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10
May
2016

DNA Technology: Microsoft Investing Heavily In Biological Storage

by Bill

Scientists have been working on data storage in smaller and smaller silicon chips. Now a breakthrough has been found that allows data to be stored and accessed using biological DNA, and Microsoft is funding further research by purchasing ten million strands of DNA from a biotech firm.

According to the preliminary research, the possibilities are very promising. Just one gram of DNA can hold one zettabyte (yes, that’s one billion terabytes) of data. The other promising thing about this technology is that DNA is probably even more faithful than your old hard drive, as DNA can be sequenced and identified from specimens that are thousands of years old.

This might sound like some kind of evil scientist experiment, but the applications are actually mainly benevolent and helpful to humankind. Scientists hope to create custom genetic material that can be inserted into microbes that will allow them to perform helpful tasks, mainly producing chemicals that could be nutrients. Thus, there are a lot of medical applications for this technology.

The company that spearheaded this technological effort is known as Twist Bioscience and they have the cost already down to .10 per strand of DNA, but they want to get it down even further, to .02 per strand, to make these efforts even more affordable to others. The overhead costs of this type of technology have already dropped from billions of dollars in the 90s and early 2000s to just thousands of dollars today.

It seems that Microsoft is hoping to be on the cutting edge of using life itself as high fidelity data storage. According to the company, trials with Twist have proven that the data on the DNA can be fully retrieved and thus, could be a great option for long term data storage once the technology is even more affordable and widely accepted.

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04
May
2016

Mobile Encryption Is Now Becoming Standard With Simple Settings Changes

by Bill

Encryption is becoming more and more of a hot button issue, with people who don’t want anyone to listen in on their communications. How can you make sure your mobile device communications stay private? There are a few things you can do.

First of all, there are some apps which offer greater security. Chat and call apps Fiver and WhatsApp have recently implemented encryption so strong that even these companies themselves are unable to hack it. The two apps have a wide user base of 1.7 billion between them, and are now providing highly secure methods of communication that are setting a new standard for consumer privacy in the digital world.

However, using an app with a high level of encryption is just not enough according to some security analysts. You must also take a few extra measures to make sure people don’t get into your devices. One thing you can do is to enable “fingerprint verification.” A fingerprint is a unique key that is given to any user of one of these chat apps. You must configure the settings of your phone to let you know when a user’s fingerprint has changed. It might just mean that they restarted their phone, but it could also mean that there is a third party listening in or some other interceptor in action.

The other key component of encryption is denying any attempts by third parties to backup your data to cloud based services, because while your phone may be encrypted those cloud services assuredly are not. In fact, the big celebrity account hack, in which hundreds of private celebrity photos were released by hackers, happened only because the images were allegedly stored in the cloud. The downside to not backing up to the cloud is that your data will be lost if you don’t back it up to some other drive or computer.

All through the move toward Mobile, consumers have continuously traded away their own privacy and data security in exchange for modern conveniences. Now it appears that pendulum is starting to swing back the other way, with many of your potential customers now more interested in keeping their data safe than in having it readily accessible to anyone, anywhere, with or without their consent.

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25
Apr
2016

The Dangers of IP Mapping

by Bill

IP Mapping is a convenient tool, especially for marketers who want to know where their internet users are browsing from, without having to ask them outright. Using IP mapping, businesses can sometimes find out where their browsers are located – but usually the information given is the town or general area, however, sometimes services can pinpoint the location down to the exact address.

However, what happens when there are people who mask or hide their IP address, or an IP address can’t be found for one reason or another? Well, these get denoted as preset longitude and latitude values, set up by the companies that create IP mapping software. However, this is a problem because unsurprisingly, people actually live at these random locations.

One troubling example of this has been discovered by a company known as MaxMind. They set the default latitude and longitude for their service as 38°N and 97°W, a simplified version of the true center of the United States. However, this is the location of a farm that belongs to the Vogelman family, who lives there and also rents out the property. Due to the choice of MaxMind, the family has become the target of threats, visits from various law enforcement agencies and many accusations, which are just not true.

The family has a computer, but they don’t really use the internet all that much, choosing instead to use the computer to write letters and make up lesson plans for Sunday school sessions. Despite this, people have left toilets in their driveway, and harassed them for the better part of a decade. Things have gotten so bad for the family that the local town sheriff placed a sign in front of the house telling people to call him instead of bothering the family.

According to security researchers, it’s not like these IP mapping services tell consumers that the IP address they’re seeing might not be real, and the creators of Max Mind say that “it didn’t occur to us that people would use the database to attempt to locate people down to a household level.” However, clearly they do, and it’s a problem for innocent people like the Vogelman family.

So, the lesson here is that technology can provide a lot of useful data, and opt-in user metrics can be used to further qualify information about your audience, but relying too heavily on single elements like an IP address is far too risky a methodology for any astute digital marketer, and guessing can end up damaging your reputation more than you might expect.
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19
Apr
2016

The EU is Paving The Way Toward Greater Data Privacy Rights

by Bill

The new General Data Protection Regulation rules enacted by the EU more clearly define the right of citizens to decide when their data is gathered, how it may be used or packaged and how long it may be stored. The new regulations also call for fines on infringing companies of up to 4% of their worldwide revenue, whether the infringing entity resides inside the EU or outside Europe entirely.

Privacy regulations now include the right to have personal information deleted from a company database, the right to transfer your own data from one company to another, and the right to know if any third party has compromised your data. There is even an “affirmative consent” clause that requires a company to obtain direct permission prior to collecting or storing your data. That makes the prior practices of implicit agreements based on fine print or merely offering an opt-out option specifically insufficient under the new legal framework.

So-called data “profiling” where user information is relied on to make predictions about the economic status, location, health or consumer preferences of any end user without their preauthorized consent is also strictly prohibited.

As Wired magazine first reported, trade groups are less than thrilled with the wide reach of these new regulations. “While we continue to believe that the final text fails to strike the right balance between protecting citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and the ability for businesses in Europe to become more competitive, it is now time to be pragmatic” said DigitalEurope Director General John Higgins. “DigitalEurope stands ready to make the new legal framework for data protection in Europe work,”

However, privacy advocates are also not entirely happy with the wording of the legislation. Private companies can still collect personal data for “legitimate interests” which seems to be a glaring loophole in the law that has not yet been fully examined by the legal community. Also governments continue to have expansive powers to collect data through superseding laws that allow for data collection and usage under several laws aimed at national security purposes.

Whether this framework becomes functionally enforceable outside of the EU and gains global traction largely depends on how many other countries adopt similar restrictions on the commercial use of consumer data. The United States has been very quiet on the matter so far, but with the election looming in November it could quickly become a hot button issue in the general election.

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23
Mar
2016

Norton’s Enlightening Documentary on Bulletproof Hosting

by Bill

Norton, a computer security company which typically makes anti-virus software, has made an eye opening short video about off shore locations that offer “bulletproof” hosting, with little or no oversight as to what exactly is being hosted. Some speculate that these hosts are on the same level as hackers and online scammers, but they don’t get any of the punishments that those types of criminals get. However, others think that they do provide a necessary service – everyone wants security after all.

How these services even exist is pretty amazing in the first place. These hosting companies typically exist in areas with legal grey areas such as international waters, or areas that cover multiple legal or international borders. Some examples include one company that is located on an abandoned oil rig in the middle of the ocean, or one that is buried deep in a nuclear safe house somewhere in the Netherlands. The companies are often very neutral. It is rumored that the same company protects both ISIS related sites and sites belonging to the hacktivist collective known as Anonymous.

The video is an investigative look into what happens at these secretive companies, and what their effects – both positive and negative – are on the world of technology. The video could be considered a smart move for Norton, who is basically advertising why their services and products are important while educating consumers about a real life issue on which they need to form their own opinions.

These issues show just how important security is to all sorts of people who need hosting service. They are willing to go to secretive companies to get the highest level of security for their web needs. However, most people don’t need to go to these great lengths to get secure hosting for their everyday businesses. Hosting companies such as ourselves provide the highest level of security that consumers need for daily transactions and web activities – without the kind of scrutiny that running servers from a remote oil rig would add to the equation.

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16
Mar
2016

New FCC Measures To Protect Consumer Privacy

by Bill

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing some new, stringent rules which would protect consumer’s privacy. The new rules would restrict what types of information your internet service provider could share, and what they could actually market to you, based on your online behavior.

They seem to be basing the precedent for these new rules on the fact that phone companies are restricted from what they can do based on your phone activities, and the organization feels the internet should fall under the same restrictive guidelines.

The new rules will make customers have to opt-in to having their data provided to third parties, which include advertisers. However, that doesn’t prevent them from sending you ads related to their services. For example, your internet provider could show you ads for their cable TV service or telephone service, however, customers can also opt out of those ads.

The way things are right now, most customers have their data shared because they hastily agree to terms of service without reading them. Recently, AT&T came up with a feature that actually charges users a fee if they opt out of having their data tracked, but under the new rules, this would be a big no-no.

Up until now, the FCC has been more on the offensive, punishing companies along with the FTC for misusing consumer data. Now they are trying to create rules to set a precedent for how companies should behave, instead of just punishing those who they catch acting badly. Many people think that this move will be good for net neutrality, because before the FCC was trying to treat internet providers with the same neutrality rules that phone companies have. Now they are starting to realize that the internet needs its own set of rules so consumers can browse the web as they please, with as much freedom as possible.

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08
Mar
2016

Oregon Lawmakers Accidentally Give Comcast A Massive Tax Break

by Bill

Municipalities are starting to understand that the availability of broadband access at reasonable prices is becoming a driving force in where people and companies want to reside. Recently Google has been rolling out 1GB broadband connections and charging consumers only $70 per month in some select markets as a way to create competitive pressure on other broadband providers to increase speed while reducing prices. The program has had some effect but has still not reached enough areas to cause widespread changes in pricing policy nationally.  Now, in an attempt to lure Google, Oregon lawmakers just gave away tens of millions of dollars to Comcast by mistake.

When the Oregon legislature decided to alter its tax policy last year, it was directly intended to make Portland Oregon more appealing as a region of Google broadband to become available.  The area is already on Google’s short list of sites, and the hope was that the tax incentive would put Portland over the top.

The new tax rule reduces property taxes for companies that offer gigabit-speed Internet service, but it wasn’t enough to get Google to come to Portland just yet. Worse than that, lawmakers failed to specify that companies that provide gigabit service at a particular price point in order to qualify for the tax break.

Comcast has opportunistically claimed the tax benefit because it offers a 2Gbps Internet connection in Oregon, though it charges $300 per month rather than $70 and also tags on another $1,000 in startup fees rather than the free installation Google provides.

Now, Rep. Phil Barnhart (D-Eugene) has told utility regulators that the tax break was meant to spur investments in new networks but the Oregon state Public Utility Commission ruled 3-0 that Comcast’s gigabit service does qualify their company for the tax break because the law as written fails to prevent any company from benefiting, provided that they offer GB internet service.

In fact, the law is so poorly written, that it begs the question, if Starbucks suddenly started allowing customers to use a 1GB connection in their stores for twenty minutes a day from 1:30 to 1:50pm, would that be sufficient to get them a tax break worth tens of millions of dollars per year as well?

The matter is undoubtedly headed for further regulatory debate in court, but Comcast has already issued a statement, saying, “We are pleased with the Oregon Public Utilities Commission’s ruling which affirms Comcast’s significant investment in Oregon. Comcast is proud to provide the infrastructure that powers the fastest residential Internet speeds in Oregon and fuels the state’s ongoing economic vitality and competitiveness.”

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03
Mar
2016

Data Providers Continue To Search For Ways Around Net Neutrality

by Bill

The recent battle of Net Neutrality was supposedly decided by the FCC in favor of free and unfettered access to all kinds of data across any network with a legal prohibition against any provider slowing one kind of content or speeding up another kind of content to suit its own interests. The concept of net neutrality is credited with allowing the robust and incredibly powerful Internet we all utilize to form and continue growing decades after its inception. Now the data providers are seeking to find new ways to profit from tactics that seem to skirt the exact same principles that were just given force of law by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The new scheme is based on the idea of utilizing data cap pricing rather than bitrate speed to create an unleveled playing field for content distribution. Verizon is now offering its subscribers “free uncapped data” on all Verizon Mobile Video, but counting data usage from external sources like Netflix against the data caps of Verizon customer mobile billing plans.

Meanwhile, the FCC is already looking into data cap exemptions (referred to within the industry as zero-rating) that have been implemented by other data providers including Comcast / Xfinity, AT&T / Time Warner, and T-Mobile USA.

The FCC has issued an official letter to the companies stating in part “”We want to ensure that we have all the facts to understand how this service relates to the Commission’s goal of maintaining a free and open Internet while incentivizing innovation and investment from all sources” – which seems like an awfully nice way of asking ‘Hey guys, didn’t we just finish telling you that you can’t do stuff like this?’

For years the fight over net neutrality raged on as well-funded lobbyists and lawyers from the data providers battled the popular notion of what the Internet was supposed to be and the way access was intended to be managed by companies that in many cases have de facto monopolies over customers in one region or another. That fight was fought and won by a vigorous political movement spearheaded by technologists and academics who understood the nature of the Internet and the importance of neutral access to content across the entire web.

It looks like providers are unwilling to take no for an answer, and a new battle is looming, one in which consumers are asked to turn down “free” uncapped data from monopolistic sources to preserve the unbiased nature of information dissemination online for generations to come.

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24
Feb
2016

Google Stops Showing Ads On Right Side of Desktop Search Results

by Bill

In a move that is surprising many, Google announced this week that it will no longer display sponsored links and ads along the right side of their search results pages.  According to SearchEngineLand.com this change is the culmination of internal testing that has been ongoing at Google since 2010.

While this represents a significant reduction in available ad space for Google, the company is also adding a fourth sponsored ad location at the top of the page as well.  This should result in fewer ad spots being displayed overall, and higher bids for the available locations do to their scarcity.

Some industry watchdogs are unhappy with the likely outcome that large corporate entities will now be able to block out competition more easily by simply outbidding smaller start-ups on lucrative keywords for a few slots rather than engaging in the prohibitively expensive practice of trying to buy all the slots on the right side as well. Opponents counter that the right side ads were notoriously overlooked by consumers and resulted in poor CTR for advertisers in any case.

With the proliferation of ad blocking software, ability of jaded netizens to overlook ad spots intentionally, and staunch prohibitions on embedded advertising put in place by the Federal Trade Commission, it is becoming increasingly difficult for commercial entities to get their messages in front of their target consumers. Add in the sharing economy favored by millennials, the rampant distribution of pirated content online, and we are left with an ecosystem that requires a great deal of creativity to profit from successfully.

However, for those that do find ways to stand out from the crowd, the enormous revenue available is worth all the adapting necessary to stay ahead of the curve.

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24
Feb
2016

Apple Battles Government Over Privacy And Digital Encryption

by Bill

The underlying circumstances surrounding the recent government requests for Apple’s help with hacking an iPhone are bringing many important societal issues into focus for what may be a far reaching determination about the right to privacy that Justice Lewis Brandeis eloquently established in a Harvard Law Review article in 1890, and in his 1928 landmark dissenting opinion as a supreme court justice in Olmstead v. United.

The current situation involves the recent San Bernardino shooting incident and the fact that the FBI has been unable to access files on the perpetrator’s iPhone. They government has requested assistance from Apple engineers to ‘hack’ the phone and when Apple refused, the government obtained a District court ruling by U.S. Magistrate Sheri Pym requiring Apple to provide the requested technical assistance.

In response, Apple CEO Tim Cook published an open letter that argues this kind of circumvention of privacy constraints and technical encryption poses a serious risk to all peoples’ privacy and that the risk to privacy far outweighs any benefit that may be gained from this one particular device being accessed.

“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor” stated Cook. “And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

Cook went on to question the procedural methods being used by the FBI and raised questions about the eventualities that a government required backdoor would present for all citizens: “Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority…. Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S 20 mg prednisone. government.”

At a time when the Supreme Court has only 8 Justices, and when a 4-4 tie allows a lower court ruling to stand, the speed with which this matter gets adjudicated and the way the judicial appointment process is carried out add additional layers of complexity to one of the most complex legal issues of our time. Hopefully a Brandeis level moment of enlightenment will lead to a workable legal / technical outcome, but given the current political climate it seems we are destined to be dealing with these kinds of serious hardware and communications concerns for a long time yet to come.

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