Lordy. It's hard to spend but a week surfing the Internet without seeing a group of people getting caught up in a situation that they've volunteered themselves into. And it would be remiss of me to go a single sentence further without mentioning the latest elephant in the room--Facebook.
I can't log into Facebook without seeing a growing number of my friends joining those silly little, "Facebook is opening up my entire life and I wish it was like it was back in 2005" groups/fan pages/whatever we're calling them now. But Dave's Comrades aren't the only ones joining in on the fun--tech pundits Jason Calacanis and Peter Rojas, amongst others, are nuking their accounts in protest as well! It's a Facebook meltdown!
Unlike the open-source world, where the concept of "something for nothing" is pretty widely understood and accepted--even by those that just download away and never contribute a single iota of code or absent thought to an application's development--the general Internet populace seems pretty peeved at an otherwise free service's attempts to branch out its offerings. This, in turn, leads to a stronger advertising platform and/or additional service expansions, but mainly the former. Facebook ain't charity, after all--the company has human overhead and server costs, to name a few, and it's not as if every status update magically conjures up a shiny nickel for Mark Zuckerberg.
Traveling to Australia this summer? If so, be prepared to have your laptops and mobile phones searched for pornography, a spokeswoman for the Australian sex industry says.
According to Fiona Patten, president of the Australian Sex Party, a new question now appears on Incoming Passenger Cards asking people if they're toting around "pornography." But that isn't all - apparently Australian officials have the right to examine your electronic gadgets for illicit material.
"Is it fair that customs officers rummage through someone's luggage and pull out a legal men's magazine or a lesbian journal in front of their children or their mother-in-law?" Patten said. "If you and your partner have filmed or photographed yourselves making love in an exotic destination or even taking a bath, you will have to answer 'Yes' to the question or you will be breaking the law."
If it's any consolation, a spokesman for Australia's customs officials said officers have been been trained to use "tact and discretion" when dealing with passengers. By why search for porn in the first place?
"Including an express reference to pornography is intended to enhance the interception of prohibited pornography at the border, by making passengers aware that some forms of pornography may be a prohibited import," the spokesman said.
A word to the wise, that innocuous looking copier in the corner of the office might be out to share your personal data with an unscrupulous lot. The good news is that the FTC has your back. Data security when it comes to digital copiers is a blind spot, even in many IT departments. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz made it clear in a recent letter that the agency was looking into the problem, and was starting an educational campaign to inform users of the danger.
These machines have hard drives that store the images scanned into them. If not properly secured, anyone can log in and retrieve the documents. The letter was sent to US Representative Markey in the wake of a CBS investigation that found used copiers often have personal data on the hard drives.
Have you made any copies at work you now wish you hadn't? Let us (and the IT department) know if you can access the data on your office copiers.
Turn the clock back a couple of months and the only Facebook news you could find was sites trying to dissect its runaway success. With more than 400 million users, a growing ecosystem of interconnected platforms tied back to your profile, and no end to its potential in site Facebook seemed to have it all. Fast forward to the present day and you see a company struggling to explain eroding privacy controls, and a downright flippant attitude towards users who made the service popular under an expectation of privacy that they seem unwilling to defend.
Facebook may eventually turn its mistakes around and get back on track, but if you're tired of waiting and want to make a statement, you might want to check out quitfacebookday.com. Users who sign up at the website are agreeing to deactivate their Facebook accounts on May 31st in a single unified act of defiance to help bring awareness to the privacy issues that plague the site.
"For us it comes down to two things: fair choices and best intentions. In our view, Facebook doesn't do a good job in either department. Facebook gives you choices about how to manage your data, but they aren't fair choices, and while the onus is on the individual to manage these choices, Facebook makes it damn difficult for the average user to understand or manage this. We also don't think Facebook has much respect for you or your data, especially in the context of the future."
At the time this article was posted the headcount was up to 1,500, a bit shy of 400 million but a good start anyway. Anyone else thinking of committing to the cause?
Maximum PC readers don't need to be reminded why encrypting their wireless networks is important, but a recent slip up by the Google Street View team only serves to drive home the point. In a posting released on the European Public Policy Blog Google was forced to admit that in addition to collecting SSID and MAC address information about passing networks, payload information was also collected and archived. In Google's defense the only information that was acquired is data that was being transmitted over open Wi-Fi, but it only serves to fuel the fears, particularly in Europe that the Street View Cars are up to no good.
So how exactly did this happen? In a follow up post Google explained that "in 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data," Google's Senior VP, Engineering & Research Alan Eustace wrote. "A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic WiFi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google's Street View cars, they included that code in their software-although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data."
Google is consulting with a third party to help them confirm what was collected, and ensure it is properly deleted. You could argue that anyone operating an open hotspot deserves what they get, but at the same time it is important for Google to show the world it has at least a passing respect for our privacy given the sheer volume of personal information they seem to be privileged to.
In the wake of Google's Wi-Fi privacy incident, the company has let it be known they plan to roll out encrypted search. Google's Marissa Mayer briefly discussed the feature at Google's annual stock holder meeting. This is in keeping with the trend at Google. They recently set the defaults in Gmail to use the HTTPS encrypted protocol.
Mayer didn't go into specifics about how the feature would work, but everyone was encouraged to pay attention to the Google I/O conference next week. Whatever form it takes, we hope that it will be easy to enable. We don't see Google making the setting the default, but anything can happen at I/O. If encrypted search is made available to you, will you use it?
There are a lot of reasons to distrust Facebook's Instant Personalization service, but the list grew by one more today. The issue is an exploit that takes advantage of Yelp's participation in the Instant Personalization feature of Facebook. The attack allows a shady character to get access to all a user's Facebook data if they visit Yelp while participating in the Instant Personalization program.
The exploit took advantage of Yelp's association with Facebook by way of cross-site scripting to inject malicious code. In the past, this wouldn't have affected Facebook data, but Yelp is one of Facebook's Instant Personalization partners. This means Yelp has access to user data immediately upon visiting the site. The scary thing here is that the exploit would work even if you had never been to Yelp.
Facebook claims to have taken care of this security hole, but this event leaves us even more unsettled than before. It seems we can't go a day without learning of another Facebook security issue. We shudder to think what would happen if Instant Personalization were available for more than three sites.
Maybe with all the constant redesigns and swapping of features, the occasional bug is to be expected. But a bug uncovered by TechCrunch Europe today turned out to be a gaping security hole. The bug allowed users to view the live chat logs of any of their friends on the site.
The trick relied on Facebook's profile preview feature in the security settings. When changing security, users can preview their profile to see what information is available to the outside world. There is also a box on the preview where a specific user can be entered so you can see how your profile looks to that person. By just typing in the name of a friend, their chat log can be pulled up. Yes, a privacy feature actually created an exploit.
TechCrunch alerted Facebook, who then pushed out an update to fix the error. In a statement Facebook said the bug was accessed by, " by manipulating the “preview my profile” feature." We prefer to think of it as using the feature, but that's just semantics. We'll hand it to Facebook, they did fix it quickly, but it shouldn't have happened in the first place.
Hit the jump for TechCrunch's video of the exploit in action.
Specifically, the correspondence encourages Facebook to exercise caution in the use of the new universal 'Like' button. The Senators are concerned that its use as a marketing tool could endanger personal information. Facebook responded immediately saying, " We've developed powerful tools to give our users control over what information they want to share, when they want to share it and with whom."
Facebook has a sordid history of forcing users to opt out of major privacy changes, so it may be a good thing someone in the government is taking notice. Older and less tech savvy individuals often have trouble interpreting Facebook's "powerful tools" for modifying privacy settings. Do you think someone needs to keep Facebook in line, or do you still have trust in them?
If you're a privacy nut--or even someone who's the least bit concerned about the kind of information that Google might be collecting from you--then it's in your best interest to do everything possible to shield your browsing activities from The Man. Whoever "The Man" might be, that is. Anyway, this is relatively easy to do if you're keen with the technique of running proxies, blocking cookies, and stripping all other identifying characteristics out of your Web traffic. It's nevertheless quite a bit of work to undertake if you're even a semi-frequent Web browser.
The Firefox add-on GoogleSharing aims to simplify the process of rendering yourself invisible to the big G, and it kicks into effect every time you fire up your browser to begin a new surfing session. Click the jump to see how it works!