Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – December 17, 2014

How to avoid getting hacked when shopping online;  The very best tech you can buy for $200 or less;  Google Reveals 2014’s Top Searches;  Google Maps 9.2 adds navigation voice controls;  50 Best Free iPhone Apps for 2014;  Sway, Microsoft’s new Office app, opens up to everyone;  Facebook Starts Auto-Enhancing Photos;  Instagram Adds Five New Filters;  Skype Translator preview goes live starting today;  Hands On: Preview of HP’s new $200 laptop;  Turn a text message into a video message with Crumbles;  Gmail Now Protects Your Inbox From Malevolent Extensions;  Feds used Adobe Flash to identify Tor users;  Don’t let thieves steal your child’s identity;  Keycharge portable battery fits on a keychain;  Hearthstone finally comes to Android;  You Asked: How Does the Internet Work?

How to avoid getting hacked when shopping online – The hectic shopping season isn’t just about finding perfect gifts. It’s also prime time for identity thieves to snag your info. Here’s five tips from security experts on staying safe online.

The very best tech you can buy for $200 or less – Buying tech on a budget? These 15 gadgets are the very best on the market for their price — from speakers to content streamers, coffee machines, and computer peripherals.

Google Reveals 2014’s Top Searches – From Robin Williams to Flappy Bird, here’s what we Googled in 2014.

Dutch privacy watchdog asks Facebook to delay new privacy policy, while it investigates – Dutch privacy watchdog CBP said it will investigate how the new policy will effect users’ privacy, saying “Permission from the users will play an important role, … and permission for the use of personal data cannot be achieved by have a user just accept a long list of general conditions.” Facebook’s new privacy policy is due to take effect January 1 2015, but the watchdog has asked Facebook to postpone the introduction until the investigation is finished, saying it could take months.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Google Faces $19M Fine Over Privacy Policy – The Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA) accused the search giant of violating local laws that govern the application of user information. According to the watchdog agency, Google mines queries, emails, cookies, location information, and video viewing habits to curate personalized advertisements—a move the DPA says in “in conflict with the law.” Local rules require that the tech giant tell users about its data-gathering practices and get permission before analyzing private information. The Dutch are not the only ones who do not like Google’s privacy policy. Google was fined $1.23 million in Spain last year and about $200,000 in France earlier this year.

Google Maps 9.2 adds navigation voice controls, calibration tool – The Google Maps team isn’t quite done yet for the year. It has cranked out another update with a couple of nice tweaks to its navigation feature. They’re rather subtle, but if you head to the settings you’ll now find an option to re-calibrate your phone for more accurate map views and the ability to change the volume of voice instructions. Tilt gives you a more angled view of the map during navigation, whereas the traditional viewpoint is closer to a top-down view. If the app detects your calibration is off, it will ask you to wave your phone through the air in a back-and-forth pattern.


50 Best Free iPhone Apps for 2014 – Get the most out of your iPhone by loading it up with the best apps, all at no cost to you. Whether you’re interested in utilizing all the extra screen space on a new iPhone 6 Plus, or you just want to get the most out of an older model (and you’re a penny-pincher), start out with these 50 free iPhone apps.

NBC pushes live streaming to PCs – The network says TV watchers will be able to connect to its NBC live-stream once they prove they have a pay-TV subscription.

Sway, Microsoft’s new Office app, opens up to everyone – Microsoft said Monday that the company has opened up the Sway Preview to any user with a Microsoft account, without needing to request an invitation. Microsoft’s Sway sits somewhere in between Word, PowerPoint, and a Web editor, part of a new breed of blended apps that combine features from existing products. With Sway, users can quickly create documents that can be quickly supplemented with images and text, with Sway even providing input on design changes.

Facebook Starts Auto-Enhancing Photos Because Algorithms Are Better At Filters Than You – The tool could make it much quicker to post well-lit photos so you can share on the go and get back to what you were doing. Facebook and the other social apps are locked in a battle for photo sharing. To the winner goes tons of engagement. That’s why Twitter just revamped its filtering interface, Snapchat started letting you dual-filter with color filters and its geo-filter titles, and Instagram today added five new filters. Google+ added a similar auto-enhance feature a year ago.

Instagram Adds Five New Filters – Just like you’d expect, each of the new filters has a slightly odd-sounding name (unless you live in SF) which we will inevitably begin using as a verb. (And with a bit of a drumroll…) They are Slumber, Crema, Ludwig, Aden and Perpetua. “They soften and subtly shift colors to achieve the look and feel you want for your each photo,” says the Instagram blog. You can take a look at them for yourself below:

FullContact For Gmail Is The Latest Email Plug-In To Take On LinkedIn’s Rapportive – Like Rapportive, once installed, FullContact for Gmail users will be able to hover over or type in a new email address in order to see detailed contact information in the Gmail sidebar, including things like their name, location, title and company, email address, links to social networks, as well as their recent tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts. However, FullContact’s version goes a step further than the old Rapportive did by offering company information, too.

Skype Translator preview goes live starting today – Microsoft has been demoing its real-time Skype translator system for several months, but today is the beginning of the public preview. Users who want to try out the instant voice translation features of Skype on Windows 8.1 need only head over to the Skype site and sign up. If you’re not at least a little excited to try this out, the demo video below will get you there.


The Best Services and Software for the Untethered Employee – You work hard, you work at home, and you’re tired of the jokes about wearing your pajamas to your job or collecting a paycheck from the comfort of your home. But even more than that, you’re tired of being your own IT person. For every task you take on there is software to help, yes, but researching what’s out there, making comparisons, and making a decision is a job unto itself, and it’s one that you don’t have time for. The following products can help you with all of that, and also happen to be good for your budget, since most are free.

How to start chatting with webRTC, the no-hassle, in-browser voice and video tech – There’s a relatively new technology built in to most browsers that could revolutionize the way you talk with your friends and family. Called webRTC, the HTML 5-based tech could one day replace the need for third-party plugins from services like Google Hangouts or Skype, offering voice and video chat capabilities natively in your browser. Even better, most implementations of the technology don’t require an account of any kind. Chats take place on a web page that you set up on a site that supports webRTC. To get chatting all you have to do is share a link to the web page and you’ll be up and running in no time. Talk about hassle free! If you’d like to give webRTC a try, here’s how to get started.

Hands On: Preview of HP’s new $200 laptop – HP has a new $200 laptop and by pushing the barrier to entry so low, they had to cut a few corners but the question is, did they cut too deep or is this a good buy at such a low price?


“Shadowy” anti-net neutrality group submitted 56.5% of comments to FCC – “A shadowy organization with ties to the Koch Brothers” spearheaded an anti-net neutrality form letter writing campaign that tipped the scales against net neutrality proponents, according to an analysis released today by the Sunlight Foundation. The first round of comments collected by the Federal Communications Commission were overwhelmingly in support of net neutrality rules. But a second round of “reply comments” that ended September 10 went the other way, with 60 percent opposing net neutrality, according to the Sunlight Foundation.


Keycharge portable battery fits on a keychain – There is no shortage of portable battery options, some smaller than others but most large enough that you’ll need to keep it in a pocket or bag. That’s a hassle and makes it easy to forget the device somewhere, and is what makes the Keycharge stand out. Keycharge features a 1000mAh battery, and is small enough to fit on a keychain, meaning it is always available if you have your keys on you. Keycharge also doubles as a flash drive with up to 32GB of storage. The 1000mAh battery likely won’t fully charge your device, but is enough to give a smartphone about 5.5 or 6 hours of talk time according to the maker.


This New App Could Help Sex Workers Get Revenge on the Assholes Who Abuse Them – The free app allows sex workers to raise the alarm about violent clients by broadcasting a short message describing the person and the incident to other sex workers nearby.


Stills of the Safety Net app.

Turn a text message into a video message with Crumbles – This may be the coolest thing in the history of the universe. I’m referring, of course, to Crumbles, a Web app built on a huge database of movie and TV show clips. It works like this: You type in a phrase — like, say, “This may be the coolest thing in the history of the universe,” or “I am the most attractive guy on the planet,” and in a few seconds Crumbles spits out, well, you kind of need to see it for yourself. That’s pretty cool, but where it really geeks out is when you click the Dictionary pull-down and choose “Homer Simpson.” Now your phrases get converted to Homer-speak.


DHS finds no evidence for attack on theaters showing ‘The Interview’ – Alleged hackers have warned potential viewers of the film to “Remember the 11th of September.” The Department of Homeland Security says it has found “no credible intelligence” attacks will happen.

Gmail Now Protects Your Inbox From Malevolent Extensions – Content Security Policy in the way Google has implemented it is a blacklist/whitelist system for stopping sites from loading unsafe code from third-party sites and preventing cross-site scripting attacks. It uses the HTTP header to instruct the browser to only execute and render code from trusted sites. So if an attacker tries to trick the site into loading any other code, the site will simply throw an error. Google notes that most popular extensions for Gmail have already been updated and should continue to work as usual. In case one of your favorite extensions in Chrome or Firefox stops working, though, Google recommends updating to the latest version.


Feds used Adobe Flash to identify Tor users visiting child porn sites – According to Wired, “Operation Torpedo,” as the FBI sting operation was dubbed, targeted users of three darknet child porn sites. Taken together, Operation Torpedo and the campaign used last year to identify Tor-using child porn suspects demonstrate the determination feds show in bypassing Tor protections. They also underscore the feds’ rapidly growing skill. Whereas Operation Torpedo abused a six-year-old weakness that ensnared only people who ignored strenuously repeated advice, the latter operation exploited a vulnerability that had only recently been patched in Firefox.

Norton-approved jeans could keep your pockets as safe as your PC – Norton, a company best known for making security software, is getting into pants. Not like that, but with a team up with San Francisco-based Betabrand to make a pair of jeans, as well as a blazer with radio frequency identification (RFID)-blocking fabrics in the pockets. Both articles of clothing promise to keep identify thieves from swiping identifying information from things like passports and contactless credit cards. The pants include two such protected pockets, one in front and one in the back where your wallet typically goes, while the blazer includes just one.


Don’t let thieves steal your child’s identity – Identity thieves prefer the Personal-Identifying Information (PII) of children and young adults under the age of 18, as opposed to adults, because children are less likely to be checking their credit reports and catch the fraud. The paper Child Identity Theft: New Evidence Indicates Identity Thieves are Targeting Children for Unused Social-Security Numbers written by Richard Power, Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab, offers the following proof:

Company News:

Update: Firefox pleads for cash with in-browser fundraiser – Mozilla has been running a fundraiser from within its Firefox browser, a program that will continue until Dec. 31. When users launch Firefox they may see a PBS-style pitch for money on the browser’s start screen, which normally is a minimalist display of a search field and a few tool icons. “Dear Firefox users: Mozilla puts the public good and user privacy before profit,” the screen states. “If Firefox is useful to you, take one minute to support the non-profit behind it. If everyone reading this donates $3, Mozilla’s fundraiser would be over within an hour. Thank you.”


Apple Stops Online Store Sales In Russia Amid Ruble Value Drop – Apple’s decision to close down shop for the time being comes after it recently raised iPhone prices to try to compensate for the falling value of local currency, but the interest rate in Russia rose by 7.5 percentage points overnight, in an attempt to turn the Ruble’s nosedive around. That hasn’t succeeded, and Russia is in the midst of what’s being called “an economic crisis” by observing economists, so it’s unsurprising that Apple lacks confidence in its ability to continue selling products under those market conditions.

Baidu, Maker Of China’s Largest Search Engine, Confirms Its Strategic Investment In Uber – In an announcement, the two companies said that the investment will take the form of a strategic partnership, with Baidu allowing Uber’s drivers to use its apps Baidu Map and Mobile Baidu, which connects to Baidu’s search engine, the largest in China. The deal was struck at a “signing ceremony” at Baidu HQ in Beijing, which Baidu chairman and CEO Robin Li and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick both attended.

Indiegogo launches Life site to fund personal projects – Crowdfunding sites abound, with Kickstarter and Indiegogo being the two most recognizable of the bunch. Some of the services are welcoming to all types of funding projects, while others are fairly narrow in what can be posted. To lay any confusion about its own service to rest, Indiegogo has launched a new portal called Life that is dedicated specifically to personal projects in whatever form they might be — funding for medical treatment, social efforts, and more.

Apple wins iPod antitrust fight: Jury kills $1bn payout bid – A federal jury in Oakland, California, took just four hours to clear the iThings maker of wrongdoing – and tossed out calls for a $351m compensation package for eight million owners of late-2000s iPods. That figure could have been tripled if the iPhone giant had lost its fight. Apple was accused in a class-action lawsuit of designing its software to remove music and other files from iPods that weren’t purchased or ripped via iTunes – but the eight-person jury decided that mechanism was a legit feature.

Lawsuit filed against Sony after massive hack – Two former employees of Sony Pictures have filed a lawsuit against the company alleging it didn’t do enough to safeguard their personal information and prevent its loss in a massive cyberattack in late November. The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, asks the court to award monetary damages and also class-action status, That would mean thousands of Sony employees past and present could join the suit if they wished.

Games and Entertainment:

Controversial shooter Hatred taken down from Steam Greenlight – Controversial mass shooting game Hatred has been taken down from Steam Greenlight after its listing on the crowd-voting section of the service garnered widespread attention this morning. “Based on what we’ve seen on Greenlight, we would not publish Hatred on Steam. As such we’ll be taking it down,” Valve VP of Marketing Doug Lombardi told Eurogamer in the wake of the game’s removal this afternoon. Hatred, from unknown Polish developer Destructive Creations, was first announced back in October. Its trailer seemed to revel in the massacre of civilians with a kind of gruesome glee.


GTA Online Heists gameplay revealed by Rockstar in video trailer – GTA V players will be able to plan, prepare and execute heists together from early next year. The co-operative Online Heists feature seems to have taken the developers at Rockstar a little longer than they had originally planned. The delay was due to the intricate multi-tier, multi-player interplay elements and the introduction of new vehicles, new weapons and new clothing. Online Heists will be a free update on all platforms; Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3 and PC.


Hearthstone finally comes to Android – The Android version couldn’t have released at a better time for both fans and Blizzard, as the game’s latest expansion, Goblins vs. Gnomes, released only a little over a week ago on December 8. Like with the iPad release, Blizzard is performing somewhat of a slow rollout with Android Hearthstone, and it starts with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand first. Blizzard states that the game will hit other regions — through the Google Play Store and Amazon Appstore for Android — “in the coming days,” so it’s anyone’s guess as to how quickly it’ll hit the US and Europe.


Off Topic (Sort of):

You Asked: How Does the Internet Work? – Poor Ted Stevens. For the past eight and a half years, the world has had many a laugh at the late Alaska Senator’s expense after he described the Internet as “a series of tubes” while arguing against a Net Neutrality amendment in 2006. Of course, anyone who’s ever sent an email or eyed a kitten photo online knows there aren’t any actual pipes involved. Still, the next time you hear someone essentially refer to the Internet as plumbing, ask them how the darned thing really works. According to Milton Mueller, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University, not only is the web not tubes (or a “web,” really), but it’s actually just a set of instructions.

How does the US government run the internet? This is how – The US government has posted a step-by-step guide to how it authorizes changes to the internet’s root zone – the heart of the world’s domain-name system. The 16-page slide deck [PDF] published by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) sheds light on what has been a contentious and largely secret process for the past 15 years. It also comes as an official proposal to move control of the global DNS away from the US government has been put out for public comment.


Congress rolled a major victory for medical marijuana in a spending bill – Inside the fiscal 2015 spending bill — yes, the one that’s 1,603 pages long — is a measure that prevents the federal government from interfering with states that have allowed medical marijuana or allow the drug entirely. Federal agents are now prohibited from raiding marijuana retail operations. Sound too good to be true? Here are the relevant sections:

This car’s skin is four times lighter than paper – You may have seen a waterproof jacket made with Texapore Softshell, but German engineering firm EDAG has stretched it over a 3D-printed frame to build a new ultra-lightweight concept vehicle. The material covering the Lightweight Cocoon — while strong, waterproof, and windproof — weighs just 19 grams per square meter. That’s about four times less than the 60-pound paper in your office’s copiers and printers.


Los Angeles cops latest to jump on the body-worn camera bandwagon – “With this program, LA will be a national leader in the use of these cameras,” the mayor’s office said in statement. “While events in Ferguson and President Obama’s call have brought this issue recent national attention, Mayor Garcetti’s administration has been moving forward on the use of on-body cameras for over one year.” This year the issue of body-worn cameras on police officers came to the fore after the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City at the hands of local cops.

Oakland cops disciplined 24 times for failing to turn on body-worn cameras – Over the last two years, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) has disciplined police officers on 24 occasions for disabling or failing to activate body-worn cameras, newly released public records show. The City of Oakland did not provide any records prior to 2013, and the OPD did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment. The records show that on November 8, 2013 one officer was terminated after failing to activate his camera. Less than two weeks later, another resigned for improperly removing the camera from his or her uniform. However, most officers received minor discipline in comparison.

Saving a file on a computer found to boost human memory – These results may speak to the way we are increasingly treating computer storage as an extension of our memories. When data is saved on a computer, our brains have learned to off-load it from active memory, allowing us to process new things more efficiently. Essentially, study participants weren’t hung up on remembering the first list of words when they had gone through the motions of saving it. Our brains might just know when it’s safe to forget.

2014: The year in quotes – From rattled airline passengers who fear the coming of smartphones to jurors who don’t know a smartphone from a tablet, here are some of the colorful quotes from IT news in 2014.

Engineer uses tape measure to beat speeding ticket – A retired UK engineer is reportedly convinced he wasn’t speeding, despite getting a ticket generated by a speed camera. So he gets on his hands and knees to prove white lines on the road are incorrectly spaced.

Something to think about:

“Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists of not exceeding the limit.”

–      Elbert Hubbard

Today’s Free Downloads:

Dashlane – Log in instantly, fill out any form, manage your passwords, and check out anywhere online without ever touching the keyboard, no matter where you are.

Dashlane is an award-winning service that revolutionizes the online experience by replacing the drudgery of everyday transactional processes with convenient, automated simplicity — in other words, letting you get to the good stuff faster.


PrivaZer – When you use your PC (at home or working at your office), go on the Internet, watch a video, download, copy/remove files on your PC, install/uninstall or use software, etc., you always leave sensitive traces which:

–   make your PC slower and cluttered

–   reduces free space available

–   puts you at risk for a bad consequence: what you have done could be easily recovered by analyzing your PC with an expert recovery software or with more advanced techniques.

We decided to develop a new type of cleaning tool to give you the peace of mind that once your data is gone, it is gone for good.

PrivaZer allows you to:

See exactly what can still be recovered of your past activities on your PC at home or at work

Clean in-depth unwanted traces of what you’ve done watched, downloaded, deleted, etc. and prevent recovery

Master your security & freedom. Free up disk space. Keep your PC fit and secure!!!


Screen shot from a personal machine.

ReminderFox – ReminderFox makes sure you remember all of your important dates via easy-to-use lists, alerts, and alarms, right in your browser without the need for a separate calendar program.


In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Over 700 Million People Taking Steps to Avoid NSA Surveillance – There’s a new international survey on Internet security and trust, of “23,376 Internet users in 24 countries,” including “Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.” Amongst the findings, 60% of Internet users have heard of Edward Snowden, and 39% of those “have taken steps to protect their online privacy and security as a result of his revelations.”

The press is mostly spinning this as evidence that Snowden has not had an effect: “merely 39%,” “only 39%,” and so on. (Note that these articles are completely misunderstanding the data. It’s not 39% of people who are taking steps to protect their privacy post-Snowden, it’s 39% of the 60% of Internet users — which is not everybody — who have heard of him. So it’s much less than 39%.)

Even so, I disagree with the “Edward Snowden Revelations Not Having Much Impact on Internet Users” headline. He’s having an enormous impact. I ran the actual numbers country by country, combining data on Internet penetration with data from this survey. Multiplying everything out, I calculate that 706 million people have changed their behavior on the Internet because of what the NSA and GCHQ are doing. (For example, 17% of Indonesians use the Internet, 64% of them have heard of Snowden and 62% of them have taken steps to protect their privacy, which equals 17 million people out of its total 250-million population.)

Microsoft strikes back at US government with PR campaign – Microsoft seems to be going on a PR offensive against the government and is asking for the reformation of antiquated laws under which the US is trying to access the company’s clients’ data.

You’re probably aware of Microsoft’s troubles with the US judicial system that started back in April of this year when the government demanded that e-mails stored exclusively in Ireland be handed over to them.

The company has since been in a legal battle, fighting for its customers’ right to privacy and, some would argue, the respect of national sovereignty. After a subsequent loss and in the middle of an appeal right now, the company is fighting back by trying to get the public on its side.

The two videos embedded here have been published online and they try and explain what the cloud really is and why, in Microsoft’s view, the US government has no legal right to access the data it wants.

Apple, Amazon and more tech companies support Microsoft’s email privacy stance in court – Today, in an article on The Official Microsoft Blog by Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft it seems that Microsoft is not alone in its fight. Ten groups have filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of Microsoft’s stance. Amongst the leading technology companies involved are Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Verizon in addition to news and media companies including CNN, ABC, Fox News and the Washington Post.

Microsoft has published the entire list of signatories which also includes two of the largest US business organizations, civil liberties organizations, leading computer science professors as well as Digital Rights Ireland whose focus is upon privacy in Ireland and the EU.

Whilst Microsoft and various supporting members may be in competition with each other in their respective industries, it is reassuring to see these groups galvanized in their stance against authorities attempting to reach beyond their jurisdiction without due process.

Australia: Telcos and law enforcement split over data-retention period – Australian telcos have said that most requests for access to store customer data are for data that is less than 12 months old, but law-enforcement agencies have said that older data is just as valuable for criminal investigation as brand new data.

The government’s legislation to require Australian communications companies to retain an as-yet-undefined set of telecommunications customer data for two years is currently being reviewed by the Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security, ahead of being debated in parliament in February next year.

The legislation is strongly backed by law-enforcement agencies, who complain that criminal investigations are being hindered because they rely on “luck” for telcos to retain this data for access by law enforcement for criminal investigations.

Despite all law-enforcement agencies highlighting the critical need for the data, none of them were able to quantify in submissions to the inquiry exactly how many criminal investigations have been aided by access to telecommunications customer data.


Filed under Free Software Downloads, Internet Security Alerts, Latest Tech News

4 responses to “Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – December 17, 2014

  1. Mal

    Hey Bill,

    Re:How to avoid getting hacked when shopping online

    The one thing I will add is use an anti-keyboard/clipboard/screen logger. Zemana and Spyshelter are two of the best. No way would I shop onine without using one of them.