Monthly Archives: October 2016

FCC Rules Landmark Protection for Internet Users

fccHere’s a WIN for the little guys! Federal regulators have approved new broadband privacy rules that require internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to ask for customers’ permission before using or sharing much of their data, potentially making it more difficult for them to grow their advertising businesses.

Under the new measure, for example, a broadband provider has to ask a customer’s permission before it can tell an advertiser exactly where that customer is by tracking her phone and what interests she has gleaned from the websites she’s visited on it and the apps she’s used.

For some information that’s not considered as private, like names and addresses, there’s a more lenient approach. Customers should assume that broadband providers can use that information, but they can still “opt-out” of letting them do so.

The final Federal Communications Commission’s measure was scaled back from an earlier proposal, but was still criticized by the advertising, telecommunications and cable industries.

Cable and phone companies want to increase revenue from ad businesses of their own — AT&T has said increasing advertising tailored to customers’ preferences is one of its goals with its $85.4 billion purchase of HBO, CNN and TBS owner Time Warner; Verizon has bought AOL and agreed to buy Yahoo in order to build up its digital-ad business.

But the new rules could make doing that more difficult. Companies and industry groups say it’s confusing and unfair that the regulations are stricter than the Federal Trade Commission standards that digital-advertising behemoths such as Google and Facebook operate under. The FCC does not regulate such web companies.

FCC officials approved the rules on a narrow 3-2 vote Thursday, its latest contentious measure to pass on party lines.

“It is the consumer’s information. How it is to be used should be the consumers’ choice, not the choice of some corporate algorithm,” said Tom Wheeler, the Democratic chairman of the FCC who has pushed for the privacy measure and other efforts that have angered phone and cable companies. AT&T and other players have fought the “net neutrality” rules, which went into effect last year, that say ISPs can’t favor their internet traffic. Another measure that could make the cable-box market more competitive is still waiting for an FCC vote.

Industry groups representing the cable, phone and advertising industries criticized the outcome of Thursday’s vote, while several consumer-advocacy and civil liberties groups hailed it.

Today’s vote is a historic win for privacy and free expression and for the vitality of the internet, said a spokesperson from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Just as telephone companies are not allowed to listen in to our calls or sell information about who we talk to, our internet providers shouldn’t be allowed to monitor our internet usage for profit.

The FCC order is not airtight so we can expect the industry to try and exploit every crack in these protections – time will tell. In the future, I fully expect that their “opt out” process will be buried deep within their 6,000 page “terms of service” document hoping we don’t take the time to find the instructions and make the request.

 

IoT (Internet of Things) Devices Take Down The Internet

It was all over the news this weekend. A sustained DDoS attack that caused outages for a large number of web sites Friday was launched with the help of hacked “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices. In a relatively short period of time we’ve taken a system built to resist destruction by nuclear weapons and made it vulnerable to toasters.

Early Friday morning someone aimed their DDoS attack on Dyn, a New Hampshire based Internet infrastructure company that provides critical DNS technology services to major websites. The attack immediately created problems for internet users of Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit, Spotify, Netflix and a host of other websites.

This outage was similar to the recent DDoS attack on IT security reporter Brian Krebs’ site, caused by the Mirai botnet which consists of hacked IoT devices — mainly compromised of digital video recorders and IP cameras made by a Chinese hi-tech company called XiongMai Technologies.

The components that XiongMai makes are sold downstream to vendors and manufacturers who then use it in their own products. All credentials are hardcoded in the firmware and cannot be changed. This is a very dangerous practice and we need laws against this ASAP.

Who Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet?
Last month, IT security Guru Bruce Schneier created some controversy when he wrote that someone — probably a country — was learning how to take down the internet:

“Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large nation state. China or Russia would be my first guess.

These attacks are not new: hackers do this to sites they don’t like, and criminals have done it as a method of extortion. There is an entire industry, with an arsenal of technologies, devoted to DDoS defense. But largely it’s a matter of bandwidth. If the attacker has a bigger fire hose of data than the defender has, the attacker wins.”

It’s either a large country, or these two other scenarios:

1) Someone tried to extort DYN and when they did not cough up the money, they decided to show them what they could unleash.

2) Anonymous and/or some other hacktivists decided to flex their virtual muscle and show netizens they are still a force to be reckoned with. Either way is disconcerting.

What can you do about this?
Well, not much EXCEPT keep your unnecessary IoT devices off the internet – don’t simply follow the manufacturers instructions and routinely connect everything to your WiFI connection. In the future, laws should be passed forcing manufacturers to build standard security functionality into these things making it somewhat safer for us consumers to use them.

Google Launches Fact Checking Feature

Just in time for the US presidential election, Google is rolling out a “fact check” tag to its News service.

Google News aggregates stories from various sources identifying them via labels like “highly cited,” “featured,” “opinion,” “in depth,” and now, “fact check.” The fact check feature will appear as a tag among Google News search results.

Fact checking, once a job that was relegated to interns and entry-level reporters, “has come into its own,” Google News head Richard Gingras wrote in blog post.

“Rigorous fact checks are now conducted by more than 100 active sites,” he said, citing the Duke University Reporter’s Lab. “They collectively product many thousands of fact-checks a year, examining claims around urban legends, politics, health, and the media itself.”

Google’s algorithms will determine which articles may contain fact checks using the schema.org ClaimReview system; it also looks for sites that follow commonly accepted criteria for fact checks. Publishers interested in applying to have their service included can find more details online.

News junkies in the US and UK will see new tagged reports in the expanded story box on the Web and in the Google News & Weather iOS and Android apps.

“We’re excited to see the growth of the Fact Check community and to shine a light on its efforts to divine fact from fiction, wisdom from spin,” Gingras said.

Google began labeling types of articles seven years ago, making it easier for readers to access a range of content. Earlier this year, it added a “Local Source” tag to highlight local coverage of major topics.

The news comes as Facebook is grappling with a rash of fake news in its trending section. Amidst concern that its trending news team was surfacing only liberal news, Facebook ditched human curators for computer algorithms. But its algorithms are apparently rather gullible. Facebook later joined an organization dedicated to tackling misinformation online, alongside Twitter and more than two dozen other tech and media titans.

The question we should all be asking now – who’s going to fact-check Google?

A Friendlier “Craigslist”?

450 million people already visit “buy and sell” Groups on Facebook each month, and now the company is launching a whole tab in its app dedicated to peer-to-peer shopping.

Facebook Marketplace lets you browse a relevancy-sorted list of things to buy from people who live nearby and quickly list your own stuff for sale. Integration with Facebook Messenger lets you haggle or arrange a meet-up, and you know more about who you’re dealing with than on anonymous sites like Craigslist thanks to Facebook’s profiles.

Marketplace has launched in the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand on mobile, but could roll out globally and on the web if it’s popular. There’s an unfortunate lack of a two-way rating system which helps discourage scamming and bad behavior. There’s also no native checkout option for transactions beyond ad-hoc payment through Messenger, which is annoying but promotes in-person exchanges instead of fraud-laden shipping.

While there’s no advertising pages allowed on Marketplace right now, Facebook could one day generate ad revenue if it lets businesses or people buy News Feed ads or sponsored placement for what they’re selling.

Facebook is betting big on Marketplace, considering its taking over a main spot in the navigation tab bar, replacing the Messenger shortcut in Facebook for iOS. That prime location could make Marketplace the digital version of impulse buys at the checkout counter.

Social Selling Facebook continues its unending quest to dominate the internet, creating its own versions of every popular activity on the web to absorb their engagement and profit potential. The more of the commerce experience it owns, the more it can earn indirectly through ads. It’s also working on a Shopping tab for buying from traditional retailers.

Facebook has been trying to win local commerce for almost a decade. In 2007 it first tried out a “Marketplace” for classified listings about things for sale, housing, jobs, and more. But Marketplace never gained enough traction and in 2009 Facebook transferred control to Oodle, the commerce platform powering it. It was shut down in 2014.

Then last year, Facebook took another swing, building a special “For Sale” post option to Groups, which almost a quarter of its 1.71 billion users now visit each month. In October 2015 Facebook began testing a “Local Market” feature that would evolve into the Marketplace.

Facebook Marketplace has three main features: Browse To Buy – Marketplace opens to a filtered feed of items you can buy from your community. Thanks to tags people add to their listings and Facebook’s text analysis AI combined with what Pages you like and stuff you browse on Marketplace, the listings you see are ranked based on relevancy. Pre-made Messages like “Is this item still available?” and “What condition is this item in?” make negotiation simpler.

Sell Your Stuff – Rather than having to set up a new profile, you can easily snap a photo of your item, add a description, set an asking price, and publish your listing.

Search Your Surroundings – Along with browsing specific categories like Household or Electronics, you can also search for something specific and filter what you see by location, category, and price or through a map. If you find something you want, you’ll see the seller’s approximate location, not their exact address unless they tell you. Marketplace will show you the most relevant items for you, even if you don’t know what you want.

No one else has been able to wrestle peer-to-peer selling away from Craigslist, but Facebook might have the best chance based on how Marketplace works.

3 Good Reasons You Might Want To Use Marketplace

Trust
: On Craigslist you don’t know anything about the buyer or seller you’re meeting beyond what they say in their listing and your direct communication. But Facebook profiles tell you tons. It’s tough for scammers with fake accounts to build up big numbers of friends, so if someone has plenty along with a filled-out profile, you can be pretty sure of who they are. That info or lack thereof could clue you in to whether you want to meet them in-person, which can be risky. Plus there’s more accountability and people behave better if they think you could give their name to the police, track them down at work, or shame them on social media.

A sorely lacking feature in Marketplace is a way for buyers and sellers to rate each other and note things like that the item was in worse condition than listed, the seller tried to jack up the price last-minute, or that the buyer showed up late or flaked out.

Convenience: People usually only go to Craigslist when they want something specific. Yet we already spend about 50 minutes per day on Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram. Marketplace will be one tap away inside Facebook, rather than getting buried under the “More” tab like many features.

By building the Marketplace into where we already spend our time, it’s like setting up a farmer’s market in the center of town. Users might skim through Marketplace simply because they’re bored. Thanks to the popularity of Messenger, buyers and sellers can easily chat without phone numbers.

It’s Free: Facebook also doesn’t charge a fee, so you can transact however you want and never pay extra.

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