Tech Thoughts Net News – Friday Edition – June 26, 2015

Take Control of Your Google Privacy;  The best tool for protecting your kids (or employees) from malware and porn;  25 Hidden Chrome Features That Will Make Your Life Easier;  Amazon’s latest freebie fest gives away $50 in Android apps and games;  3 Google Drive add-ons that improve collaboration;  Microsoft Office finally comes to Android phones;  Archos $99 PC Stick is latest Windows computer;  A Facebook account is no longer needed for Messenger;  Stream music from your PC to almost any device with this free tool;  6 Secret Tricks You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do;  US claims progress with China over cybersecurity concerns;  Australian ISP admits giving customer phone numbers to websites;  Apple removes Civil War games featuring Confederate flag from App Store;  Xbox Games with Gold for July: ‘Assassin’s Creed IV,’ ‘Gears of War 3’ and more;  Watch Bill Nye explain climate change in 90 seconds using emoji;  France Adopts Extensive Surveillance Law;  Avast! Browser Cleanup (free).

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Take Control of Your Google Privacy – As Google again updates its policy, dig into its new account dashboard and take back what power over privacy you can.

The best tool for protecting your kids (or employees) from malware and porn – I don’t have bad kids. But my kids, perhaps like yours, don’t understand that searching for kitten pictures may not return the results they actually want. They don’t know just how much the pornography industry wants to hook them early. They don’t realize just how creepy people can be when cloaked in apparent anonymity. And so I started trying to help them grow up safely in a world that was trying to force them to grow up way too early. In the process, I’ve discovered a variety of tools that help me to teach my children to be responsible with technology. Perhaps the most promising, and most recent, is the OpenDNS Umbrella service.

25 Hidden Chrome Features That Will Make Your Life Easier – One of the reasons for Chrome’s popularity is its clean, polished UI and its versatility. While Chrome’s abilities multiply greatly when you consider the near-bottomless library of extensions, there’s a bounty of stock functionality embedded all throughout Chrome’s guts that you may not even know about. Click through our slideshow for a list of 25 hidden tricks hidden inside Chrome that you really need to be using.

A Facebook account is no longer needed for Messenger – Facebook wants to squeeze as much growth as it can out of its popular Messenger app, even if that means forgoing Facebook. Previously, people had to sign up for Messenger with their Facebook account. Now, in a few countries, it can be done with just a mobile telephone number. In the U.S., Canada, Peru and Venezuela, users who sign up this way can allow the app to sync with the contacts on their phone so they can easily find people to message. Messenger isn’t turning into an anonymous chat app, though. Along with the phone number, your name and photo are still needed to complete the sign-up process.


Amazon’s latest freebie fest gives away $50 in Android apps and games – The excellent Monument Valley and smart forecast app Weather Live are yours for the taking from Amazon’s grab bag. About every few months Amazon puts a bunch of paid apps and games on sale. The goal is to get you to check out its alternative Amazon Appstore and get invested in the ecosystem. With a bunch of paid apps and games for free Amazon hopes you’ll buy future apps from them instead of Google Play.

3 Google Drive add-ons that improve collaboration: Hello Sign, Workflows, DocSecrets – Google Docs has matured into the go-to productivity suite for document collaboration, thanks to an abundance of tools that manage what can easily become a messy process. But even with features like revision history, commenting, and real-time chat, there are a few common collaboration requirements Docs doesn’t yet address. Fortunately, these holes can be filled with some key add-ons.

Archos $99 PC Stick is latest Windows computer that fits in your pocket – The French device maker joins Lenovo and Intel in offering a miniature system that connects to your HDTV via HDMI, but its version is cheaper and will ship with Windows 10 pre-installed.


Stream music from your PC to almost any device with this free tool – Stream What You Hear provides an easy way to stream music from your PC to your phone or TV.

Microsoft Office finally comes to Android phones – Microsoft Office for Android phones is here. At last, Android users can maximize productivity as well as iOS and Windows Phone users. Until now, if Android users had Office 365 they could use Office Mobile, which was pretty basic. With the new apps, Office 365 users still get an advantage. (Otherwise what would be point of the subscription fee?) While the apps are free to all users, the people without 365 accounts will be limited to opening, editing, and saving files. 365 members will have functionality that almost mirrors the full PC versions. For example, subscribers get a button in the Word for Android app that brings up a pop-up tool tray where you can make changes to layout, format, paragraphs, headers, footers and more without ever having to leave the document.


Ear.IQ customizes your music to better fit the way you hear – Your hearing can be as unique as your fingerprint. The freemium version of Ear.IQ will offer limited calibration tools and a simpler hearing test for audio improvement. In-app purchases will allow users to couple more than one device and add different profiles for different devices, so they can have one profile for headphones and a different one for a car’s sound system. For $19.99, users can get the pro version, which comes with premium calibration tools, unlimited device coupling, and all the in-app purchases included.

Pro tip: Find your lost phone with the help of Google search – If you frequently misplace your phone, Google can easily come to the rescue with a quick search. Jack Wallen shows you how.

Tumblr Launches “Tumblr TV,” A GIF Search Engine With A Full-Screen Viewing Mode – Following the rollout of Tumblr’s GIF search engine earlier this month, the blogging platform is today launching another new feature aimed at helping users discover and share GIFs: Tumblr TV. The addition is a combination of a search and viewing feature for GIFs, which helps you find the animated images housed on Tumblr and then view them in a full-screen mode.


Bing adds more depth to its homepage with audio effects – Starting today, when you head to Bing, you can also hear the audio from a video showing on the homepage as well. The feature, which you have to turn on by clicking the audio button in the bottom right corner, adds another layer to the homepage to help separate it from the competition.


6 Secret Tricks You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do – The iPhone always seems to have a new trick up its sleeve. Tucked away in the device’s myriad menus, there’s probably a setting or two you’ve never played with that could make the device even more useful. That’s to say nothing of the numerous gesture-based controls Apple tucks away in its mobile operating system, many of which may not be readily apparent. Chances are you could be typing faster, taking better pictures and noticing more texts with these hidden wonders. Here, we uncover six lesser-known iPhone tricks that you can use every day:


US claims progress with China over cybersecurity concerns – China told the US it was ready to cooperate on cybersecurity issues. But can the two sides really play nice after years of tension and accusations?

Cisco warns of default SSH keys shipped in three products – Cisco Systems said Thursday it released a patch for three products that shipped with default encryption keys, posing a risk that an attacker with the keys could decrypt data traffic. The products are Cisco’s Web Security Virtual Appliance, Email Security Virtual Appliance and Security Management Virtual Appliance, it said in an advisory. Versions downloaded before Thursday are vulnerable.

Google eavesdropping tool installed on computers without permission – Privacy campaigners and open source developers are up in arms over the secret installing of Google software which is capable of listening in on conversations held in front of a computer. First spotted by open source developers, the Chromium browser – the open source basis for Google’s Chrome – began remotely installing audio-snooping code that was capable of listening to users. It was designed to support Chrome’s new “OK, Google” hotword detection – which makes the computer respond when you talk to it – but was installed, and, some users have claimed, it is activated on computers without their permission. (recommended by Bob S.)

Google removes “always listening” code from Chromium – After including closed-source code that enabled Chromium to listen in to a computer’s microphone, Google bowed to backlash and removed it from the open-source browser.

Security researcher casually drops Adobe Reader, Windows critical vulnerability bomb – A Google Project Zero researcher has revealed the existence of 15 vulnerabilities in the software, including critical issues and one exploit which may completely bypass all system defense.

Report Suggests Young People May Abandon Social Media If Privacy Breaches Continue – In a report released this week (oddly) by USA Network, survey data shows that 55 percent of young people would eschew social media entirely “if they could start fresh.” Additionally, if major breaches of their privacy were to continue, 75 percent of young people said they were at least “somewhat likely” to deactivate their personal social media accounts, with 23 percent saying they were “highly likely” to do so. Young Americans’ sense of privacy online has been so violated that most of them believe that it’s safer to store their personal data in a box than in the cloud. Indeed, the survey said that physical filing systems were actually listed as the “most trusted” personal data storage method for young people.

Australian ISP admits giving customer phone numbers to websites – The Australian Internet service provider (ISP), Optus, has been providing the mobile phone numbers of customers to websites they have accessed. Optus has defended the practice, claiming personal details are only provided to trusted partners. “When consumers browse the internet, information about the device they’re using is passed onto website owners in order to optimise websites for those users,” an Optus spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Mashable Australia. “Optus adds our customer’s mobile number to the information in select circumstances where we have a commercial relationship with owners of particular websites. This is only done with trusted partners where user authentication is required.” (recommended by Mal C.)

Java updater dumps Ask toolbar adware, replaces it with Yahoo search – Oracle and Ask may have parted ways, but Java security updates are still seen as good marketing opportunities for search providers looking to increase market share.


Trojan that hides inside images infects healthcare organizations – According to a recent report from Dell SecureWorks, the Trojan is designed to steal files, information and passwords from infected systems, but has additional modules that extend its functionality. During the Stegoloader infection process, a temporary deployment component downloads a PNG file from the Internet. This is a functional image file, but hidden inside, among its pixels, are small bits of encrypted code that get extracted and are used to reconstruct the Trojan’s main module. Neither the PNG image or the Trojan’s main module are ever saved to disk. Instead, the whole process happens in the computer’s memory and the Trojan is loaded directly into memory as well.

Stolen US government passwords leaked across Web – A CIA-backed startup has discovered login credentials and passwords for 47 US government agencies littered across the Internet — leaving federal agencies potentially at risk of cyberattack. Recorded Future, a Boston-based data mining firm backed by the CIA’s venture capital arm, said in a research report that credentials belonging to 47 US government agencies have been found across 89 unique domains.

Company News:

Google, Microsoft among biggest IT industry lobbyists at European Commission – Google and its lobbyists have had more meetings with European Commission officials than any other company, according to figures published by Transparency International on Wednesday. With 32 meetings logged between December and June, Google’s lobbying is topped only by that of BusinessEurope, whose 67 member companies span the automotive, aviation, chemical, energy, IT and metallurgical industries. Its IT-industry members include Microsoft, Facebook, IBM, Oracle and Samsung Electronics. Other prolific corporate lobbyists include General Electric, Airbus, and Microsoft, which had 20 meetings with Commission officials during the period.

Uber And PayPal Extend Payment Partnership, Now In 19 Countries – PayPal teamed up with Uber back in 2013 to offer the U.S. taxi-hailing service’s customers additional payment options. The world has changed a lot in those 18 months — Uber is now present in over 300 cities with China set to soon become its largest market — so, with that in mind, PayPal and Uber have extended their partnership to cover an additional 9 countries worldwide.

Facebook’s latest diversity report shows little change – Facebook has introduced its latest diversity report, which details information on its own workforce. There has been little change over last year, unfortunately, showing mostly the same numbers we saw in summer 2014 — something that doesn’t fit well with the social network’s diversity goals. Facebook reported its initial diversity numbers in 2014, as did many other big name businesses in the industry. Said the social network’s Global Director of Diversity Maxine Williams, “Having a diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing to do for our business.”

Alibaba launches online bank aimed at SMBs, rural customers – As China’s first online-only bank, it has no physical branches, but provides easily accessible loans to as many as 800 million rural residents, according to a report by industry website on June 25. Unlike its conventional competitors, the online bank neither deals with cash nor with big clients, but instead focuses on the bottom 80 percent, such as small, mid-, and micro-sized businesses.

Fueled by Snowden and Apple, private search engine DuckDuckGo rapidly grows – The privacy-minded search engine DuckDuckGo announced this week that it has reached a milestone. The Google alternative now serves over 10 million searches per day. (By comparison, Google serves about 4.3 billion per day.) DuckDuckGo works by using both its own Web crawler and data from other search engines, including Yahoo, Bing, and Blekko—not Google. The company claims that it does not log IP addresses or user agents, and it says that “no cookies are used by default.” It also uses default encryption modeled after HTTPS Everywhere.

Games and Entertainment:

Batman: Arkham Knight for PC pulled from Steam and retailers due to bugs – Warner Bros. has pulled the PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight from sale due to “performance issues.” While no date was given for when the game might be put back on sale, the publisher is promising to address the wide range of performance issues players are experiencing. Those who have already purchased the game can request a refund from Steam or the retail location where the game was purchased.


Apple removes Civil War games featuring Confederate flag from App Store – Apple has removed Civil War games from the App Store featuring the Confederate flag, according to a report from Touch Arcade. Ultimate General: Gettysburg and the Civil War games by developer Hunted Cow no longer appear for sale. A statement from a developer of Ultimate General confirms that the studio’s game was removed by Apple. Apple’s decision is likely to draw more controversy. Removing games in which the flag plays a historical role is different than forbidding the sale of the flag itself. And Apple has already acquired a reputation for its ham-fisted curation, banning games from the App Store featuring nudity and political statements.


Civil War games with educational or historical value won’t be banned, says Apple – In the hours since banning a number of Civil War games portraying the Confederate battle flag, Apple states that the ban only applies to games that use the flag in offensive ways. Historical games won’t suffer the same fate, the company said in a statement sent to TechCrunch: “We have removed apps from the App Store that use the Confederate flag in offensive or mean-spirited ways, which is in violation of our guidelines. We are not removing apps that display the Confederate flag for educational or historical uses.”

Crytek’s powerful CryEngine is the latest gaming engine to embrace Linux – The underlying bones of Linux gaming just keep on getting stronger. Crytek’s CryEngine now supports Linux, and that means support for SteamOS, too. This is just the latest big game engine to support Linux, following in the footsteps of Valve’s Source engine, Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, and Unity 5. It’s easier than ever for developers making games on top of these engines to add support for Linux and SteamOS.

Xbox Games with Gold for July: ‘Assassin’s Creed IV,’ ‘Gears of War 3’ and more – Through July, Xbox One users will be able to download “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” as well as “So Many Me.” The first title needs no introduction, while the second one is an indie puzzle platformer game, “starring Filo and his band of misfit clones as they attempt to save a world threatened by an ancient, malevolent evil”. The title first came out last year on other platforms and it has received mostly positive reviews, though you should note that its availability is a bit weird, being available for Gold members between July 16 and August 15. Over on the Xbox 360, gamers will be able to download or reserve two well known titles: “Plants vs Zombies” and “Gears of War 3.” The former is very much a classic, and it’s the original game that spawned a bunch of other titles afterwards, including an FPS. It’s almost impossible to have missed it, but just in case you did you can now get it for free.


Comedy Central is hosting a 42-day marathon of The Daily Show – I hope you didn’t have many plans for the month of July. Beginning this Friday, June 26th, Comedy Central will stream every episode of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show ever made. That’s more than 2,000 episodes of pithy political commentary, winding interviews, and hundreds of jokes made at the expense of those in power.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Watch Bill Nye explain climate change in 90 seconds using emoji – You know things are getting serious on the issue of climate change when even the Pope speaks out and says the problem needs to be addressed. Sadly, that probably still won’t be enough to change some people’s minds, so the more efforts that are taken to educate people, the better. In order to make progress on this, more and more scientists have had to simplify their arguments and explanations. This is where Bill Nye comes in, with his recent explanation in the language everyone understands these days: emoji.


Bats, crocodiles and explosions — and no, it’s not a Michael Bay film – A YouTuber with access to special-effects software “Bruckheimers” up a BBC nature documentary series with lightsabers, lasers and things that go BOOM.


French Anti-Uber Protest Turns To Guerrilla Warfare As Cabbies Burn Cars, Attack Uber Drivers – Today’s taxi driver protest is getting out of hand. According to the police, 2,800 taxi drivers are protesting today against UberPOP, the European equivalent of UberX. With UberPOP, everybody can become an Uber driver, and taxi drivers see the service as unfair competition. Yet, this doesn’t really explain why cabbies are now attacking Uber drivers, burning and breaking cars.


Google’s self-driving pod cars now on California public roads – Google has dispatched its fleet of autonomous cars onto the public roads of California, though the pod-like prototypes won’t be racing human drivers. While the longer-running fleet of converted Toyota and Lexus cars have been keeping up with traffic in the 1m+ miles of test driving they’ve done already, Google has opted to cap the top-speed of its more home-designed cars at just 25mph, which the search giant’s Google X research division says is intended to be “neighborhood-friendly”.


The future of road rage: Delphi self-driving car survives brush with Google self-driving car – The cars didn’t collide, but the Google car apparently was at fault, putting a dent in the dignity of Google’s self-driving car project.

AI learns how to build Super Mario levels by watching YouTube – Georgia Tech creates a form of artificial intelligence that learns how to build Super Mario Bros. levels by watching gameplay videos. Because computers need lower productivity levels too.


Artificial intelligence created these Super Mario Bros. levels without any human guidance. So if you’re a video game coder working in the early ’80s, you might want to start looking for another career.

Swimming pool red-eye isn’t from chlorine (It’s from urine) – Technically Incorrect: The US Healthy Swimming Program says that when your eyes go red and stingy in the pool it’s caused by a chemical reaction between chlorine and urine.

Something to think about:

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

–       Henry David Thoreau

Today’s Free Downloads:

Farbar Recovery Scan Tool – Farbar Recovery Scan Tool, or FRST, is a portable application designed to run in normal or safe mode to diagnose malware issues. It is also possible to run FRST in the Windows Recovery Environment in order to diagnose and fix boot issues.

This program will display detailed information about the Windows Registry loading points, services, driver services, Netsvcs entries, known DLLs, drives, and partition specifications. It will also list some important system files that could be patched by malware.

Note: There are both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Farbar Recovery Scan Tool available. Please pick the version that matches your operating system’s bit type. If you don’t know which version matches your system, you may try both of them. Only one of them will run on your system.

Limitations: If you are using Windows XP and have boot issue, the system should boot to the Recovery Environment using a PE Boot CD and then you can run FRST


Avast! Browser Cleanup – This new tool serves to delete pesky and unwanted toolbars and plug-ins from your browser(s). Simply download and run the Browser Cleanup utility without the need to install anything. Once you run the utility, you will see a list of toolbars and plug-ins and be able to disable them with one simple click.

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

France Adopts Extensive Surveillance Law – Oh, irony. Only a day after WikiLeaks revealed that the NSA has been spying on the past three French presidents as well as many French officials, France’s lower house adopted the very controversial surveillance law. According to politicians from all parties, France needs a comprehensive intelligence law following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Yet, in many ways, this law is even broader than the Patriot Act.

Yesterday’s vote doesn’t come as a surprise as the lower house (Assemblée Nationale) already approved the law once. But the Government wanted to act quickly, and opted for an accelerated process for the upper house vote in order to make sure that the law would be voted before the Summer break.

Compared to the original law, not much changed. In particular, the most controversial part remains, the so-called black boxes. French Internet service providers and hosting companies will have to install a new system in their infrastructure to filter all traffic. An algorithm will detect suspicious activity, like if someone is watching videos related to terrorism, and then record everything you do online.

But it’s unclear whether this proprietary algorithm will also record things that aren’t directly related to terrorism. Nobody knows, except the new institution in charge of this process, which will most certainly work tightly with French intelligence services. Since the first vote, the new amendments tweaked the wording a bit, but the black boxes remain.

U.K. MPs Debate Judicial Authorization For Intercept Warrants – The U.K. parliament is today debating issues around the forthcoming new Investigatory Powers Bill, ahead of a draft bill being introduced this autumn.

“We know that communications data is used in 95 per cent of serious and organized crime investigations handled by the Crown Prosecution Service. Similarly intercept has played a significant role in investigating crime and preventing terrorism. Last year, 2,795 interception warrants were issued. Of these the majority — 68 per cent — were issued for serious crime; 31 per cent for national security; and one per cent a combination of serious crime and national security,” Home Secretary Theresa May told Parliament in a speech opening the debate.

During the debate May was asked whether the government had made a decision on a key recommendation in the recent independent review of surveillance capabilities by QC David Anderson — namely that interception warrants should be signed off by judges, rather than by ministers, as is currently the case. The U.K. is alone among the so-called Five Eyes powers in not having a judicial process for signing off interception warrants.

Proposal to limit anonymous domain registration ignites furor – Privacy advocates are sounding the alarm over a potential policy change that would prevent some people from registering website addresses without revealing their personal information.

ICANN, the regulatory body that oversees domain names, has asked for public comment on whether it should prohibit the private registration of domains which are “associated with commercial activities and which are used for online financial transactions.”

Domain registration companies, privacy advocates and anti-harassment advocates have decried the proposed changes for putting internet users at risk. On the opposite side of the issue, companies like LegitScript and MarkMonitor have argued that the change is necessary to protect consumers from unscrupulous businesses.

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