Category Archives: News

What’s Happening?

Remembering Once and Future Losses on January 28

The fourth week of January is usually cold, dark, bitter and dreary here in the Northern Hemisphere. With the brightness and excitement of the holidays faded away, summer is a distant memory and cabin fever grows, and yet there are scant signs that life and hope will ever return. This makes it an oddly appropriate time to pause and contemplate the price of technological progress, what is lost when things go bad, and how to prevent such in the future. And indeed on January 28, there is not one but two solemn “celebrations” for just that purpose. For the twenty-eighth of the first month of the year is both NASA’s Day of Remembrance and also Data Privacy and Protection Day. They couldn’t be more unalike, this solemn memorial to America’s fallen star-voyagers and this reminder of the importance of safeguarding our personal data online, yet there are commonalities. Most fatalities in the space program occurred at least partly because of complacency and over-confidence, traits which are also in abundance on the Net. In both arenas, stakes are high, technology is complex, and vigilance and knowing what you’re doing is vital. This is not to equate the risks or consequences of the two fields in any way. But space travel and the Internet are technological contemporaries, born and developed under the shadow of the Cold War, nurtured by the same military industrial complex. Thus both share the same mindset of gee-whiz … Continue reading

Posted in Events, News | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Home Comcast Xfinity Routers As Public WiFi Hotspots

ISP giant Comcast has quietly implemented a plan to turn its home Wifi routers into public hotspots. On the surface, it seems like a good idea, as it would allow their customers to get online easily over a much larger area, no longer confined to the environs of coffee shops and airports. But Comcast has embarked on this sweeping effort without offering users anything in return for participating. They did not ask permission or even notify them. Beyond that, the corporation has not made the public hotspot easy to opt out of, or provided any clear, technically useful information on the service, such as addressing security risks or how it might affect the paying customer’s own bandwidth. Perhaps they don’t know, or have other reasons for not doing so – such as many people opting out. Alongside with the home user’s private Wifi spot, the gateways set up a parallel public one for other Comcast customers, called “xfinitywifi“. These customers will be able to log in for free using a smartphone, tablet, or other enabled device. And once they do, they’ll be automatically logged into all others also called “xfinitywifi”. What could go wrong? Potentially, quite a lot, apparently. Comcast apparently began rolling out the service this summer, first testing it in Houston, but it is in effect in other major urban markets by now. So far there’s been little outcry, possibly because Comcast has been very quiet about it. … Continue reading

Posted in Interesting Items, News, Warnings | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Researchers Find Intimate Traits in Digital Data

A basic principle underlying the digital economy is that users trade their data for convenience. For instance, Google provides search, email, and about a zillion other things for users in return for their personal information: what they like, where they go, who they talk to. Facebook does the same thing only more so, and so do other social media sites and many big corporations. We users still don’t know what they do with those vast hoards of information. We assume they sell it to advertisers, or like Google, subtly direct our attention to products that match our preferences. But we certainly can’t tell how they analyze it, and what can be found out from it. But new research just published (in PDF format) by England’s prestigious Cambridge University may give us a glimpse. And the results should give one pause, because a lot more can be found out than anyone suspected. In cooperation with Microsoft, British researchers have analyzed public data from 58,000 Facebook users who actively participated in the research. They looked at a purely public open database, Facebook Likes, where users are invited to indicate preferences and affections for just about anything. They discovered that subtle “digital traces” left in this data could indicate individual personality attributes and traits with a surprisingly high degree of accuracy. Here’s a few things they could deduce about users, and how often the information was accurate: Race – Caucasian v. African: 95% … Continue reading

Posted in How the Net Works, Interesting Items, News | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment