The internet does not improve information flow just by existing

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... any more than a cure for a disease works if no one applies it. At The New Republic, Julia Ioffe draws attention to the way in which the largely government-controlled Russian media have portrayed the recent airline crash in the Ukraine:

Did you know Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH17 for Putin’s presidential plane,… click here to read whole article and make comments


MONDAY, 21 JULY 2014

We could get beyond passwords. But do we want to?

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Last time, we looked at hacking through the password jungle—where some passwords scored worse on recent security tests than just “password.” But before we look at beyond-the-password options, whatever happened to the guy who mocked Heartbleed and posted his passwords online? Well, as Brian Fung explains at the Washington Post,

The reader's accounts on Tumblr, WordPress, Twitter and Facebook all appear to have been hacked in short order. The reader's location on Twitter now reads as Gas City, Indiana, just like the commenter asked, and the account has several mocking tweets. I've obscured the reader's name here to protect his identity, even though he seems intent on getting it stolen.

Making full allowance for the possibility that this was a publicity stunt aimed at drawing attention to security lapses, the message comes through: Internet pirates, besides being in it just for the money, have a professional reputation to protect.… click here to read whole article and make comments



Some passwords are actually worse than just using “password”

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I have a theory about passwords. They make us less secure. No really.

The problem is, we tell ourselves we’ll remember them and we are afraid to write them down. But many of us simply don’t remember them. And only some memory prompts are consistently useful anyway. My first car will always be my first car, but I might forget which is my “favourite pet” (because since I answered that question, a beloved pet passed on and a new one reigns). So I end up just changing my password. Keep doing that, and one might attract new spyware…

Obviously, we need passwords. But after all these years of hundreds of millions of people living partly online, some new facts, issues, and proposed solutions are emerging. Some of them are counterintuitive.

As Dan Goodin explains at Ars Technica, we’ve all heard:

Use long, randomly generated passwords to… click here to read whole article and make comments



“Wiping” your phone may not wipe those photos

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Don’t worry boys, I’ll have the NSA delete it for me / White House

If you’re selling an old Android smartphone on an online auction site you could be giving away rather more than you intend to, according to a recent investigation by anti-malware company Avast.

Going through phones that had supposedly been “factory reset”, the company’s researchers were able to view photos taken by the phone’s original owners. In addition to the usual harmless photos of the family cat were naked selfies that the original owners would never have wanted them to see.

What’s more, the researchers were able to do this simply by using a range of free smartphone forensic tools that are easy to use by technical enthusiasts as well as professional forensics experts.

How it works   

Electronic data, stored either on a solid… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 11 JULY 2014

Let’s recover the lost art of penmanship

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In school, some of us were afflicted by the calculator syndrome, which atrophied our maths skills when we came to rely on handy calculators for arithmetic that we could do in our heads.  These days, the ubiquity of computers has given us the instant coffee fix syndrome.  We are prone to juggling several on-screen tasks with the attention span of someone on a caffeine high – without taking the time to integrate what we read with what we know, much less to reflect on its implications. 

Glitzy screens and the lure of instant intelligence have eclipsed our inner resources.  As French Renaissance writer Michel Montaigne observed, “We can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge, but we cannot be wise with other men’s wisdom”.  It’s less true that “a little learning can be a dangerous thing” than that a mass of disjointed information can… click here to read whole article and make comments



How to sink a competitor with Google Maps

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One restaurant found out the hard way, according to Wired:

It began in early 2012, when he experienced a sudden 75 percent drop off in customers on the weekend, the time he normally did most of his business. The slump continued for months, for no apparent reason. Bertagna’s profits plummeted, he was forced to lay off some of his staff, and he struggled to understand what was happening. Only later did Bertagna come to suspect that he was the victim of a gaping vulnerability that made his Google listings open to manipulation.
He was alerted to that possibility when one of his regulars phoned the restaurant. “A customer called me and said, ‘Why are you closed on Saturday, Sunday and Monday? What’s going on?’” Bertagna says.
It turned out that Google Places, the search giant’s vast business directory, was misreporting the Serbian Crown’s hours. Anyone Googling Serbian Crown, or plugging it into Google Maps, was told incorrectly that… click here to read whole article and make comments



Do people prefer the pain of electric shocks to being alone? Yes.

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That’s the message of a recent study by Timothy Wilson and colleagues at the University of Virginia, reported in Science and written up in The Atlantic:

They report on 11 experiments. In most, they asked participants to put away any distractions and entertain themselves with their own thoughts for 6 to 15 minutes. Over the first six studies, 58 percent of participants rated the difficulty at or above the midpoint on a scale (“somewhat”), and 42 percent rated their enjoyment below the midpoint. In the seventh study, participants completed the task at home, and 32 percent admitted to cheating by using their phones, listening to music, or doing anything but just sitting there. (In the lab studies, one participant’s data was tossed because an experimenter had accidentally left a pen behind and the subject used it to write a to-do list. Another’s was tossed because an instruction… click here to read whole article and make comments



Facepalm: Facebook experiments on its users, Part I

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As Popular Mechanics tells it, at Facebook, there is a motto written on the wall, “Move fast and break things.”

It sounds like the usual motivational blather, so no one realized that they meant every word, especially “fast” and “break.” Until now.

In January 2012, a Facebook data scientist, working with experimenters from Cornell University and the University of California over one week, San Francisco, manipulated the feeds of 689,003 English language users (1 in 2500 users). The firm made changes in what users saw, to study whether they could change the “mood” of such a large group by manipulating which posts from friends these users would see. Back of their quest is social science lore around “emotional contagion.” Then the experimenters published a study of the findings in the Proceedings… click here to read whole article and make comments



Facepalm: Facebook experiments on its users, Part II

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The company clandestinely altered the emotional content of feeds of nearly 700,000 users for a week in 2012


So Facebook did an experiment on 1 in 2500 users who did not know they were part of an experiment. What did the researchers find? For context (and contrary to what many commentators assume) previous research had found that hearing a continuous stream of happy-happy-me chat tends to cause readers to express resentment, not joy. The controversial Facebook research weakly disconfirmed this, suggesting that people who heard positive words were slightly more likely to update their status more positively and that those who heard negative words were slightly more likely to update their status more negatively.

But as bioethicist Michelle N. Meyer observes, the effect was not only tiny but questionable:

Note two things. First, while statistically significant, these effect sizes are, as the authors acknowledge, quite small. The largest effect… click here to read whole article and make comments


MONDAY, 30 JUNE 2014

Study: Underage sexting is common but risks child porn law charges

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And, says the study, young people seem unaware of the legal risks of getting charged under child porn laws:

Sexting among youth is more prevalent than previously thought, according to a new study from Drexel University that was based on a survey of undergraduate students at a large northeastern university. More than 50 percent of those surveyed reported that they had exchanged sexually explicit text messages, with or without photographic images, as minors.
The study also found that the majority of young people are not aware of the legal ramifications of underage sexting. In fact, most respondents were unaware that many jurisdictions consider sexting among minors -- particularly when it involves harassment or other aggravating factors -- to be child pornography, a prosecutable offense. Convictions of these offenses carry steep punishments, including jail time and sex offender registration.

In a Q and A, the authors explain:

How… click here to read whole article and make comments


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Connecting is MercatorNet's blog about social media and the virtual self. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your tips and suggestions. Post comments. We want to make it as lively as possible. The editor is Denyse O'Leary, a Canadian journalist. 

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