Monthly Archives: August 2015

Why Facebook Wants Your Friends List

Facebook just filed a patent on using social network data to influence lending decisions. God help us all.

If there was any confusion over why Facebook has continually defended its policy requiring users to display their real, legal names, the company may have finally laid it to rest with its recent patent application. Earlier this month, the social giant filed to protect a tool ostensibly designed to track how users are networked together—a tool that could be used by lenders to accept or reject a loan application based on the credit ratings of one’s social network.

In short: You could be denied a loan simply because your friends have defaulted on theirs. It’s the kind of digital redlining that critics of “big data” collection have been warning us of for years. It could make Facebook a lot of money, it could make the Web even less safe for poor people and it could be just the beginning.

Many banking institutions in the US have a long history of discriminatory lending. Federal laws passed in the 1970s made these practices illegal and further protected the poor from discriminatory credit reporting and lending practices. But these laws narrowly define lenders and creditors in ways that don’t apply so neatly in the internet age.

Depending on which factors are considered and which aren’t, predictive modeling based on one’s own history and behaviors can be terribly incorrect. When there’s more and more data to choose from, that could be good or bad news for consumers, depending on the algorithm used. Despite Facebook’s self-assured patent application and the company’s apparent confidence in its “authorized nodes,” modeling based on one’s social network only presents more opportunities for discriminatory and inaccurate conclusions.

Behavioral research consistently shows we’re more likely to seek out friends who are like ourselves, and we’re even more likely to be genetically similar to them than to strangers. If our friends are likely to default on a loan, it may well be true that we are too. Depending on how that calculation is figured, and on how data-collecting technology companies are regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it may or may not be illegal. A policy that judges an individual’s qualifications based on the qualifications of one’s social network would reinforce class distinctions and privilege. Returning to an era where the demographics of your community determined your credit-worthiness should be illegal.

Facebook’s true value comes from the data it collects on us, which it in turn sells to advertisers, lenders, and whoever else it wants to. The accuracy of that data is critical to the company’s business model success, and this patent is Facebook doubling down on the supposed truth in its networks.

But a lot of that data is bad because Facebook isn’t real life. Our social networks are not simply our friends. The way we “like” online is usually not the way we “like” in real life. Our networks are clogged with exes, old co-workers, relatives permanently set to mute, strangers and characters we’ve never even met.

On Facebook, we interact the most not with our best friends, but with those friends and acquaintances who use Facebook the most. This could lead to not only discriminatory lending decisions, but completely unpredictable ones—how will users exercise due process to determine why their loan applications were rejected when a mosaic of proprietary information formed the ultimate decision? How will users know what any of that proprietary information says about them? How will anyone know if it’s accurate? And how could this change the way we interact on the Web entirely, when fraternizing with less fiscally responsible friends or family members could cost you your mortgage?

Body Parts As Passwords

Is Biometric Authentication Only A Heartbeat Away?

We’ve talked about biometric authentication protocols for many years now and a number of systems are available and working today. Some of the methods currently available are: Facial Recognition Fingerprint scanners Hand geometry scanners Retina and Iris scanners Voice Analysis

Body Parts Become Passwords:
Checking a user’s body parts to authenticate access to your smartphone or computer system might soon take another leap forward.

A new wave of wearable biometric security devices is going beyond facial recognition and eye-scan technologies to detect the unique physical characteristics inside your body. The breakthrough: Cardiac rhythms, finger veins and other internal biological signatures hold a wealth of differentiating features that may someday replace passwords and fingerprints, providing a sophisticated and innovative approach to security.

In short, the hardware—such as bracelets and smartphones—will simply become the vehicle for secure apps that authenticate a user’s anatomy. You won’t have to wear your heart on your sleeve, just a heart monitor on your wrist. 

More Than Skin Deep
The Nymi Band, for example, senses the wearer’s heart rhythm and compares it to a stored record. A heartbeat that matches the record unlocks a smartphone or computer. Nymi’s maker, Bionym, a startup out of the University of Toronto, says its heart-monitoring bracelet is more convenient than memorizing passwords and juggling coded security cards. The technology, it suggests, could be used in payment systems and other aspects of the app economy. MasterCard has already invested in this technology.

Other companies are working on authentication that relies on a user’s internal biology, although many are still in the research labs; commercial use may be years away. AT&T has created a system to send an electro-acoustic signal through bone or skin to produce a “body signature,” then compare it to a database of signatures to grant or block access. EMC, the world’s largest provider of data storage systems, is also working on a technology that authenticates users with facial and pulse data, factoring in circadian rhythms and adjustments for age.

Is Biometric Authentication a Heartbeat Away? - inline 2Privacy Concerns
Although body parts show promise as security vectors, companies that want to authenticate employees or customers through their internal organs have to watch out for technological limitations and legal issues. Privacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation warn that biometrics used improperly are a unconstitutional menace to privacy.

Devices measuring internal biometrics may be harder to fool than those that rely on external features that can be altered, such as faces and fingerprints, but we won’t know until mass rollouts occurs just how safe and secure they really are.

We’re just at the cusp of these emerging technologies. In order to succeed, the technology must offer some improvement on what already exists. Right now, relying on internal organs for authentication isn’t less expensive, more accurate or more efficient than using established products that rely on eyes, faces or fingerprints. And some of these older systems are “pretty entrenched”. These new techniques will have to find a niche to get the ball rolling. Until that happens, despite their promise, emerging biometric developers are finding it difficult to get a foot—or heart or vein—in the door.

Check out the Nymi Biometric Band here:

Windows 10 Is Spying On You

Windows 10 is here and it’s faster, smoother and more user-friendly than any Windows operating system that has come before it. Windows 10 is everything Windows 8 should have been, addressing nearly all of the major problems users had with Microsoft’s previous operating system in one fell swoop.

But there’s something you should know: As you read this article from your newly upgraded PC, Windows 10 is also spying on nearly everything you do.

“It’s your own fault if you don’t know that Windows 10 is spying on you.” That’s what people always say when users fail to read through a company’s terms of service document, right?

Well, here is Microsoft’s 12,000-word service agreement. Some of it is probably in English. I’m pretty sure it says you can’t steal Windows or use Windows to send spam, and also that Microsoft reserves the right to take possession of your first-born child if it so chooses. And that’s only one of several documents you’ll have to read through.

Actually, here’s one excerpt from Microsoft’s privacy statement that everyone can understand:

Finally, we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to: 1.Comply with applicable law or respond to valid legal process, including from law enforcement or other government agencies;
2.Protect our customers, for example to prevent spam or attempts to defraud users of the services, or to help prevent the loss of life or serious injury of anyone;
3.Operate and maintain the security of our services, including to prevent or stop an attack on our computer systems or networks; or
4.Protect the rights or property of Microsoft, including enforcing the terms governing the use of the services – however, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property of Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer’s private content ourselves, but we may refer the matter to law enforcement.

If that sentence sent shivers down your spine, don’t worry. As invasive as it is, Microsoft does allow Windows 10 users to opt out of all of the features that might be considered invasions of privacy. Of course, users are opted in by default, which is more than a little disconcerting, but let’s focus on the solution.

First, you’ll want to open Settings and click on Privacy. There, you’ll find 13 different screens — yes, 13 — to go through, and you’ll want to disable anything that seems at all intrusive or worrisome. Most of the important settings can be found on the General tab, though other tabs are important as well. For example, you’ll definitely want to adjust what types of data each app on your system can access.

Next, users should consider dumping Cortana. Yes, the voice-driven assistant is easily one of the best new features in Windows 10, but it also plays fast and loose with your data. As a result, many users will find that the benefits do not outweigh the risks.

To complete the third task, you’ll have to venture outside the confines of your PC and hit the web. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to check out Microsoft’s nifty new Edge browser. In it, click on this link and set both “Personalized ads in this browser” and “Personalized ads wherever I use my Microsoft account” to off. This will disable Microsoft’s Google-style ad tracking features.

The last tip is one that most users will likely skip, as it is a bit excessive. Some users are removing their Microsoft account from Windows 10 completely and using a newly created local account instead. This way, Microsoft doesn’t grab hold of all your data to sync it across machines. To me, that’s a pretty good feature so I’ve opted to keep it.

OpenDNS Internet Parental Control

Here’s another tool in the never ending battle against malware, drive-by and infected webpages – and this one is FREE

CISCO is currently in the process of buying OpenDNS to the tune of $635 million. That means very little to most people who probably haven’t even heard of OpenDNS until today. What’s important here is that even with that market valuation – YOU can still get this valuable service absolutely FREE!

OpenDNS is a company and service which extends the Domain Name System (DNS) by adding features such as phishing protection and optional content filtering to traditional recursive DNS services.

The OpenDNS Global Network processes an estimated 70 billion DNS queries daily from over 65 million active users across 160+ countries connected to the service through 24 data centers worldwide. Previously OpenDNS was an ad-supported service showing relevant ads when they show search results and a paid advertisement-free service. The free service has since evolved to no longer showing advertisements.

DNS services for personal/home use Back on May 13, 2007, OpenDNS launched a domain-blocking service to block web sites or non-Web servers visited based upon categories, allowing control over the type of sites that may be accessed. The categories can be overridden through individually managed blacklists and whitelists. In 2008, OpenDNS changed from a closed list of blocked domains to a community-driven list allowing subscribers to suggest sites for blocking; if enough subscribers (the number has not been disclosed) concur with the categorization of the site it is added to the appropriate category for blocking. As of 2014 there were over 60 categories. The basic FREE OpenDNS service does not require users to register, but using the customizable block feature requires registration.

Other free, built-in features include a phishing filter and a service called Phish Tank for users to submit and review suspected phishing sites.

The OpenDNS service consists of recursive nameserver addresses as part of their FamilyShield parental controls which block pornography, proxy servers, and phishing sites as well. The service works with any device connected to a single home network after the user makes a simple DNS change in their router. Instructions for making this change in all the popular routers and modem can be found on their support forums link below.

How does OpenDNS work?

  • Instantly blocks access to adult websites No complicated configuration FamilyShield is pre-configured to block adult websites across your Internet connection.  Just turn it on and go.  The filter is always up-to-date, adding new sites 24/7.
  • Flexible parental controls that protect every Internet-connected device in your home, instantly. When you set up FamilyShield on your router, every device in your home gets protected. That means everything: your kids’ Xbox, Playstation, Wii, DS, iPad, and even their iPhone.
  • Built-in anti-fraud and phishing protection Take the guesswork out of identifying fraudulent sites. FamilyShield automatically blocks phishing and identity theft websites.
  • Makes your Internet faster and more reliable Setting up FamilyShield frees you of frustrating, intermittent Internet outages and makes Web pages load faster, which makes your overall Internet connection faster.

Visit the following links for additional information:

The best tool for protecting your kids (or employees) from malware and porn:

To get more information or get started protecting your family from internet challenges visit:

Getting Started Forums and FAQ’s

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