Tag Archives: tracking

PTJ 180 News: Down to Earth

From coast to coast, Apple is having quite a time with the legal system. The company may still be at a standoff with the Justice Department about unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone out in California, but here in New York’s Eastern District court, a federal judge has ruled that the government can’t use the 227-year-old All Writs Act to force the company to unlock the phone belonging to a drug dealer. The New York case is separate from the ongoing fight in California and the two situations involve different aspects of iOS encryption, however. In California, Apple filed a motion in court last week to vacate the order that it cooperate with the FBI. One of Apple’s lawyers spent his Tuesday in Washington, testifying in front of the House Committee on the Judiciary.

9to5Mac and other sources are now reporting that rumored Apple’s upcoming spring event has moved back a week from around March 15th and will now be in the week of March 21st. No invitations yet, though! It’s not real until you see the invitation!

In app news, Google has also given iPhone users a bit of parity with its Android peeps by adding the “pit stops” feature to the iOS version of Google Maps. And, in a reverse for the Reuters TV app we talked about a few months ago — the one that was that was only available for iOS — the company has now released an Android version.

One of Google’s self-driving cars smacked into a city bus in California last month, which has the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority investigating things. Google admitted its Lexus RX450h auto-piloted vehicle bears “some responsibility” for the incident.

Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset looks like it’s actually becoming a reality for developers. The dev kit edition is now available for pre-order from the company, with a chunky $3,000 price tag and delivery on March 30th.  Also new, but slightly cheaper: The Raspberry Pi 3 barebones computer is now on sale for a mere $35.

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In drone developments, a new model from DJI has the ability to sense and avoid obstacles in its way, and also, to track people and animals. The DJI Phantom 4 costs about $1400 and follows its subjects automatically using cameras, sensors and ActiveTrack technology. Also tracking: Sleep cycles. Over on the Medium site, a Danish developer posted the results of a little project he did that used the Last Active timestamp data gleaned from the web-based version of Facebook’s Messenger service to figure out the sleeping patterns of his Facebook pals. Facebook was not too happy about his work and someone else using the same data they collect about you themselves, and was fussing because he posted the code for the project online.

McDonald’s has noticed the low-budget virtual-reality craze brought on by the Google Cardboard viewer and is busting a move of its own — in Sweden. The fast-food giant is launching a promotion there over the next couple weekends, and it lets kids fold their Happy meal boxes onto VR viewers to see a smartphone-based VR game especially created for the occasion. These special meal containers are called Happy Goggles and yes, you get fries with that.

The Brita filter people have joined up Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service to create the $45 Wi-Fi Brita Infinity Smart Water Pitcher that automatically orders more Brita filters when it needs them. No word on if the pitcher has any tiny cameras embedded in its lid so it can scope out what else in in your fridge and report back to Amazon.

Sony has a new beta out for its PlayStation 4 software. Although the version 3.5 beta doesn’t contain the feature that allows you to remotely play PS4 games on a Mac or PC, the feature is coming along sooner than many anticipated.

And finally, Commander Scott Kelly is back on Earth this week after 340 days aboard the International Space Station.  Welcome home, sir!

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PTJ 167 News: Cracker Jacks

It’s been a week of hacking, cracking and more than a little tracking. For starters, Facebook, which is never shy about getting all up in the content you post on the site, is now testing its Photo Magic feature on its Australian users. So, what is Photo Magic? It’s a Facebook tool that jacks into your phone’s Camera Roll to look for pictures you haven’t yet posted — and then suggests that you send those images to the friends it recognizes through the Facebook Messenger app. Privacy advocates, start your engines.

Also in nosy news, a Belgian court has ordered The Social Network to stop using its special web-tracking cookie on visitors who are not Facebook members. And the Federal Communications Commission has dismissed a petition from the California-based Consumer Watchdog group that would have required big content-and-apps sites like Facebook, Google, YouTube, Netflix and others to honor the Do Not Track requests from browsers.

And from tracking to hacking, the same group that claims to have broken into the personal email account of CIA director John Brennan an few weeks back says it recently got into a law-enforcement portal site for arrest records, agency collaboration tools and other sensitive crime-fighting information. The group, known as Crackas With Attitude, let the world know of the hack of the Joint Automated Booking System over Twitter:

Pinterest has added a new visual search tool — which it describes as “crazy fun” — to help you find the things you want on sight. To quote the Pinterest blog, “When you spot something in a Pin that you want to learn more about, tap the search tool in the corner. Then select the part of the Pin you’re interested in, and we’ll show you Pins just like it. You can even filter your visual search results by topic so you find exactly what you’re looking for.”

Tumblr has added instant messaging for its users. Go, team!

No Internet connection? Google Maps has added offline navigation and search to its Android app. Oh, and in case you were waiting for it,  the Android app version of Apple Music is now out.Google also announced that as of April 2016, it was discontinuing Chrome browser support for on Windows XP and Vista, Mac OS X 10.6 to 10.8. So long, outdated operating systems!

Like video? T-Mobile has also added a new plan called Binge On that lets its users stream content from popular video services like Netflix and HBO Now without denting their data plans. However, some critics note that because not all streaming services are included in the Binge On plan, T-Mobile may have some net neutrality issues to work out with the FCC. bingeon Apple’s iPad Pro went on sale this week, with online orders starting Wednesday and the big slab hitting shelves a few days later. The tablet with the 12.9 inch screen has a starter price of $800 for the 32-gig Wi-Fi only version and the tags go north from there. Optional accessories like the $100 Apple Pencil stylus and the $170 Smart Keyboard, which turns your iPad Pro into a Microsoft Surface, also went on sale this week. And more reasons for Apple to be happy – a federal district court judge threw out a class-action lawsuit brought by Apple Store employees who wanted to be reimbursed for the time spent in the office bag-search line to make sure they weren’t nicking the merch.

Moving on to the exciting world of cable television, Time Warner Cable officially announced its TWC TV Roku Trial program in New York City. If you’re interested, you can sign up for the trial. Also in cable news, an internal Comcast memo that got leaked and posted on Reddit admits that the company’s 300-gigabyte-per-month data caps recently imposed on customers in several southeastern cities to improve network performance is not actually about improving network performance.

Meanwhile, up on the International Space Station, astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren took an almost 8-hour space walk late last week to do a little maintenance. A tweet from the International Space Station’s Twitter account described the chores as “serious high-flying plumbing and cable work,” while NASA reported the mission as the two “restored the port truss (P6) ammonia cooling system to its original configuration.” The Space.com site has an excellent rundown of the walk.

And finally, the Hour of Code is always upon us, but this year, there’s an even bigger push to get women and people of color into programming. To help lure the kids in, the Code.org site is teaming up with Disney/Lucasfilm to have Star Wars characters help with the learning. As explained on a Disney blog, “Students will learn to write code that allows them to create games using Star Wars characters.” This is all part of the third annual Hour of Code event that’s part of Computer Science Education Week, which takes place December 7-13 this year. May the Code be with you!

PTJ 136 News: May the Force Field Be With You

April Fools’ Day was this week and the usual tech-company hijinks were on display. Google turned its Google Maps site into a location-specific version of the Pac-Man videogame that was actually fully functional — and let users navigate the munching yellow ball over city streets. Samsung, meanwhile, released a promo site for a fake Galaxy phone called the Blade Edge, which claimed to be a chef’s knife with smartphone capabilities. And Amazon’s thing called  the Dash button? The timing mades it sound fake but many outlets reported it was real (or real lame).

pac-google

Hopefully not an April Fools’ Day joke: Verizon Wireless customers can now fully opt out of those mandatory zombie supercookies that were tracking their whereabouts on the Web. Verizon had promised cookie relief earlier this year when the news broke and a few members of the US Senate called for an investigation.

Need help around the house? Turns out you can order that from Amazon now, too. The company just launched its new Amazon Home Services directory.

watchGot your eye on the Apple Watch that costs as much as a car? According to the 9to5Mac site, there’s a unique “Apple Store purchasing experience”  and a “personalized journey” in the works for those who lay out the scratch for the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition. Also, you don’t have to wait in line, so there’s that.

People have been wondering what Apple has planned for the Beats music service since it acquired the company last year. News organizations began reporting last week that an overhaul of Beats and Apple’s own iTunes service is in the works.  No word on when the new services are arriving, but Apple will get some competition from Jay Z’s revamped Tidal music-streaming service, a platform owned by artists.

Thanks to bigger bandwidth, better compression and boffo hardware, high-def video keeps getting more gorgeous. YouTube is rising to the challenge with 4K video using 60 frames per second. If you have the hardware to run it, the clips are beautiful, but as the Macworld site put it, video that massive will crush your computer if your graphics card is not up to snuff.

Google continues to tinker and merge its various services. The company announced this week that photos Google+ users keep online are now also be available in Google Drive and the Gmail team has also updated its Android app to put all your Inboxes in one place.

sheepA farmer in Ireland has released a video of an aerial drone herding a flock of sheep.  Meanwhile, Facebook continues to test its solar-powered drones for delivering Internet access to part of the world that have no connectivity, much like Google’s balloon-powered Project Loon is doing. And the Guardian news organization got a visit to Amazon’s secret drone testing ground in Canada. The uber-mega-everything store is testing its Prime Air delivery service north of the border due to frustration with regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration. Still, Amazon’s keeping busy stateside — the Re/Code site noticed a patent the company recently filed that envisions a retail store that lets shoppers fill their carts and then leave without going through the cashier lane — because the store’s sensors would just bill you for the goods.

Also in patent news: Boeing, maker of aviation equipment and sponsor of public-television programs, has a patent for a force field that could, in theory, protect buildings and vehicles from explosions. As a conceptual video from the Patent Yogi site illustrates, the force-field would work by detecting shockwaves from nearby explosions and respond with laser pulses to absorb the blast by ionizing the air.

swcAnd finally, speaking of force fields and things that make us think of Star Wars, several fan sites are reporting that a new trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, will debut at this year’s Star Wars Celebration convention next month in Anaheim, California. J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy are kicking off the show on April 16th at 10AM Pacific time, so let’s expect the trailer’s debut then and there — and for it (please) to be online five minutes later.

PTJ 128 News: Rules, Regulations and Rude Suprises

It’s February, which is showtime for the Federal Communications Commission! As reported by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and several other news organizations, the FCC now proposes that the Internet be regulated like any other public utility.  A vote on the proposal by the full commission is scheduled for Feb. 26. While the F.C.C. is an independent agency, it takes action through a five-member commission vote.

Also in FCC news: The agency was just not having that petition from the Marriott Hotel chain to block Wi-Fi hotspots and other external networks that guests may be using for security and management reasons, so the hotel empire has withdrawn that request. Late last week, the agency updated its definition of what counts as the minimum benchmark for broadband speeds from a now-wimpy 4 megabits per second to 25 megabits per second for downloads. As The Consumerist blog points out, this reclassification could affect the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal, Earlier this week, the FCC also began to consider draft legislation that would stop state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that limit cities from deploying their own municipal broadband services to compete with national mega-providers.

amIt’s not just the FCC gearing up for new rules — the National Security Agency is getting some from the White House. The Obama Administration will now be requiring the NSA to delete irrelevant personal and private information of Americans and foreigners that the agency may accidentally grab during its big data sweeps. Note that this announcement comes the week before German chancellor Angela Merkel comes to visit.

Reddit has published its first Transparency Report detailing government requests for information on its users. According to the company’s tally, it handed over information for 58 percent of all government and civil requests, and 64 percent of all US state and federal government requests.

The White House also released its budget request for the fiscal year 2016, which included a half-billion dollar bump for NASA. The budget, which allocates a total of $18.5 billon dollars to the space agency, allows for continued development on the Orion mission and the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. There’s also $30 million dollars set aside the development of a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons and possibly a place to host alien life.

europa

The Comcast Customer Service department is back in the news, not horribly long after last year’s incident when an aggressive company rep basically refused to let a man disconnect his cable service. This time, a customer reported that a Comcast employee had changed the name on his bill to a rather descriptive and obscene moniker after the man’s wife tried to cancel the cable to save on monthly bills. This prompted other Comcast customers to come forward with their own reports of name changes In response to the original incident, Comcast published a blog post last week called “Respecting Our Customers” that apologized for and said that the employee in question will no longer be working on behalf of Comcast. (Also in Big Telco and Customer Relations, Verizon Wireless said it plans to let its subscribers opt out of those invulnerable supercookies, or unique identifiers, that privacy advocates were so concerned about.)

If you’ve been thinking about getting into barebones computing, you may be excited to hear the Raspberry Pi 2 is now on sale for the very reasonable price of $35. The little board is more just a toy — this generation of the tiny computer can actually run a version of Windows 10. Microsoft has been working with the Pi makers to create a compatible version of the operating system and invites interested parties to come register for the company’s Windows Developer Program for IoT.

rsRadio Shack seems to be headed over the financial cliff. As reported by Bloomberg News, the chain is said to be preparing a bankruptcy deal that would sell half its store leases to Sprint and shut down the other half. Bloomberg also reports that Amazon may be interested in picking up a few RadioShack locations to give the online company a little more brick-and-mortar action.

Tangerine, one of the most buzzed about movies at the recent Sundance Film Festival, was shot entirely on an iPhone 5S tricked out with the $8 Filmic Pro app, a Moondog Labs lens adapter and some external audio gear. And  Vine has introduced a new simplified version of its six-second looping video app called Vine Kids .

For the map lovers — Google Earth Pro is now free. This premium version of Google Earth used to cost $400, but now you can get the exclusive data layers and advanced measuring tools of Google Earth Pro for zero dollars. The Big G has also added Google Now info cards for about 40 different apps. (Google, in addition to all the other things it’s been working on lately, is also recreating human skin — will they call it Google Flesh?)

puffs1And finally, while we’re on the topic of medical research: Mark Shrime, a medical researcher at Harvard, wondered about the factual content of articles published in medical journals. So he decided to run a little experiment and used gibberish produced from www.randomtextgenerator.com to produce text for a fake article titled entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs? The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals,” authored by Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. According to Fast Company magazine, he submitted the article to 37 journals in a two-week period and at least 17 of them have accepted it. Most wanted a $500 “processing” fee, so the “call for papers” here is clearly referring to those infamous small green pieces of paper that make the world go ’round. But, hey, at least it doesn’t cost anything now to see the world spin in Google Earth Pro.

PTJ 126 News: Dawn of a New Day

draftbillThe Federal Communications Commission’s new rules for Net Neutrality are scheduled for a vote on February 26th, but that has not stopped Congress from doing something in the meantime. Republican leaders put out draft legislation this week that prohibits the FCC from reclassifying broadband service as regulated public utility like radio, television and telephone, as President Obama proposed last year. The proposed bill does ban throttling or blocking, but has a “network management” loophole for the telecom companies. Several Internet activists like Free Press have already taken up the call to protest, so this issue certainly isn’t going to fade into the background anytime soon.

Remember when the United States government blamed North Korea for the massive hack on Sony Pictures last year and some security experts questioned how officials could be so sure North Korea did the deed? As reported in The New York Times, it turns out that the National Security Agency itself had totally pwned, er, infiltrated North Korea’s networks back in 2010 so they were familiar with some of that territory.

zombiesCloser to home, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a list of apps and services that do and do not protect you from Verizon Wireless’s user-tracking perma-cookie that was discovered by researchers last fall. The ProPublica site published a story last week about how the online ad company Turn was using Verizon’s tracking numbers to regenerate deleted cookies and keep tabs on the users who thought they deleted them. Once busted by ProPublica, Turn said it would suspend its use of these back-from-the-dead Zombie Cookie IDs — pending further evaluation.

Bloomberg News reports that like everybody else, Taiwanese electronics maker HTC is working on its own smartwatch, as well as a new flagship smartphone with a 20-megapixel rear camera and Dolby 5.1 audio. Both products are expected to be announced at the Mobile World Congress expo in Barcelona the first week of March.

Google Glass, which made a couple year-end lists of Biggest Flops of 2014, is getting discontinued (the original version, anyway). Microsoft, however, has Project HoloLens in the works, so people who want to compute while wearing strips of see-through plastic on their faces have a fresh new option. The company’s holographic goggles will arrive around the same time as its new Windows 10 system; both got some event love this week.

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One little wearables flop isn’t slowing down Google, though. The company, which took out a lease from NASA last year for the historic Hangar One in California, is doing business with other space firms as well. The Big G (and Fidelity) are making a billion-dollar investment in SpaceX for a project that would use about 700 small satellites to provide Internet access to parts of the world that don’t have it.

We have yet another NASA mission to follow this year. This March, the space agency’s Dawn spacecraft will arrive for its assignment at Ceres, a 600-mile wide asteroid in the belt of flying space rocks between between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn, which launched in 2007, has previously orbited Vesta. The Dawn spacecraft combines state-of-the-art technologies tested by other recent space experiments with off-the-shelf components and spare parts and instrumentation left over from previous missions. The spacecraft will make a study of Ceres, which NASA considers to be a dwarf planet, and has already beamed back some images from about 238,000 miles away.

And one more NASA item of note: the agency says the Earth is due to get buzzed by an asteroid later this month.  The big rock should be visible to those in the Americas, Africa and Europe the night of January 26th  and the Virtual Telescope site also plans to track the asteroid starting at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time that day for those who pref to stargaze from inside the house.

Facebook wants to help you further cut down on the amount of floating garbage on your News Feed. In a company blog post this week, two Facebook staffers described an update to the News Feed mix that reduces the distribution of posted stories that have been reported as hoaxes or deleted by other users. (While this could help declutter News Feeds around Facebook, the tool does have the potential for abuse from organized campaigns to discredit, say, an environmental issue. Let’s hope Facebook has thought of this, too.)

Amazon announced this week that it has plans to develop its own original theatrical films that will also be available quite early on its Amazon Prime Instant Video service. This move comes a few months after Netflix announced it was producing a sequel to the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for both IMAX theaters and its own streaming customers that will premiere this August 28th.

The new movie Blackhat opened in theaters this past weekend, and although the hacking action thrilled starring Chris Hemsworth got blown away at the box office by American Sniper, it did get a little cred from the Ars Technica site for not having completely illogical, implausible and just plain stupid technology scenes. The film’s creators hired not one, but two hacking consultants. Judging by the movie’s poor reception from critics, perhaps the producers should have sprung for a script consultant or two as well.

mariogoombaAnd finally,  over at the University of Tübingen in Germany, a group of researchers in the area of cognitive modeling have developed an artificial intelligence system that allows the videogame character Mario the plumber to  experience emotions and respond to voice commands. Mario AI is also aware of his environment, makes decisions in the game on gathered data or “learning.” Yes, there’s a video demonstrating the experiment. Maybe for the next experiment, the researchers can get the Angry Birds to talk through their feelings so they’re not quite so outraged all the time.

PTJ 115: We Got Your Disruption Right Here

I’ve never been one to mince words so let me just drop a truth-bomb on all of you fine folk reading this. J.D. and El Kaiser are disruptors. Period. Full stop.  If there’s any doubt, quit dawdling and listen to this episode.

Pedro breaks down Disruptive Innovation in a Tech Term segment and J.D. explains how  you may already have a basic fitness tracker right on your phone.

In the news  Google has plans for a paid version of YouTube; Motorola unveils a new Droid; Verizon Wireless force feeds some users perma-cookies; The Federal Trade Commission has files a complaint against AT&T; Not all retailers are jumping on the Apple Pay bandwagon; HTML5 is finally official; Amazon takes on the Chromecast; And finally, Apple CEO Tim Cook explains why Apple killed off the iPod Classic.

PTJ 115 News: Charged Up

Want your cat music videos and surfing dog clips without having to sit through five seconds of annoying ads? Got cash? A vice president who heads the YouTube division at Google said this week the company is planning a paid version that will also be ad-free. No word on pricing yet, but they’re still working things out.

turboIf you’re not thrilled with any of the new phones so far this season, here’s a new one. Motorola’s latest handset is called the Droid Turbo and it boasts some impressive specifications, including a 21-megapixel camera, a 5.2-inch screen and claims of up to 48 hours between charges on the battery. (The included “Turbo charger” also claims to give you eight hours of power with just 15 minutes of juicing time.) The Turbo comes in red, black or white and it’s on sale through Verizon Wireless as of October 30.

Speaking of Verizon Wireless, astute observers including those at Wired magazine have noticed that Verizon Wireless has been quietly inserting a string of alphanumeric characters into the data flying between its wireless customers and the websites they visit.  Verizon calls that string of characters a “Unique Identifier Header,” or UIDH. It’s part of the company’s Internet advertising program and basically functions as a serial number or a “perma-cookie” that advertisers can use to identify you. As one can imagine, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other privacy-minded groups are not happy about this. If you want to see if your mobile device has been tagged with a tracking number, visit lessonslearned.org/sniff.

Verizon is not the only one getting a growl from the watchdogs. The Federal Trade Commission has  filed a complaint against AT&T alleging that the company has mislead consumers with its unlimited data promises — by not informing those customers that part of their unlimited data plans include having their data throttled by up to 90 percent. Go get ’em, FTC!

Apple Pay has been up and running for the past week or so, but some companies are banding together to promote other contactless-payment services instead. CVS and Rite Aid are among those declining to take Apple Pay at the cash register now, reportedly choosing the just-hacked CurrentC instead. Walgreens, however, is happy to take your Apple tap.

HTML5Even though it’s been in use for several years, the official standard for HTML5 has been published in its final and approved form by the World Wide Web Consortium this week. (Now that that’s done, it’s on to the HTML 5.1 standards draft for the ever-busy W3C!)

Microsoft has issued a security advisory for vulnerability in its PowerPoint software and other programs that use the Microsoft OLE code. The issue effects pretty much all supported versions of Windows out there. So expect a patch soon, check out the security advisory for suggested workarounds and don’t open PowerPoint presentations or other Office documents from strangers.

In Not Scary Microsoft news, the company has knocked another $50 off the price of an Xbox One game console. The sale starts November 2, and brings the price of a basic Xbox One down to about $350. Your move, Sony.

firestickAlthough Amazon’s weaker-than-expected third-quarter earnings and epic dud known as the Fire Phone may have its investors a bit cranky, the MegaÜberEverything Store is cranking out new products. This week, Amazon announced its new Fire TV Stick, a $39 competitor to Google’s similar Chromecast HDMI dongle.

All those sassy TV ads and data-deal promotions seem to have paid off for T-Mobile. The carrier just reported its largest financial quarter in its company history and now has 52.9 million total customers and Sprint in its targeting computer.

cometMeanwhile, up in space, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe is still chasing comet 67P/Churyumov Gerasimenko. Rosetta’a sensors have even been able to detect the chemical composition of the flying ice ball — down to what it smells like.  According to a blog post on the European Space Agency’s site, “The perfume of 67P/C-G is quite strong, with the odour of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulphide), horse stable (ammonia), and the pungent, suffocating odour of formaldehyde.” Or, as Cnet put it, the comet smells like “rotten eggs and pee.” (Which is not unlike certain subway stations in the New York City metropolitan area on a Sunday morning.)

While the explosion of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket this week was most unfortunate, the space mission goes on. NASA is getting ready to test its new Orion unmanned spacecraft in early December and if you hurry and sign up before midnight on October 31st, your name can go up on the test flight. As part of its public awareness and outreach efforts, the space agency taking the names of everyone who signs up for an “Orion boarding pass” online and inscribing them to digitized list on a  microchip inside the capsule. NASA is also inviting social media users to apply for credentials to attend Orion launch events at several of its facilities around the country.

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And finally, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained why Apple killed off the beloved-by-many iPod Classic last month. Said Mr. Cook at a tech conference this week: “We couldn’t get the parts anymore, not anywhere on Earth.” NASA, you have a new mission.

PTJ 104: Internet Security? No Such Thing.

This week cybercriminals made off with billions of usernames and passwords from hundreds of thousands of websites around the world and El Kaiser was, not surprisingly, more than a little upset about it.  Sensing Pedro’s imminent panic attack, J.D. cheers him up with a segment on how to buy a new gadget at its peak of freshness.

In other news,  the Rosetta probe from the European space agency has caught up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko; The Shaknado sequel is a hit on TV and on social media networks;  it is once again legal to unlock your mobile phones; the Department of Transportation considers banning cellphone voice calls on commercial flights; Google helps law enforcement apprehend a pedophile; researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology develop an algorithm that constructs an audio signal from a video based on vibrations; and concerned Facebook users called 911 and the Los Angeles’s Sheriff’s Department after the social media behemoth suffers a short outage.

No, we are not kidding.

PTJ 104 News: Hack ‘n’ Sack

Here we go again — Internet Security Freakout! The New York Times reported late on Tuesday that a Russian gang of cybercriminals made off with 1.2 billion usernames and passwords from 420,000 websites around the world, (as well as 500 million email addresses), all with botnets and malware. The Milwaukee-based company Hold Security discovered the stolen data, but wouldn’t say which websites were affected due to confidentiality agreements with its clients. (Not helpful to the rest of us, Hold Security.)

Although snagging credentials off compromised websites was one big way the infohaul was reeled in, a few online observers have suggested that the Russian gang may have also bought chunks of the stolen data from other hackers. This may mean some of the information may be old and out of date, especially after the Heartbleed panic earlier this year when responsible folk went and changed all their passwords then, too. Other sites, like The Verge, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes have noted Hold Security was awfully quick to capitalize on the heist. (The Washington Post took a look at Hold Security itself and had some interesting observations.)

So what can you do to protect yourself? No one knows yet exactly which websites were affected, so let’s just assume it was All of Them. The Times posted some tips for dealing with the breach, so start there. And it may be time to break down and get a password-manager programs like LastPass or 1Password,  as this sort of Massive Data Protection FAIL  is unfortunately starting to become a regular occurence.

For happier news, we go to outer space, where the Rosetta probe from the European space agency has finally caught up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a 10-year chase. Rosetta is now orbiting the comet and sending back photos, and yes, the pictures are on its Facebook page — or rather the European Space Agency’s Facebook page. Good hunting, Rosetta!

sharknado2Sharknado 2: The Second One, the sequel to last year’s unexpected pop-cult powerhouse, grabbed 3.9 million viewers on its original airing last Wednesday on the SyFy Channel and dominated trending topics lists. The film reportedly delivered one billion mentions in Twitter conversations throughout the day of its broadcast. The cameo-filled sequel was set in New York City and another sequel is on the way.

Some more good news: It’s now perfectly legal once again to unlock your mobile phone from the carrier you bought it from, so you can use it with another company’s compatible network after your contract runs out.  President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act on August 1st.  In other government-and-phones news, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Department of Transportation is considering a rule to ban cellphone voice calls on commercial flights to, within and from the United States. Here’s hoping!

In other law-enforcement matters, Google recently alerted authorities to illegal images in the account of a particular Gmail user after illegal child-pornography images were detected during an automatic scan. Google had discussed its efforts in stopping child porn with London’s Daily Telegraph last year, but the news of the arrest got some privacy advocates worried about what companies can do with your mail. (Google said this is the only crime it scans for in Gmail.) In addition to its own VideoID software, Google and other companies also use Microsoft’s PhotoDNA and Friend MTS’s Expose F1 forensic programs to scan for photos and videos depicting abuse.

 

It’s the height of summer and the hackers are gathering in Las Vegas for their annual Black Hat and DEF CON conventions. Black Hat started last weekend, and in addition to a demonstration about how USB devices have huge security issues, another consultant was preparing to show how the satellite communications gear on passenger gets could be hacked by going through the aircraft’s in-flight entertainment and onboard WiFi systems.

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Meanwhile, another presentation at the conference dealt with spoofing signals in wireless key fobs to unlock cars. Corporate America, please pay attention, okay? That includes you, Wearable Computing Developers. That’s because the security firm Symantec got itself a $75 Raspberry Pi computer and wrote up a blog post describing how easy it is to track people with fitness monitors and other wearable tech through wireless protocols and other security holes in the apps and software.

Prawn-CocktailAlgorithms are everywhere. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology just announced that some of its researchers, along with scientists from Microsoft and Adobe, developed an algorithm that accurately reconstructs an audio signal from a video based on vibrations. In one experiment, the researchers were able to reconstruct intelligible speech from a potato-chip bag filmed 15 feet away from the camera and through soundproof glass.

The CEO of Verizon Wireless threw shade at the chairman of the FCC over a letter the agency sent to Big Red expressing concern over treatment of customers with unlimited plans. In a blog post, Verizon had outlined what it calls its Network Optimization policy, in which bandwidth for heavy users is scaled back during peak times on overcrowded sites. Verizon 3G hogs have been “optimized” for years, but the FCC only spoke up when the company recently announced it was also going to start throttling 4G LTE users this fall. Among other points in its rebuttal, Verizon said its practices were consistent with the reasonable network management definitions laid out in the 2010 Open Internet Order and other companies were doing the same thing. So there.

Comcast, which has not had a lot of good press lately, announced this week that it will be providing up to six months of free Internet access to low-income families as part of its Internet Essentials program. Requirements for the program include being in an area where Comcast has service and having at least one child eligible for the National School Lunch Program.

Let the frothing begin: the Re/Code site is now reporting that Apple’s iPhone 6 event will be on September 9th.  

And finally, as millions noticed last Friday, Facebook suffered a major site outage. During this time, some concerned Facebook users called 911 and the Los Angeles’s Sheriff’s Department. Others took a more thoughtful approach and used the outage as an opportunity to study  Web traffic. The Chartbeat blog found that Web traffic to news sites dropped 3 percent and showed how social media drives visitors to other sites. The countries affected by the outage included the United States, India and Chile, so it did not seem to be a worldwide crash.

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That may seem like a big dent, but compare it to last year when Google took a dive: experts said world Internet traffic dropped by 40 percent. So in addition to keeping your password-manager program at the ready these days, you may also want to pack a book for those times when various parts of the Net are down. And don’t pester 911 because Facebook or Google crashing IS NOT AN EMERGENCY. Just think of it as an offline disco nap and take a break.

PTJ 102: Making The Leap From Windows to OS X

This week on a super-sized edition of the best geek culture web radio show on the planet we answer a question from a longtime listener who is about to make the dramatic leap from a Windows PC to a shiny new Mac. J.D. and El Kaiser offer suggestions on how to make the transition painless.

In the news, Apple edges closer to official i-branded wearable tech; a forensic scientist and hacker claims there are a slew of attack points, system backdoors and surveillance mechanisms purposely built into iOS devices; The Electronic Frontier Foundation has developed its own browser plug-in that prevents third party online snoops;  Facebook tests new “buy now” and “save for later” features; The FCC closes out the first round of public comments on its proposed new rules for Net Neutrality;  Samsung gets into the luxury headphone game; and The Simpsons get the marathon treatment.