Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – January 27, 2015

Mass Surveillance Threatens Digital Security And Human Rights Says European Report;  What PC software offers that mobile apps can’t;  How to handle a Facebook bully or stalker;  Facebook And Instagram Went Down, And Everyone Freaked The Hell Out;  Apple Adds Free Section to iTunes Store;  Can Wi-Fi Replace Your Cell Phone Plan?  Dropcam offers free replacement for legacy devices;  NFL brings the gridiron to YouTube;  Oops, you downloaded malware on your Android phone;  The one thing you’ll need to get your lost or stolen phone back;  Facebook testing a spare ‘Lite’ service for Android;  Snowmageddon NYC 2015: 10 things in tech you mustn’t forget;  Witcher 3: Wild Hunt hands-on;  Google silent on WikiLeaks email warrant for nearly three years;  FileMenu Tools (free).

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Mass Surveillance Threatens Digital Security And Human Rights, Says European Report – A 32-page report into mass surveillance by a top European rights body has warned that digital dragnets set up by U.S. government intelligence agencies, and some of the U.S.’ allies in Europe and elsewhere, are endangering fundamental human rights — such as the right to privacy, to freedom of information and expression, to freedom of religion, and to the right to a fair trial. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) report also expresses deep concern about threats to Internet security by what it describes as “the practice of certain intelligence agencies”, as disclosed in the Snowden files, of “seeking out systematically, using and even creating ‘back doors’ and other weaknesses in security standards and implementation, which could easily be exploited also by terrorists and cyber-terrorists or other criminals”.

What PC software offers that mobile apps can’t – As we look at how software will be evolving, traditional PC applications and mobile apps have some substantial differences, key among them the depth and flexibility traditional applications offer that are often an anathema to mobile users.

How to handle a Facebook bully or stalker – An anonymous reader has been getting a lot of unwanted, and potentially frightening, attention on Facebook. I offer some advice. If someone on Facebook continually insults you, upsets you, threatens you, or makes unwanted sexual advances, ask them to stop. If they do, fine. If not, you’ve got a stalker.

Facebook And Instagram Went Down, And Everyone Freaked The Hell Out – Facebook and Instagram both crashed around 6am GMT. Facebook was offline, on the web and via the app, for just over an hour. The hacker group Lizard Squad has said it is responsible for the outage. Over Christmas, the group claimed to be behind the Microsoft and Sony gaming network hacks. However, ITV News reported that both Facebook and Instagram denied being hacked, blaming the outage on “a change that affected our configuration systems”.


Apple Adds Free Section to iTunes Store – Heads up, iOS users. Apple today added a new section to the iTunes Store with some free goodies you might want. The new “Free on iTunes” section includes a selection of on-the-house songs and full-length TV episodes. The new promotion comes after Apple recently discontinued its free “Single of the Week” program.


Facebook testing a spare ‘Lite’ service for Android – Facebook is testing a stripped down version of its mobile app that requires far less data, which could help increase usage of the social networking service among people with weaker Internet service or older phones. Facebook “Lite” is available for devices running Android 2.2 and up. The size of the free app is 252 kilobytes, and it’s meant for 2G networks in areas with limited connectivity. Users can perform a bunch of basic functions like post status updates with photos, comment on people’s posts, message friends, have group conversations, and receive notifications. Posts from the news feed are meant to load quickly. Early reviews on the Google Play store for the app have been positive, with many praising its low data and battery usage.

How to install the Windows 10 Preview: Everything you need to know – This isn’t like Windows 8’s Consumer Preview, which was released as a simple ISO image. The Windows 10 Technical Preview is being released via a new “Windows Insider” program that asks for user feedback and even provides private forums for discussing trouble spots with Microsoft engineers. Lots of things have already changed and many more are sure to change going forward, from features to basic elements of the operating system. All that said, are you still curious? Can’t resist the lure of the bleeding edge? Just want to run away from Windows 8? Here’s how to install the Windows 10 Technical Preview right now.

How to run the Windows 10 Technical Preview on a Mac, for free – Here’s how you can run the new Windows 10 Technical Preview on your Mac, without having to spend a dollar on software.

Dropcam offers free replacement for legacy devices – Hardware reaching their end of life is a natural occurrence, especially in mobile and smart devices that seem to have at the very least only 2 years to live. More often than not, owners are left with no choice but to upgrade, which usually entails cashing out on a new device. That is why Dropcam’s new offer is like a breath of fresh air. It will be giving a free hardware replacement to owners of the original Dropcam and Dropcam Echo, even going as far as allowing owners to keep their old units, just as a remembrance.


Cablevision’s WiFi calling service: another reason you don’t need an iPhone – This week the folks at Cablevision released a WiFi calling service called Freewheel without the iPhone and without the Samsung Galaxy S5. What does this say to the two biggest names in smartphone manufacturing inside the United States? What does it say to those consumers that seek out Samsung or Apple because they’ve seen their friends using said brands on phones? It says – clearly – that you don’t need a top-end phone to go about your normal, everyday smartphone business. And you don’t need a Galaxy phone or an iPhone to launch a nation’s-first service like all-WiFi calling.

Can Wi-Fi Replace Your Cell Phone Plan? – The wireless industry has seen its fair share of changes over the last two years, many sparked by T-Mobile’s disruptive “uncarrier” policies that have been since co-opted by its rivals. But there could be even bigger shakeups coming in the year ahead. A switch from cellular to Wi-Fi networks could have a huge impact on both the cost and quality of wireless service in the future. Here’s a quick look at what Wi-Fi-based carriers could mean for your cell phone plan:

How to enable Cortana if you’re using Windows 10 outside the U.S. – Microsoft has offered Cortana integration in the January Technical Preview, but officially it is only available in the United States, but we have a workaround for everyone else who wants to test it.

Adobe Lightroom 6 to drop 32-bit support – Adobe has been busy with its photography-centric Lightroom offering, having recently pushed out a mobile version for Android users to join its previously launched iOS version. The desktop is still king when it comes to photo editing, however, and so it is no surprise Adobe has also been hard at work on getting its next Mac and Windows versions out to consumers. That’s the good news. For those running older hardware, there’s also some bad news.

NFL brings the gridiron to YouTube – The National Football League has officially come to YouTube. The league announced Monday that it’s finally created its own channel on the world’s biggest online video network, as part of a broader partnership with YouTube’s parent Google, which includes NFL videos, news and other information available directly in Google searches.


Google silent on WikiLeaks email warrant for nearly three years – The whistleblower organisation is demanding answers from Google over why it took so long to disclose that it had handed over details of three WikiLeaks’ staffers’ emails to the US government.

Oops, you downloaded malware on your Android phone – While there’s technically no such thing as an Android “virus”, there’s plenty of harmful malware can be just as frustrating—it spams you with notifications, uses up data and battery life, and slows down your phone, all while trying not to get caught. Of course, the best way to get malware on your phone is to download a malware-laden app, so you’re not completely innocent in this scenario. But every Android owner has come across malware at least once or twice, and so you all know that this is exactly how it starts…

The one thing you’ll need to get your lost or stolen phone back – Your carrier may require a police report to prove that the device is actually missing. In addition to the make, model and visual appearance, the police and your carrier may request the International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) to help identify the device. This is number is unique to your hardware, and may allow the carrier to discontinue service to it, or blacklist it from their network if it was stolen. As a recent post on the Digital Inspiration blog points out, you can still find your IMEI without the phone in your hand. Here’s how:

Hackers steal 20 million accounts from Russian dating site – Topface, a Russian dating site, has apparently had its servers hacked and the perpetrators are now auctioning off over twenty million usernames and e-mail addresses which can be used for future scams.

Apple preparing fix for Thunderstrike malware in upcoming OS X 10.10.2 release – It’s long been said, both by Apple and independent security experts, that Apple’s computers are more secure than those running Windows. That does not mean, however, that Macs are invulnerable to malware threats. One particularly terrifying example is called Thunderstrike. It allows a malicious actor to replace the firmware in Macs with something much more nefarious. The firmware controls extremely low-level functions of the computer, everything that happens from the moment the power button is pressed.

Company News:

IBM dismisses massive layoff report as workforce remixing continues – IBM’s workforce rebalancing is as predictable as the seasons, but it’s a stretch to think Big Blue is cutting more than 100,000 employees.

Former Opera CEO Launches Vivaldi, A New Browser For Power Users – Opera’s former CEO Jon von Tetzchner is launching the first preview of Vivaldi today, a new Chromium-based browser that is squarely aimed at power users. Vivaldi features tools like Quick Commands for using written commands instead of the mouse, an Opera-like Speed Dial for quickly accessing bookmarks, a note-taking feature and the ability to organize tabs into stacks.

Hardware surprisingly strong, Windows weak, as Microsoft posts solid Q2 – Microsoft revealed its quarterly earnings today for the second quarter of the 2015 financial year. Overall revenue was up, and sales of the Surface Pro 3 computer were strong according to the company. But the Windows market declined and operating income was down, as the Nokia integration and reorganization continues to cost money. Revenue for the quarter was $26.47 billion, up eight percent on the same quarter a year ago. Gross margin was also up, climbing by one percent to $16.33 billion. Operating income, however, fell two percent to $7.78 billion, and earnings per share dropped nine percent to $0.71.

Stripe Partners With Intuit To Help On-Demand Workers Keep Track Of Their Finances – Through the partnership, people who work for on-demand platforms that make their payments through Stripe will be able to easily connect with Intuit’s new QuickBooks Online Self-Employed software. Once that’s done, the QuickBooks product will be able to immediately recognize payments as income, and as a result will be able to help workers track their finances, and especially their tax obligations.

Huawei pivots focus to high-end smartphones – The Chinese smartphone maker plans to turn its attention towards the high-end smartphone segment in the wake of increased local competition.

Games and Entertainment:

Witcher 3: Wild Hunt hands-on: Four hours with the most anticipated RPG of the year – It finally happened. After two years of hands-off demos, multiple delays, and et cetera, I finally got my grunny hands on The Witcher 3 —not just for a piddling few minutes or a tightly controlled demo, but for four hours. CD Projekt basically sat me down at a computer, booted the game, and said “Go.” And I went. I finished off the tutorial, completed a half-dozen side quests, and got through the story basically to the end of what I’ll call “Chapter One.” In other words, right when things started to get interesting? That’s when I ran out of time. Here’s what I noticed, nevertheless.


Grim Fandango Remastered might be the perfect video game remake – Grim Fandango Remastered is exactly the same game that you remember from 1998. The story and gameplay remain unchanged, so it’s still a game primarily about chatting with other characters and using items in increasingly obscure ways to solve puzzles. As in the original, Manny starts out as a lowly salesman, but over the course of the game he’ll uncover dark secrets, open up a casino, and chase the girl of his dreams. It can seem a bit quaint by modern standards, but the witty writing and wonderful art direction feel timeless, and there are some important changes that make this version more palatable in 2015.


‘Minecraft’ is already printing money for Microsoft – Microsoft purchased “Minecraft” developer Mojang for $2.5 billion last year, an amount that many considered strange for what’s essentially a one-game company. According to Microsoft’s recent financial results, however, the transaction is already proving beneficial. As part of its financial results from the second quarter of its 2015 fiscal year, Microsoft announced that first-party video game revenue increased by 79 percent to $171 million over the same period last year. In its statement on the increase, Microsoft attributed the boost as “mainly due to sales of Minecraft following the acquisition of Mojang” as well as the launches of “Halo: The Master Chief Collection” and “Forza Horizon 2.”


DirectX 12 won’t need new hardware, but it’s better to have some anyway – As we previously found out, DirectX 12 will be exclusive to Windows 10, so older Windows operating systems won’t have the new capabilities. However, considering that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for most Windows users, that shouldn’t pose any problems. But what about hardware? Well, this is where it gets a bit more complicated. The short answer is that having a new DirectX 12 graphics card is your best option, so you should go for that. But the long answer is that you might not need it to take advantage of most of the system’s new features.


Off Topic (Sort of):

Snowmageddon NYC 2015: 10 things in tech you mustn’t forget – It’s a real-deal state of emergency right now in New York and surrounding areas – a blizzard is dropping this week – so much so that you may need a guide to get you through it. Accumulation of snow will reach 20 to 30 inches in Long Island and Connecticut, while visibility will be one quarter mile or less at times throughout the week. This isn’t a snowfall to act tough about and/or scoff at. You’re going to have to believe me on that one – I was born in Saint Cloud, Minnesota and I live in Bismarck, North Dakota now. You have no idea how badly I want to scoff at panic over snow.


Hawaii-Bound Pilot Forced To Deploy Airplane’s Parachute After Running Out Of Gas – A pilot’s quest to fly from California to Hawaii failed in spectacular fashion when he was forced to deploy the aircraft’s parachute and plop down on the water 253 miles from land. The series of unfortunate events started to unfold at about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, when the pilot contacted the Hawaii National Guard to report that his Cirrus SR-22 aircraft had roughly three hours of fuel remaining.


U.S. Coast Guard

Latest round of science education bills hits the state legislatures – See if your state is partaking in the silliness – Each year, January brings a new legislative calendar and, with it, a new round of bills that attempt to interfere with science education. Typically, these bills target evolution and/or climate change and are based on boilerplate text, but each year brings some intriguing variations on the theme. This year’s haul is impressive with several states already active.

People can be induced to remember crimes they never committed – The creation of false memories has obvious implications for the legal system, as it gives us reasons to distrust both eyewitness accounts and confessions. It’s therefore important to know exactly what kinds of false memories can be created, what influences the creation of a false memory, and whether false recollections can be distinguished from real ones. A recent paper in Psychological Science found that 71 percent of participants exposed to certain interview techniques developed false memories of having committed a crime as a teenager. In reality, none of these people had experienced contact with the police during the age bracket in question.

U.S. Breaks Record For Highest Number Of Exonerations In A Single Year – The U.S. saw a record number of exonerations in 2014, according to a report by the National Registry of Exonerations that was released Tuesday. The project at the University of Michigan Law School detailed 125 known exonerations of innocent criminal defendants in the U.S. last year, the first time the registry recorded more than 100 in a single year.

Ridiculous Tech Jargon That Needs to Go – Undeniably, many amazing things have come out of Silicon Valley. But the words? Let’s just say that someone needs to disrupt them. The region’s best and brightest can write lines of complicated code that allow your front door to talk to your thermostat and your car, but when asked to describe the phenomenon, the best they can do is “Um, Internet of…things?” Tech jargon is the worst combination of bro-talk and technology word salad. Many of them are here to stay, but these are the 12 terms we’d like to see pivot on out of here.

Something to think about:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.

The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

–      C.S. Lewis

Today’s Free Downloads:

FileMenu Tools – FileMenu Tools allows you to customize the context menu of Windows Explorer.


Add some built-in utilities that perform operations on files and folders.

Add custom commands which run external applications, copy/move to a specific folder or delete specific file types.

Configure the “Send to…” submenu.

Enable/disable commands which are added by other applications to the context menu.

FileMenu Tools is freeware. However, if you enjoy using FileMenu Tools and would like to help support its development, please consider making a donation.


GuardAxon – GuardAxon is a free program that is used to encrypt and decrypt files e.g. for safe transmission or transportation on removable media. The program uses the following encryption algorithms: BlowFish, Twofish, DES, 3DES, AES-128, AES-192, AES-256. Selecting files to protection is very simple because GuardAxon uses the classic file manager. The program can generate reports in PDF format at the end of the encryption / decryption.

GuardAxon also allows you to calculate and verify the checksum of files (MD-5, SHA-1, SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, SHA-512, SHA-512/224, SHA-512/256).


In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Germany’s privacy leaders gather to discuss suspending US Safe Harbor – On Wednesday, German data privacy commissioners will meet in Berlin for their annual conference. On the agenda will be discussions on one thing: whether the Safe Harbor agreement between the EU and the US should be scrapped.

The meeting will allow the German regulators to voice their ongoing frustration over the lack of reform that followed the recent revelations that the US’ surveillance agency, the NSA, was collecting German citizens’ data.

Safe Harbor is a critical agreement for US-based businesses – and particularly tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter – as it allows them to legally transfer commercial data from the European Union to the US if they agree to uphold EU citizens’ rights over how the data is collected and handled. Even a short suspension of the agreement could mean serious disruption to those US companies’ business.

For many German officials and politicians, the NSA’s ongoing ability to access the data of European citizens held by US companies violates the privacy principles of the agreement – principles that companies can self-certify they uphold.

Facebook Censors Blasphemous Pages To Comply With Turkey’s Demand, But Won’t Publish It – When Google and Twitter receive legal threats from countries to censor controversial content or have their services shut down locally, they often publish them on for transparency. But today when Facebook followed Turkey’s legal order to block Pages that defamed the Prophet Muhammad from Turkish users, it kept the demand private.

Rather than get banned, Mark Zuckerberg has said it’s Facebook’s duty to comply with censorship so it can keep operating and at least give some citizens a voice.

Spies track mobile users with BADASS tracker (yes, that’s what they call it) – As Ars has previously reported, documents passed to journalists by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have shown that the NSA and its British counterpart agency, the GCHQ, have exploited privacy “leaks” in mobile applications (including Rovio’s Angry Birds) to track individuals of interest. A new document recently published by Der Spiegel provides further details on just how much the GCHQ was able to extract from mobile data to keep tabs on those it targeted for surveillance. The British agency used a program referred to as BADASS to suck up data emitted from Angry Birds and other apps, and the information was so granular, analysts could even track how well (or poorly) a person was doing playing.

BADASS is an acronym for “BEGAL Automated Deployment And Survey System,” and the system pulled in data from GCHQ and NSA network taps identified as mobile analytics and advertising traffic. Among other things, this data included Google “pref” cookies (such as those used by Ars to identify users in our own passive network surveillance testing with NPR) and Flurry application analytic data used by developers to track usage and performance of their mobile apps.


Cops decry Waze traffic app as a “police stalker” – Google-owned app, they say, is endangering law enforcement officials – Police officials have lobbied for the right to conduct a variety of unfettered electronic surveillance tactics on the public, everything from being able to affix GPS trackers on vehicles to acquiring mobile phone cell-site location records and deploying “stingrays” in public places—all without warrants.

Some law enforcement officials, however, are frightened when it’s the public doing the monitoring—especially when there’s an app for that. Google-owned Waze, although offering a host of traffic data, doubles as a Digital Age version of the police band radio.

Authorities said the app amounts to a “police stalker” in the aftermath of last month’s point-blank range murder of two New York Police Department officers. That’s according to the message some officials gave over the weekend during the National Sheriffs Association meeting in Washington.


Basaaly Moalin: The One “Terrorist” Caught by Section 215 Surveillance – Remember back in 2013 when the then-director of the NSA Keith Alexander claimed that Section 215 bulk telephone metadata surveillance stopped “fifty-four different terrorist-related activities”? Remember when that number was backtracked several times, until all that was left was a single Somali taxi driver who was convicted of sending some money back home? This is the story of Basaaly Moalin.

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