Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – October 21, 2015

AVG reveals Top 10 performance-killing Android apps;  Researchers find 256 iOS apps that collect users’ personal info;  How to back up Gmail to your computer or local drive;  Irish privacy watchdog to investigate Facebook over spying allegations;  Clean out junk files in Windows 7, 8.1, and 10;  7 super-quick Windows 10 tricks you probably didn’t know about;  Hackers sweet talked their way into the CIA director’s email account;  Chrome now lets you mute individual tabs;  5 Reasons to Replace Your Router Right Away;  Dell Black Friday 2015 ad leaks with $149 Windows 10 laptop, $99 desktop deals;  Plan Your Pit Stops on Google Maps;  Facebook now notifies you if you’re the target of a state-sponsored attack;  HTTPS errors: What to do when your PC freaks out;  Halo 5 comes with 9GB day 1 patch;  The Best Tune-Up Utilities for 2015;  Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has two day one patches;  Spybot Anti-Beacon (free);  What you say on Twitter pinpoints how much money you make;  A short, crucial explanation of the USA Patriot Act and USA Freedom Act.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Irish privacy watchdog to investigate Facebook over spying allegations – Ireland’s High Court ordered the data protection commissioner to investigate allegations that Facebook gave US intelligence agencies bulk access to users’ personal data

Hackers sweet talked their way into the CIA director’s email account – The hackers who found their way into CIA Director John Brennan’s personal email account didn’t use sophisticated coding skills. They just wheedled their way past his service providers’ customer service agents to take command of all his accounts. It’s a striking reminder that even high-ranking members of the US government’s intelligence community are only as secure as their weakest safeguards.

Researchers find 256 iOS apps that collect users’ personal info – Researchers said they’ve found more than 250 iOS apps that violate Apple’s App Store privacy policy forbidding the gathering of e-mail addresses, installed apps, serial numbers, and other personally identifying information that can be used to track users. The apps, which at most recent count totaled 256, are significant because they expose a lapse in Apple’s vetting process for admitting titles into its highly curated App Store. They also represent an invasion of privacy to the one million people estimated to have downloaded the apps. The data gathering is so surreptitious that even the individual developers of the affected apps are unlikely to know about it, since the personal information is sent only to the creator of the software development kit used to deliver ads.

AVG reveals Top 10 performance-killing Android apps – Android devices run on a wide gamut of hardware configurations, ranging from the humble “basic” call and text handset to the flagship powerhouse. But despite even the biggest of computing muscle available, Android smartphones and tablets are still beset with performance problems, from using up too much CPU, eating up too much storage space, or draining your battery faster than you can charge. Security firm AVG has just revealed which apps are guilty of those crimes for this year’s second quarter and the results are rather surprising.

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How to back up Gmail to your computer or local drive – Over the years, your email collects a lot of important information you don’t want to lose. And that means you may not want to trust it to a big corporation in the cloud.

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Chrome now lets you mute individual tabs – Last year, Google updated Chrome to show you which of your tabs was making noise by displaying a small speaker icon. Taking it a step further, the latest version of Chrome (version 46) will let you mute those pesky tabs individually.

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Clean out junk files in Windows 7, 8.1, and 10 – Software has a way of accumulating on your Windows machine, and for the sake of security, system performance, and disk space, it’s a good idea to clear out junk files every so often. Sometimes Windows may make you do an in-place upgrade (which happens frequently for members of the Insider program). This means that the operating system is completely re-installed, but you keep your files and installed programs. A side-effect of this process is a lot of leftover files that you may never use again, including an archived copy of the old Windows build that you just upgraded from. If you find yourself doing one of these upgrades, or if you just want to check for stuff you can get rid of, there are a few easy things you can do that don’t require installing special software.

More Quick-Loading ‘Instant Articles’ Coming to Facebook – Get ready for more Facebook Instant Articles in your News Feed. The social network today rolled out the feature more broadly on iOS and said it will arrive on Android later this year. Look for the lightning bolt in the top right corner of stories in your News Feed; these are Instant Articles and should load much faster than links taking you to third-party sites.

Google for Work to woo more businesses with freebie offer – The deal especially puts Microsoft Office 365, ​arguably the biggest threat to Google Apps, in the crosshairs as the war between the two gets more heated.

Plan Your Pit Stops on Google Maps – Heads up, drivers: Google Maps for Android is getting a handy new navigation feature aimed at helping you save time and money. Rolling out over the next few weeks, the feature lets you check out gas prices and add detours to your route without having to exit the navigation screen. When you’re in driving navigation mode and you need to find a gas station or restaurant, just tap the magnifying glass at the top right corner of the screen.

Google Photos Hits 100 Million Monthly Active User Milestone – Google Photos broke free of Google+ in May, and in the five months since, it has amassed 100 million monthly active users, the team shared today. That puts it on par with Snapchat, which was around 100 million the last time it shared numbers. During its hardware event last month, Google shared that 50 billion photos had been uploaded already, which is equally impressive. The idea is that Google wants to store every photo and video you’ve ever taken and let you manage them in an easy way.

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Cortana will let you send texts from your Windows 10 PC – Microsoft is unifying its mobile and PC platforms with Windows 10, and now we’re starting to see new features that really take advantage of the new operating system. Microsoft is releasing a new preview of its Windows 10 Mobile software today that allows Cortana to send texts from your PC. If you use a Windows 10 Mobile device then Cortana will notify you of any missed calls, and you can reply straight from your PC. The actual message will be sent as a text from your phone, but this integration means you don’t have to pick up your phone to send messages each time. You can type or speak “text” into Cortana and you can send a text to any contact as you would normally do from your phone.

15 simple, yet powerful Excel functions you need to know – Power users love to talk about how powerful and awesome Excel is, what with its Pivot Tables, nested formulas, and Boolean logic. But many of us barely know how to find the Autosum feature, let alone use Excel’s functions to create powerful formulas. If that’s you, here are 15 handy Excel functions that will get you well on your way to spreadsheet mastery.

FoxType checks your writing for a polite tone – Whenever you write an email or IM to someone you don’t know very well, you want to be as polite as possible. This will help keep the lines of communication open while you get to know their etiquette preferences and sense of humor. To help you out, the Politeness Web tool from FoxType Labs can be used to check the tone of the language you’re using, and point out any trouble areas.  Here’s how:

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FoxType Politeness tool. Screenshot by Nicole Cozma/CNET

7 super-quick Windows 10 tricks you probably didn’t know about – You might think you know all the Windows 10 tricks by now, but you’re wrong — partly because Microsoft is continuing to drop new builds (Build 10565 went out to Windows 10 Insiders on Monday), and partly because most of Windows 10’s little tricks haven’t been publicized. Here are several ultra-fast tips that you probably didn’t know about:

Dell Black Friday 2015 ad leaks with $149 Windows 10 laptop, $99 desktop deals – Last year, Dell was the first major tech company to see its Black Friday ad leaked. That was on November 3. This year, Dell is again the first major tech company to see its ad surface online, but the leak has come two weeks earlier than in 2014. With the shopping “holiday” more than a month away, and Halloween still more than a week away, we already have a taste of the type of computer deals yet to come.

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HTTPS errors: What to do when your PC freaks out – The other day a curious thing happened to me. I booted up my PC as usual, fired up my browser, and tried to login to Gmail. Instead of looking at my inbox, I saw a warning that my attempt at an HTTPS secure Internet connection had failed. It wasn’t just a single browser or website problem either. Every browser on my system was affected—even the Dropbox and OneDrive desktop utilities wouldn’t connect. Uh-oh! Was I being targeted by bad guys or government snoops? Of course not. This problem is quite common and can usually be fixed with a few simple strategies. If it ever affects you, or is affecting you right now, here’s what to do.

Giphy launches a super simple GIF creator for the web – As a denizen of the internet, I frequently find myself wanting to turn YouTube videos into GIFs, but I’ve never been very good at doing it on my own. Fortunately, the internet’s overwhelming love for GIFs has resulted in the creation of some pretty simple GIF creators, and Giphy is releasing a brand new one this afternoon.

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The Best Tune-Up Utilities for 2015 – Computers have changed the way that the world works and plays, so when our machines no longer let us use Word and Netflix with the same speed and efficiency to which we have become accustomed, we often ponder buying new hardware. Fortunately, you can get often that fresh-out-the-box performance without plunking down several hundred dollars, thanks to a relatively inexpensive tool: a PC tune-up utility.

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Google encroaches on Microsoft turf with “free” Apps for Work promo – Who can resist the allure of free? Especially when you consider enterprise deployments that ultimately involve hundreds if not thousands of dollars per annum. Knowing too well that line of thinking, Google has cooked up a way to entice businesses away from their pricey Microsoft and IBM enterprise agreements (EA). Google will allow such customers to use Apps for Work for free while they are bidding their time for the EA to run its course, giving users some time to get familiar with the new Google work environment at no extra cost.

5 Reasons to Replace Your Router Right Away – When emails don’t send, websites won’t load, or videos stutter, people are first to point their finger at their Internet provider. If a lengthy call to tech support doesn’t fix things, their poor computer catches the blame next. But in many cases, their wireless router may have been the offending device all along. The best way to fix your ailing wi-fi is to learn the basics of how wireless Internet works, then apply those lessons to your personal setup. But if you’re using an older router, it might be time for an upgrade.

Security:

Facebook now notifies you if you’re the target of a state-sponsored attack – Facebook is now issuing warning messages to users if it strongly suspects that an account is being targeted by a hacker working for a nation state. The message (pictured above) also recommends that users turn on “Login Approvals,” which means accounts can only be accessed using stronger two-factor authentication. “These types of attacks tend to be more advanced and dangerous than others,” reads a message from Facebook security chief Alex Stamos. “We strongly encourage affected people to take the actions necessary to secure all of their online accounts.”

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F-Secure launches stress test to detect security holes in enterprise networks – F-Secure has launched the Cyber Security Stress Test to assist businesses in organizing their security strategies and finding weak points which can be plugged before cyberattackers have the chance to exploit them. Announced on Monday as part of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the security firm said the free questionnaire could help “companies and employees learn more about the kinds of weaknesses that can expose them to costly data breaches and other risks.” The 20-page questionnaire is aimed at IT professionals and covers a range of topics including endpoint protection, network security as well as company roles and policies.

Western Digital’s hard drive encryption is useless. Totally useless – The encryption systems used in Western Digital’s portable hard drives are pretty pointless, according to new research. WD’s My Passport boxes automatically encrypt data as it is written to disk and decrypt the data as it is read back to the computer. The devices use 256-bit AES encryption, and can be password-protected: giving the correct password enables the data to be successfully accessed. Now, a trio of infosec folks – Gunnar Alendal, Christian Kison and “modg” – have tried out six models in the WD My Passport family, and found blunders in the software designs.

Support scams that plagued Windows users for years now target Mac customers – For years, scammers claiming that they’re “calling from Windows” have dialed up Microsoft customers and done their best to trick them into parting with their money or installing malicious wares. Now, the swindlers are turning their sights on Mac users. Researchers at antivirus provider Malwarebytes spotted a Web-based campaign that attempts to trick OS X and iOS users into thinking there’s something wrong with their devices. The ruse starts with a pop-up window that’s designed to look like an official OS notification. “Critical Security Warning!” it says. “Your Device (iPad, iPod, iPhone) is infected with a malicious adward [sic] attack.” It goes on to provide a phone number people can call to receive tech support.

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With goal of universal HTTPS, Let’s Encrypt reaches important milestone – A nonprofit effort aimed at encrypting the entire Web has reached an important milestone: its HTTPS certificates are now trusted by all major browsers. The service, which is backed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, Cisco Systems, and Akamai, is known as Let’s Encrypt. As Ars reported last year, the group will offer free HTTPS certificates to anyone who owns a domain name. Let’s Encrypt promises to provide open source tools that automate processes for both applying for and receiving the credential and configuring a website to use it securely.

Privacy watchdogs give EU, US three months to negotiate new Safe Harbor deal – European data protection authorities have given the European Commission and national governments three months to come up with an alternative to the Safe Harbor agreement swept away two weeks ago by a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Ex-US federal agent to spend over 6 years behind bars for Silk Road Bitcoin theft – As reported by Reuters, ex-agent Carl Bates admitted to charges of extortion, money laundering and the obstruction of justice which has landed him a sentence of six and a half years. Force was accused of secretly soliciting payment during the US government’s investigation of Silk Road. Silk Road, once the premium underground marketplace for the illegal purchase of products including weapons and drugs, was closed down by federal agents in 2013. Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind the trading post, was sentenced to life imprisonment in May for operating the website.

Company News:

Yahoo enters deal to display Google search results – Yahoo disclosed the details of a new search deal it’s formed with Google after releasing its third-quarter earnings results today. Under the terms of a new arrangement effective October 1st and lasting until the end of 2018, Google will provide Yahoo with search ads, algorithmic search, and image search services for both desktop and mobile. And according to a regulatory filing, Yahoo will also get to decide which search queries to send to Google and will not have to meet a minimum requirement of queries.

Yahoo Shares Fall On Q3 Profit Miss, Recover Mildly On News Of Google Search Deal – Today following the bell, Yahoo reported its third quarter financial performance. Not discounting traffic acquisition costs (ex-TAC), Yahoo’s revenue for the period totaled $1.23 billion. The company earned $0.15 per share during the quarter, using adjusted metrics (non-GAAP). Yahoo’s aggregate revenue grew 7 percent from $1.15 billion in its year-ago quarter. Discounting for traffic acquisition costs, Yahoo’s revenue fell from $1.09 billion a year ago to $1.00 billion in its most recent quarter.

VMWare Beats Expectations With $1.02 EPS, $1.67B In Revenue – At a time when there are a lot of questions about the company’s future, VMWare beat analyst expectations with $1.02 in non-GAAP earnings per share compared to expectations of $1. The company reported $1.67 billion in revenue, up 14 percent year-over-year, beating expectations of $1.66 billion. The numbers were about in line with what the company reported when the Dell/EMC deal was announced.

Google acquires panoramic imaging startup Digisfera – Digisfera, a company that specializes in panoramic image technology, has been acquired by Google. Digisfera announced the acquisition on its website, and Google has likewise since confirmed that it bought the startup, though it hasn’t disclosed the terms of the acquisition. Says Digisfera, it is “excited” to join Google’s Street View team, hinting at Google’s planned uses for the team.

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Tesla shares drop after Consumer Reports raises reliability questions – Issues include squeaks and rattles (something that may be more noticeable thanks to the car’s lack of engine noise) as well as problems with the clever door handles, but more serious problems include electric motors that have to be replaced. Overall, Consumer Reports found reliability was down compared to 2014. Older cars in particular appear to be having the most problems. This was enough to make Consumer Reports remove its coveted recommendation from the Model S, news of which had immediate impact on Tesla’s share price.

Amazon Is Hiring an Insane Number of Workers for the Holidays – Amazon will hire 100,000 workers this holiday season, the Associated Press reports. This is a 25% increase from last year, when the company hired 80,000 new employees for the holidays. Retailers Walmart, Target, and Macy’s are all adding about the same amount of jobs as they did in 2014 — 60,000, 70,000, and 85,000 respectively. Others, including Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, and Toys R Us, are hiring fewer holiday workers.

Jawbone wins injunction in legal battle with rival Fitbit – In latest round between the wearable tech rivals, judge rules that five Fitbit workers must return data they took from their former employer Jawbone.

Games and Entertainment:

Xbox wireless controller adapter for Windows 10 now available for $24.99 – Microsoft first revealed its Xbox wireless adapter for Windows earlier this year, and now the company is releasing it worldwide today. It’s designed primarily for Windows 10 PCs, tablets, and laptops, and it simply lets you use up to eight Xbox One controllers with your machine wirelessly. If you dislike cables then it might be worth the $24.99, but Windows 10 also supports Xbox One controllers using a Micro USB cable. Microsoft also packages the adapter with a new Xbox One controller which features a 3.5mm stereo headset jack in a separate $79.95 bundle. The new wireless adapter is perfect for Windows 10 as Microsoft is allows the bundled Xbox app to stream games from an Xbox One console to your PC or laptop. Microsoft’s Xbox wireless adapter is available today for $24.99.

Halo 5 comes with 9GB day 1 patch – There’s no doubt that Halo 5 is one of the most highly-anticipated titles of the year. If you’re excited about picking it up, popping in the disc, and playing straightaway, though, you’re in for a little disappointment. As is the trend these days, Halo 5 is getting a day 1 patch, and it’s a doosey: according to 343 Studio’s Josh Holmes, you can expect a 9GB download once the game drops. So what’s in the patch? Holmes states that the download includes multiplayer map content. Specifically, for the Arena multiplayer mode and 12v12 Warzone modes.

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Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has two day one patches – Assassin’s Creed Syndicate will have two day one patches, but they aren’t anywhere close to as large as rumors say they are. Community manager Gabe Graziani confirmed on Reddit that the upcoming action-adventure game will have two launch patches, together totaling just over 1 GB. We actually have two patches that will be available on Day 1,” he wrote. “The first patch (titled 1.10) will be 541MB, the second (titled 1.11) will be 534MB.” Garziani’s comments came in response to rumors that Syndicate’s launch update would weigh in at a whopping 18 GB. But this won’t be the case. “Not sure where 18 GB came from,” he said. “Neither of the patches you will need to download are anywhere near that big.”

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The PS4 finally has an official Twitch app – Given how Twitch has become the go to platform for broadcasting game playthroughs and viewing such, you’d think it would be one of the first things the latest gen PlayStation 4 would have in its roster. While the PS4 did have the basic ability to broadcast and watch PS broadcasts, that was the full extent of Twitch’s presence. Now, owners are finally freed from the shackles of the PS web browser with the new Twitch PS4 app that will allow them to watch any Twitch stream at their convenience.

What’s new at Amazon for November 2015 – A new season of “Vikings,” plus Amazon’s original series “The Man in the High Castle” arrive on Amazon Prime alongside a bunch of other titles. Check out the full list right here.

Off Topic (Sort of):

New York Times giving away Google Cardboard ahead of VR app – Consider this news something we never thought we’d read about in 2015: The New York Times, as in the newspaper, is going to release it own virtual reality app in the coming weeks. The content itself will be made up of documentary-style short films, but in order prepare readers for the new experience, the NY Times will be shipping Google Cardboard to subscribers who have the paper delivered to their homes. The app itself is called NYT VR, and is set to launch on both iOS and Android on November 5th. Over 1 million NY Times print subscribers will receive their free Google Cardboard headset during the weekend of November 7th and 8th.

This new Star Wars: The Force Awakens poster captures grand galactic decay – If you managed to snag tickets to a Sunday AMC IMAX 3D screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night, you’re going to be rewarded for your diligence with a poster that transcends convention. The theater chain is giving specific groups of customers Star Wars prints designed by British illustrator Dan Mumford, and it revealed the first print of four on Twitter this afternoon. It’s a gorgeous, distinctive piece of work, one that suggests just how much the galaxy has changed in the years between The Force Awakens and the other films in the series. Daisy Ridley’s Rey and adorable droid-ball BB-8 gaze out at a grand, ruined ship embedded in the sand, cast in red and orange light.

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(AMC Theaters / Dan Mumford)

New Indian tech could help rural communities bridge digital divide – The Pruthvi chip, made by Bangalore-based Saankhya labs, can make use of unused TV bandwidth to provide long-range Internet access to rural areas.

What you say on Twitter pinpoints how much money you make – Scientists analysed almost 11 million tweets from different job titles across Twitter. They analysed Twitter users with jobs such as factory cleaners and packers, earning approximately $27,679 per year, through to production managers and directors earning over $78,000 per year. The scientists mapped Twitter users to their income based on their use of certain types of language. Users perceived as ‘religiously unaffiliated and less anxious’ appeared to have higher earnings. These higher income users were found to have “significantly more followers” and get retweeted more often.

Something to think about:

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, however, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

–      Maya Angelou

Downloads:

Spybot Anti-Beacon  – Spybot Anti-Beacon is a standalone tool which was designed to block and stop the various tracking (telemetry) issues present in Windows 10. It has since been modified to block similar tracking functionality in Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 operating systems.

Anti-Beacon is small, simple to use, and is provided free of charge. It was created to address the privacy concerns of users of Windows 10 who do not wish to have information about their PC usage sent to Microsoft. Simply clicking “Immunize” on the main screen of Anti-Beacon will immediately disable any known tracking features included by Microsoft in the operating system.

If any issues occur with your PC while using Anti-Beacon, undoing the changes made can be done by clicking the “Undo” button in the main window. This will re-enable all tracking services. If you experience any issues using Anti-Beacon or have any suggestions/recommendations, please be sure to let us know on the forum thread relating to this tool.

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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

CISA Sponsors Hope to Pass Controversial Anti-Hacking Bill ‘In a Matter of Days’ – The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, the most important and sweeping cybersecurity bill ever considered by Congress, was introduced on the Senate floor Tuesday and will move forward, with a vote expected sometime later this week.

We posted a brief rundown of CISA here (and have covered the bill in depth over the course of the last year), but essentially it encourages private companies to share “cyber threat” information with the federal government. The information can be passed to local and federal law enforcement, and can be funneled to the National Security Administration “in real time,” according to the bill’s language. Companies that participate would have liability protections, meaning that if they pass information to the government they aren’t supposed to, you cannot sue them.

“Sharing information about cybersecurity threats is clearly a worthy goal and I would like to find ways to encourage more of that responsibly,” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, one of the few outspoken critics of the bill, said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Yet if you share more information without strong privacy protections, millions of Americans will say ‘That is not a cybersecurity bill, it is a surveillance bill.'”

Canada: ‘We’re back,’ Trudeau tells allies abroad – Justin Trudeau, fresh off confidently guiding his Liberal party to a convincing election win, delivered a message Tuesday to those who may have felt the country has lost its way after a decade of Conservative rule.

“Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years,” Trudeau told a boisterous rally in Ottawa.

“Well, I have a simple message for you: on behalf of 35 million Canadians, we’re back.”

Both at home and abroad, Trudeau faces several pressing priorities and a raft of longer-term promises.

The immediate issues for the prime minister-designate include a major international conference on climate change, a military mission in the Middle East he has pledged to end and the still-churning refugee crisis enveloping Europe.

On the horizon domestically loom keystone promises from his party’s successful campaign: lower taxes for the middle class, the legalization of marijuana, and a slate of democratic reforms including a new electoral system to replace the venerable first-past-the-post regime under which he swept to power.

Tech-Backed Bill Expanding Privacy Rights To EU Citizens Sails Through House – Tech companies today are celebrating the passage of a bill in the House of Representatives that will expand privacy rights to non-U.S. citizens.

The bill, known as the Judicial Redress Act, sailed through the House on a bipartisan, voice vote. If passed by the Senate, the measure will expand some of the privacy rights enjoyed by American records to citizens in allied nations, mostly in the European Union.

The Judicial Redress Act would allow EU citizens to seek records certain government agencies have on them and, as its name implies, seek redress if those companies misuse that information. American citizens already have these rights in all countries where citizens would gain new protections under this bill.

U.S. law provides little privacy rights for non-citizens, and the landmark vote comes under heavy pressure from the EU. The European Court of Justice recently struck down the 2000 “Safe Harbor” agreement that has allowed  companies like Facebook to use personal data from EU citizens. If Congress does not pass this bill, the EU will not pass a new safe harbor agreement and it will be increasingly difficult for American tech companies to operate in those countries.

The vote comes as tech companies face criticism abroad for their compliance with American surveillance agencies. In the wake of the disclosures about the NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the companies have increasingly pressed lawmakers to pass substantial reform to surveillance.

“Today, the House took one small step toward repairing America’s tarnished image on data privacy,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. “Since the Snowden disclosures, our government’s inaction on surveillance reform has provoked an international crisis — one that could lead to a European blockade of American Internet companies.”

In Hacking Team’s wake, FinFisher spyware rises in popularity with government users – The notorious FinFisher spyware is rising in popularity with government agencies across the world and 32 countries have been identified as users.

FinFisher is a sophisticated spyware suite sold exclusively to government agencies and police forces. The user-friendly software is able to remotely control any computer it infects, copy files, intercept Skype calls and log keystrokes, among other functions.

Developed by Munich-based FinFisher Gamma Group, the software is touted as a way to “help government law enforcement and intelligence agencies identify, locate and convict serious criminals.”

However, a data breach which took place in August last year placed scrutiny on the secretive firm’s business practices and clients. Stolen files placed on the web suggested FinFisher was being used for activities beyond tracking criminals — such as spying upon high-profile Bahraini activists. It is believed that dissidents, law firms, journalists and political opposition in Bahrain and from Ethiopia have also been monitored through FinFisher.

Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the University of Toronto, is well-known for research into global security and human rights issues. In a fresh investigation tracking users of the spyware suite, Citizen Lab said 32 countries contain at least one government entity who is “likely” using FinFisher.

A short, crucial explanation of the USA Patriot Act and USA Freedom Act – A little over a month after the events of September 11th, 2001, an Act of Congress called the USA Patriot Act was signed into law by then President George W. Bush. Despite its controversial expansion of government power pertaining to domestic surveillance, law enforcement, and border security, President Obama signed an extension of what were key provisions in 2001. That extension expired this past summer, but parts of the extension were renewed for another four years under a new name, the USA Freedom Act.

Arguments for the continuation of the Patriot Act typically pivot on the belief that citizens who aren’t committing crimes have nothing to fear, but the role and impact of national government surveillance is more complex. With the USA Freedom Act in its first year, I invited The Verge’s Colin Lecher to explain the original law, how it has evolved, and in what ways it could effect the average person, like you and me.

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8 Comments

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

8 responses to “Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – October 21, 2015

  1. clas

    once again, my thanks for keeping us up to date. i am trying the spybot anti-beacon and it looks like a great tool.

  2. Mal

    Hey Bill,

    I see that Canada’s asshole of the decade, Mr. H, has gone now. Congrats on that. I hope that he, like Mr. A, reap the benefits of what they sowed, i.e. ridicule and humiliation.

    I was reading an article yesterday that Mr. A thinks he can regain Australian leadership. Shows how delustional he is. It will never happen.

    Cheers

    • Damn Mal, you have a talent for cutting through the chaff and getting to the crux – “I see that Canada’s asshole of the decade, Mr. H, has gone now.” LOL!

      I’m not alone in suggesting that the Harper government’s behaviour has, in some instances, been criminal – and, in others, bordering on treason. Ridicule and humiliation is well deserved and is already being applied with some vigor. But, I suspect, yet to be investigated past events, will bring more than ridicule and humiliation – criminal charges are on the horizon for some of these slimy bastards.

      As you suggest Harper’s “brother by another mother” – our friend Mr. Abbott – has been pushed off into the wasteland – never to recover. Just another piece of human garbage.

      I realize that I sound vindictive – but, that ain’t the half of it mate. 🙂

      Best,

      Bill

  3. Mal

    Hey Bill,

    Re: Spybot Anti-Beacon

    Excellent little program. Installed yesterday, no problems at all, and a iittle extra peace of mind. Good find.

    Cheers

    • Hey Mal,

      Yeah, saves a ton of time scouting around for all the appropriate settings. But, as you point out – “a little extra peace of mind” is what it’s all about.

      Have a super weekend, Mal.

      Best,

      Bill

  4. These are very important and valuable information , Thanks for sharing bestregards