What Happens When The Government Blocks Internet Access?

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We all rely on the internet for our day-to-day lives. Yet, at the height of protests, governments around the world can shut down their citizens’ access to the web. BBC News looked into where, and why, this happened during 2019.

When the internet shuts down, everything is stopped in its tracks. Data shared with the BBC by digital rights group Access Now, shows that last year services were deliberately shut down more than 200 times in 33 separate countries. This includes, on one occasion, in the UK. In April 2019 the British Transport Police shut down the wi-fi on London’s Tube network during a protest by climate change activists Extinction Rebellion. Also revealed in the report about shutdowns in 2019: The internet was switched off during 65 protests in various countries around the world. A further 12 took place during election periods. The majority of all shutdowns occurred in India. The longest internet switch-off happened in Chad, central Africa, and lasted 15 months.

Firefox Enables Encrypted DNS by Default

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Starting today, Firefox will begin rolling out support for encrypted DNS over HTTPS for U.S.-based users.

We’re enabling DoH by default only in the US. If you’re outside of the US and would like to enable DoH, you’re welcome to do so by going to Settings, then General, then scroll down to Networking Settings and click the Settings button on the right. Here you can enable DNS over HTTPS by clicking, and a checkbox will appear.

You can choose between Cloudflare and NextDNS. As I mentioned in my roundup of DNS services, I’ve been using NextDNS for the past couple weeks and I love it.

Netflix Top 10 Lists Appear Today to Show Popular Content

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Starting today Netflix is rolling out a Top 10 lists feature that will update every day. It will feature the platform’s most popular content.

“Starting today you’ll notice something new when you go on Netflix: The Top 10 row,” the company said in a tweet. “The lists update daily to show what’s popular in your country and are broken into three categories: Netflix overall, shows & films.”

The most popular Netflix offerings in your country should show up in their own row once you log in to your Netflix account, the company said. “The list is rolling out globally now and should be on your homepage by the end of the day at the latest.”

HackerOne Punished Researchers Who Disclosed PayPal Bugs

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HackerOne is a bug bounty platform that connects companies with security researchers. Recently, when researchers used the platform to disclose six PayPal vulnerabilities, they were punished.

When our analysts discovered six vulnerabilities in PayPal…we were met with non-stop delays, unresponsive staff, and lack of appreciation…When we pushed the HackerOne staff for clarification on these issues, they removed points from our Reputation scores, relegating our profiles to a suspicious, spammy level.

This happened even when the issue was eventually patched, although we received no bounty, credit, or even a thanks…We’ll assume that HackerOne’s response is representative of PayPal’s response.

Intuit Could Buy Credit Karma for $7 Billion

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Financial services giant Inuit, which has products like TurboTax and Mint, is close to a deal to buy Credit Karma for US$7 billion.

There is a potentially significant business opportunity for Intuit if it completes a deal. For example, Intuit could try to match all the tax data its TurboTax customers provide with the credit-scoring data that Credit Karma holds.

That could let Intuit serve up better customer prospects to credit card issuers — and eventually let Intuit charge lenders more for access to its hoard of data.

These Tiny Chips Could Help Stop Counterfeits

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MIT researchers created tiny (0.002 square inches) chips that could help combat supply chain counterfeiting.

It’s millimeter-sized and runs on relatively low levels of power supplied by photovoltaic diodes. It also transmits data at far ranges, using a power-free “backscatter” technique that operates at a frequency hundreds of times higher than RFIDs. Algorithm optimization techniques also enable the chip to run a popular cryptography scheme that guarantees secure communications using extremely low energy.

Sounds interesting. I wonder if these could be used for more than counterfeits.

Featured Image credit: MIT News

SlickWraps Was Hacked, But Hasn’t Done Anything About It

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SlickWraps makes skins for iPhones and Androids. It was recently hacked, but fortunately by a white hat hacker without malicious intentions. The story behind it is fascinating, especially because the company has blocked him and so far has failed to do anything about it.

To say I went to great lengths to treat SlickWraps equitably would be an understatement. Candidly, after the staggering number of primitive security flaws exhibited by their administrators (e.g. the vulnerability to Dirty COW, an exploit which was patched in 2016), I question whether they deserved the leniency I am about to describe.

Update: Other people are hacking the company too. One of them sent emails to SlickWraps customers, telling them to tweet and email the company, which responded to the incident on Twitter.

Google Search Reveals Private WhatsApp Groups

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WhatsApp

Google indexes links to WhatsApp group invites that may be private, meaning people can find and join them.

Motherboard used a number of specific Google searches to find invite links to WhatsApp groups. Some of the groups appear to not be overly sensitive or for a particular audience. Many of the links on Google lead to groups for sharing porn.

But others appear to be catered to specific groups. Motherboard entered one WhatsApp group chat that described itself as being for NGOs accredited by the United Nations. After joining, Motherboard was able to see a list of all 48 participants and their phone numbers.

FCC Forced to Get Public Opinion on Net Neutrality

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A court order is forcing the FCC to once again ask the public’s opinion on whether gutting net neutrality was a good idea. And just like last time, the agency is doing everything possible to distract, deflect, and defend.

In a reminder of just how petty federal telecoms regulation has become, the FCC can’t even take this implicit rebuke professionally. And so it attempted to hide the reality of the situation by flooding its announcements website on Wednesday with suddenly important news and describing the public comment period in the most obscure terms possible.

Defense Information Systems Agency Suffers Data Breach

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Between May and July 2019 sensitive data like Social Security Numbers were stolen from servers belonging to the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), a U.S. defense agency. Earlier this month it notified victims.

The Defense Information Systems Agency has begun issuing letters to people whose personally identifiable information may have been compromised in a data breach on a system hosted by the agency. While there is no evidence to suggest that any of the potentially compromised PII was misused, DISA policy requires the agency to notify individuals whose personal data may have been compromised.

AI Could Build the Next JPEG Image Codec

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The Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) is exploring methods to use machine learning to create the next JPEG image codec.

In a recent meeting held in Sydney, the group released a call for evidence to explore AI-based methods to find a new image compression codec. The program, aptly named JPEG AI, was launched last year; with a special group to study neural-network-based image codecs.

Twitter Tests Fake News Warning System

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Twitter is testing a fake news warning system on its platform. Bright labels will appear under tweets with misinformation.

Twitter confirmed that the leaked demo, which was accessible on a publicly available site, is one possible iteration of a new policy to target misinformation it plans to roll out March 5.

In this version, disinformation or misleading information posted by public figures will be corrected directly beneath the tweet by fact-checkers and journalists who are verified on the platform, and possibly other users who will participate in a new “community reports” feature, which the demo claims is “like Wikipedia.”

I could see “community reports” abused by Twitter trolls mass-reporting anything they disagree with as fake news. Hopefully Twitter builds a good system.

This Startup Wants to Build a “GitHub for Data”

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A startup called Gretel wants to build a “GitHub for data” so developers can safely access sensitive data.

Often, developers don’t need full access to a bank of user data — they just need a portion or a sample to work with. In many cases, developers could suffice with data that looks like real user data.

This so-called “synthetic data” is essentially artificial data that looks and works just like regular sensitive user data. Gretel uses machine learning to categorize the data — like names, addresses and other customer identifiers — and classify as many labels to the data as possible. Once that data is labeled, it can be applied access policies. Then, the platform applies differential privacy — a technique used to anonymize vast amounts of data — so that it’s no longer tied to customer information.

 

This Company Sells Your Credit Card Data

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Yodlee is the biggest financial data broker in the U.S., and it routinely sells your credit card data to investment and research firms.

The Yodlee document describes in detail what type of data its clients gain access to, how the company manages that data across its infrastructure, and the specific measures Yodlee takes to try and anonymize its dataset…Once logged into Yodlee’s server, clients download the data as a large text file, rather than interacting with the data in a dashboard or interface that stays solely within Yodlee’s control, according to the document.

IRS Sues Facebook for $9 Billion Over Offshore Profits

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The IRS is suing Facebook for US$9 billion, saying the company kept profits in subsidiaries based in Ireland.

The IRS argues that Facebook understated the value of the intellectual property it sold to an Irish subsidiary in 2010 while building out global operations, a move common among U.S. multinationals…Under the arrangement, Facebook’s subsidiaries pay royalties to the U.S.-based parent for access to its trademark, users and platform technologies. From 2010 to 2016, Facebook Ireland paid Facebook U.S. more than $14 billion in royalties and cost-sharing payments, according to the court filing.

If the IRS succeeds this would be one of Facebook’s biggest fines.

Smartphones Could Help Death Photography Make a Comeback

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The New York Times has a piece today about death photography, and how it’s returning with the help of our ubiquitous smartphone camera.

“But we are returning to the older ways,” she went on, “a movement backward that some say began in the ’70s, with the back-to-nature movement and midwifery and natural births. The natural death movement is part of that. And these photos are unsurprising, too, because we carry our smartphones all the time, and it’s almost like if there isn’t a photo it didn’t happen. Now everyone is a photographer.”

Apple Leverages iOS for Advertising You Can’t Block

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Tumblr software engineer Steve Streza makes the case that iOS is adware for all of Apple’s services.

iOS 13 has an abundance of ads from Apple marketing Apple services, from the moment you set it up and all throughout the experience. These ads cannot be hidden through the iOS content blocker extension system. Some can be dismissed or hidden, but most cannot, and are purposefully designed into core apps like Music and the App Store. There’s a term to describe software that has lots of unremovable ads: adware, which what iOS has sadly become.

This particularly annoys me with Apple News, where roughly half the space is dedicated to showing me News+ content, even though I don’t subscribe. On iOS you can swipe to “See Less Often” but you can’t do this on iPad.

How Jeff Bezos Built a Data Collecting Empire

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BBC News published an inside look into “Why Amazon knows so much about you.”

“They happen to sell products, but they are a data company,” says James Thomson, one of the former executives interviewed.

“Each opportunity to interact with a customer is another opportunity to collect data.”

Founder Jeff Bezos frames it in terms of being a “customer obsession”, saying the firm’s first priority is to “figure out what they want, what’s important to them”.

Jeff Bezos Pledges $10 Billion to Help Fight Climate Change

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos said on Monday that he will contribute $10 billion in the fight against climate change, Yahoo Finance reported. Not so long ago, the Amazon founder was accused of being stingy after he donated $690,000 towards relief efforts following the Australian wildfires.

The Amazon (AMZN) CEO announced the launch on Instagram, asserting humans can save the Earth by using an inclusive approach that combines the efforts and resources of all stakeholders. “We can save Earth. It’s going to take collective action from big companies, small companies, nation-states, global organizations, and individuals,” the post stated. “⁣⁣⁣I’m committing $10 billion to start and will begin issuing grants this summer. Earth is the one thing we all have in common — let’s protect it, together.⁣⁣⁣” Bezos, who has a net worth of $130 billion, is no stranger to the climate change fight. In September 2019, the Amazon founder announced: “The Climate Pledge,” which stated that the retail behemoth’s ultimate goal is to become carbon-neutral by 2040.

Instagram Seems to Think it’s a Startup When it Comes to an iPad App

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When asked why there isn’t an Instagram iPad app yet, CEO Adam Mosseri said the company would like to create one, “But we only have so many people, and lots to do, and it hasn’t bubbled up as the next best thing to do yet.”

Instagram users have been asking for an official ‌iPad‌ app nearly since the social network launched in 2010, the same year that the first ‌iPad‌ was released. Some alternatives include third-party Instagram apps for ‌iPad‌, browsing Instagram on the web on ‌iPad‌, or using the upscaled iPhone app on ‌iPad‌.

The obvious answer is, “Hire more people because you’re owned by one of the richest corporations in the world: Facebook.” But I wonder what the actual answer is. Invasive tracking isn’t as lucrative on iPadOS?