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[This article is originally published in bizjournals.com written by RSM US LLP - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Issac Avila]

Persons engaged in fraud and illegal activity have long used several methods to hide ill-gotten assets. Today, forensic investigators have powerful new technological tools to track and uncover these assets. Some specialized techniques may require digital forensic specialists; however, more basic options are also effective.

Whether the suspected fraudster is a business partner, an employee or some other related party, the process for uncovering hidden accounts tends to follow a similar path.

Let’s look at basic techniques first.

The first step is to build a financial profile for the person or entity in question. This process involves gathering and reviewing documents and records such as tax returns, bank statements, mobile payment account history, investment account statements, credit card statements, life insurance policies, paycheck stubs, real and personal property records, lien records and any other financial-related statements for the period of time during which questionable activity is suspected.

As these documents are being compiled, build a master list comprised of all accounts identified, including owner’s names, authorized users, associated addresses or other account profile information. It is also advisable to identify potential email addresses, social media accounts, and other web-based account information.

When analyzing these documents, keep the following tips in mind:

  • For financial accounts identified, get the electronic statements directly from the source when possible. This helps ensure the integrity of the information. Also, if possible, obtain the information in electronic format so it can be ingested into various search and analysis tools.
  • Tax returns provide information concerning wages, business income, and investment income. They can identify the existence of both real and personal property and the possibility of foreign accounts or trusts. As tax returns reveal sources of income, tie them to specific accounts. For example, if the interest income is listed on the return, but no account is identified, investigate to find an institution, account number, and the related statements.
  • If a business is uncovered, in addition to identifying all financial accounts related to that business, try to obtain the articles of organization and/or other ownership information for that business. This can help identify, among many things, parties involved in illegal activity and other businesses a suspect is associated with, and it can even help identify any hidden assets.
  • Investment accounts have long been a popular vehicle to transfer and/or launder illegal funds through the purchase and subsequent sale of financial products and commodities. 
  • Reviewing pay stubs from the relevant period cannot only identify multiple bank accounts, but it can also help identify and/or support any unusual spending behavior and other financial activity.
  • Mobile payments through providers such as PayPal and Venmo have become increasingly popular and provide another avenue to divert funds and hide assets. The transaction history for these accounts should be obtained not only for this reason but in addition, it provides a paper trail of both the origin and recipient of funds that could uncover hidden accounts or parties associated with fraud or illegal activity.
  • Depending on the jurisdiction (state, county, city) real property records including deeds, liens and other documents identifying ownership of assets are publicly available information. These records can be used to identify any assets not previously reported without the request of a subpoena.
  • If a recent credit report can be obtained, it can be a useful document to help identify a large portion of these items in a consolidated format.

With all information gathered, the next step is a funds-tracing exercise to analyze deposits to, and withdrawals from, each of the identified accounts. Funds tracing may reveal even more accounts for which statements should be obtained and funds traced. Update the account master list to reflect any new accounts discovered and to record all deposits, withdrawals and other activity for each account.

When conducting a funds tracing, remember the following:

  • Develop a thorough list of the suspect’s family members and acquaintances, including names, aliases, and addresses, and match those names against account statements and transactions to determine if any related parties received funds. Close attention should be paid to any financial transactions with the suspect’s parents, children, siblings, romantic partners and any of their respective businesses.
  • Any unusual transfers or expenditures deserve special attention, as well as recurring deposits from a bank or brokerage in any amount. This could uncover dividend-paying stocks or interest-paying bonds.
  • A review of canceled checks will not only tell to whom the checks were paid, but also to what account number and institution the check was deposited, which can lead to new hidden accounts. Again, pay special attention to checks to family members and acquaintances or for unusual activities or amounts.
  • An analysis of ATM withdrawals or credit card cash advances, including aggregate amounts and the locations made, may indicate areas where the suspect is spending a large amount of time and possibly working to hide assets in secret accounts. Ask for explanations for any large cash withdrawals, whether through an ATM or in person.

Digital forensic analysis is another powerful tool for tracking down hidden assets. Whether it’s a work computer, personal computer, tablet or smart phone, any activity performed on the device can leave a trail of evidence. More sophisticated suspects may use encryption, wiping programs and private or remote web-browsing sessions to hide this evidence, but such steps on their own can help indicate fraud.

Digital forensic efforts to uncover hidden accounts focus on a variety of areas, including:

  • Email contents— Investigators can conduct keyword searches using names of suspected co-conspirators, romantic partners, family members, business dealings, business names, known code words or any other word or words that might be of interest to the investigator. They can also search for key information, such as new account setup forms, details or confirmations related to wire transfers, mobile payments, details of new business ventures or other case-specific information.
  • Accounting or budgeting software programs—A suspect who is a business owner or key accounting employee may be keeping multiple sets of books. Even if deleted, these may be recovered via digital forensic analysis and lead to unknown accounts.
  • Spreadsheets and other files—Suspects often keep track of account numbers and other information in spreadsheets or other files. 
  • Browsing history—Most internet browsers log information pertaining to website visits, as well as other internet activities, such as the completion of web-based forms and temporary internet files. A digital forensic specialist may uncover visits to bank or brokerage websites that may lead to unidentified accounts. Internet activity can also show information relating to online purchasing and payment activity, which could be useful in identifying expenditures and other potential assets.
  • Metadata analysis—Artifacts contained within documents (Word, Excel, PDFs), such as created and modified times, username and company name, can also help uncover fraud.
  • Registry analysis—Certain artifacts stored in the registry, such as USB connection information, network, and login information also can help in an investigation.
  • Mobile devices—Forensic specialists can analyze call logs, SMS messaging, and in some cases, email and email attachments. In addition, users tend to use these devices to access and monitor various assets such as financial accounts, online payment, etc.
  • Online social media activity, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites—An analysis of a suspect’s public profile and activity may uncover a hidden business or other interests, which may lead to other unknown accounts. In addition, people frequently post information and pictures of new assets (i.e., cars, boats, etc.) on social media sites. This can lead investigators to potential assets and also help with documenting large expenditures.

By forensically preserving the electronic evidence (computer hard drive, mobile device, etc.) a number of potential data sources might become available. Included in this forensically preserved data might be previously deleted files, multiple versions or iterations of files, indications of files and programs being accessed. All of these items could provide leads for additional sources of information or indications of the user accessing or deleting data.

While this is not exhaustive, it does provide a useful overview for tracking down hidden accounts. Keep in mind that accounts are not the only places where fraudulent gains can be hidden.

However, a thorough search for, and careful analysis of, hidden accounts should be a central part of any fraud investigation.

For more information about fraud investigations, contact Brad Koranda at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 612-376-9387.

RSM’s purpose is to deliver the power of being understood to our clients, colleagues, and communities through world-class audit, tax and consulting services focused on middle market businesses. For more information, visit rsmus.com.

As a partner with RSM's Forensic and Valuation Services group, Brad Koranda provides strategic advisory and financial services to companies across a broad scope of industries, including business and professional services, real estate, manufacturing, distribution, technology, insurance, investment management, life sciences, health care, and financial services sectors.
Categorized in Investigative Research

Source: This article was Published bizcommunity.com - Contributed by Member: Jeremy Frink

The third Annual Western Cape Research Ethics Committees Colloquium was hosted by the University of the Western Cape (UWC) on Tuesday 11 September 2018

Here, the effectiveness of social media as a research tool and the implications of work conducted on these social media platforms were highlighted. 

According to Dr. Amiena Peck, from UWC’s Department of Linguistics, social media platforms have created many advantages of online research.

Guidelines, privacy, and cybersecurity

“Millions of South Africans use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin, and more and more people join daily. This makes finding data more accessible, but it does offer challenges,” Peck said. 

“Unfortunately, there are no guidelines and no existing literature for guidelines when using social media for data collection, and there are several other challenges – such as privacy issues and cybersecurity.”

Professor Neil Myburgh, chair of UWC’s Biomedical Research Ethics Committee, said the issue of consent when using social media is often not spoken about – but this should change. “We have seen on Twitter where photos of children were shared in particular campaigns, bringing ethical issues to the surface,” he said. 

Myburgh noted that researchers need to consider all ethical issues when harvesting data from social media and strict ethical guidelines need to be established for social media use.

Proper ethical research methods

These kinds of reviews carried out by Research Ethics Committees allow a collective of multiskilled people to review a proposal and check its scientific veracity, as well as its ethical quality – a useful process. 

UWC rector and vice-chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius said ethics is close to the hearts of most researchers and professionals at universities.

“Colloquia such as these are important to ensure that proper ethical research methods are taught to our young researchers. We have seen what has been happening in the accounting profession, for example – the curriculum needs to be amended so that we can teach the softer skills to our young accountants,” he said.

The colloquium enabled fruitful engagement between people closely involved in ensuring both scientific and ethical quality in research, whilst contributing to better practices all around. 

Attendees included participants from research structures at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Stellenbosch University, University of Cape Town, the South African Medical Research Council and the Western Cape Department of Health.
 
Categorized in Research Methods

Source: This article was Published computerworld.com By Mike Elgan - Contributed by Member: Dorothy Allen

If you think a search engine exists as an index to the internet, it’s time to update your thinking.

This column is not about politics. It makes no political judgments and takes no political positions. No, really! Stay with me here.

President Trump this week slammed Google, claiming that the company “rigged” Google News Search results to favor stories and news organizations critical of the president.

To drive home his claim about bias, Trump posted a video on Twitter this week with the hashtag #StopTheBias (which, at the time I wrote this, had 4.36 million views), claiming that Google promoted President Barack Obama’s State of the Union addresses, but stopped the practice when Trump took office.

In a statement issued to the press, a Google spokesperson said that the company did not promote on its homepage either Obama’s or Trump’s first “State of the Union” addresses because technically they are considered mere “addresses to a joint session” of Congress, the idea being that brand-new presidents are not in a position to reveal the “state of the nation.” Google also claimed that it did promote Trump’s second and most recent State of the Union, a claim that screenshots found on social media and pages captured by the site Wayback Machine appear to confirm.

The facts around this incident are being funneled into ongoing, rancorous online political debates, which, in my opinion, isn’t particularly interesting.

What is interesting is the Big Question this conflict brings to the surface.

What is a search engine?

A search engine can be four things.

  • An index to the internet

When Google first launched its search engine in 1996, it was clear what a search engine was: an index of the internet.

Google’s killer innovation was its ability to rank pages in a way that was supposed to reflect the relative relevance or importance of each result.

Both the results and the ranking were supposed to be a reflection or a snapshot of the internet itself, not an index to the information out there in the real world.

  • An arbiter of what’s true

In this view, Google Search would favor information that’s objectively true and de-emphasize links to content that’s objectively untrue.

  • An objective source of information

The objective source idea is that Google makes an attempt to present all sides of contentious issues and all sources of information, without favoring any ideas or sources.

  • A customized, personalized source of information

The personalized source concept says that a search engine gives each user a different set of results based on what that user wants regardless of what’s true, what’s happening on the internet or any other factor.

This is all pretty abstract, so here’s a clarifying thought experiment.

When someone searches Google to find out the shape of the Earth, how should Google approach that query? It depends on what Google believes a search engine is.

(Note that it’s likely that flat-Earth proponents generate, link to and chatter about the idea that the Earth is flat more than people who believe it’s spherical. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that, objectively, the content and activity on the actual internet favors the flat-Earth idea.)

If a search engine is supposed to be an index to the internet, then search results for the shape of the Earth should favor the flat-Earth idea.

If a search engine is supposed to be an arbiter of what’s true, then search results should favor the spherical-Earth idea.

If a search engine is supposed to be an objective source of information, then search results should provide a balanced result that equally represents both flat- and spherical-Earth theories.

And if a search engine is supposed to be a customized, personalized source of information, then the results should favor either the flat-Earth idea or the spherical-Earth idea, depending on who is doing the searching.

I use the shape of the Earth as a proxy or stand-in for the real search results people are conducting.

For example, searches for your company, product, brand or even yourself are still subject to the same confusion over what a search engine is supposed to be.

When your customers, prospective business partners, employees or future prospective employees and others search for information about your organization, what results should they get? Should those results reflect what’s “true,” what’s false but popular, or what’s neutral between the two? Or should it depend on who’s doing the searching?

The truth is that Google tries to make Google Search all four of these things at the same time.

Adding to the complexity of the problem is the fact that search engine results are governed by algorithms, which are trade secrets that are constantly changing.

If you were to ask people, I suspect that most would say that Google Search should be Model No. 1 — an index to the internet — and not get involved in deciding what’s true, what’s false or what’s the answer the user wants to hear.

And yet the world increasingly demands that Google embrace Model No. 2 — to be an arbiter of what’s true.

Governments won’t tolerate an accurate index

Trump has claimed repeatedly that, in general, news media coverage is biased against him. If that’s true, and if Google News Search was a passive index of what the media is actually reporting, wouldn’t it be reasonable for Trump to expect anti-Trump coverage on Google News Search?

By slamming Google News Search as “rigged,” Trump appears to reveal an expectation that Google News should reflect what’s happening in the real world as he sees it, rather than what’s happening on news media websites.

Or it reveals that regardless of the weight of activity in favor of news sources Trump believes are biased against him, Google News Search should provide a balanced and neutral representation of all opinions and sources equally.

The rejection of the search-engine-as-internet-index model is common among governments and political leaders worldwide.

One famous example is the “right to be forgotten” idea, which has been put into practice as law in both the European Union and Argentina. The idea is that information on the internet can unfairly stigmatize a person, and citizens have the right for that information to be “forgotten,” which is to say made non-existent in search engine results.

Let’s say, for example, that a prominent person files for bankruptcy, and that 100 news sites and blogs on the internet record the fact. Twenty years later, well after the person has restored financial solvency, the old information is still available and findable via search engines, causing unfounded stigmatization.

A successful right-to-be-forgotten petition can remove reference to those pages from search results. The pages still exist, but the search engines don’t link to them when anyone searches for the person’s name.

The advocates of right-to-be-forgotten laws clearly believe that a search engine exists to reflect the real world as it is, or as it should be, and does not exist to reflect the internet as it is.

Google was recently caught in a controversy over an assumed return to the Chinese market with a custom China-only search engine that censors internet content in the same way that domestic sites are required to by the Chinese government. Hundreds of Google employees signed a letter in protest.

Google wants to “return” to the Chinese market. The Chinese government would not allow Google to operate a search engine accessible to Chinese citizens that accurately reflected what’s actually on the internet.

The examples go on and on.

What governments tend to have in common is that in political circles, it’s very difficult to find people advocating for the index-to-the-internet conception of what a search engine should be.

Why the search-engine-as-index idea is dead

Google’s self-stated mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Nebulous, yes. But for the purposes of this column, it’s telling that Google says that its mission is to organize, not the internet’s information, but the “world’s.”

The reality is that people search Google Search and other search engines because they want information about the world, not because they want information about what the internet collectively “thinks.”

And, in any event, the point is growing moot.

What the internet “thinks” is increasingly being gamed and manipulated by propagandists, bots, fake news, trolls, conspiracy theorists, and hackers.

Accurately reflecting all this manipulated information in search engines is valuable only to the manipulators.

Also: With each passing day, more information “searching” is happening via virtual assistants such as Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, and Alexa.

In other words, virtual assistants are becoming the new search engines.

With augmented reality glasses and other highly mobile sources of information, search engines such as Google will have to increasingly become arbiters of what’s true, or supposed to be true, because the public will increasingly demand a single answer for its questions.

That’s why the old initiatives for your company’s presence on the internet — SEO, marketing, social media strategy and all the rest — have new urgency.

With each passing day, search engines exist less to index the internet and more to decide for us all what’s “true” and what’s “not true.”

It’s time to redouble your efforts to make sure that what Google thinks is true about your company really is true.

Categorized in Search Engine

Source: This article was published hindustantimes.com By Karen Weise and Sarah Frier - Contributed by Member: David J. Redcliff

For scholars, the scale of Facebook’s 2.2 billion users provides an irresistible way to investigate how human nature may play out on, and be shaped by, the social network.

The professor was incredulous. David Craig had been studying the rise of entertainment on social media for several years when a Facebook Inc. employee he didn’t know emailed him last December, asking about his research. “I thought I was being pumped,” Craig said. The company flew him to Menlo Park and offered him $25,000 to fund his ongoing projects, with no obligation to do anything in return. This was definitely not normal, but after checking with his school, University of Southern California, Craig took the gift. “Hell, yes, it was generous to get an out-of-the-blue offer to support our work, with no strings,” he said. “It’s not all so black and white that they are villains.”

Other academics got these gifts, too. One, who said she had $25,000 deposited in her research account recently without signing a single document, spoke to a reporter hoping maybe the journalist could help explain it. Another professor said one of his former students got an unsolicited monetary offer from Facebook, and he had to assure the recipient it wasn’t a scam. The professor surmised that Facebook uses the gifts as a low-cost way to build connections that could lead to closer collaboration later. He also thinks Facebook “happily lives in the ambiguity” of the unusual arrangement. If researchers truly understood that the funding has no strings, “people would feel less obligated to interact with them,” he said.

The free gifts are just one of the little-known and complicated ways Facebook works with academic researchers. For scholars, the scale of Facebook’s 2.2 billion users provides an irresistible way to investigate how human nature may play out on, and be shaped by, the social network. For Facebook, the motivations to work with outside academics are far thornier, and it’s Facebook that decides who gets access to its data to examine its impact on society.“Just from a business standpoint, people won’t want to be on Facebook if Facebook is not positive for them in their lives,” said Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer. “We also have a broader responsibility to make sure that we’re having the right impact on society.”

The company’s long been conflicted about how to work with social scientists, and now runs several programs, each reflecting the contorted relationship Facebook has with external scrutiny. The collaborations have become even more complicated in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which was set off by revelations that a professor who once collaborated with Facebook’s in-house researchers used data collected separately to influence elections. ALSO READ: Facebook admits it tracks your mouse movements

“Historically the focus of our research has been on product development, on doing things that help us understand how people are using Facebook and build improvements to Facebook,” Sherman said. Facebook’s heard more from academics and non-profits recently who say “because of the expertise that we have, and the data that Facebook stores, we have an opportunity to contribute to generalizable knowledge and to answer some of these broader social questions,” he said. “So you’ve seen us begin to invest more heavily in social science research and in answering some of these questions.”

Facebook has a corporate culture that reveres research. The company builds its product based on internal data on user behaviour, surveys and focus groups. More than a hundred Ph.D.-level researchers work on Facebook’s in-house core data science team, and employees say the information that points to growth has had more of an impact on the company’s direction than Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s ideas.

Facebook is far more hesitant to work with outsiders; it risks unflattering findings, leaks of proprietary information, and privacy breaches. But Facebook likes it when external research proves that Facebook is great. And in the fierce talent wars of Silicon Valley, working with professors can make it easier to recruit their students.

It can also improve the bottom line. In 2016, when Facebook changed the “like” button into a set of emojis that better-captured user expression—and feelings for advertisers— it did so with the help of Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s an expert in compassion and emotions. Keltner’s Greater Good Science Center continues to work closely with the company. And this January, Facebook made research the centerpiece of a major change to its news feed algorithm. In studies published with academics at several universities, Facebook found that people who used social media actively—commenting on friends’ posts, setting up events—were likely to see a positive impact on mental health, while those who used it passively may feel depressed. In reaction, Facebook declared it would spend more time encouraging “meaningful interaction.” Of course, the more people engage with Facebook, the more data it collects for advertisers.

The company has stopped short of pursuing deeper research on the potentially negative fallout of its power. According to its public database of published research, Facebook’s written more than 180 public papers about artificial intelligence but just one study about elections, based on an experiment Facebook ran on 61 million users to mobilize voters in the Congressional midterms back in 2010. Facebook’s Sherman said, “We’ve certainly been doing a lot of work over the past couple of months, particularly to expand the areas where we’re looking.”

Facebook’s first peer-reviewed papers with outside scholars were published in 2009, and almost a decade into producing academic work, it still wavers over how to structure the arrangements. It’s given out the smaller unrestricted gifts. But those gifts don’t come with access to Facebook’s data, at least initially. The company is more restrictive about who can mine or survey its users. It looks for research projects that dovetail with its business goals.

Some academics cycle through one-year fellowships while pursuing doctorate degrees, and others get paid for consulting projects, which never get published.

When Facebook does provide data to researchers, it retains the right to veto or edit the paper before publication. None of the professors Bloomberg spoke with knew of cases when Facebook prohibited a publication, though many said the arrangement inevitably leads academics to propose investigations less likely to be challenged. “Researchers focus on things that don’t create a moral hazard,” said Dean Eckles, a former Facebook data scientist now at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Without a guaranteed right to publish, Eckles said, researchers inevitably shy away from potentially critical work. That means some of the most burning societal questions may go unprobed.

Facebook also almost always pairs outsiders with in-house researchers. This ensures scholars have a partner who’s intimately familiar with Facebook’s vast data, but some who’ve worked with Facebook say this also creates a selection bias about what gets studied. “Stuff still comes out, but only the immensely positive, happy stories—the goody-goody research that they could show off,” said one social scientist who worked as a researcher at Facebook. For example, he pointed out that the company’s published widely on issues related to well-being, or what makes people feel good and fulfilled, which is positive for Facebook’s public image and product. “The question is: ‘What’s not coming out?,’” he said.

Facebook argues its body of work on well-being does have broad importance. “Because we are a social product that has large distribution within society, it is both about societal issues as well as the product,” said David Ginsberg, Facebook’s director of research.Other social networks have smaller research ambitions, but have tried more open approaches. This spring, Twitter Inc. asked for proposals to measure the health of conversations on its platform, and Microsoft Corp.’s LinkedIn is running a multi-year programme to have researchers use its data to understand how to improve the economic opportunities of workers. Facebook has issued public calls for technical research, but until the past few months, hasn’t done so for social sciences. Yet it has solicited in that area, albeit quietly: Last summer, one scholarly association begged discretion when sharing information on a Facebook pilot project to study tech’s impact in developing economies. Its email read, “Facebook is not widely publicizing the program.”

In 2014, the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a massive study, co-authored by two Facebook researchers and an outside academic, that found emotions were “contagious” online, that people who saw sad posts were more likely to make sad posts. The catch: the results came from an experiment run on 689,003 Facebook users, where researchers secretly tweaked the algorithm of Facebook’s news feed to show some cheerier content than others. People were angry, protesting that they didn’t give Facebook permission to manipulate their emotions.

The company first said people allowed such studies by agreeing to its terms of service, and then eventually apologized. While the academic journal didn’t retract the paper, it issued an “Editorial Expression of Concern.”

To get federal research funding, universities must run testing on humans through what’s known as an institutional review board, which includes at least one outside expert, approves the ethics of the study and ensures subjects provide informed consent. Companies don’t have to run research through IRBs. The emotional-contagion study fell through the cracks.

The outcry profoundly changed Facebook’s research operations, creating a review process that was more formal and cautious. It set up a pseudo-IRB of its own, which doesn’t include an outside expert but does have policy and PR staff. Facebook also created a new public database of its published research, which lists more than 470 papers. But that database now has a notable omission—a December 2015 paper two Facebook employees co-wrote with Aleksandr Kogan, the professor at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook said it believes the study was inadvertently never posted and is working to ensure other papers aren’t left off in the future.

In March, Gary King, a Harvard University political science professor, met with some Facebook executives about trying to get the company to share more data with academics. It wasn’t the first time he’d made his case, but he left the meeting with no commitment.

A few days later, the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, and soon Facebook was on the phone with King. Maybe it was time to cooperate, at least to understand what happens in elections. Since then, King and a Stanford University law professor have developed a complicated new structure to give more researchers access to Facebook’s data on the elections and let scholars publish whatever they find. The resulting structure is baroque, involving a new “commission” of scholars Facebook will help pick, an outside academic council that will award research projects, and seven independent U.S. foundations to fund the work. “Negotiating this was kind of like the Arab-Israel peace treaty, but with a lot more partners,” King said.

The new effort, which has yet to propose its first research project, is the most open approach Facebook’s taken yet. “We hope that will be a model that replicates not just within Facebook but across the industry,” Facebook’s Ginsberg said. “It’s a way to make data available for social science research in a way that means that it’s both independent and maintains privacy.” But the new approach will also face an uphill battle to prove its credibility. The new Facebook research project came together under the company’s public relations and policy team, not its research group of PhDs trained in ethics and research design. More than 200 scholars from the Association of Internet Researchers, a global group of interdisciplinary academics, have signed a letter saying the effort is too limited in the questions it’s asking, and also that it risks replicating what sociologists call the “Matthew effect,” where only scholars from elite universities—like Harvard and Stanford—get an inside track.

“Facebook’s new initiative is set up in such a way that it will select projects that address known problems in an area known to be problematic,” the academics wrote. The research effort, the letter said, also won’t let the world—or Facebook, for that matter—get ahead of the next big problem.

Categorized in Social

Now more than ever, marketing experts are improving their marketing strategy with fewer resources, and they are shifting marketing budgets from traditional to digital tactics like search engine optimization and social media. Companies, too often, omit their social media marketing strategy from their SEO strategy, which is a grave mistake. A study conducted by Ascend2 indicates that companies with the strongest SEO via social media strategies now produce the best results, and vice-versa. Companies that consider themselves “very successful” at search engine optimization are integrating social media into their strategy, whereas, companies that are “not successful” at search engine optimization are not integrating social media into their strategy.

See the graph below:

SEOSocialIntegration

In the above graph, companies with successful SEO are in blue while those companies with an inferior SEO strategy are in amber. You can see 38% of those doing very well with search engine optimization was also extensively integrating social media. A full 50% of those doing poorly at search engine optimization was not integrating social media at all in their strategy. This graph signifies that companies that are succeeding in search engine optimization today are including social in their strategy.

SEO is much more than just high ranking in Google. It is a multi-disciplinary, comprehensive approach to website optimization that ensures potential customers, who come to your website, will have an excellent experience, easily find what they are looking for, and have an easy time sharing your optimum-quality content. The combination of SEO and social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest can be overwhelming for big as well as small business marketers. Until recently, search engine optimization and social media marketing were thought of as two very different things, but actually, these are two sides of the same coin. Consider the below mentioned social network growth statistics:

  • YouTube hosts nearly 14 billion videos. Source: comScore
  • Google sites handle about 100 billion searches each month. Source: SEL
  • Facebook is now over 1 billion users. Source: Mark Zuckerberg
  • Twitter has over 550 million accounts. Source: Statistics Brain
  • Google+ has over 500 million users. Source: Google
  • LinkedIn is at 225 million users. Source: LinkedIn
  • Pinterest grew 4,377% in 2012 and continues to expand to 25 million users. Source: TechCrunch
  • Following statistics shows how social media is quite helpful in effective search engine optimization:
  • 94% increase in CTR (Click-Thru-Rate) when searching and social media are used together. Source: eMarketer
  • 50% of consumers use a combination of search and social media to make purchase decisions. Source: Inc
  • Consumers who use social media (vs. people who don’t) are 50% more likely to use search. Source: srcibd
  • Websites with a Google+ business page yield a 15% rise in search rank. Source: Open Forum

With these statistics, we can say that social media can be a primary engine for promoting new content and can take your website from zero visibility to a strong performing position almost overnight. For enhancing SEO through social media platform two factors play a vital role, which are social signals and natural link building. I have explained these two factors in an elaborative manner:

What’s Your Social Signal?

Social Signals are signals to various search engines that your content or information is valuable. Every time someone likes, shares, tweets or +1′s content about your brand, especially a link, they are sending a social signal and the more social signals means you have better chances to rank high on search engine result pages. Many researchers have found that social shares are quite valuable when it comes to building your website authority. Here is the latest research from Searchmetrics, highlighting which social signals correlate to rankings on Google:

socialsignals2

Note that 7 out of the top 9 factors are social signals. Now, it’s clear that social signals can have a huge impact on your search rankings, especially social signals from Google+. If you do not have time to leverage all of the social networking sites, then make sure that Google+ is one of the few you do use because it will play the biggest part in increasing your rankings on search engines. Top social signals that Google is tracking on your website are mentioned below:

Google+

Google+ is a fledgling community when it is compared to social networking giants like Facebook and Twitter, but its social signals have the most impact on search ranking results. Some factors that you should look at are:

Amount of +1s- You need to start distinguishing +1 to your website in general and +1 to each piece of your content. You should increase +1s to your brand/your authorship profile. This also applies to +1s on Local+ pages.

Authority of +1s- If your profile or brand gets more +1, then you will get to rank higher and easier for the future content you produce.

Growth rate of +1s- You should strategize a plan that will increase your +1 steadily over an extended period of time.

Amount of Adds and Shares- How many people are following and sharing your content tells about how authoritative you are.

Authority of Adds and Shares- Who is following you is also important. A network with people with great profiles helps you to establish a voice.

Facebook

The king of social networking sites, Facebook has an active community of over 900 million. Millions of active users make it a perfect platform for generating social signals. Various research has shown that Facebook influences more search rankings as compared to Google+ or Twitter. Some factors that you should look at are:

Amount of Shares and Likes- You should remember that “shares” carry more weight than “likes”.

Amount of Comments- The collective amount of likes, shares, and comments correlate the closest with search ranking.

Twitter

Twitter is second only to Facebook and boasts 500 million users that are constantly “tweeting”, status updates and events in real time. Twitter users, known as “tweeps”, put more premium on a tweet’s authority rather than sheer amount; though the overall social signals generated by it lags just a little behind Facebook. On Twitter, you should look at some factors like:

  • Authority of followers, mentions, and retweets
  • Number of followers, mentions, and retweets
  • Speed and intensity of tweets and RT over time

Other social websites like Pinterest, Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon, and FourSquare

The big three, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, play quite important role when it comes to social ranking factors, but you should not ignore the potential of other user-driven social websites like Pinterest, Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon, and FourSquare. On these social networking sites you should look at following factors:

  • Amount of Pins and re-pins on Pinterest
  • Comments on Pinterest
  • Growth rate of Pins and Re-pins
  • Check-ins on Foursquare
  • Spread rate of check-ins at FourSquare
  • Upvotes on Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon
  • Comments on Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon

Link Development through Social Media

The traditional way of link building like en-masse link directories, spammy comments, forum-posts for the sake of links, and anchor text sculpting are over now. In the modern era, the powerful way to build link is an effective content marketing strategy. People love informative and quality content, and they love sharing content. Social media sites are one of the best platforms for content marketing, in this way these are quite important for natural link development.

How to build natural and quality links through Social Media Platforms

There are two tactics that will help you immensely in earning quality and natural links through Social Media Platforms are:

Link-building through interaction and community engagement

If you’re link-building but never building relationships or never interacting with people, you’re not really link building: you are spamming. If you interact with people who might care about your brand, you can gain a cutting edge over other competitors. Meaningful interactions with the audience in your niche prove your credibility and will lead to more authority links. 

You can also get links through interaction from a popular site or a popular brand, when they post to their Facebook page, make a Google+ post, launch a new blog post, or put up a new video on YouTube. In this case, I also recommend you to interact early and often. Early because a lot of times, being in the first five or ten comments, interactions, or engagements really helps you to be seen by the editors who are almost always watching. When you do such interaction, make sure you are adding value, by doing this you make yourself stand out in the comments. You can add value by doing a little bit of detailed research and by making the conversation more interesting. By posting great comments, you will create interest in target customers and they often click your profile that will latently earn you some links. In addition to this, you can also offer help to other people and you can help people without being asked. This is a great way to drive links back to your own site and you can do this, not just on blog posts, but on Google+ posts, Facebook pages, and YouTube comments.

Link building through quality content

In addition to gaining links from popular sites, you can also earn links by posting qualitative and linkable content on social media platforms. If you create content that people find valuable and informative, they are more likely to want to share it. What people find valuable can vary, but optimum quality blog posts and infographics that provide well-researched information, statistics, and new angles on a subject are all good starting points. A good and informative video that attracts viewers’ attention is eminently shareable, which is one reason nearly 87% of agency and brand marketers now creating a video for content marketing. When someone reads your quality and informative content on social media sites and finds it of value, it is more likely that they will want to link to it.

Article-Effective-Content

In order to give your informative content the best chance of reaching a wide audience, you should identify the key influencers or target audience in your field. In this way, you will be able to target your efforts effectively. Facebook and Twitter are the two go-to social media platforms for most people but you should also seek out targets on other platforms such as Pinterest, YouTube, and Tumblr. In addition to this, if you are marketing within specific regions, you might want to channel your efforts to the most popular websites in each market. For example, VK is the preferred social media website in Russia, while Orkut can help extend your reach within Brazil and India.

You can also use various tools and services that can help you find the best targets. For example, Followerwonk offers a Twitter analytics service and it can help you to compare and sort followers by looking at data such as social authority scores and the percentage of URLs. Furthermore, you can also gauge reactions to your own tweets by monitoring your activity alongside current follower numbers. Apart from this, Fresh Web Explorer is a handy tool, as it searches for mentions of your brand, company or other keyword and automatically matches this with ‘feed authority’. In this way, you can sort key influencers from those with less perceived authority that will allow you to target your efforts more effectively.

Now, it is clear that social media is an essential part of search engine optimization. Following diagram explains you a blueprint of how social media supports SEO: 

seo-social-media

Quality Content gets published- One of the best ways to increase quality traffic to your website is to publish shareable, useful and relevant content on social media sites.

Content gets Shares, Links, & Likes- As you start publishing your company’s blog posts or research work on a regular basis and spreading it across the social networking sites, your content will start generating shares, links, and “likes”.

Sites Gain Subscriptions while Social Profiles get Fans & Followers- As a result, your site’s blog will gain more subscribers and your social media channels will gain more followers, fans, and connections.

Thriving Community Supporting the Website & Social Networks Grows- A thriving community of people who are interested in your user-focused content develops and starts to thrive.

Reputation Reinforced through Social Media & SEO as Authoritative Brand for the Niche- Signals are sent to various search engines about your activity on social media platforms and your keyword-rich and informative content. Your website starts being viewed as reputable, relevant, and authoritative.

Sites Gain Authority in Search Engines- As a result, your website and its informative and quality content starts appearing higher and more frequently in the top rankings and listings of search engines for your keyword phrases and targeted keywords.

Sustainable Stream of Users Discover the Site organically- A consistently growing stream of users will begin discovering the website via the social media sites, search engines, and your email marketing efforts.

I have explained how aligning SEO and social media efforts can really enhance your SEO performance. In order to execute this task effectively, you might even like to hire experienced SEO experts. You should make sure that your social media and SEO teams are working together in order to create a unified digital marketing strategy.

Source: This article was published problogger.com By Guest Blogger

Categorized in How to

Buffer has just released its State of Social 2018 report. It is based on interviews with over 1,700 social media marketers.  The use of live video is growing year over year. The report features insights into why some social media managers reported success with live videos while others did not.

Live Video is a Growing Trend

Publishing the live video on social media platforms is not mainstream. However, the practice is growing. This is what Buffer says about it:

Live video hasn’t yet caught on (only 31 percent of marketers have broadcast live video)

In our last State of Social report, 26 percent of marketers said they had created live video content. In 2017, 31 percent of marketers said they had broadcast live content—just a 5 percent increase…

While a 5% increase may not sound like much of an increase, that’s still an upward trend. This is a new way of communicating with customers and potential customers, but the evidence is that it is becoming more and more mainstream.

How Effective is Live Video?

According to Facebook, live video is six times more effective at generating interactions than non-live videos. Buffer’s 2018 State of Social Report indicates that of those who used live videos 60% reported they found them effective, while only 10% found live videos ineffective. That’s a remarkable statistic.

That feedback doesn’t tell the whole story, however. If you dig down into the data and count up how effective live video was, you get a different picture.

As you can see, of those 60% that found live video effective, the majority, 36%, found it to be somewhat effective, while only 24% found it to be very effective. This may be a normal distribution of success as in any marketing activity. It could also be a reflection that live videos are more appropriate for certain industries than others.

Why is Live Video Ineffective for Some?

Of the 10% who reported who reported that live video was ineffective, fully 92% of them indicated that they only rarely used live video as part of their social media strategy. Social media managers who reported a lack of success were using live videos only once every few months. That might indicate that those who found it ineffective weren’t putting much effort into live videos.

How Often Should Live Videos be Published?

While 55% of those who found success published live videos on a regular basis, 45% of those who found success published live videos every few months. However, if we break down those numbers by daily, weekly, etc. we get a different picture entirely. It turns out that only 1% of successful live video creators published videos on a daily basis. Below is a graph showing that the biggest group of successful publishers are actually those who published live videos every few months.  Below is a graph showing the breakdown of how often live videos were published by those who reported that live videos were effective.

Quality not Quantity of Live Videos?

What separates those who found success posting live videos every few months versus those who posted at a similar frequency but found them ineffective? The survey doesn’t tell us. One can guess however that the relevance to users and effective promotion may have something to do with the success of those who posted live videos every few months.

The takeaway is that how often live videos are posted isn’t a guarantee of success.  Like anything else, the quality and relevance to the audience may play a role. It may be that success with live videos may be similar to pay per click advertising, where context, relevance and answering the question of “What’s in it for me?” works best.

The full State of Social 2018 report can be downloaded here as a Google Sheet.

Images by Shutterstock, modified by Author

Graphs and bar charts by Author

 Source: This article was published searchenginejournal.com By Roger Montti

Categorized in Social

This is the age of influence and networking. The success of a brand or an individual highly depends on the amount of influence earned as well as the level of networks created in the meantime. Today, the best place to power up influence and build network is social media and just like web search engines, there are number of cool social media search engines that can help you or your brand to find real people, build networks, and share or gain useful information required to raise influence within your niche market.

Yes, you heard it right. There are many specific social media search engines out there designed to help you find real people and user profiles across major social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and many others.

The more people you can manage to add to your network from the same industry, your influence resultantly improves in the industry. And, there’s no better way to find people on the web other than looking for them via social media search engines.

Today, we bring you a cool list of top social media search engines that can help you find people within your industry nearby to grow your influence, reach, as well as network within the industry.

Best Social Media Search Engines to Find Real People across Top Social Networks

There is no doubt that Google is the most popular search engine on the web to find almost anything on the internet. However, even Google fails or is not up to the mark when finding people or profiles on popular social media channels.

Today, we will share some of the best social media search engines that would help you find real people as follows:

Social Mention

The first on our list is Social Mention. This web tool is systematically designed for people looking for social media contents that include blogs, microblogs, comments, bookmarks, videos, and more. With Social Mention, you can also set alerts and receive emails based on your searches for specific brands, celebrities, or company related updates. The tool is quite helpful for bloggers, who can install its real-time buzz widget on their blogs for maximum benefits.

WhosTalkin

WhosTalkin is another social media search engine that lets you explore conversations relevant to the topics that interest you. You can find updates about your favorite sport, favorite food, celebrity, or a company. With WhosTalkin, you can engage in conversations that are most relevant to the topics you like. This internet-based social media search engine tool is able to search through a number of social media networks and blogs for your favorite trending topics and conversations related your favorite celebrity, sports, food, places, videos, etc.

YoName

As the name of the search engine suggests, YoName lets you find people across different social media platforms by name. With YoName, you can search people on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Blogger blogs, and several others using the search form. Simply enter people’s name, email address, or phone number and then hit “Yo” to get the results. Besides social media search, YoName also supports web search, business search as well as public records search.

Anoox

Well, Anoox is not exactly a social media search engine but it allows you to get information via multiple social media websites as well as find answers to your queries from real people. At Anoox, you can share & discuss with real people for the best answer, truth, and in turn more traffic to your website or profile.

BoardReader

Unlike other social media search engines, BoardReader is a search tool for community forums and boards. With BoredReader, you can easily explore popular content spread across the internet including news, articles, videos, press releases, etc.

Bing Social

After Google, Bing is the 2nd most popular search engine on the web and its social arm known as Bing Social is designed to find the latest news and trending topics shared across popular social networking channels like Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks.

Addictomatic

Addictomatic is yet another social search tool to explore the latest news, trending topics, attractive blog posts, viral videos, and interesting pictures. This tool searches the best live sites on the internet to find the latest news, blog posts, videos, and images for you. With this tool, you can easily keep up with the latest updates on the hot trending topics, and keep up to date with the latest social media sensation on the web.

Twazzup

Twitter is a strong social media platform with lots of viral and trending news surfacing on this microblogging tool every single second as you are reading this article. Twazzup lets you search these trending news and topics across Twitter and lets you keep up with the social media buzz around the globe.

Snitch Name

Snitch Name is a white pages service for social networks. This amazing search tool is designed to search people’s profile over popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, and other networks.

Blinkx

Videos are now an integral part of the social media world and Blinkx is a social media search engine dedicated to videos medium. One of the best social media search engines on the web, Blinkx is a search engine for videos with over million hours of regularly indexed online videos. This video search engine enables you to watch videos ranging from a wide variety of different categories including but not limited to news & politics, celebrity, technology, business, gaming, food, sports, and more assorted from all the major news portals and video sharing platforms.

Flickr Advanced Search

Flickr, as everyone knows, is one of the largest photo and video sharing platforms on the internet. While it lets you upload and view photos and videos on it, Flickr also lets you search for images or videos based on your topic using its advanced search tool embed with smart filters and variety of options designed to deliver accurate and effective results.

Source: This article was published geekdashboard.com By Rajeesh Nair

Categorized in Search Engine

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines security as measures taken to guard against espionage or sabotage, crime, attack, or escape. Those descriptive words also apply to the protections you must take when you're online to safeguard your security and privacy. We all realize by now that the Internet is full of hackers looking to steal anything of value, but worse yet, the government that has pledged to be ‘by the people, for the people’ often intrudes on our privacy in the name of national security.

This guide, however, is not for those engaged in covert activities that need would shielding from the prying eyes of the NSA. It is intended to be a basic guide for people who use the Internet on a daily basis for:

  • Work
  • Social Media Activity
  • E-commerce

Whether your online activity is largely confined to a desktop, or you're a mobile warrior on the go, implementing the proper security and privacy protocols can protect you from hackers and also prevent your ISP provider from knowing every single website you’ve ever accessed.

What follows is a basic guide that anyone can use to beef up online security and ensure as much privacy as possible, while being mindful that total anonymity on the Web is nearly impossible.

ONLINE SECURITY FOR DESKTOPS, LAPTOPS, AND MOBILE DEVICES

Install Software Updates

At the minimum, you need to make sure that you install the most recent software updates on all your desktop and mobile devices. We know that updates can be a pain, but they can ensure that your software is as secure as possible.

In fact, you will often notice that many update messages are related to some type of security glitch that could make it easier for someone to gain access to your information through the most common browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Chrome.

If you take your sweet time installing an update, it gives hackers that much more time to gain access to your system through the security flaw that the update was designed to fix.

Most of the major brands such as Apple and Samsung will send users messages on their desktops, laptops and mobile devices the moment they release a security update.

For example, Apple recently released new security updates for its iPhones, iPads and Macs for a computer chip flaw known as Spectre. This flaw affected billions of devices across all the major systems, including iOS.

Apple immediately sent a message to all its mobile users to install an update, which included security patches to block hackers from exploiting the flaw in the chip. The company also sent emails to desktop users to install Mac OS High Sierra 10.13.2, which included fixes to Safari for laptops and desktops.

The point is that you don’t need to worry that you won’t get these update prompts, because it’s in the best interests of the major brands to keep a massive hack from occurring. But if you want to ensure that you never miss an important update, there are several tools that can help you achieve this goal...

Update Tools for Mac Users

MacUpdate/MacUpdate Desktop – These two companion apps scan your desktop or mobile devices to locate software that needs updating. The desktop version has a menu bar that informs you when a software update is complete. The basic updating function is free to all users, but there are premium tiers that are ad-free, and include a credit system that rewards you for every new software you buy.

Software Update – This is a built-in app that you access through the Apple menu that opens the Mac App Store app and lets you click on the Updates tab. Software Update analyzes all the apps you’ve downloaded from the Mac App store to see if they’re updated. It does the same thing for your operating system software, which is a nice bonus.

Update Tools for PC Users

Patch My PC – If you choose the auto-update feature on this free tool, it automatically installs software patches on any application that has a security update. If you run the manual version, the program quickly scrolls through updated and non-updated applications and lets you check the ones you want to update and patch. One other useful aspect of this program is that you can run it using a flash drive.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ENCRYPTION

Encryption is a fancy word for a code that protects information from being accessed. There are various levels of encryption, and at the highest levels, encryption offers you the strongest protection when you are online. Encryption scrambles your online activity into what looks like a garbled, unidentifiable mess to anyone who doesn’t have the code to translate that mess back to its real content.

The reason this is important is that protecting your devices with only a password won’t do much to protect your data if a thief steals the device, accesses the drive and copies the data onto an external drive. If that device is encrypted, the data that the thief accesses and ports to another drive will still remain encrypted, and depend on the level of encryption, it will either take that thief a long time to break the code, or the thief will not be able to crack it.

Before we dive into some of the basics of encrypting desktops and mobile devices, remember that encryption has some drawbacks.

  • The main one is that if you lose the encryption key, it can be very difficult to access your data again. 
  • Second, encryption will affect the speed of your device because it saps the capacity of your processor.

This is a small price to pay, however, for all the benefits encryption offers in terms of security from intrusion and privacy from prying eyes that want to know exactly what you’re up to on the Internet.

Basic Encryption for Apple Devices

If you own an Apple mobile device such as an iPhone or iPad, these devices are sold with encryption as a standard feature, so all you need is a good passcode.

If you own a Mac desktop or laptop device, you can encrypt your device by using the FileVault disk encryption program that you access through the System Preferences menu under the ‘Security’ pull-down. Just follow the easy-to-understand directions to obtain your encryption key.

Basic Encryption for PCs and Android Devices

If you own a PC, you will need to manually encrypt your device. You can encrypt the newer PC models using BitLocker, a tool that’s built into Windows. BitLocker is only available if you buy the Professional or Enterprise versions of Windows 8 and 10, or the Ultimate version of Windows 7.

If you choose not to use BitLocker, Windows 8.1 Home and Pro versions include a device encryption feature that functions very much like BitLocker.

Newer Android phones including the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, have default encryption. But for phones that are not encryption enabled, the process is not difficult.

For phones and tablets that run on Android 5.0 or higher, you can access the Security menu under Settings and select ‘Encrypt phone’ or ‘Encrypt tablet.’ You will have to enter your lock screen password, which is the same password necessary to access your files after encryption.

For phones and tablets that run on Android 4.4 or lower, you must create a lock screen password prior to initiating the encryption process.

PROTECT YOUR TEXT MESSAGING

Even before Edward Snowden became a household name with his explosive revelations about the extent of NSA’s wiretapping of Americans, it was obvious that text messages were vulnerable to interception by outside parties.

What’s even more insidious is that the information generated from your text messages, which is known as metadata, is extremely valuable. Metadata includes information about whom you communicate with, where that communication takes place and at what time.

Hackers and government agencies can learn a great deal about you through metadata, which is why it’s so important for you to protect the privacy of your text messages.

Fortunately, there are applications you can install to encrypt your text messages after they are sent to another person, and many don’t collect metadata.

Tools to Encrypt Your Text Messages

The signal is a free app that provides end-to-end encryption for Android and iOS, which means that only the people who are communicating on the text message can read the messages.

Any other party would need the encryption key to decrypt the conversation, and that includes the company that owns the messaging service. One of the big advantages of using Signal is that it collects very little metadata.

Another popular encrypted messaging service is WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, which works mostly on mobile devices. Remember to turn off all backups on your WhatsApp account by accessing Chats, then Chat Backup and setting Auto Backup to Off. This turns off backups on the app and the cloud.

If you don’t disable the Auto Backup feature, government and law enforcement agencies can access the backup with a search warrant. Why is that so risky? Because end-to-end encryption only covers the transmission of your messages and doesn’t protect messages that are in storage. In other words, law enforcement or government agencies could read the text messages stored in a cloud backup.

One other thing to remember is that although WhatsApp is considered one of the more secure apps for encrypting text messages, it does collect metadata.

And if a government or law enforcement agency obtained a search warrant, it could force Facebook to turn over that metadata, which would reveal things you might want kept private such as IP addresses and location data.

PROTECT YOUR BROWSING HISTORY

Whenever you’re on the Internet, there are people trying to see what you’re doing, when you’re doing it and how often you’re doing it. Not all these prying eyes have ill intent, and in many cases, they are marketers who are trying to track your online movements so they can target you for ads and offers. But enterprising hackers are also monitoring your activities, looking for weaknesses they can target to obtain your personal information. And your Internet Service Provider (ISP) gathers a ton of information based on your browsing history.

In the face of all these threats to privacy, how do you protect yourself when you’re online?

You can use a virtual private network (VPN), which acts exactly the way a standard browser does, but lets you do it anonymously. When you use a VPN, you connect to the Internet using the VPN provider’s service. All transmissions that occur when you get online with your mobile phone, tablet, desktop or laptop are encrypted. This protects all your online activity from the government as well as from your ISP, lets you access sites that would normally be restricted by your geographical location, and shields you from intrusion when you are at a public hotspot.

If someone tries to track your activity, your IP address will appear as that of the VPN server, which makes it nearly impossible for anyone to know your exact location, or your actual IP address. However, VPNs don’t provide you with total anonymity, because the VPN provider knows your real IP address as well as the sites you’ve been accessing. Some VPN providers offer a ‘no-logs’ policy, which means that they don’t keep any logs of your online activities.

This can be hugely important if you are up to something that the government takes an interest in, such as leading a protest group, and you want to make sure none of your online activities can be tracked.

But VPN providers are vulnerable to government search warrants and demands for information and must measure the possibility of going to jail by keeping your activity private, versus giving up your information and staying in business.

That’s why if you choose to go with a VPN, it’s important to do the research on a provider’s history and reputation. For example, there are 14 countries in the world that have shared agreements about spying on their citizens and sharing the information they unearth with each other. It may not surprise you to learn that the U.S,  Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy are all part of that alliance.

What may surprise you is that it’s best to avoid any VPNs that are based in one of these 14 countries, because of their data retention laws and gag orders which prevent VPN providers from telling their customers when a government agency has requested information on their online activities.

If you’re serious about VPNs and want to know which are trustworthy and which aren’t worth your time, we’ve done a pretty extensive review of VPN services that you can access here. Used correctly, VPNs can provide you with a high degree of privacy when you’re online, but in an era in which billions have joined social media platforms such as Facebook, and services such as Google, what are the privacy risks related to how these companies use your personal information?

HOW THE HEAVY HITTERS USE YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION

Facebook

There isn’t much privacy when you join Facebook, especially since the company’s privacy policy blatantly states that it monitors how you use the platform, the type of content you view or interact with, the number of times you’re on the site, how long you spend on the site, and all the other sites that you browse when you’re not on Facebook.

How does Facebook know that little nugget? By tracking the number of times you click ‘Like’ on any site that includes a Facebook button.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to make Facebook more private. You can access the ‘Download Your Information’ tool to know exactly what the site has on you, and you can check your activity log to track your actions since you joined Facebook, but that’s about it.

Deleting your account will remove your personal information, but any information about you that your followers have shared in a post will remain on the site.

Google

Google stores personal information such as your name, email contact, telephone number, how you use the service, how you use sites with Ad Words, your search inquiries, and location tracking. More importantly, your name, email address, and photo are publically available unless you opt out.

To protect some of your privacy, you can edit a number of preferences, turn off location tracking, change your public profile and read what information Google has collected on you through the company’s data board.

Apple

Apple’s privacy policy states that it collects information such as your name, contacts and music library content, and relays them to its own servers using encryption. Apple’s News app analyzes your reading preferences to match them to ads targeted toward what you like.

Targeted advertising is one of Apple’s biggest con jobs, and that’s said with respect for the company’s ability to print money like no other business on earth. Apple has created ad-blocking technology in its iOS software to prevent outside companies from reaching its customers.

But it makes no bones about using personal information and personal preferences culled from its customers to supply them with an endless stream of targeted and intrusive ads.

You can opt out of what Apple calls ‘interest-based ads’, but the company pretty much lets you figure this out on your own.

Amazon

Amazon collects a ton of person information, including name, address, phone number, email, credit card information, list of items bought, Wish List items, browsing history, names, addresses and phone numbers of every person who has ever received an Amazon product or service from you, reviews you’ve posted, and requests for product availability alerts.

It isn’t much you can do to keep Amazon from being intrusive unless you’re not planning on using the site for purchases. For example, Amazon uses ‘cookies,’ which are snippets of data that attach to your browser when you visit the site.

Cookies activate convenient features such as 1-Click purchasing and generate recommendations when you revisit Amazon, but they also allow Amazon to send you ads when you’re on another website, which can feel like an invasion of privacy and are also annoying.

The problem is if you opt to turn off cookies on your Amazon account, you won’t be able to add items to your shopping cart or do anything that requires a sign-in, which pretty much eliminates all your buying options.

That gives you a general overview of how some of the big brands use your data so you’re aware of the implications of providing your personal information. Let’s wrap things up with some frequently asked questions about security and privacy.

FAQ'S ABOUT SECURITY AND PRIVACY

1. Can people really hack me at a coffee shop?

Most coffee shops offer public WiFi that has varying levels of security. In many instances, these free networks are not very secure, and even a low-level hacker could gain access to the transmissions occurring at the coffee shop by setting up a fake hotspot. If you want to get online at a coffee shop, do so through a VPN. If you don’t have a VPN, make sure you’re signing in under the name of the WiFi hotspot, and limit your activity to browsing instead of conducting financial transactions.

2. Is the NSA really watching me via my computer camera?

The NSA definitely has the technology to spy on you through your webcam. Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has plug-in that can hack cameras and take pictures, record video and turn on the mic on a webcam to act as a listening device. One easy way to thwart this hack is to place a sticker on your webcam lens that prevents a hacker from seeing anything in your home.

3. Can Facebook see my messenger chats and change my feed based on those conversations?

Facebook’s Messenger feature uses security that it says is similar to what banks use to protect their clients’ financial information. Two years ago, Facebook added end-to-end encryption to its messenger feature, but users must activate it because it’s not a default. However, Facebook does use your profile, public photos, and public posts to better customize things such as the content of the News feed it sends to you.

4. When can - or can’t - the government get personal data from companies?

Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act passed in 1986, government agencies can obtain subpoenas and search warrants to force technology companies like Google or Apple to provide information about a user or a group of users. Companies can refuse based on the Fourth Amendment ban against unreasonable search and seizure, but they face an uphill battle if the request is for a legitimate reason. Recently, Amazon refused an order by the state of Massachusetts to turn over data about third-party sellers. But the company relented after it was served with court order to provide the data or face legal consequences.

THE ONLY CONSTANT IS CHANGE

Privacy and security are two sides of the same coin, and while there is no way to guarantee total privacy or complete security in the digital world, the first step is to understand the tools available to you, and the ways in which your personal data is being used by big companies that want your business.

While this isn’t a comprehensive guide to every aspect of online security and privacy, it provides you with some best practices and important concepts that can help you better understand this complex and ever-changing issue. 

 Written By Alex Grant

Categorized in Internet Privacy

The Twitter Archiver and Twitter Bots app fire each time a new tweet is found that match your search query. You can write simple search queries (like #Oscars) or more complex query (like obama min_retweets:10 filter:news) that uses one or more Twitter search operators.

Twitter SearchHow to Search Twitter Like a Pro

Here’s a complete list of Twitter search operators that can help you perform more accurate searches on Twitter:

from:BarackObama

All tweets sent by a particular Twitter user

filter:verified cool OR amazing

Only show tweets from verified Twitter accounts (with the blue tick)

gangnam style filter:replies

Only show tweets that are replies. You can use exclude:replies to remove @reply tweets from search results.

gangnam style filter:retweets

Only show tweets that are retweets. You can use exclude:retweets to remove RTs from search results.

to:BarackObama -filter:links

Tweets sent to @BarackObama but not containing any links

elections list:TIME/time-staff

Search for tweets from users who belong to a particular Twitter list

youtube.com min_faves:100

Tweets containing YouTube videos that are favorited by at least 100 users

iPhone near:NY within:10mi

Tweets sent by users within the 10 mile radius of New York containing iPhone

#foodrecipe lang:en

Tweets sent in particular language (en = English)

iPhone Reviews since:2016-04-01 until:2016-04-09

Tweets sent in a particular time range (may not work with Twitter APIs)

YouTube good OR amazing OR awesome filter:links

Tweets containing YouTube videos that are described as awesome or amazing

#Emmys filter:images

Show tweets for a particular hashtag but containing images

Barack Obama filter:news

Show only tweets that mention a keyword and contain links to news websites

from:john to:peter -RT

Tweets from user @John that @mention user @Peter but exclude Retweets

family games filter:safe

Filter tweets containing adult or potentially sensitive content

tornado filter:media

Show tornado tweets containing images or videos

music concert filter:native_video

Show tweets that contain native video (uploaded inside tweet)

twitter search tricks

How to Find the Most Popular Tweets

The engagement filter inside Tweetdeck surfaces the best tweets and removes the noise from Twitter search results but the most surprising part is that Twitter has not made this filter available outside Tweetdeck. You don’t even have it inside the official Twitter app.

Well, here’s the trick. You can actually filter tweets by engagement level on the Twitter website or inside any Twitter app using an undocumented search operator that Twitter doesn’t want us to know about.

Go to the Twitter search box, type any search term and append the operator min_retweets:[number] or min_faves:[number] to filter your search results. For instance, here’s a sample search that will only show tweets pointing to the labnol.org domain that has been favorited or retweeted at least 5 times.

 Source: This article was published labnol.org By Amit Agarwal

Categorized in Social

Social networks have expanded popularity contests beyond the schoolyard, where users vie to become the next Instagram celebrity or at least have enough followers to be considered an “influencer.” 

But, unlike the schoolyard, anyone can buy popularity on social networks. Richard Roeper, the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, was suspended on Tuesday for buying 25,000 followers after a New York Times investigation revealed the practice was widespread.

The New York Times claimed that Roeper and others such as actor John Leguizamo, motivational speaker Eric Kaplan and British baking star Paul Hollywood purchased followers from a website called Devumi, which charges a mere $50 for 5,000 followers. 

Buying followers or paying for any type of interaction is against Twitter’s terms of service and may result in suspension. If a company buys more users to make itself seem more popular than it actually is, or a journalist buys them to meet a standard of followers that an employer has set, it’s also, as the Times noted, potentially fraud. 

Spotting fake Twitter uses is generally fairly easy, though fakers have gotten better at it over time. 

TwitterAudit

Tools like TwitterAudit can automatically scan your followers, revealing the number of fake followers (for free) and allowing you to delete and block them (for $5 a month). Use Luca Hammer’s Account Analysis tool to look at accounts individually. Consistent daily rhythms and constant retweeting of spammy handles or accounts are a good sign the user is a bot.

The quickest way to manually spot obvious fakers is to look at their profiles. Many advertise spammy links or use excessive hashtags. To look over many at once, click “followers” below your own profile image. Stop users from following you by clicking the three vertical dots above and to the right of their usernames, then click “block.”

Another quick way is to look for offset followers-to-following ratios, particularly if the following count is maxed out around 5,000. Twitter puts a limit on the number of accounts a user can follow until he or she has more followers. A user who has 171 followers and who is following 5,001 people is usually fake. 

It’s easier to do this with a third-party tool, as Twitter doesn’t list these counts on users’ following pages. StatusBrew is free, lists these numbers, and allows sorting based on followers and following. 

If the ratio is unclear, look at the user’s followers. Many of them may be obviously fake, as well. Just note that many Twitter users, especially large accounts, attract “fake” followers on their own. 

To really sniff out fakers, try right-clicking their profile images on Chrome and searching the web for their images. The Times reported that some of Devumi’s accounts appeared to be close approximations of actual people. The real accounts will often appear when you search for their images.

Why do fake followers even matter? With hundreds of millions of monthly active users, including the president of the United States and other important heads of state, Twitter has truly morphed from a microblogging platform into a method of communication that’s as accepted as a telephone. A user who inflates his or her follower count can leverage outsize impact on the outside world.

As the Times notes, they can “help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations.”

Source: This article was published poynter.org By Ren LaForme

Categorized in How to

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