In a prying world, news organizations are struggling to encrypt their online products of Abney and Associates Tech Research

The old-fashioned newspaper, long maligned for its stodginess and sagging profits, has one advantage over high-tech alternatives: You read it. It never reads you.

The digital sources that increasingly dominate our news consumption, by contrast, transmit information across the fundamentally public sphere of the Internet, leaving trails visible to anyone with the right monitoring tools — be it your employer, your Internet provider, your government or even the scruffy hacker sitting next to you at the coffee shop, sharing the WiFi signal.

This is why privacy advocates have begun pushing news organizations, including The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Guardian, to encrypt their Web sites, as many technology companies increasingly do for e-mails, video chats and search queries.

The growing use of encryption — signaled by the little lock icon in your browser’s address box — has emerged as perhaps the most concrete response to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the ability of the National Security Agency to collect almost anything that exists in digital form, including the locations, communications and online activities of people worldwide.

It’s only fair, say privacy advocates, that The Post and other news organizations that broke these stories heed their key lesson: Online surveillance is pervasive and voracious, especially when data is unprotected.

Among the issues potentially illuminated by what you choose to read, advocates say, are your health concerns, financial anxieties, sexual orientation and political leanings. A single article might mean little, but Big Data companies constantly collect and crunch a broad range of personal information to produce profiles of each of us.

“You could paint a pretty detailed picture of a person — their likes and dislikes — if you could see the articles they’re reading,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, one of several groups pushing for wider use of encryption.

Encryption may seem a stretch as a press freedom issue, far from what concerned the Founding Fathers when they enshrined the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Yet a free press operates best when the public can make reading decisions without fear that their government — or anyone capable of doing them harm — is looking over their shoulder.

Encrypting something as complex as a news site is enormously difficult, according to technical experts within the industry. Several major news organizations offered encryption for some elements of their sites in recent years but largely stopped when problems arose in displaying content quickly and cleanly to readers, said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which tracks the use of the technology.

Continue reading at The Washington Post

Abney and Associates Tech Research: Bitcoin gets easier to buy and spend

image

It’s getting easier for consumers to buy and spend bitcoin, the cybercurrency that has captured much of the tech world.

With each passing month, Bay Area entrepreneurs are rolling out new technology for consumers to buy and store bitcoin, shop online with the virtual currency and send it to friends. Last week, a bitcoin ATM was unveiled in Mountain View — put in a few hundred bucks, out comes a bitcoin. And more retailers — from consumer electronics to coffee roasters and pizza delivery — are accepting bitcoin, making it easier for consumers to choose the Internet currency over dollars.

"It’s all about to change over the next 12 to 24 months," said Marshall Hayner, a San Francisco entrepreneur who this month will launch bitcoin app QuickCoin. "We are going to see all kinds of people adopt it. It’s going to power transactions on the Internet."

Bitcoin is a cybercurrency and payments network created in 2009 by a mathematical formula as an alternative to banks and government-controlled currency systems. Bitcoins are added one at a time to the network by computer programmers around the world, and most bitcoin is bought and traded on global Internet exchanges.

The Bay Area bitcoin community is filled with entrepreneurs and investors pouring millions of dollars into their projects. But for the rest of us, still buying with cash and plastic, bitcoin is a bit of a mystery.

"You’ve got people out there who are software engineers who don’t understand it," said Vinny Lingham, co-founder of Gyft, a San Francisco digital gift card app that accepts bitcoin. "It’s far too complicated out there for the average consumer to understand. But that will change."

Cary Peters is hoping to uncomplicated bitcoin for consumers with the ATM he unveiled at Hacker Dojo, a nonprofit shared tech space in Mountain View. His is the first bitcoin ATM in California, and anyone can use it by setting up an account with a phone number, ID, and face and palm scan, which is used to run a background check to rule out potential fraud.

"Regulation has to be implemented," Peters said, a position rarely heard in the libertarian bitcoin community, but one that experts say is necessary to gain the trust of consumers. After about five minutes, the machine sends a text message that the user can start buying and selling bitcoin. Many bitcoin websites take about four or more days for transactions, and that delay doesn’t work for everyone.

"Something you decide you want to do today you may not want to do in four days," said Hami Lerner, a Sunnyvale resident who works in tech and visited the ATM on Tuesday. Bitcoin valuation can fluctuate wildly on any day; in February, it fell more than 85 percent in less than two hours. Recently valuation has ranged between about $450 and $500, about half its all-time high of more than $1,200 in November.

Read full article at Mercury News

Abney and Associates Tech Research: The Credit Card of Tomorrow

SINCE the 1970s, paying with plastic has been pretty standard everywhere: Customers swiped their cards, signed receipts and took home their purchases.

But after security breaches at Target late last year led to the loss of personal data from as many as 110 million customers, the financial industry is racing to adopt technologies that will alter that decades-old ritual.

Driven largely by security concerns, credit card companies and issuers say they are working to make the system as consumers know it obsolete through smart chips and advanced computer programming.

To many, it is about time. The roots of the magnetic strip on credit cards extend back to World War II, ample time for thieves to learn to hack and steal those black lines of prized account information.

Credit card fraud totaled nearly $5.3 billion in the United States alone in 2012, giving the industry plenty of incentive to devise a better system. The amount lost to fraud continues to grow by 30 to 50 percent a year, according to estimates from the Aite Group, a research company.

Efforts to bolster card security were underway well before hackers broke into the systems of Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels and other store chains. But the recent data breaches injected new urgency into adopting newer technology.

“I think this will become a defining moment about how we in the industry think about security,” said Eileen Serra, the chief executive of Chase Card Services.

The credit card industry, especially in the United States, has long relied on increasingly sophisticated analytical programs to weed out potentially fraudulent transactions. But it has also focused on a handful of technologies it contends will better protect customers in stores and online.

One is placing microprocessors onto cards, a standard known as E.M.V. for its initial backers: Europay, MasterCard and Visa. Another is known as tokenization, a way of masking consumers’ card information over the Internet.

Read full article at The New York Times

Abney and Associates Tech Research: Bitcoin Regulation Roundup

Rumours, Court Cases and Taxing Times

Regulatory attitudes towards crypto currencies around the world are shifting. Hardly a day goes by without a central bank issuing a warning on the digital currency. However, it’s not all bad news – as some authorities are taking a much more positive approach.

In CoinDesk’s regulation roundup, Certified Public Accountant and ACFE Certified Fraud Examiner Jason Tyra examines the most significant digital currency news from the world’s regulators and law courts over the past two weeks.

USA: Bitcoin is property, says IRS

image

The US Internal Revenue Service issued a notice in late March that classified bitcoin as property for purposes of taxation, clarified that mined bitcoins are taxable at the time they are received, and specified that bitcoins received in connection with a trade or business or as wages are subject to withholding and/or payment of Medicare or social security taxes.

The reaction among US bitcoiners was mixed. Treatment as a capital asset grants access to preferential capital gains rates for bitcoins held longer than a year and a day, but imposes the burden of tracking basis and gain for every bitcoin received or spent.

This is good news for US taxpayers using bitcoin as a store of wealth, but terrible news for those who might use it as a means of exchange.

The subtleties and implications of the IRS notification are likely to fuel debate among US bitcoin enthusiasts for months to come: for example, the IRS did not specify whether taxpayers exchanging bitcoins for other crypto-currencies would be entitled to defer taxable gain under like-kind exchange rules.

Rejection of non-functional (otherwise known as ‘foreign’) currency treatment by the IRS has also created uncertainty as to the implications, if any, for FinCEN’s designation of bitcoin as a monetary instrument.

image

USA: Texas following NY example?

The Texas Department of Banking released a letter this week addressed to “virtual currency companies operating or desiring to operate in Texas” that declared that, “because cryptocurrency is not money under the Money Services Act, receiving it in exchange for a promise to make it available at a later time or different location is not money transmission” in the state.

However, since the Texas Department of Banking is a state-level agency, its declaration has no impact on FinCEN’s federal registration requirements.

Texas has aggressively cultivated a business-friendly climate in recent years, poaching a number of high-profile companies from higher tax and higher regulation states. Austin, Texas is especially well known as a progressive hub for technology companies, including many bitcoin startups.

Read full article at CoinDesk

Abney and Associates Tech Research: If you block ads, then websites may block you

Adblock Plus wants you to sign its acceptable ads manifesto, but general counsel for a large advertising bureau called it a ransom before warning if you continue to block ads then websites may block you from accessing their content.

While it’s mostly tech-savvy surfers who install Adblock Plus browser plug-in, an advertising bureau suggested that websites will fight ad-blocking by blocking the content with an error message or a paywall if you use an ad blocker.

"Advertising is the economic engine that drives the Internet and gives us free websites and great content,” but as click-through rates decline, ads get more annoying in order to grab surfers’ attention. Eyeo, the creators of Adblock Plus, wrote:

We don’t want obtrusive pop-ups, or obnoxious blinking ads, or 30-second pre-roll video ads running amok on our computers and mobile phones. We wouldn’t tolerate that in the physical world; why should we accept them just because it’s digital? Imagine a billboard jumping in front of your car while on the freeway, or a newspaper ad suddenly opening up and covering all the words you are reading. Why should online ads get special treatment? Moreover, the noisier that online ads get, the more people install ad blockers to stop them. It’s an unwinnable, downward spiral.

Starting with Adblock Plus 2.0, not all advertising was blocked; in fact, if an ad meets the criteria for being “acceptable,” then it shows up by default. Surfers can disable that feature, usually by unchecking “allow non-intrusive advertising,” or under filter lists options like below, but the thought process is to leave it enabled to reward websites that rely on “non-intrusive” ads for revenue.

image

By not blocking acceptable ads, Eyeo believes it will show there is a market for them and encourage advertisers to create more.  As part of that cycle, the company wants people and organizations to sign its “Acceptable Ads Manifesto;” the five principal tenets are:

  • Acceptable Ads are not annoying.
  • Acceptable Ads do not disrupt or distort the page content we’re trying to read.
  • Acceptable Ads are transparent with us about being an ad.
  • Acceptable Ads are effective without shouting at us.
  • Acceptable Ads are appropriate to the site that we are on.

Abney And Associates Technology - How much is too much for kids?

Abney And Associates Technology, How much is too much for kids


Since a child’s brain is still developing, frequent exposure to devices and the like will alter their brain’s wiring. Where exposure to reading encourages our brains to be “focused and imaginative,” using the Internet and devices strengthens “our ability to scan information rapidly and efficiently.”

After all my research and questioning, I have come to the conclusion that there is something of a Catch-22 in the answer to my concern. For every benefit, like improved hand-eye coordination and reaction times there is a drawback, memory problems associated with scanning larger volumes of information, the overload I wondered at earlier on and the increased reliance on a process or device to do tasks that were once performed by the individual, who trades a measure of independence for the convenience and speed of performance.

What have I learned from all of this? My gut reaction was the correct one, and my plan of action is on course. I will allow my child to use my iPad but on a more limited basis, with attentive feedback and guidance from me to see to it that the pace and information are in line with his ability to manage, comprehend and place it in a healthy context. We will continue to encourage his imaginative play and reading to him as an equally valuable tool in his development. Or, as with most things, it’s about moderation, balance and applying ourselves seriously as parents, instead of letting technology babysit our children, become their role models and shapers in any meaningful way. Because it’s the job of technology to enrich our lives, not define them.

Abney And Associates - Technology reveals your life on social media

5997509547016482822.jpg

How easy is it to use social media to find out what people are doing, without them realizing they are being watched? It took me less than two minutes to not only identify where a randomly chosen 16-year old girl lives, goes to school and hangs out with friends, but also to pinpoint within three houses where she baby sits. And when she’s home alone with the kids.

From the Google Street View of those houses, it’s a fair guess she is at the one with all the toys in the yard.

I learned she plays soccer, is in French immersion, and is probably a skier or snowboarder if the resort where she spent Spring Break is any indication. I can probably correctly identify where she went to elementary school. I know what she looks like, and I can recognize her friends. And once I know where she lives, it’s not a big stretch to guess her parents’ identity.

Abney And Associates Technology - Facebook buys UK maker of solar-powered drones to expand internet

Invisible infrared laser beams, which can carry large amounts of information at high speeds across space using free-space optical communication technology (FSO), will connect the satellites to each other and to receivers on the surface of the Earth.

The plans may sound like science fiction, but Jon Excell, the editor of The Engineer, said the use of sub-space drones as an alternative to satellites was already a credible technology. “A lot of people have looked at this area,” he said. “Satellite launches are just phenomenally expensive. Solar-powered craft are a lot cheaper because you don’t have to launch them into space. They are also much easier to maintain. Satellites stay in orbit until they stop working, but these craft can be brought back down and repaired if anything goes wrong.”

Just 16% of Africa’s population used the internet last year, compared with 75% in Europe, but the drones and balloons being sent into space could soon bring it to areas where individuals do not yet have electricity or computers. Even in areas where there are no masts, however, the mobile phone is nearly ubiquitous. One in five people already own a smartphone.

Abney and Associates on Crisis in Online Ads

One-Third of Traffic Is Bogus

Billions of dollars are flowing into online advertising. But marketers also are confronting an uncomfortable reality: rampant fraud.

About 36% of all Web traffic is considered fake, the product of computers hijacked by viruses and programmed to visit sites, according to estimates cited recently by the Interactive Advertising Bureau trade group.

So-called bot traffic cheats advertisers because marketers typically pay for ads whenever they are loaded in response to users visiting Web pages—regardless of whether the users are actual people.

The fraudsters erect sites with phony traffic and collect payments from advertisers through the middlemen who aggregate space across many sites and resell the space for most Web publishers. The identities of the fraudsters are murky, and they often operate from far-flung places such as Eastern Europe, security experts say.

The widespread fraud isn’t discouraging most marketers from increasing the portion of their ad budgets spent online. But it is prompting some to become more aggressive in monitoring how their money is spent. The Internet has become so central to consumers, that advertisers can’t afford to stay away.

Digital “is too important,” says Roxanne Barreto, assistant vice president for U.S. digital marketing at L’Oréal SA, which recently uncovered evidence that an online ad purchase was affected by fraud and other problems. “Slowing down spend represents a missed opportunity to connect with our core audience.”

Spending on digital advertising—which includes social media and mobile devices—is expected to rise nearly 17% to $50 billion in the U.S. this year. That would be about 28% of total U.S. ad spending. Just five years ago, digital accounted for 16%.

Abney and Associates: Google just debunked the top 10 myths about Glass

To Tumblr, Love Pixel Union