumors, but nothing you’ll ever see on a computer screen or a smartphone display can properly convey just how stunning Samsung’s new flagship phones truly are.

Image Source: Zach Epstein, BGR

We’ve obviously got plenty of Galaxy S8 coverage lined up for you today, but in this post I’m going to focus on one thing in particular: Samsung’s design.

First, let’s quickly run through the specs. Aside from the displays (5.8-inch QHD+ Super AMOLED vs. 6.2-inch QHD+ Super AMOLED), the batteries (3,000 mAh vs. 3,500 mAh), and the overall size, the new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are identical. Both phones are powered by the new 10nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset in the US, while the global models pack Samsung’s own Exynos 8895 SoC. Both phones also pack 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, microSDXC support, a 12-megapixel rear camera, an 8-megapixel front-facing camera, IP68 water- and dust-resistance, and Android Nougat.

Both phones also share what is unquestionably the most stunning smartphone design of all time.

Image Source: Zach Epstein, BGR

Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are an evolution of the design we’ve seen on other recent Samsung phones like the Galaxy S7 edge and the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7. The similarities are obvious, but the S8 and S8+ look and feel brand new in the hand. Samsung removed the oblong home button on the face of the phones and reworked the phone’s guts, which allowed the company to design two smartphones with displays that occupy a staggering 83% of the phones’ faces.

The look is incredible. While it will still be quite some time before any company launches the all-screen smartphone we’ve all been waiting for, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is as close as any mass-market device has come. Because the narrow bezels that remain are a deep, glossy black that matches the display itself, distractions seem to fade away and content takes center stage more so than on any other phone.

Image Source: Zach Epstein, BGR

Like the S7 edge and Note 7, the sides of the phone are curved on both the front of the phone and on the back. As a result, the Galaxy S8 feels impossibly thin. I was really looking forward to using a phone with a nice big 5.8-inch screen crammed into a handset that is barely bigger than the iPhone 7, but I might actually prefer the larger Galaxy S8+ to the smaller model. It’s unbelievably comfortable in your hand thanks to the curved edges. Even though the phone is about the same size as the iPhone 7 Plus, it feels much smaller.

Of note, there is a new virtual home button that appears on the bottom of the display where the old physical home button used to be, and Samsung has included its own take on Apple’s 3D Touch haptic feedback that offers localized vibration feedback when you press the button. For those wondering, it’s not even in the same league as Apple’s solution. It does the trick in that you feel some feedback when you tap the home button, but it’s nothing like Apple’s Taptic engine.

When you press the virtual home button on the iPhone 7, it feels like you’re clicking a real button. When you press the virtual home button on the Galaxy S8, it feels like the phone is vibrating.

Image Source: Zach Epstein, BGR

From left to right, the photo above shows the Galaxy S8, LG G6, iPhone 7 Plus and Galaxy S8+. Here’s another shot without the iPhone in the image:

Image Source: Zach Epstein, BGR

As you can see, the Galaxy S8 and LG G6 are about the same size, though the Samsung phone is far more comfortable in the hand thanks to LG’s peculiar design snafu that I wrote about recently. Both phones feel like the future, though. Smartphone design had become stagnant in the past few years, but this new leap toward all-screen phones brings some much-needed freshness to the market.

There’s plenty more to cover, of course, and we have much more Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ coverage lined up for you today. We’ll dive into the phones’ software and performance much more in that coverage, but there are a few things I wanted to touch on briefly in this post.

First, Samsung’s new Desktop Experience is flat-out awesome. Either phone can be connected to Samsung’s new DeX dock to instantly power an Android desktop experience alongside a connected monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Several of Samsung’s apps like the browser and email app have been optimized for the new Desktop Experience, though every first- and third-party app on the phone can be used in desktop mode.

Image Source: Zach Epstein, BGR

I haven’t spent time diving in yet, of course, but so far I’m very impressed. The experience is lightning-fast (apps open so much faster than they do on my MacBook that it’s a little depressing, to be honest) and it’s great for multitasking. I could easily see Samsung’s Desktop Experience replacing the need for a PC or Chromebook for many users, especially if some big-name third-party developers get on board and optimize their apps.

Microsoft has already done so with its Office suite, in fact, and more announcements should come soon. In fact, Samsung even partnered with VMWare, Citrix, and Amazon to enable all three popular Windows 10 virtual desktop experiences on the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. In other words, if you want, you can use your new Android phone as a Windows 10 desktop.

Image Source: Zach Epstein, BGR

Bixby seems like it will be another highlight, though I haven’t yet spent much time testing it. Samsung’s answer to Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant can be called upon with a voice command or by holding down the dedicated Bixby button on the left edge of the phone, and it will support a very wide set of features at launch.

In terms of core functionality, Samsung said anything that can be done with a touch in any app can also be done with your voice using Bixby. The new virtual assistant is also context-aware, and a nifty feature called Bixby Vision brings the camera into play. Bixby Vision can recognize objects or points of interest and give the user info, and it can also recognize text and translate more than 50 languages in real-time.

If Bixby isn’t your speed though, don’t worry — Samsung also included Google Assistant in the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. Simply press and hold the home button to pull up Assistant, just like you would on any other Android Nougat device that ships with Google Assistant.

Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ will be released on April 21st, and preorders open tomorrow, March 30th, at 12:01AM from all major US carriers. The phone will be available in black, gray and silver in the US, and preorders will include a free next-generation Gear VR headset with Samsung’s new wireless remote and a free Oculus game pack.

Zach Epstein

Source : bgr.com

When the first phone book was published in 1878, it had only 50 entries, giving subscribers the names of fellow citizens privileged enough to have a telephone. Today, the ultimate privilege is being unlisted — but thanks to a complex ecosystem of online people search services, that’s nearly impossible. People search sites are a perennially controversial feature of the web, from the venerable Whitepages.com to the reviled upstart FamilyTreeNow, which was publicized and widely condemned earlier this year. They’re the perfect example of how scale and searchability can change the meaning of data: the contents of thousands of phone books accessible from anywhere in the world, with an unprecedented level of detail. It makes their data more useful, and more dangerous, than ever before. And after two decades, we still don’t know what to make of them.

“People search site” is a broad term for the dozens of search engines based on public (and sometimes private) data like DMV and court records. Some promise comprehensive criminal histories, others addresses, phone numbers, or familial relationships. Some are free and ad-supported; others charge money to unlock full profiles. Most allow people to remove their profile, although the process often varies. What unites them is the way they assemble data points into a sometimes eerily detailed dossier. Looking up your name can provide a jaunt through your life history, from your first college residence to the apartment you shared with your ex-partner — maybe with the odd roommate or sibling’s name thrown in the mix.


The name of a site like Whitepages suggests that people search engines are simply digital phone books, an idea that predates the World Wide Web — in the 1980s, you could look someone’s number up by name, address, and profession in France’s Minitel network. But historically, they’ve got more in common with the expansive credit check systems and other platforms that mined computerized records in the 1990s. One of the first major fights over personal data involved a planned Lotus CD-ROM product called Marketplace: Households, which paired names with addresses, income ranges, and other information. Even at the cost of $695 for the first 5,000 names, it would have democratized the distribution of personal data to an unprecedented — and uncomfortable — extent. Privacy advocates coordinated protest campaigns online, and 30,000 people contacted Lotus to opt out of the database. The outcry was loud enough that Lotus killed the project before it was set to launch in 1991.

When ordinary people got access to online directories in the mid-’90s, though, the response was more ambivalent. While news reports that covered Households warned of identity fraud or junk mail, stories about consumer people search platforms reported things like “playing high-tech Cupid,” as one article put it. People described rediscovering friends they’d lost touch with decades ago. Businesses cropped up to bridge the gap between online tools and non-internet users. The California-based Old Friends Information Services assigned internet-era private investigators to trawl public records, for example, charging $120 for successfully connecting two people.

Early search services weren’t immune to privacy concerns, but some claimed to make a point of vetting their clients. Old Friends got in touch with the subjects of a search and asked for permission before handing over details. A company called Dig Dirt dropped a client when it learned through “back channels” that the subject had a restraining order against him. These services positioned themselves not only as facilitators, but as gatekeepers — a fundamentally different role than the search engine model.


The consequences for failing in that role could be deadly. In 1999, investigation firm Docusearch provided information to a man who used it to track down a New Hampshire woman named Amy Boyer, shoot her to death, and then kill himself. When Boyer’s mother sued the company, a judge determined that data brokers could be held responsible for disclosing information in certain circumstances, and that “pretexting” — using deception to gather information, as one Docusearch investigator had done — could make them liable for damages. (The family eventually settled for $86,000.)

As University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron told The Atlantic earlier this year, the decision put some data brokers on notice. At the same time, it was possible to get plenty of public information without any kind of false pretext, at low or no cost. And even in the 1990s, people lamented how difficult it was to hide from people search sites. The whack-a-mole game of removing phone numbers and email addresses from people search sites, familiar to anyone who’s tried to navigate the process, has been an issue for decades.

Our worries about privacy, though, haven’t stopped the people search industry from thriving. Rob Shavell, CEO of online privacy company Abine, estimates that there are over 100 people search sites. The biggest and best-known draw information from myriad public and private records, while others scrape data from them secondhand. Whitepages marketing VP Tom Donlea says that it uses a combination of public data like property or criminal records, paid broker data from sources like mobile carriers, and “proprietary data” that the company has gathered over the past two decades. Donlea declined to give revenue numbers, but he said the vast majority of visitors use Whitepages’ free tier, not its “premium” or business options. The same goes for one of the other major sites, Spokeo. “I can’t give you the exact number” of people who use its paid service versus the free one, says Spokeo CEO Harrison Tang. “But I can tell you that it’s a single[-digit] percentage.”

Both Donlea and Tang insist that the role of people search sites is generally helpful and innocuous. Donlea says the typical non-paying Whitepages.com user is looking up people to send birthday invitations or find a friend while traveling. Spokeo runs a grant program called “Spokeo Angels,” for people who help adopted adults find their birth parents through online search tools.

Tang says that Spokeo screens out anyone demonstrating “fishy activity,” but he was vague on what that constituted and how one might detect it. Some people search sites, including Whitepages, make visitors disclaim that they won’t use the data to perpetrate fraud or invade privacy. For most users, that’s the equivalent of an honor pledge, not a roadblock. The Docusearch case is a reminder that stalking and abuse were always a risk when making personal data easier to find. But as journalist Sarah Jeong writes in The Internet of Garbage, the dangers of “doxing” — posting details like home addresses online, usually to incite abuse — became particularly apparent starting in the mid-‘00s, especially after a massive harassment campaign against writer Kathy Sierra drove her to completely withdraw from the internet.

Donlea says that the focus on people search sites as privacy invaders is misguided. “People fixate on a landline phone or their address, which is important,” he says. “But [for] immediate whereabouts, they really need to pay attention to social media or other aspects of their life as well.” But social media is an affirmative, opt-in process, while people often don’t even know where people search sites are getting their details. And the bigger social networks like Facebook get, the less people search sites can argue that they’re providing a necessary way to reach old friends.


The other problem is that unlike with credit checks, the legal framework for people search engines is fairly threadbare. Pretexting, like that involved in the Docusearch case, was officially banned in 2007. Likewise, the Fair Credit Reporting Act prohibits employers from using people search site data in hiring. Individual states protect the addresses of domestic violence or stalking targets, and California’s version covers posting them online. Beyond that, though, sites’ responsibilities can be hazy. Spokeo narrowly won a Supreme Court victory last year after a man alleged that inaccurate educational and family details had damaged his job prospects. The FTC can punish sites for knowingly providing employee screening data, but if you’re having trouble getting a site to honor your takedown request, you may be out of luck.

Some lawmakers are attempting to directly crack down on people who use personal data for abuse. So-called anti-doxxing laws would ban posting information online if there’s a clear hostile intent — for example, if it appeared on a forum alongside an incitement to harassment. Like California’s confidentiality law, these proposals are good for extreme cases, says Morgan Cordary of the nonprofit Privacy Clearinghouse. “But they don’t necessarily get to the root of the problem, which is that these sites and the webmasters behind them probably should be regulated or held accountable.” They can also raise serious free speech concerns — a Utah anti-doxxing bill was withdrawn for this reason, although an updated version was reintroduced this year.


The ideal scenario for privacy advocates like Cordary isn’t outright banning people search sites or public record aggregation, although Cordary would prefer that services be opt-in rather than opt-out. It’s passing laws that require them to be transparent and responsive. Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says an ideal law would “give the individual complete access at no cost to any information that company collects or discloses to others.” It would also grant “a right to prevent disclosure to others, compensation for the sale of any information related to the person, and fines if disclosure causes any adverse effect,” including a loss of employment or credit downgrade. “Most countries in Europe follow this approach,” says Rotenberg. This would make it easier to figure out what’s online, codify the right to get it removed, and make anything-goes information-sharing riskier.

But that still leaves the problem of going through sites to remove that information. For now, there are several online guides for navigating removal, as well as services that will take care of the process for you, like Abine’s DeleteMe. (Disclosure: I’m a DeleteMe customer, as are some other Verge staff members.)

Donlea believes Whitepages is just reflecting the modern state of privacy. “Honestly, it’s a much broader discussion around our definition of privacy, right?” he says. “This information is available in so many places that the idea of being able to scrub our information off of the internet is almost preposterous at this point.” That doesn’t seem true for people with enough time or money; you won’t find FamilyTreeNow CEO Dustin Weirich’s phone number on his people search site, for example. But it does suggest that future battles over online privacy may involve making personal details harder to weaponize, not trying to erase them — whether that means increasing penalties for harassment, improving screening and privacy options, or improving our ability to find people who make threats.

Even as people search sites draw criticism, they’re still inarguably useful. For every story about the privacy issues posed by people search engines, there’s a guide to finding the most effective ones. As a journalist, I’ve written pieces that would have been impossible without the ability to track down sources with no online presence. “Unsurprisingly, we use the internet a lot to look for other people, find people, research people,” says Shavell. “In general, we’re social animals.” Back in 1998, The New York Times talked to an executive at Switchboard.com, a people search site that had recently added maps to home address listings. “We were concerned about privacy. Talking to users, we found people were split about wanting maps associated with their own house,” he said. “But they definitely wanted maps of other people's houses.”

But surveys show that people do care about privacy, especially as conversations around government surveillance, coordinated harassment campaigns, and the consequences of having a bad online reputation get louder. “It has become so so much more noticeable, I think. People have started to Google themselves,” says Cordary. “As privacy simply becomes more important, people are going to start to be concerned about what someone can find out about them online.” If anything, it seems clear that they already have.

Source : theverge.com

Friday, 31 March 2017 17:05

Online privacy? Forget it, even with VPN

SAN FRANCISCO — Protecting your Internet activities from collection and sale by marketers is easier said than done, especially after Tuesday’s vote to overturn pending FCC privacy rules for Internet Service Providers.

The move by Congress dismantled rules created by the Federal Communications Commission just six months ago, rules that weren’t slated to go into effect until later this year. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law soon.

Broadband rules axed by Congress, headed to Trump

The decision, decried by consumer groups and Democrats and lauded by Republicans and telecom companies, sent those worried looking for a fallback plan. One possibility? Wider use of VPNs, which provide private end-to-end Internet connections and are typically used to keep out snoops when using public Wi-Fi.

"Time to start using a VPN at home," Vijaya Gadde, general counsel at Twitter, tweeted after the decision.

But such protection is limited. While VPNs keep broadband providers from seeing the sites users visit, that masking only goes so far — once logged into a website, an operator like Amazon tracks users' activities so it can suggest tailored products.

"All that a VPN does is hide what take place to get from point A to point B. Once you're on the other side, if you have credentials there — think Netflix — it knows who you are," said Matt Stamper, director of security and risk management programs at the consulting company Gartner.

Congress' decision essentially reverts to the status quo. The FCC argued that IPS’s like Comcast and AT&T should not face more stringent privacy rules than online companies such as Facebook and Google, which also collect information about users. Opponents countered that IPS's are different because they have access to users' full web browsing habits and physical addresses.

With the repeal, Internet providers won't be required to notify customers they collect data about or ask permission before collecting, sharing and selling data about what they do online, beyond the initial Terms of Service agreement. Information collected could include websites visited, apps used and physical location.

“Your entire clickstream, basically your life online, has the potentially to become one giant profile,” said Stamper.

That information can then be used to craft highly-targeted ads. This is part of the fundamental business model of many online companies, from e-commerce juggernaut Amazon to search giant Google to social network Facebook. They follow users’ online movements and actions, then use the information to better market to them. Increasingly, broadband providers are also getting into the content and advertising business. For instance, that's a key reason Verizon is buying Yahoo.

While web companies' profiles aren't person-specific, they allow their own products and those of advertisers to minutely target a type of customer, say a 30-year-old woman in the Southwest who likes rock climbing. While individual companies' privacy policies vary and sometimes allow for opt-outs of information sharing, in general websites can sell or share this de-personalized information with partners.

Side-stepping that constant surveillance while trying to use the web in our daily lives is almost unachievable, said Stamper.

“Realistically, unless somebody is extraordinarily well-versed in technology, has a really good understanding of what different sites are doing and how they do it, it’s almost impossible for the average consumer to keep their details private,” he said.

One option is for customers to find the privacy policy of their ISP and specifically opt out of data collection, said Robert Cattanach, a privacy lawyer with the firm of Dorsey & Whitney.

That's easier said than done, said ACLU lawyer Neema Singh Guliani.

"You'll need to go through what in some cases is going to be a long, arduous and frustrating process in understanding what you can do to control the information they gather about you," she said.

Overall, the best course of action for those concerned about what's collected about them is to practice ‘digital privacy hygiene’ by giving as little information as possible when doing things online, to minimize the digital footprint available to companies, said Nuala O’Connor, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a non-profit digital rights group.

“I was asked for my phone number when buying towels recently at a home store. They don’t need my phone number! Just sell me the towels!  Companies need to do a better job about minimizing the data they’re collecting, but in the meantime we can all be stingier about what we give out,” she said.

Long term, the situation could create incentives for companies to offer privacy-for-pay, “tiered pricing models that would effectively make privacy a privilege for those who could afford to pay more for these services every month,” said Fatemeh Khatibloo, a privacy analyst with Forrester.

Source : usatoday.com

Search company launches new opt-in ad service for non-Google sites and tools that show how it tracks your internet activity 

Google has rolled out new tools to let users see what its ad-tracking service has learned about them, and to let users opt in or out of a new personalised ads service.

The addition to Google’s account settings, called My Activity, allows users to review everything that Google has tracked about their behaviour – across search, YouTube, Chrome, Android and everything else – and edit or delete it at each step.

If you use Google for everything you do, you might be surprised by just how much it catalogues about your comings and goings on the internet.

google my activity

 Google’s My Activity page allows users to see what Google records of their internet activity Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The My Activity tools comes with new ad preferences. Google currently uses the information it has learned about you to tailor ads across its own services, of which you can opt out.

But now Google is offering to use its behavioural information to tailor ads shown across the wider non-Google internet and Google’s search pages, which until now was purely done through the use of cookies.

The big difference to most other moves by similar companies offering ads on its own services and third-party sites, including Facebook, is that Google is making this interest-based advertising extension opt-in, not opt-out. If a user does not actively select to enable the new ad targeting they will not automatically be enrolled.

Google signed-out ad control settings

 Google signed-out ad control settings Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Now there are two separate behavioural advert settings for users to switch on or off as they see fit. One is so-called signed in ads, those on Google services, and signed out ads, those served by Google on third-party sites of which there are over 2m across the internet.

For the privacy conscious, you’re unlikely to want to opt in for greater profiling and should you wish to turn off both signed in and signed outads, Google also has a Chrome extension to permanently opt out of Google’s DoubleClick tracking cookie. But to encourage users and make dealing with ads a more palatable proposition Google’s making tools available to users to sweeten the deal. These include the ability to “mute” certain ads, including those that irritatingly seem to follow you around the internet after the odd search or product viewing, and find out why you’re seeing particular ads.

The new tools and controls are rolling out to users at the moment, but not everyone has immediate access. Users should get a notification about privacy and security changes in the near future, which will guide them to the new ads settings.

Source  : theguardian.com

Botto Bistro is far from the worst restaurant in America. But it doesn’t mind if you think so.

A small Italian place in a strip mall across the bay from San Francisco, Botto is just a few miles from my house. The other night, I packed up the family and headed off for dinner.

I remembered one of Botto’s reviews on Yelp said, “The pizza tastes like the rag at Denny’s that they use to wipe down the counters and tabletops,” so we decided to get that, plus a beet salad.

The attitude is a little brusque. “We have no ice, no butter, no ranch, no lemon,” a sign behind the counter warns. “We charge for bread. We charge for everything.”

Give Botto five stars for undermining Yelp. The bistro did not want to be reviewed and let itself be subject to the whims of people with no names but plenty of opinions. But Yelp doesn’t allow businesses to opt out.

Some shady outfits try to load the dice by buying favorable reviews, but Botto went in the other direction. It asks people to trash it. When we left, the co-owner and chef, Davide Cerretini, gave me a sticker that said, “I gave Botto one star on Yelp.” If I did that, my next pizza would be half price.

The restaurant has been fighting Yelp in earnest for nearly two years now. More than half of its 250 reviews are one-star. Mr. Cerretini seems to enjoy the game. “It may sound to you like a suicide mission, but our business is up,” he said.

If Botto’s critical notices on Yelp are often written to be outrageous and unbelievable (“the pizza arrived at the table with a dead rat under the cheese”), they also reflect the confused state of reviewing on the internet. Even as researchers are finding that reviews are less reliable, more people are relying on them. On Yelp alone, the number of reviews now exceeds 100 million.

Reviews tell us what to read next, where to eat dinner and what to order there, where to go on vacation and what doctor to call. Soon, as Google demonstrated with the introduction of its voice-activated Google Home device in May, reviews will be read aloud to you as you lie on the couch, wondering what movie to see next.

But if reviews are ubiquitous, there are also persistent controversies over how many of the reviews on the internet were bought by the subject rather than written as finely reasoned opinions from a neutral party, and whether that distorts all results.

In May, Yelp issued 59 new Consumer Alerts, which are notices it puts on a business’s page that it has been caught trying to pay for better reviews. Among those cited were a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon and an emergency room in Humble, Tex. Lifehacker.com recently took on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, arguing their way of compiling reviews was “fundamentally flawed.” FiveThirtyEight.com reported that “men are sabotaging the online reviews of TV shows aimed at women.” (Why? Because they can.)

Bart de Langhe, an assistant professor of marketing at Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, used to see numerical reviews online and accept them implicitly. Then, when his son was born three years ago, he needed to buy a car seat. Mr. de Langhe noticed that the seat rated lowest by Consumer Reports got a high rating on Amazon, and the one rated highest by Consumer Reports received a low rating on Amazon.

The more popular seat on Amazon was also more expensive. Were reviewers, he wondered, paying more attention to things like price and brand than the objective, measurable ability of the seat to protect its occupant? With two other researchers, Philip Fernbach and Donald Lichtenstein, Mr. de Langhe began a study that compared online reviews for items like air-conditioners and car batteries with the evaluations in Consumer Reports.

“Navigating by the Stars” was published in April in The Journal of Consumer Research. After analyzing 344,157 Amazon ratings of 1,272 products in 120 product categories, the researchers found “a substantial disconnect” between the objective quality information that online reviews actually convey and the extent to which consumers trust them.

In other words, the consumer saw a number — 4.6 stars out of 5 — and took it much more seriously than it merited.

Nearly half the time, Amazon reviewers and the Consumer Reports experts disagreed about which item in a random pair was better. Moreover, average user ratings did not predict resale value in the used-product marketplace, another traditional indicator of quality.

Julie Law, a spokeswoman for Amazon, said “Amazon customer reviews reflect the feedback, tastes and concerns of real customers, not professional reviewers. That’s what makes them powerful.” She also said the company was now giving more weight to the most recent helpful reviews from purchases that were verified.

Mr. de Langhe stuck with this recommendation: “You should rely much less on reviews than you currently do.”

That would be hard, because consumer reviews have wormed their way into offline life. In Amazon’s first physical bookstore, opened in a Seattle mall, good reviews from readers both help get the books selected for the store in the first place, and then are used to compel a sale. So the potential buyer is told via a “shelf-talker” — a card below the book — that Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” was awarded 4.2 stars by readers, while George Orwell’s “1984” got 4.5 stars, as did “Pride and Prejudice.”

The store also carried some novels that are either self-published or from small publishers, and these often seemed to receive better ratings than the classics. Tamara Lyon’s “Post-Traumatic Brazilian Wax Syndrome,” in which an interior designer named Bristow Sparks tries to regroup after colliding with a park bench on a first date and suffering other disasters, got 4.7 stars.

Jordan Nasser fell just shy of a perfect score with his first novel about a gay New Yorker returning home to Tennessee, “Home Is a Fire.” He got 4.9 stars.

In an email from Stockholm, where he is now living, Mr. Nasser said the praises were an embarrassment of riches.

“Honestly, I wish ‘Home Is a Fire’ had received more three- and four-star reviews, in order to balance out the final result, because I think the sequel, ‘The Fire Went Wild,’ is a much better book,” he wrote.

In any case, Mr. Nasser said his book was not comparable to the classic books with lower ratings. “Absolutely not, and I would never imply that in any way,” he said.

Although that is exactly what anyone strolling through the store would think. Ms. Law of Amazon said, “We don’t think there’s anything here that needs to be fixed.”

The problem with reviews and ratings, said Joseph Reagle Jr., author of “Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web,” is that we have elevated them to supreme importance.

“They have always been somewhat subjective, arbitrary, capricious, befuddling, and bemusing,” he said. “I think what’s different is that we forget this is the case, particularly given the sheen of big data and quantification.”

Six months or so after Botto Bistro began trolling Yelp, the review site blinked. While it did not bend on the restaurant — a Yelp spokeswoman said Botto was simply cheating itself out of customers — the site reportedly began exploring offers to sell itself.

Yelp, which never officially commented on the sale process, was saying in essence that reviewing, at least for the moment, might have peaked. No deal was done, however, after the company took itself off the market last year. So Yelp soldiers on.

So does Botto. If you dig on Yelp, you will find reviewers who said they genuinely were not impressed, which is about where I fell. An adequate pizza, a good salad and a beer were $46, not including the minimum “suggested gratuity” of 18 percent — which, considering this is a place where you set your own table and pick up your food from the counter, was rather aggressive.

I’d write a review saying all this, but I doubt it would do any good.

Source : nytimes.com

The internet is a web of lies.

That's according to new research looking at online honesty, which found that "online deception is the rule, not the exception."

Dan Misener — CBC Radio's ever-truthful technology columnist — looks at how and why we lie online.

What did the researchers want to find out?

This research — published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour — was conducted by a team of researchers who were interested in online honesty. As they put it, they wanted to find out "whether or not people are depicting their true selves online."

Researchers wanted to know about our own honesty — but also how truthful we believe others are. So they looked at this question across a few different types of websites:

  • Social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
  • Online dating sites like Match.com and Tinder
  • Anonymous chat rooms 
  • And what they call "sexual communication websites."

They wanted to know if the type of website makes a difference — not just in how much we lie online, but how much we expect others to lie online.

And yes, the researchers did acknowledge that measuring dishonesty is tricky business.

What kinds of lies are we talking about?

Michelle Drouin is a psychology professor at Indiana University Purdue Fort Wayne, and was one of the authors of the new research.

Dr. Michelle DrouinDr. Michelle Drouin was one of the authors of the new research on online honesty. She says people are most honest on social media sites because they have the most links to the outside world. (drmichelledrouin.com)

She said people reported lying about all kinds of things — their age, their gender, their appearance, activities and interests.

Of the different types of sites they measured, people were most likely to be honest on social media sites like Facebook. Nearly 32 per cent of people said they were "always honest" on social media.

"The reason for this is because these social media sites, we posited, have the most links to the outside world," said Drouin.

"It's a lot harder to lie about your gender or your age, for example, when you have pictures of yourself, pictures of your family, and most importantly, shared acquaintances."

People were a little less honest on dating sites and less honest still on anonymous chat sites. People were the least likely to be honest on "sexual communication" websites like Craigslist's casual encounters.

What about our expectations of others' honesty online?

The short answer is that our expectations about others' honesty tend to mirror our beliefs about our own honesty. In other words, on sites where we believe we're being honest, we're more likely to expect honesty from others.

Ashley Madison Hack 20150720People were the least likely to be honest on "sexual communication" websites — like Ashley Madison and Craigslist's 'casual encounters' section. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

But across the board, our expectations of others' honesty were pretty low. Between 55 and 90 per cent of participants in the study believed that others were lying at least some of the time about their age, gender, activities, interests and appearance.

The most commonly expected lie is appearance — 90 per cent of participants expected others to lie about what they look like.

But perhaps most fascinating about this study is its finding that our expectations of other people's honesty influences our own honesty — when we think other people are lying online, we're more likely to lie ourselves.

Does this study explain why people are dishonest?

According to Drouin, most people reported lying online in order to make themselves appear better.

"They wanted to be cooler. They wanted to be more beautiful. They wanted to be sexier. They wanted to give an appearance of a life that was better than the life that they were leading," she said.

But there were other reasons too.

"Others said that they lied because they just thought everyone lies online. This is the place where lying is standard."

Why is it important to understand online deception?

If we have a better understanding of dishonesty online — and the degree to which other people expect dishonesty online — we can be less naive in our online interactions. 

But there may be something deeper at work here. Research suggests there's a difference between the lies we tell face-to-face, and the lies we tell online. Face-to-face lies are often spontaneous, whereas online lines can require more planning. They're more calculated.

Much of our understanding about human relationships is based on studying face-to-face interactions in the physical world. But as more and more aspects of our lives move online, it's important to understand how the medium itself can impact our relationships — especially when we consider that we have a generation of people who are growing up in a world where most socializing happens on the internet.

And if lying and deception is the default behaviour, Drouin thinks it could be having a profound effect on trust in relationships — and that's something worth better understanding.

Author : Dan Misener

Source : cbc.ca

Nothing feels more 90s than the dark web.

If you remember when Ask Jeeves was more of a household name than Google, you might be pleased to discover that an aesthetically primitive, nostalgically crude form of the Internet exists today.

The dark web, a.k.a. Tor Browser, holds one main draw, which is also its greatest fault: It allows you to search the Internet anonymously. This means you can also purchase things anonymously, and that's why people like it. It has become the premiere cyber black market.

It offers a flurry of drugs, underage pornography, guns, and even hirable assassins that have gotten both patrons and salesmen into legal quicksand.

Indeed, being a cyber Amsterdam isn't all that it's cracked up to be. In 2015, a local man admitted to supplying a drug ring with heroin and fentanyl, essentially heroin on heroin, through purchases made through the dark web.

The dark web itself is actually not of great concern to local police. Portland Police admit that they are not actively paying attention to people who simply visit the dark web, even if they click on links that could end in an illegal purchase. It's more likely that the dark web will lead to an arrest if it is explicitly relevant to an uninvolved case.

"In terms of dark web-related cases we intersect with, we're not seeing an increase, but we're starting to see cases," says Captain Mark Kruger from the Police Bureau's Drugs and Vice Division. "But we don't proactively instigate dark web investigations. Mostly what we're doing is looking at crimes that occur and if there's an intersection with the dark web, we might follow up on that investigation."

Perhaps the largest misconception of the dark web is that it's some anomaly like a virtual drug dealer, and one can only access it through knowing cool people or going to the right parties. Yet, it doesn't take being a mole person to gain access. All one has to do is download a program called Tor Browser. You can Google it and the process takes about as long as it does to get Spotify.

And that's what I did. I entered the dark web, and I can assure you that I've thought about putting black tape over my laptop camera ever since.

Immediately after downloading Tor Browser, you are reminded of simpler times. You bare witness to a crude, primitive pale green search engine. After typing anything, the search engine that takes over is called Duck Duck Go.

From here, you witness the Internet as you know it reflected in a funhouse mirror. Essentially, all of the sites you frequent have a Tor equivalent. For instance, there's a "Hidden Wiki" as opposed to Wikipedia, which is a great place to find categorical links for common black market searches, such as: Marketplace drugs, Marketplace commercial services, "erotic jailbait" and blogs.


I click on a link to the People's Drug Store. It offers a quarter gram of #4 heroin for $55 (mind you, quarter is spelled wrong), $37 for a quarter gram of crack cocaine and two MDMA capsules for $25. The drugs are displayed like specials you might see on a happy hour menu.

Meanwhile on Brainmagic, a site specializing in psychedelics, ten tabs of acid are marketed at $100.

Unfortunately, the growing popularity of online drug retailers correlates with the increasing fragility of dark web privacy. Too often, people think they're smarter than the system.

They're not.

According to Motherboard, undercover FBI agents stalked online forums looking for commenters who might have suggested possessing ties to the founders of the Silk Road, the Dark Web's former largest black market.

Eventually, the Silk Road founder was caught promoting his business in a Silk Road chat room and subsequently had his location traced. Silkroad 2.0 has emerged in its stead.

Commercial Services

The dark underbelly of the already-dark web offers underage pornography, hitmen, and hackers who will tinker with your ex's Facebook account for a reasonable sum of Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is the official dark web currency, distinguishing it as its own sovereign nation. If the word "Bitcoin" rings a bell, you've probably seen it on a Yelp checklist. And no—no restaurant in Portland will accept Bitcoin.

"Erotic jailbait"

Sprint back to the Hidden Wiki and surprisingly, you'll find that underage pornography and sex chatrooms don't also fit under the "commercial services" category. These links are simply called "erotic jailbait."

In early 2016, the FBI cracked down and caught 1,500 people looking at child pornography on the dark web.

The dark web also specializes in offering services to help people cheat on their spouses.


Having a Facebook account on the dark web seems like an oxymoron considering social media often equals self-marketing. However, Facebook is into it. The social media giant has opted to work with Tor software in creating a Tor version of their website, so that some users can bask in increased privacy. But even Facebook admits that when you login, the service can still identify you, which hints at a somewhat aimless effort on their part.

Twitter also has a lost twin, and its bird icon is perched within the trenches of the dark web. But all you're going to find on the Tor version of Twitter is neo-Nazis. The hashtag #daywithoutjews is visibly utilized by AdolfHitler1. This is especially disturbing as it suggests "AdolfHitler" was already taken as a username.

Overall, I wouldn't wish the dark web on my worst enemies. I mainly say this in reaction to a pop-up ad that occurred as I clicked on a drug website that warned me that my privacy may be breached. Just a week later, my Mac browser was 10x slower, and similar to when grandma falls or grandpa has a stroke, I knew my five-and-a-half-year-old computer's days were numbered.

But if you're looking for an excuse to splurge on a new Macbook Pro, the dark web may be just the thing. It feels like Adobe Flash if it had an empire.

Source : wweek.com

It seems that every day we see stories of companies that have been hacked and frequently millions of passwords, credit card numbers or other key pieces of information make their way out of the computers where they are stored.

It’s clear that the more information we have outside of our homes and on computers that are connected to the Internet, we run the risk of the information getting into the hands of people we don’t want to have it.

We also try to create secure connections between our applications so that prying eyes can’t see our communications.

I can’t say I believe this is working very well. Recent postings by WikiLeaks indicates tour intelligence services may have ways to read encrypted information we believed to be unreadable.

And our government isn’t the only group who has the interest and means to read things we don’t intend them to read.

For my communications, I take the perspective that everything I create digitally is probably readable by someone I don’t want to read it.

When it comes to things I may generally write, it helps me ensure I stay factual and true. This is a good thing.

When it comes to items such as passwords, account numbers and bank information, I try to use things like two-factor authentication to ensure that even if someone has my password, they can’t log in unless they enter a code sent to my mobile phone.

Luckily, the companies that are the biggest targets for these sorts of breaches have very sharp people working to secure their systems and our laws and their policies provide instant relief for things like unauthorized bank withdrawals.

Still, situations like identity theft, where someone pretends to be someone they’re not can be problematic for those affected. Even if someone who has been affected by identity theft loses no money, the time to repair the damage can be daunting and take years to correct.

So how can you protect yourself?

In most cases, try to keep your computers and mobile phones up to the most recent standards. Because this field is changing rapidly, staying current is a very good defense.

When companies offer features such as two-factor authentication, use them.

If you are concerned about communications being private, consider whether it should be sent digitally or perhaps in person. While this is not always possible, it is fair to assume that if your recipient can read something, so can someone else.

Privacy and security are legitimate concerns in today’s world. They have been for generations. We now have more and different ways to communicate and, therefore, need to be cognizant of the risks the new technologies bring.

Stay vigilant, stay honest and stay safe. A little care can go a long way to protecting you.

Mark Mathias is a 35+ year information technology executive, a resident of Westport, Connecticut. His columns can be read on the Internet at blog.mathias.org. He can be contacted at livingwith.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Author : Mark Mathias

Source : http://www.newcanaannewsonline.com/news/article/Living-With-Technology-How-good-is-online-11009880.php 

Although the government still hides too much information about a secret telephone records surveillance program known as Hemisphere, we have learned through EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits that police tout the massive database of private calls as “Google on Steroids" [pdf].

Hemisphere, which AT&T operates on behalf of federal, state, and local law enforcement, contains trillions of domestic and international phone call records dating back to 1987. AT&T adds roughly four billion phone records to Hemisphere each day [.pptx], including calls from non-AT&T customers that pass through the company’s switches.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other federal, state and local police use Hemisphere to not only track when and who someone is calling, but to perform complicated traffic analysis that can dynamically map people’s social networks and physical locations. This even includes knowing when someone changes their phone number.

And federal officials often do it without first getting permission from a judge.

Indeed, Hemisphere was designed to be extremely secret, with police instructed to do everything possible to make sure the program never appeared in the public record. After using Hemisphere to obtain private information about someone, police usually cover up their use of Hemisphere by later obtaining targeted data about suspects from phone providers through traditional subpoenas, a process the police call “parallel construction” and that EFF calls “evidence laundering.”

Government Treats Same Information Differently in FOIA Cases

Government secrecy about Hemisphere has extended to refusing to disclose basic records about the program, and EFF has had to sue federal and California law enforcement to win access to this critical information. EFF filed another round of briefing in federal court in November calling on the government to provide records as soon as possible, given that we made our FOIA request almost two years ago. The delayed resolution in federal court has stalled a related lawsuit EFF brought against California law enforcement agencies for access to their records about Hemisphere.

We aren’t the only ones suing: the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed similar litigation, which has allowed us to learn even more about Hemisphere, including how the federal government has used inconsistent arguments to avoid public scrutiny of the program.

In EFF’s case earlier this month, the government filed a list of Hemisphere records that the government is withholding from both EFF and EPIC. This list shows the government treated the two requesters differently.  Specifically, the chart shows that out of the 161 pages common to both lawsuits, the government claimed more than twice as many legal reasons to withhold the majority of pages from EFF. The government withheld 151 pages from EFF (but not EPIC) on the grounds that disclosure could interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation. And it withheld 107 pages from EFF (but not EPIC) because disclosure would supposedly out confidential informants.

The government has yet to explain why it treated the exact same information so differently in EFF’s and EPIC’s respective FOIA requests. Absent any explanation, the disparate treatment appears highly arbitrary. Moreover, it highlights the large power imbalance between the government and FOIA requesters seeking records.

Agencies know exactly what the documents contain and are in the best position to use or abuse FOIA’s exemptions to withhold them. This asymmetry is often to the government’s advantage. The government’s inconsistent treatment of EFF’s and EPIC’s FOIA requests show why FOIA should better limit officials’ discretion to treat requesters so differently, and better ensure judicial oversight over the entire FOIA process.

Disclosed Docs Show Police View Hemisphere as a “Super Search Engine”

Before the Hemisphere Program came to light in 2013, when a presentation was inadvertently released to a privacy activist, the public knew nothing about the massive phone records dragnet.

Through the program, AT&T assists federal and local law enforcement—often by stationing company staff in police “Fusion Centers”—in accessing and analyzing AT&T’s massive database of call detail records (CDRs). This information includes phone numbers dialed and calls received, as well as the time, date, and length of the call, and sometimes location information.  This information isn’t limited to AT&T customers either.

From the records that have been disclosed in EFF’s lawsuits, we’ve learned that police view the astonishing size and scope of the database as an asset, referring to it as the “Super Search Engine” and “Google on Steroids.” Such descriptions confirm EFF’s worst fears that Hemisphere is a mass surveillance program that threatens core civil liberties.

The program poses severe Fourth Amendment concerns because police are obtaining detailed private information from the call records and learning even more about people’s social connections and physical movements based on pattern analysis. Federal officials do all of this without a warrant or any judicial oversight.

But beyond the Fourth Amendment problems, Hemisphere also poses acute risks to the First Amendment rights of callers caught in the program’s dragnet. Specifically, Hemisphere allows police to see a person’s associations, shedding light on their personal connections and political and social networks. It’s not hard to see such a tool being trained on activists and others critical of law enforcement, or being used by the government to identify entire organizations. We know that law enforcement officials have subjected Black Lives Matter activists to automated social media monitoring, and subjected attendees at gun shows to surveillance by automated license plate readers. Government officials can easily use Hemisphere in similar ways.

The Hemisphere program could not operate without AT&T’s full cooperation. It’s time for AT&T to reconsider its responsibility not only to its customers, but to all Americans who pick up the phone.


Source : https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/11/law-enforcements-secret-super-search-engine-amasses-trillions-phone-records

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