Google soon to merge all user data collected across its websites

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

Image via Wikipedia

Google has recently announced its controversial plan to merge all user data collected across its websites into one profile, which would then be used to target users with advertising and services and to further alter Google search results.

User data from Google products – including Gmail, Youtube, Google+, Google Maps, and even Android mobile – will be collated and treated as a single set of data to be used for various targeted services and revenue-generating schemes.

The Guardian reports that “users will have no way to opt out of being tracked across the board when the search company unifies its privacy policy and terms of service for all its online offerings, including search, Gmail and Google+. The move is being criticised by privacy advocates and could attract greater scrutiny from anti-trust regulators.”

Google’s director of privacy, product and engineering, Alma Whitten, wrote in a blogpost: “Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”

“Our recently launched personal search feature is a good example of the cool things Google can do when we combine information across products. Our search box now gives you great answers not just from the web, but your personal stuff too.”

“We can make search better—figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink. We can provide more relevant ads too.”

The changes take place on March 1st, and users will be unable to opt out of the changes.

“Google’s new privacy announcement is frustrating and a little frightening,” said Common Sense Media chief executive James Steyer told the Washington Post. “Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out — especially the kids and teens who are avid users of YouTube, Gmail and Google Search.”

Google can store cookies on people’s computers to see which Web sites they visit or use its popular maps program to estimate their location. It can collect information about users when they activate an Android mobile phone, sign into their accounts online or enter search terms. For the first time, this data will be collated across its services into one user profile .

“There is no way anyone expected this,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group. “There is no way a user can comprehend the implication of Google collecting across platforms for information about your health, political opinions and financial concerns.”

 Twitter, Facebook and Myspace have launched a tool called Don’t Be Evil – which is Google’s motto – that claims to neutralise any attempt by the search engine to skew results towards its Google+ service.

Mat Honan from Gizmodo wrote: “It means that things you could do in relative anonymity today, will be explicitly associated with your name, your face, your phone number.

“If you use Google’s services, you have to agree to this new privacy policy. It is an explicit reversal of its previous policies.”

An interested TED talk on Google is posted below. In it, Eli Pariser speaks about how Google is literally changing the way we view and use the internet, and not necessarily for the better.

 

 

 

 

The day the internet was blacked out: SOPA and PIPA online protests

Websites protest against Sopa and Pipa on 18 January 2012. Photograph: ars technica/ minecraft/mozilla/ reddit/ wired

Yesterday (18 January), thousands of websites joined in unanimous protest against proposed US legislation – the biggest online protest in history. Websites joined in protest against two controversial US bills, SOPA and PIPA, aimed at combating online piracy and protecting copyrighted materials.

Websites that joined in the blackout included Wikipedia, the 6th most visited website in the world, Wired, Reddit, Firefox and thousands of other websites who blacked-out or censored aspects of their websites in protest against US legislation – an unprecedented move. Visitors arriving at Wikipedia yesterday were greeted with a blacked-out page with the message:

“Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.

“For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet.”

One of the most interesting websites to view yesterday was Wired.com, which had censored virtually every headline, link and text on its homepage as a statement. The only uncensored headline was an article stating “Why _____ Censoring Wired”. Here Wired explained why they were engaging in this day of protest:

“Under the current wording of the measures, the Attorney General would have the power to order ISPs [internet service prividers] to block access to foreign-based sites suspected of trafficking in pirated and counterfeit goods; order search engines to delist the sites from their indexes; ban advertising on suspected sites; and block payment services from processing transactions for accused sites.

“If the same standards were applied to U.S.-based sites, Wikipedia, Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Google and Wired could all find themselves blocked.

“Such requests would need to be reviewed and approved by a judge. But accused sites would get little notice of a pending action in U.S. courts against them, and, once blacklisted, have little effective means of appeal.”

Wired censors its homepage in protest

A full list of participants can be found at sopastrike.com. But what is SOPA and PIPA all about? And why is the internet banding together to protest against US law?

SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, while PIPA is the Protect IP Act. The two bills are similar in nature, aiming to stop or prevent the piracy of online copyrighted material on websites outside of the US.

As the Guardian writes: “SOPA would allow copyright holders to complain to the US attorney general about a foreign website they allege is “committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations” of copyright law. This relates mostly to pirated movies and music. Sopa would allow the movie industry, through the courts and the US attorney general, to send a slew of demands that internet service providers (ISPs) and search engine companies shut down access to those alleged violators, and even to prevent linking to those sites, thus making them “unfindable”. It would also bar internet advertising providers from making payments to websites accused of copyright violations.Sopa could, then, shut down a community-based site like YouTube if just one of its millions of users was accused of violating one US copyright.”

The US bills are an attempt to expand the US federal government’s power to impact the internet. Protestors have pointed out that the two anti-piracy bills are essentially allowing censorship of the internet, a move which is not in keeping with the notion of democracy.

Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said:

“These bills propose new powers for the government and for private actors to create, effectively, blacklists of sites … then force service providers to block access to those sites. That’s why we call these the censorship bills.”

EFF’s McSherry also defiantly stated that “no one asked the internet – well, the internet is speaking now. People are really rising up and saying: ‘Don’t interfere with basic Internet infrastructure. We won’t stand for it.’”

It seems as if support for SOPA is withdrawing, but that doesn’t mean the battle is over. An anti-piracy could still be rushed through Congress.

Chris Dodd, former senator and chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), slammed Wikipedia and others protest plans, calling them “dangerous” and a “gimmick”. He called on Congress to engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy. A vote on Pipa is still expected in the senate on January 24.

Anonymous, ‘The Hydra’, warns NATO: “This is no longer your world”

KTTV Fox 11 investigative report on Anonymous.

Image via Wikipedia

In a response to a recent NATO security report regarding ‘Anonymous‘, the mysterious online ‘organisation’ (I use the term loosely) has posted a lengthy public response cautioning NATO that “This is no longer your world”. [The full response will be posted at the end of this article, for the website that it was posted on is currently experiencing server issues]

The underground group – responsible for the attacks on MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, Amazon and, allegedly, Sony – posted the public message as a response to NATO’s report, issued last month, which warned about the rise in politically-motivated cyberattacks and singled out Anonymous as the most well-known and sophisticated of the so-called ‘hacktavist’ groups.

The NATO report stated that: “Today, the ad hoc international group of hackers and activists is said to have thousands of operatives and has no set rules or membership. It remains to be seen how much time Anonymous has for pursuing such paths. The longer these attacks persist the more likely countermeasures will be developed, implemented, the groups will be infiltrated and perpetrators persecuted,” the report read, also asking, “Can one invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty after a cyber attack? And what response mechanisms should the Alliance employ against the attacker? Should the retaliation be limited to cyber means only, or should conventional military strikes also be considered?”

Recently, the UK and US have suggested that they consider such cyber-attacks as actual acts of warfare. The Washington Post reported that “The Pentagon has concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war, a finding that for the first time opens the door for the U.S. to respond using traditional military force.”

“If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” said a military official.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported that “The UK is developing a cyber-weapons programme that will give ministers an attacking capability to help counter growing threats to national security.”

“The armed forces minister, Nick Harvey, told the Guardian that “action in cyberspace will form part of the future battlefield”, and though he said cyber-weapons would not replace traditional weapons, he admitted he now regards them as “an integral part of the country’s armoury”. It is the first official acknowledgment that such a programme exists.”

Anonymous’ response to NATO began by stating: “you have singled out Anonymous as a threat to “government and the people”. You have also alleged that secrecy is a ‘necessary evil’ and that transparency is npt [sic] always the right way forward.”

The public statement laid out clearly that Anonymous and Wikileaks are “distinct entities”, describing how they were not working together but that they do share a common attribute: “They are no threat to any organization – unless that organization is doing something wrong and attempting to get away with it.”

Anonymous continued by seemingly berating NATO for acting as if the organisation were some kind of cyber-terrorist organisation, or were somehow acting for their own agenda and not for the good of the masses: “We do not wish to threaten anybody’s way of life. We do not wish to dictate anything to anybody. We do not wish to terrorize any nation.

“We merely wish to remove power from vested interests and return it to the people – who, in a democracy, it should never have been taken from in the first place,” the statement continued.

Anonymous also state: “You know you do not fear us because we are a threat to society. You fear us because we are a threat to the established hierarchy. “

The statement concludes with the warning: “Do not make the mistake of challenging Anonymous. Do not make the mistake of believing you can behead a headless snake. If you slice off one head of Hydra, ten more heads will grow in its place. If you cut down one Anon, ten more will join us purely out of anger at your trampling of dissent.

“Your only chance of defeating the movement which binds all of us is to accept it. This is no longer your world. It is our world – the people’s world.”

I shall post the full response below. It is well worth a read, and it will be interesting to see whether NATO responds with a statement in return, or whether they ignore it. Time will tell, but it is clear that we are entering an age where, truly, “action in cyberspace will form part of the future battlefield” – for good or for evil.

The public statement:

Greetings, members of NATO. We are Anonymous.

In a recent publication, you have singled out Anonymous as a threat to “government and the people”. You have also alleged that secrecy is a ‘necessary evil’ and that transparency is npt always the right way forward.

Anonymous would like to remind you that the government and the people are, contrary to the supposed foundations of “democracy”, distinct entities with often conflicting goals and desires. It is Anonymous‘ position that when there is a conflict of interest between the government and the people, it is the people’s will which must take priority. The only threat transparency poses to government is to threaten government’s ability to act in a manner which the people would disagree with, without having to face democratic consequences and accountability for such behaviour. Your own report cites a perfect example of this, the Anonymous attack on HBGary. Whether HBGary were acting in the cause of security or military gain is irrelevant – their actions were illegal and morally reprehensible. Anonymous does not accept that the government and/or the military has the right to be above the law and to use the phoney cliche of “national security” to justify illegal and deceptive activities. If the government must break the rules, they must also be willing to accept the democratic consequences of this at the ballot box.We do not accept the current status quo whereby a government can tell one story to the people and another in private. Dishonesty and secrecy totally undermine the concept of self rule. How can the people judge for whom to vote unless they are fully aware of what policies said politicians are actually pursuing?

When a government is elected, it is said to “represent” the nation it governs. This essentially means that the actions of a government are not the actions of the people in government, but are actions taken on behalf of every citizen in that country. It is unacceptable to have a situation in which the people are, in many cases, totally and utterly unaware of what is being said and done on their behalf – behind closed doors.

Anonymous and WikiLeaks are distinct entities. The actions of Anonymous were not aided or even requested by WikiLeaks. However, Anonymous and WikiLeaks do share one common attribute: They are no threat to any organization – unless that organization is doing something wrong and attempting to get away with it.

We do not wish to threaten anybody’s way of life. We do not wish to dictate anything to anybody. We do not wish to terrorize any nation.

We merely wish to remove power from vested interests and return it to the people – who, in a democracy, it should never have been taken from in the first place.
The government makes the law. This does not give them the right to break it. If the government was doing nothing underhand or illegal, there would be nothing “embarassing” about Wikileaks revelations, nor would there have been any scandal emanating from HBGary. The resulting scandals were not a result of Anonymous‘ or Wikileaks’ revelations, they were the result of the CONTENT of those revelations. And responsibility for that content can be laid solely at the doorstep of policymakers who, like any corrupt entity, naively believed that they were above the law and that they would not be caught.

A lot of government and corporate comment has been dedicated to “how we can avoid a similar leak in the future”. Such advice ranges from better security, to lower levels of clearance, from harsher penalties for whistleblowers, to censorship of the press.

Our message is simple: Do not lie to the people and you won’t have to worry about your lies being exposed. Do not make corrupt deals and you won’t have to worry about your corruption being laid bare. Do not break the rules and you won’t have to worry about getting in trouble for it.

Do not attempt to repair your two faces by concealing one of them. Instead, try having only one face – an honest, open and democratic one.

You know you do not fear us because we are a threat to society. You fear us because we are a threat to the established hierarchy. Anonymous has proven over the last several years that a hierarchy is not necessary in order to achieve great progress – perhaps what you truly fear in us, is the realization of your own irrelevance in an age which has outgrown its reliance on you. Your true terror is not in a collective of activists, but in the fact that you and everything you stand for have, by the changing tides and the advancement of technology, are now surplus to requirements.

Finally, do not make the mistake of challenging Anonymous. Do not make the mistake of believing you can behead a headless snake. If you slice off one head of Hydra, ten more heads will grow in its place. If you cut down one Anon, ten more will join us purely out of anger at your trampling of dissent.

Your only chance of defeating the movement which binds all of us is to accept it. This is no longer your world. It is our world – the people’s world.

We are Anonymous.
We are legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
Expect us…

One step closer to invisibility…

Scientists have developed an “invisibility cloak” that makes objects invisible to the naked eye.

The cloak, which is actually a lump of crystal, can only hide small objects such as paperclips and pins at the moment but it is the first of its kind to work in the perceivable spectrum of light. The groundbreaking research paves the way for more sophisticated devices in the future.

The cloaking device is made from two calcite prisms joined together to make a pyramid, with the underside of the pyramid coated in gold to make it reflective. The researchers found that calcite, a transparent crystal, has natural light-bending properties which help the device to hide objects. Light rays passing through the pyramid are bent, making the base of the pyramid look flat. “The cloaked region is the space at the bottom of the calcite prism,” Shuang Zhang, the lead researcher at the University of Birmingham said. “Anything you put there won’t be seen from outside.”

The device is not perfect, but it does pave the way for further breakthroughs. At present, the cloak itself is transparent though it is visible – it only hides small objects inside the prism. Under water, however, the cloak is almost completely invisible. Zhang said it may be possible to coat the cloak to make it less visible. It also must be placed on a surface to work.

Possible applications for use inevitably lie in military use, unfortunately. Future developments could be used to hide military hardware from view, although Zhang believes that it could be used for cosmetic purposes, too. “If you had a mole on your face, you could potentially cloak it so it won’t be seen,” Zhang said. “Though you do need a fairly large cloak to hide even a small thing.”

Still, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for cloaking devices. Perhaps Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak is not so far fetched after all…

Website Comparison: The Sun vs. The Guardian

Website Analysis Comparison

In this post I shall be examining two competing news websites: The Sun and The Guardian. The features I shall take a look at will be usability, design and content features. It is important for websites to be designed well, leading to greater useability and with up-to-date content to attract a wider audience.

 

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Firstly, I shall look at SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation. This is a crucial aspect for any website, as it is one of the first methods that users try when attempting to locate a website. Both the Sun and the Guardian’ websites are fully optimised for search engines. Typing the word “sun” into Google brought up the Sun’s website as the top link, whilst typing “guardian” into Google also brought up their website first. Even typing the word “newspaper” into Google brought up the Guardian’s and the Sun’s website as the top two links, respectively. There was also options to link to specific categories or pages under the description, for example: “Football”, “Jobs”, “UK News”. This shows that both websites are equally well-adjusted to SEO.

Continue reading

Google vs. The World

Google Street View Car in Southampton, Hampshi...

Image via Wikipedia

Internet giant Google is a law unto itself, though this doesn’t stop the international community from taking umbridge with their arrogant ways.

Google once more faces charges of breaching privacy laws, this time in South Korea. Once again, Google Street View cars “mistakenly” broke privacy laws as they collected emails and personal information from homes and businesses, breaching South Korean telecommunication laws with its illegal data capturing.

South Korea is merely the latest country to find Google in violation of privacy laws – others include the UK, Canada, Spain and Australia. Google is facing investigations in more than 20 countries around the world after “mistakenly” collecting sensitive data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Google said it was “profoundly sorry”, and that “as soon as we realised what had happened, we stopped collecting all Wi-Fi data from our Street View Cars and immediately informed the authorities,” Google said. Deja Vu?

It was only last month that Google completed its deletion of the data collected from UK Wi-Fi networks, after the Information Commissioner’s Office found Google to be in breach of the Data Protection Act. It is rather odd that Google has mistakenly collected personal and private information in a variety of countries across the globe. One would presume that the “mistake” would have been rectified the first time that it occurred. The fact that Google is facing investigations in more than 20 countries should send a clear message to Google that the international community will not condone its unlawful data collection, whether it be numerous “mistakes” or something more sinister.

Warnings From The Future

Sci-Fi flicks have always involved some dark, twisted utopian vision of the future. Yeah, you have the flying cars, the laser guns, robots and the like. But the future that is envisioned  often features some totalitarian state that governs the people, some macabre unfeeling computer/database that runs the System, an Artificial Intelligence construct controlling civilisation. People are retina scanned and tracked (a la Minority Report); their complete biometric data is stored in databases and perused and controlled by machines, or an elite governing body. Doors, vehicles, weapons, computers all work at the touch of a fingerprint or the scan of a retina for convenience. The futuristic vision of Sci-Fi films is not so far off, with the rate technology is advancing. But how personal is our genetic makeup? How public do we want our DNA records/iris makeup/fingerprint patterns to be?

You see, for me the Science Fiction futuristic cities and societies were always seen as something dangerous, something cold and unfeeling. In the films, people had traded in their personal data and genetic makeup to the higher powers, and the System as it were is always run by some macabre governing body (e.g Equilibrium, 1984- not sci-fi as such but Orwell’s vision of the future, hauntingly accurate) in conjunction with a state-of-the-art AI System (e.g The Matrix, Surrogates etc, etc.)… In the films, the vision of utopia and advancement is seen as beneficial, everyone is “happier” and tasks are much simpler. And yet, the protagonist of the film, the hero of the hour is often the only one to notice how bad things have truly gotten, who sees beyond the facade and notices that something is not right, and that the totalitarian governing body (be it a human gvt. or AI system) is inherently evil, or at least cold and unfeeling enough not to have emotion. In essence, human emotion is usually eroded away in these Sci-Fi film portrayals.. People become much like the very robots that “serve” them, or is it control them?  Continue reading

Facebook Law Enforcement

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Official ...

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The US government has, earlier this year, released documents outlining a new program that involves tracking social networking websites and social media websites. Facebook already has procedures in place, dating back to 2007 and updated yearly, to submit personal information of its users to law enforcement agencies should the need arise. The data that it is willing to hand over ranges from your mobile number and contact details, to your friend lists; from photos you have uploaded and been tagged in, to video posts that you have uploaded; from wall posts to status updates; even your IP address and session cookies. The list goes on. Facebook has long been criticised for its handling of private data and the fact that you can never fully “delete” your account, so those who value their privacy and security will be perturbed to know that Facebook is willing to share your personal information, friends, family, IP address, etc with relevant authorities. There are those who state that, “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”, though this statement has been criticised by many. Are we sleep-walking into a surveillance state? Is the surveillance state already here?

As stated, the potential for government agencies to request personal data that you upload to Facebook is already in place, but that it not the end of social media monitoring. Facebook is but one social media website out of many. All social media users should be aware of the types of information that can legitimately be passed on to various agencies, and the true extent of the monitoring. Earlier this year, Continue reading