Monday, December 1, 2014

Is Facebook Messenger Worth the Download?

If you use Facebook, you started getting messages telling you that a new app, Messenger, was about to be launched.  For weeks these messages would appear and for weeks I would ignore them.  Why would I need another app?  I get my private messages from Facebook, so what’s the big deal?  Well, the “big deal” came when Messenger was the only way I could access my private messages on my phone.  I clicked on the “download app” box and saw all the information it wanted and I decided that there was no way I would be downloading this.  That lasted about three weeks.  It turned out that it wasn’t as easy to just get to a computer every time I needed to read a message, so, I put on my big girl panties and hit “download”.

When I really gave it some thought, I realized that the only reason I didn’t want the Messenger app was because I felt it was asking for too much information.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.  Seeing that Messenger wants to access your phone, your phone’s camera and see your geo-location, it all seemed a bit much….at first.  But, I had to face facts:  Messenger wasn’t asking for any more information than other apps that I have.  And, giving it even more thought, I understand why it needs the information it’s asking for.  Of course it wants to access your phone because that is how you are going to be getting your message.  It needs access to your camera because that is how you will be sending pictures through the app.  Geo-location?  Of course!  Without it, how will it know which of your friends is near you and available for messaging?

I then realized that I was just making excuses not to download Messenger and it was becoming an inconvenience to me.  Besides, I have quite a few apps already that need the same information that Messenger needs.  GasBuddy uses geo-location to tell me which gas stations are close to where I am and needs access to the phone’s camera so that users can post pictures of the gas stations and the price boards.  The Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks apps use my geo-location so that I can get a current list of nearby stores where I could get my caffeine fix.  They also need access to my phone to keep track of my purchases and send me coupons whenever I reach my “bonus point” goal.  Then, there’s Swarm (which used to be FourSquare).  I can check in anywhere I visit and with geo-location, it will tell me if any of my friends are at the same mall I’m at.  It will also give me a list of my “favorite” spots so check-ins are a breeze.  Candy Crush, Words with Friends, Scramble with Friends, and any other games you have on your phone all need access to your phone and geo-location.  So, if I don’t mind giving these apps access, why do I mind giving access to Messenger when this would actually be the app I would use the most?

Facebook already knows all about me, and since Messenger is a Facebook app, what would be the difference if I allowed this to have my information?  After all, it’s not asking for my Social Security number or banking information.  It started to make less sense to NOT download Messenger, so, I caved.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Privacy Taken by Life-Logging Cameras

One of the founders of Memoto, Martin Kaellstroem, lost both of his parents to cancer when he was a young adult.  When this happened, he was inspired to create a camera that would spontaneously capture the user’s life as it is being lived.  This small “life-logging camera” is worn either clipped to your shirt collar, or around your neck on a string.  Every 30 seconds, a picture is taken and there is no off button.  Essentially, it captures every ½ minute of a person’s life
Now in his late 30s, Mr. Kaellstroem has said, “When you lose your parents, you realize that you don’t live forever.  It definitely affected me in my entrepreneurship.  I can’t wait until later to fulfill my dreams; I have to live my dream now.” He states that normally, people bring their cameras to special events to capture those around them at their best.  He stated, “You don’t know in advance which moments will be important in the future.  Perhaps you meet your future wife or witness an accident or a crime.  These are pictures you might want to return to.”  But, will everyone accept that they will be filmed whenever they are with a user of a life-logging camera?

This brings “Big Brother” and “The Truman Show” to life.  Mr. Kaellstroem doesn’t see his camera as a breach to anyone’s privacy; he sees it as a collection of memories.  Personally, I don’t see it that way.  I would not want to meet friends for lunch knowing that one of them is using a life-logging camera.  I’m a fairly private person and I wouldn’t like knowing that someone has pictures of every 30 seconds of me as I sat down with them for lunch or dinner.  It’s not that I have something to hide; it’s just that I don’t like having my picture taken.  To know that a picture would be taken every 30 seconds would not make me happy at all.

This life-logging camera looks like an iPod mini and gathers pictures automatically.  They are sorted by GPS location, time and lighting.  Anyone using this camera can share the pictures on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media.  Oskar Kalmaru, who is co-founder of Memoto, likens the camera to a diary for those who are tech-savvy and who don’t have the patience or discipline it takes to keep a written diary.  He says, “I’ve failed several times when trying to write a blog or travelogue.  Older relatives managed to keep a diary over 20 years, but it’s hard with the routine.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

Something Else to Worry About: Web Bugs

Spammers use them all the time, but have you ever heard of web bugs?  Sure, we all know what cookies are, but what about web bugs?  Well, these are a type of spyware that allows a spammer to know when an e-mail he sent was viewed.  They are also used to confirm the validity of the e-mail address.

Advertisers are also using these web bugs to see which sites people are visiting and how often they visit.  By using this information, the advertisers are able to generate reports on Internet users so that related ads can be placed on each particular user’s browser.

Browsers can either accept or reject cookies, but web bugs are a different story.  They are usually formatted as a GIF (Graphic Interchange Format), which is commonly used on the Internet.  This is why a browser will normally accept the web bugs.  Even though it’s a GIF (which people associate with pictures), the web bug will go unnoticed in a spammer’s e-mail.  This is because the image is very small; usually no bigger than 1 X 1 pixel.  The image will also blend into whatever background it’s on; if the background is white, the web bug will be white.  As for advertisers, they are very clever, too.  They can hide a web bug in a site’s logo, so even though it is right in front of you, you will never see it.

If you’ve ever received an e-greeting card, you have encountered web bugs.  When a card is sent, the sender will be given an option to be e-mailed when the card is received and viewed.  This is a prime example of web bugs at work.

Because spammers are one of the main users of web bugs, concerns about privacy are high.  With the use of web bugs, a spammer will have access to an incredible amount of information about the recipients of his e-mails.  The web bugs will tell the spammer the IP Address of the computer receiving the web bug, it identifies the URL the web bug came from, it identifies the URL of the page it was viewed on and it can identify the exact time the web bug was viewed.  These web bugs are like tiny little stalkers, keeping track of your movements.

Privacy concerns also arise when a web bug is placed on a particular website.  The main concern is that an individual’s Internet browsing is being tracked without that individual’s knowledge or consent.  To make matters worse, this tracking isn’t going against any website’s privacy policy since the bugs are generally placed by third parties.  Third parties aren’t required to adhere to the privacy policy terms and conditions.

Whether they come from a spammer’s e-mail or a website, these web bugs are putting everyone’s privacy in jeopardy.  Personal information is being gathered, yet there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  One thing you can do to help guard against the web bugs is to turn off your browser cookies.  A safer option would be to use a proxy server.  With a proxy server, you and your activities can’t be tracked by web bugs because it’s not your IP Address that is being tracked; it’s the IP Address of the proxy server.

You can also keep your privacy secure by using the proxy servers of Privacy Partners.  They offer a FREE trial so that you may see firsthand how using a proxy server can work to your advantage.  Besides changing your IP Address, each connection is encrypted and NEVER monitored, so you can be sure that your information will be safe. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Law Enforcement and Social Media

It’s common knowledge that most criminals aren’t the smartest people around.  Many of them are so proud of their crimes that they feel the need to tell people about them.  This has happened a lot in the past, but now, that just about everyone has at least one social media account, the criminals now have a wider audience they can brag to.  Before social media, it took a while for word to spread about how “George” burglarized 10 houses in one night.  Now, with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the word can go out immediately to thousands of people. 
While spreading the word mouth-to-mouth took a while, it also took the police to catch up with these criminals.  Social media, along with the egos of criminals, has now made arresting some of these crooks a quick, simple process.  Things go a lot quicker for the police when criminals are posting about their crimes on Facebook and Twitter, posting pictures of their “haul” on Instagram and even posting videos of the crime, as it’s happening, on YouTube. Like I said, criminals aren’t the smartest people around.
While criminals have long discovered that bragging about crimes they commit on social media lets people know how “bad” they are, the police are now discovering how to use Pinterest as a means to catch criminals.  In Redwood City, California, police have used Pinterest to post photos of items recovered from arrests in order to return them to their rightful owners.  Detective Dave Stahler had success using Pinterest in February when he posted a picture of a family heirloom that was recovered among other stolen jewelry.  Three users called in tips within a few hours of the post going up.

In Richmond, Virginia, police have used Pinterest to solve murder cases and a town in Pennsylvania set up a Pinterest board to post mug shots.  Arrests for theft, sexual assault and fraud have seen a 57% increase since this board was set up.  Hopefully, more towns will see the usefulness of this and begin their own mug shot boards.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Is Your Baby Monitor Safe?

As if new parents didn’t have enough to worry about, now they have to worry about hackers taking over their baby monitors.  In August of 2013, Marc Gilbert, a father in Texas ran to his daughter Allyson’s room when he heard a voice saying, “Wake up, you little slut”.  When he got to the room, he realized that someone hacked the baby monitor, took control of the camera and was watching his little girl.  When he went to unplug the camera, he watched as it turned to see what he was doing.  Little Allyson slept through the incident, but Mr. Gilbert made sure that he had tighter security and firewalls installed on both the monitor and his Internet.

The baby monitor used by the Gilberts was made by Foscam and connected to the Internet.  This particular monitor was known to have security issues, but since they didn’t buy the monitor directly from Foscam, they never received the company’s email regarding an available update that corrected the problem.  As of today, there are estimated to be another 40,000 monitors that can still be hacked.

Just recently, a hacker found one of those monitors in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In April 2014, Adam and Heather Schreck woke up to the sound of someone yelling, “Wake up, baby!”, coming from their 10 month old daughter’s room.  The parents rushed to the room and were horrified when they realized the voice was coming from their baby monitor!  The monitor’s camera started moving and pointed right at them while the person on the other end of the monitor continued to yell obscenities at them and the baby. 
This could be the same person who hacked the Gilbert’s baby monitor in Texas or it could be a copycat, but they will never know.  In order to remove the threat, the Schrecks quickly unplugged the baby monitor.  Marc Gilbert also unplugged his daughter’s monitor.  Unfortunately, by doing this, all information stored in the monitor, including the log of IP addresses that accessed it, are erased, making it impossible for the police to trace who is responsible.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Importance of Parental Supervision

This article is a bit different from most of the Internet privacy articles in this blog, however, a particular news story prompted me to write this (Utah Mom’s Facebook Check May Have Saved Son From Shooting Plot).  The article appeared on The Huffington Post site on April 8, 2014.   While many parents are realizing the importance of supervising and monitoring their kids when they go on the Internet, there are still many parents who don’t see the point of this.

Obviously, one parent in Salt Lake City, Utah is thankful that she chose to monitor her son’s social media.  If she didn’t do this, she, and possibly many other parents, would be mourning the loss of their kids.   The mom, who was not identified, saw threats made to her son on his Facebook page and called police.  When police went to the school, they found two teens sitting in a car near the targeted victim’s high school.  In the car, they found a gun, a loaded magazine, marijuana and a bong.  The two were immediately arrested. 

Another trend developing are kids going to answer sites asking how they can get away with having social media behind their parents’ backs.  In order to have a social media account, a child must be at least 13 years old.  We already know that some parents help their younger kids open accounts, but there are some who don’t feel their kids are mature enough at 13, so they won’t allow it.  Some parents will monitor their kids’ social media and will take it away because they have seen posts they don’t approve of.  Here is an example of the types of questions being asked (this particular example was found on Yahoo Answers) by the kids whose parents either won’t allow it, or have taken it away because of inappropriate, on-line behavior:

Ok so I am 14 and my dad has confiscated my Facebook account because of a past incident and I have understood my mistake but he won't give me my password.  I really want to add kids from my school.

Update 1: No need for anymore answer because i am making a new one and i doubt my dad would find that out unless i tell him that i would not tell so soon.

Here is the answer that the 14 year old chose as the Best Answer:

I see your update, but have to answer.

This is not a very smart idea. As a 14 year old, I know you think parents are stupid, but they aren't. Your dad will find out about the other account and then you will not only lose Facebook, but you will lose other privileges as well. You will no longer be trusted.

You don't say how long your dad has been holding your FB hostage, but you need to give him some time while you show him you can be responsible. He didn't delete your account, so he is going to give it back, you're just "grounded" from FB for a while. Sneaking around isn't helping your case. In fact, it's hurting it.

You need to have an open discussion with your dad and show him that you realize your mistake. You could also go over the linked article and check out the guidelines. Discuss them with your dad and see what the two of you can come up with as a compromise so he will allow you to access your account again.

But, if this just happened, you could wait a while before adding people. It seems that you really learned nothing from all this.

Voice of reason, right?  Well, the 14 year old made this comment after choosing this answer:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Google Glass: Innovative or Creepy?

In 2012, Google began testing and demonstrating a new product that they call “Google Glass”.  Google Glass is a device that is a very small display screen and it is made to be worn either by itself, or hooked on to a pair of glasses or sunglasses.  The device will show the user the time, give directions, search the Internet, send messages and take photos and videos.  This is all done hands-free.  Just speak and Google Glass will do as you ask. 
Since its debut, there have been around 8,000 Glass wearers.  Last year, at SxSW (an annual conference featuring music, films and interactive technology), Google Glass was seen everywhere.  The same was true of this year’s conference.  People are curious about what it’s like, but most find it pretty creepy.  But, why is it that most people find it creepy?  After all, it’s just a small piece of glass that sits near the wearer’s eye.

When you see someone wearing Google Glass, whether they are sitting across from you at a table or simply walking past you on the street, you never know what they are doing on the device.  They could be reading texts, doing research, or they could be doing nothing at all with it at the time.  When someone walks by you wearing Google Glass, you would never know if that person has just taken a picture of you or even shot a video as you were approaching each other.  This is what makes it so creepy.  In fact, many people feel uncomfortable even coming close to someone wearing Google Glass.

Google Glass makes people so uncomfortable that some have been told to leave stores, clubs and even meetings at work if they didn’t remove the device.  Wearing Google Glass at an airport could cause problems as could driving while wearing the device.   In fact, Cecilia Abadie was the first person to get a traffic ticket while wearing Google Glass.  She was initially stopped for speeding in October 2013, but when the officer saw that she was wearing Google Glass, he added a ticket for the violation “monitor visible to driver”.  Ms. Abadie took the matter to Court in January 2014 and was found not guilty.  The officer had no proof that the monitor was turned on at the time of the incident.

When it comes to discussion groups about Google Glass, there are two views:  Google Glass wearers love the device, but those interacting with them don’t like it at all.  In fact, they barely tolerate it.  In social situations, non-wearers get a feeling of paranoia because they feel they are always being “watched”.

What’s odd about all this discomfort is that those who say they don’t like the feeling that they are being recorded by Google Glass wearers don’t think twice about being recorded other ways; like with a smart phone or security cameras.  Of course, the difference here is that with a smart phone or security cameras, you always know when you are being recorded.  With Google Glass, you would never know.  So, I guess the feeling of unease isn’t from the fact that they could be recorded, it’s from the not knowing if it’s happening or not.  
Google Glass wearers don’t see an issue with each other because they know how the device works.  However, if you have never worn Google Glass, and you are talking with someone who wears it, all you see is this small piece of glass and you can’t help but wonder if your conversation is being recorded.