Friday, August 22, 2014

Meditations on Google

How closely is Google really reading your e-mail?
There are complex privacy dilemmas here, but the resolution is simple: Do not engage in criminal activity.

You can see the glass as half-empty, and say that privacy is a thing of the past and everything we post or e-mail is read.  You can see the glass as half-full, and believe that Google & Co. have our best interest completely in mind.  Or you can see the proverbial glass as both, and realize that while it isn't a perfect thing, Google is integral to everyday life and business.  In other words, you can work at relishing the good while monitoring the bad.

(image credit)
Google is being a model citizen.  Google is walking on a slippery slope.  Or both? 
Federal law requires that electronic communication providers like Google report instances of suspected child abuse when it becomes aware of them, but whether it's legally required to actively search out those cases is another question. Even if Google doesn't see the law as requiring this active scanning of private communications, it appears that it chooses to do so as part of the fight against predators. "Sadly, all internet companies have to deal with child sexual abuse," a Google spokesperson tells the AFP. "It’s why Google actively removes illegal imagery from our services — including search and Gmail — and immediately reports abuse to the [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children]." 
Reference:  Google scans everyone's email for child porn, and it just got a man arrested.

The thing is, Google products, while wide-ranging and amazing, are flawed in places and riddled with bugs in others.  From mangled translations, to street mispronunciations and blogging glitches.  They're there.  So while I do not expect perfection, I worry about Google making errors in identifying online predators: (a) I hope people they nab are actually bad, and (b) I hope people they clear are indeed good.  It would be terrible if they mixed this up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hackers' Haven at DEF CON 22

Hackers make up the counter-culture of the digital age, but their couture is positively old hat.


A hackers convention may or may not be your cup of tea, but you better pay attention to what they do.


 Protecting yourself from hackers may mean shutting off your mobile... or wearing a tin foil hat.


Hackers expose flaws in your systems, so you can correct them and protect yourself. 


Just in case you were curious about how people pick (conventional) locks, a hacker shows you.


The "Wall of Sheep" is a public display of hackers who get hacked at their own convention (hmm).


I've known about encryption codes for a long time, and I hope their sophistication has evolved.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Skype Troll Stole Dead Teen's Name

On August 13th I posted the following on Google+ and Twitter:

You probably get peppered with love, money or business spam: Last night I got this on Skype...

So I Googled "Shelby Dwyer": She was a 19-year old who died in a horrific car crash in March 2013...

Good Samaritan describes trying to save Valley teen from crash
Cliff Faraci tried desperately to save Shelby Dwyer, to no avail, and ended up burning both arms... 
Man burned trying to rescue woman in car fire
Shelby Dwyer's profile on Facebook is still up, and memories and wishes have kept streaming in...

Shelby Nicole Dwyer
I asked that Skype person a question...

That Skype person must've trolled the internet for a young lady who had died, then took on her name...

(image credit)
I don't accept Skype invites from people I don't know, and block them if they're trolls.

How do I block or report a contact on Skype?
Shame on that Skype person for taking on the name of a young lady who died a horrible death!

(image credit)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Groupon in the Crucible

My article from an old Media & Tech blog (September 24th 2011)

Crucible over high flame
I can’t help but wonder What the hell is going on with Groupon?

Recently in THE TRUTH ABOUT GROUPON: Yes, It Can Make Money—No, It Won't Be Easy Henry Blodget suggested that the novelty for “daily deals” was wearing off. So goes Groupon’s business model with it. It was bold (but inevitably dumb) to turn down a big buyout offer from Google, as it directed itself for a future IPO. Apparently this is up in the air. 

Now the Chicago Tribune reports that its COO is going back to Google. CEO Andrew Mason says this is won’t have an impact on operations. Ah, excuse me, Mr. Mason, how can the departure of the top operations executive not have an impact on operations? 

Also, what’s the deal regarding your revenues reporting? Yes, it’s up dramatically in the previous quarter, compared to the same quarter last year. But this report suggests that some finagling of the numbers has occurred, no? 

What’s more, you fire off a “fiesty internal memo” to employees, which surely you should’ve known would find its way to the public. 

These are mistakes that can be corrected, departures that can be replaced, and consumer confidence that can be regained. But as much as Groupon has been a darling, this is a brutal business that can turn a 180-degree on those it loves.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines

My article from an old Media & Tech blog (September 18th 2011)

There is crowd wisdom. Scores of people have a much greater ability to figure things out and solve problems, than any one person or one company. More specifically, it’s among the millions of nondescript people who are in the trenches of day-to-day life, who come up with the neatest, most useful things, at a small fraction of the cost and time that big companies spend.

How about what the poor in India came up with, for example? Or a clever thing by a working class engineer in the US? How about the fun challenge that Volkswagen got the masses to ‘play’?

This morning I found this article by Amelia Naidoo - UAE students' aerial robot tops world entries -about a bunch of happy dudes, proudly displaying their winning but “weird-looking contraption with several propellers”:

Don’t know today, but can learn tomorrow

These deservedly proud boys hail from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani at the Dubai campus, and they entered the International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC) last month in the US. They had to create a flying machine that could think for itself and do its task, as human navigation was prohibited. In order to do this, they of course had to think carefully as well. I was impressed by the fact that they had to grasp cool subjects like “artificial intelligence, control systems, electronics and image processing.”

Some people face a tough problem, and give up, because they don’t know how to solve it. Maybe they’ve never seen such a problem before, and they’re quickly stumped, frustrated or discouraged. And give up. In fact, with just a bit of effort, they can learn something about how to actually solve that problem.

This is my personal rule: Whatever I don’t know or can’t do now, I can learn. With a wealth of information literally at my fingertips, I can get the knowledge or skill I need to figure it out and handle that situation. (In fact, as a secret between you and me [hehe], I’m working on a theoretical and practical framework that will solve absolutely any problem we face. So stay tuned, but hush in the meantime [wink].)

See something cool, don’t you

Maybe like Volkswagen, Intel knows when to search the masses for ideas and innovation, in this case university students. I was impressed that these winning lads got sponsorship from this technology giant. Intel apparently funded their software and hardware, and even wanted to buy one of their prototypes. How cool is that! They were clearly on to something.

For the greater good (yay), for the greater bad (sigh)

IARC set up this competition as a military mission. So I imagined an intelligent but compact flying machine in the future that could disarm enemy arsenal, free hostages, and do reconnaissance. Its being unmanned meant that it could enter restricted airspace and lives did not have to be risked. For the bad, however, I imagined high tech thieves conducting their due diligence and methodically picking off a precious piece of jewelry, an invaluable artifact, or a classified document. Clearly there is a place in the world for both kinds of people.

Flying machines were the fantasy through the 19th century. Then, in the 20th century, they became not only a reality but also ‘old hat.’ Fly me to Singapore (boring). Take me to the moon (yawn). Helicopter me amidst air traffic (been there, done that). Ah, but what everyday people are doing is slip out of their tedium, think differently about things, and solve problems that matter to them. It might be high tech, or it might be low tech.

Any tech is cool, as far as I’m concerned, if it works and serves its purpose!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Smart Phones, Smarter Ads

My article from an old Media & Tech blog (September 15th 2011)

I love the huge and growing possibilities of mobile technology and devices. Never mind the sophisticated tablet or smartphone, and the millions of sales in this space. Never mind, too, the tried-and-true, stay-at-home PC or the on-the-go but cumbersome laptop. In terms of sheer penetration around the world, all of these are easily trounced by the mobile phone.

Here are some figures to feast on:

Montenegro and Hong Kong are not big countries, but on average every person there has two mobile phones, at 193% and 188%, respectively. In countries like Saudi Arabia (170%), Russia (152%) and Lithuania (148%), there are three mobiles phones for every two people. The three most populated countries have lower percentages, but they’re close to a mobile per person: China (67%), India (72%), and the US (96%).

So as an advertiser, you must be salivating at the sprawling banquet in front of you.

Now there are probably many of us who don’t appreciate getting slammed with ads on our mobile. Some advertisers are, unfortunately, unethical in that they’ve retrieved our personal information without permission. Some may also be inept, for instance, by spamming with you stuff that bear little match to your interests or needs.

To wit, here’s an example of such an advertiser who’s aggressively pursued me on my mobile (texts), via e-mail, and with Facebook invites. Tons of spam from these guys!

So the girl is cute. Nice way to attract people to come to your club. Lots of vibrant pink. Even the name Candy Shop brings back childhood memories, when all the sweets we could ever want were right in front of our little noses and grabby fingers.

The problem? I don’t go clubbing.

I admit to having posted my mobile number and e-mail address on Facebook. Also, I don’t remember, but I must’ve accepted their friend request. But the word “club” isn’t even mentioned in my profile. I’d immediately delete all their messages, but when their spam persisted, I unfriended them. Still the spam and the invites continue, from all sorts of night clubs at that (sigh).

Oh, I stopped getting too angry or aggravated with these guys, when I realized that their ad algorithms, procedures or technology was clearly not up to par. I don’t begrudge them for promoting their business. Whether or not we’re entrepreneurs, we all have to make a living and that means selling something to customers, either directly or indirectly. But it’s their ineptitude in targeting and their aggressiveness in pursuing countless people like myself that are quite problematic.

Enter: InMobi. 

I hadn’t heard about these guys, until this evening, when I read that Japanese telecom and media company Softbank was poised to pump $200 million into InMobi to grow in an even bigger way. Big cash in a still struggling global economy. But here’s the reach of the world’s largest mobile ad network:

More importantly, InMobi boasts of sophisticated technology that helps advertisers focus their efforts, based on demographics, country, or category. My readers will have to correct me, if I’m wrong, but I imagine their technology approaches the fine ad targeting abilities of Google and Facebook. Then with video and music, or simply text and display, their banner ads serve big clients like Intel, General Motors, and Reebok.

Not to be left out of the banquet, Google of course is already in it, especially with its acquisition of AdMob.

While the smartphone is a growing market, with its operating systems, internet access, and multiple ‘app’ capabilities, the vast majority of mobile phones that people use aren’t, well, so smart. Their phones harken back to a simpler life, when the little devices in their pockets were mostly for calling each other and taking photos of whatever. It was also for texting each other.

What does all this mean for many of us?

Despite its wide reach of 340 million customers, InMobi connects with only 5% of the world population. That’s a whopping 95% it hasn’t reached, yet. Of course not everyone in the world has a mobile phone, but probably many more own one than a PC or a TV. So there is quite a market out there that is underserved by advertisers. If you’re a large enterprise, as clearly many of InMobi’s clients are, you’d have perfect reason to be excited about your opportunities, especially as mobile technology keeps on its pace of evolution.

However, the irony is this:  To reach this vast market with simple mobiles, sophisticated ad technology probably isn’t necessary. 

Rather, it’s about smarter, cost-effective targeting. Social media sites like Facebook and A Small World collates members particular interests, so this section is a place to begin and review periodically. This kind of targeting can be done fairly low-tech, that is, manually, if you’re a small or medium enterprise. But done this way, you’d know that I like sports and the arts. Done this way, I may actually read and respond to your text messages.

It’s also about choice. Once we opt-in to get ad messages, you need to give us an opt-out mechanism. It’s easy enough for much of the e-mails I get, that is, one or two clicks if I decide to unsubscribe. It was also easy to block spam on my old Samsung mobile, but I can’t seem to find out how to do so with my BlackBerry.

Finally, it’s about respect and responsibility. Just because many of us on Facebook, for example, post our mobile numbers and e-mail addresses, it doesn’t give advertisers license to freely message us. Once you’ve gone through proper channels to review our interests and needs, then it’s a simple matter of asking us permission to send such messages. And respecting us, when we ask you to stop.

In the meantime, unfortunately, text messages are still a steady rain of products I don’t care about and events I’ll never attend. 

That’s dumb advertising, isn’t it.