Monthly Archives: May 2016

Windows 10 Privacy Issues – Fact or Fiction?

This guest post is contributed by my Aussie mate, Jim Hillier. Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at Dave’s Computer Tips. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele… as well as writing for DCT, of course.


The release of Windows 10 together with news of its heightened telemetry certainly brought out the conspiracy theorists and paranoid. Publish an article about Windows 10 and, regardless of the actual subject matter, you’re pretty much guaranteed to receive a slew of comments slamming Microsoft and its new operating system for introducing these so-called privacy issues, so much so that it has gotten to the point of becoming tiresome.

The data collection in Windows 10 may be at a new level for a desktop operating system but it is pretty standard fare for mobile devices. Both Google (Android) and Apple (iOS) have been collecting this type of data for years with nary a whimper from the using public.

One has to bear in mind that Windows 10 is, after all, a hybrid operating system, designed to cater for both desktop and mobile users. Mobile by its very nature requires a lot more information than a stationary desktop in order to deliver full functionality. If you ask Cortana to find the nearest pizza shop, for example, how can the digital assistant provide that information if it has no idea where you are located?

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With the increasing trend toward mobile device usage, Microsoft is merely following the age-old law of supply and demand. With Windows 10, Microsoft has produced an operating system which is suitable for both desktop and mobile users – depending on how it is configured.

That’s the whole point with Windows 10, a point which, apparently, many people have failed to grasp – the choice lies squarely in the hands of the end user. Windows 10 can quite easily be set up purely as a desktop operating system, in which case the level of data collection is substantially diminished. Sure, it may take a little time and effort to go through all the settings, but it is definitely not difficult.

Don’t want to use Cortana? Simple… just turn it off. And so on, and so on. It’s easy to disable unwanted apps/features, nobody is being forced to utilize them or the services they provide. They are simply available for those who do want to use them.

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If you go through Windows 10’s Privacy settings and disable everything you don’t want or need, including setting Feedback to minimum, the level of telemetry is no more than one would expect for a desktop PC, no more than [say] in Windows 7 or 8.1.

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I’m not suggesting for one minute that Microsoft hasn’t made bad decisions regarding Windows 10, just that, in my opinion, the telemetry isn’t numbered among them – more a matter of simply keeping up with the times. In fact, I’m far more concerned over the enforced updates in Windows 10 where there simply is no choice. Not to mention the constant upgrade nags and unsolicited upgrades – but that, as they say, is another story for another time.

Bottom Line:

To suggest that Windows 10 is ‘spying’ on consumers is a pretty far stretch. I, for one, don’t really care if Microsoft knows that some anonymous old geezer in Queensland, Australia regularly visits Bill Mullins Tech Thoughts blog.

Do I like Windows 10? Sure I do. Would I recommend upgrading to Windows 10 for free? In a heartbeat.

*BTW: Microsoft recently announced that the Windows 10 free upgrade offer will definitely end on 29th July as originally stated.

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Filed under Microsoft, Myths, Operating Systems, Software, Technicians Advise, Windows 10, Windows Tips and Tools

Tech Thoughts Net News – Monday – May 30, 2016

The free Windows 10 upgrade expires July 29;  How to monitor your servers and desktops from Android with this free app;  26 Hidden Chrome Features That Will Make Your Life Easier;  How to get Windows 7’s Start menu in Windows 10;  18 Things You Didn’t Know Your Chromecast Could Do;  9 free Windows apps that can solve Wi-Fi woes – Raspberry Pi: The smart person’s guide – and much more news you need to know.

Windows 10 Insider Preview build 14352 marks countdown to summer launch date – In a bygone era, today’s release of a new Windows Insider build would have been part of the Release Candidate phase. Today, it’s just one of many stops on a sprint to this summer’s Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

Fearing forced Windows 10 upgrades, users are disabling critical updates instead – Some Windows 7 and 8 users would rather chance a malware infection than an involuntary Windows 10 upgrade.

The free Windows 10 upgrade expires July 29: After July 29, Windows 10 will cost you at least $120 – When Microsoft launched Windows 10 last year, it declared that the OS would be free to Windows 7 and 8.1 users until July 29, 2016, with a few exceptions. On May 6, the company reiterated this expiration date, possibly to address a rising tide of customers who were hoping for an extension. If you qualify for an upgrade but have not yet gotten a Windows 10 license, you’ll need to go to Microsoft’s website to get your copy before the offer expires.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Remote Desktop apps for PCs and mobile starts rolling out – The Windows 10 version of Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app for PCs, tablets and mobile devices allows users to access apps remotely from their Windows PCs.

How to monitor your servers and desktops from Android with this free app – Every once in awhile you come across an application that is so impressive, you cannot believe it isn’t already wide-spread. This was the case when I stumbled upon Network Tools II. It’s a tool every network administrator will want to have on their Android device. All of this in one, easy-to-use package.

26 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 26 hidden tricks hidden inside Chrome that you really need to be using.

How to get Windows 7’s Start menu in Windows 10 – Not everyone likes the new Windows 10 Start menu. The good news is you can replace it with something more traditional.

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Clasic Shell screenshot from one of my production machines.

Facebook adverts will soon follow you across the web – Facebook has taken the first steps in a bid to dominate advertising across the internet. On Thursday, the social media network said marketers who have signed up for the Facebook Audience Network will soon be able to show their ads to every website visitor and app user linked to the network — rather than just Facebook account holders. The change is small but significant. By allowing publishers to show their ads on third-party domains — whether or not the viewer is connected to Facebook — the social networking giant has begun treading the same path that Google and other major ad network operators dominate.

18 Things You Didn’t Know Your Chromecast Could Do – Bring out new and hidden features with these tips for Google’s $35 streaming dongle. While the ultraportable device is pretty much plug and play, there are a few tips and tricks that can make casting more magical. Check them out in the slideshow.

Google goes after Microsoft, Tableau and others with a free analytics tool – Google is doubling down on its commitment to the business analytics market with the launch of a new free data visualization tool. The company has launched Data Studio, a free version of the data visualization tool it introduced as part of an analytics suite it unveiled earlier this year. It includes a wide variety of data connectors to let customers visualize data from Google AdWords, Google Sheets and other Google products. It also integrates with BigQuery, and the company plans to launch a connector for SQL databases later this year.

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A sample dashboard from Google Data Studio. Credit: Google

Raspberry Pi: The smart person’s guide – The Raspberry Pi’s success defied expectations. Conceived as an affordable computer for getting kids to learn how to code, its creators thought they’d sell 1,000. They’ve sold more than eight million. Here’s why.

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The latest version of the Raspberry Pi, which came out earlier this year

Image: Matt Richardson

The fantastic $35 Raspberry Pi 3 mini-PC may soon get official Android support – You’ll find Android running on phones, tablets, a Surface-like hybrid, and even laptops. But it appears Google will soon be adding another interesting device to that list: the $35 Raspberry Pi 3 mini-PC.

A web page consumes a constant 25% of the CPU — after it has loaded – I am a huge fan of Process Explorer, a free Windows program from Mark Russinovich of Microsoft. It exposes a ton of technical information about what a Windows computer is doing behind the scenes, and it runs on every Windows computer I touch. I blogged about Process Explorer back in 2010 and not much has changed since then. It is invaluable. I bring this up because it recently alerted me to a high CPU usage condition.

How to use Windows 10’s Resource Monitor to track memory usage – Windows 10 offers a number of ways to keep an eye on your system’s memory usage. Here’s a rundown of the options you’ll find on Resource Monitor’s Memory tab.

Amazon builds virtual Echo in the browser to spread Alexa – A browser-based version of Amazon’s Echo speaker should make Alexa even easier to try, with Amazon hoping the hardware-free experience encourages more developers to code for the platform. Echosim.io basically recreates the Echo hardware in virtual form, powered by the very same cloud-based processing that those with the physical device get to engage with.

The enterprise technologies to watch in 2016 – While enterprise technology has always been somewhat a breed apart from consumer tech, this year we see that consumer tech will definitively set the agenda for businesses like never before in this year’s list of tech to watch.

Security:

Five tips to avoid getting hit by ransomware – Ransomware has emerged as the predominant online security threat to home users and small businesses. Delivered through spam or phishing emails that trick users into clicking on malicious links, this type of malware renders computer systems, devices or files inaccessible and holds the victim hostage until payment is made, usually in the form of Bitcoins. No one is immune, not even law enforcement. Last year, a police department in Massachusetts paid $500 to cyber extortionists to decrypt its files – just one of many examples throughout the country.

Hackers Stole 68 Million Passwords From Tumblr, New Analysis Reveals – On May 12, Tumblr revealed that it had just found out about a 2013 data breach affecting “a set” of users’ email addresses and passwords, but the company refused to reveal how many users were affected. As it turns out, that number is 68 million, according to an independent analysis of the data. Since Tumblr’s data was discovered, years-old breaches at LinkedIn and MySpace have also emerged in the last couple of weeks. Whether there will be more, it’s anyone’s guess. But as we’re slowly learning, everyone gets hacked, though sometimes we don’t find out for years.

New JavaScript spam wave distributes Locky ransomware – Over the past week, computers throughout Europe and other places have been hit by a massive email spam campaign carrying malicious JavaScript attachments that install the Locky ransomware program. Antivirus firm ESET has observed a spike in detections of JS/Danger.ScriptAttachment, a malware downloader written in JavaScript that started on May 22 and peaked on May 25. Many countries in Europe have been affected, with the highest detection rates being observed in Luxembourg (67 percent), the Czech Republic (60 percent), Austria (57 percent), the Netherlands (54 percent) and the U.K. (51 percent). The company’s telemetry data also showed significant detection rates for this threat in Canada and the U.S.

Widely-used patient care app found to include hidden ‘backdoor’ access – An application suite designed to help clinical teams manage patients ahead of surgical operations includes a hidden username and password, which could be used to access and modify patient records. The hard-coded credentials in Medhost’s Perioperative Information Management System (PIMS) have not been publicly disclosed, but if known could allow an attacker to “backdoor” the app to read or change sensitive information on patients, who are about to or have just recently been in surgery. The bug prompted the CERT security advisory team at Carnegie Mellon University, which tracks bugs and security issues, to issue an advisory, warning administrators to upgrade to a newer version of the software that removes the credentials.

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(Image: stock photo)

This shot seems familiar. It reminds me very much of my recent heart procedure performed by Dr. Derek Yeung of the Heart Health Institute in Ajax.

North Korea may be hacking banks across the world – North Korea, allegedly behind the Sony Pictures cyberattack and more, could be behind a series of bank hacks across the globe resulting in tens of millions of lost dollars. Researchers with Symantec cite a recent trio of attacks that involved rare code seen in both the Sony cyberattack and earlier attacks against companies — including banks — in South Korea and the US. Assuming North Korea is behind the attacks, it would be a worrisome and exceedingly rare instance in which a nation-state is hacking global banks to steal money.

5 ways to secure OS X – With OS X security exploits on the rise, Jesus Vigo takes a look at 5 ways to better protect your Mac from malware infections and data loss.

Google pays $65k to shutter 23 Chrome bugs – Google has patched 42 vulnerabilities including 23 contributed by external researchers earning them US$65,000 (£54,030, A$83,732) in rewards. The patches reported by external researchers cover nine high-, 10 medium- and four low- severity holes. Half of the payouts went to prolific Polish pwner Mariusz Mlynski who scored US$30,000 (£27,015, A$41,866) for reporting four cross-origin bypasses in Chrome. Researchers Rob Wu and Guang Gong picked up the two remaining top payments in the patch run landing US$7500 and US$4000 each for another cross-orgin bypass and a type confusion hole. Wu collected additional bounties for medium- and low- severity holes pulling an extra $US4500.

Company News:

HP splits again, as Hewlett Packard Enterprise spins off IT services – In 2014, Hewlett-Packard announced that it was splitting into two separate companies: Hewlett Packard Enterprise, selling servers and enterprise services, and HP Inc, selling PCs and printers. That split completed last year at the cost of more than 30,000 jobs. In a surprise announcement today, the company is about to embark on a second split: Hewlett Packard Enterprise is spinning off its IT services business. The low-margin outsourced IT services business, which HP got into with its $14 billion acquisition of EDS in 2008, is to be merged with Computer Sciences Corp (CSC) to create a new company currently known only as SpinCo. HPE will own half of the new company, HPE CEO Meg Whitman will be on the new company’s board, and HPE and CSC will each nominate half of the board members. CSC’s current CEO, Mike Lawrie, will become CEO of the new company.

Jawbone reported to exit fitness wearables business as well – Earlier this week reports surfaced about Jawbone looking for a buyer for its wireless speaker division, allowing it to focus on its health and fitness trackers, which the company is more known for these days, instead. However, a new follow-up report from Tech Insider has indicated that even Jawbone’s wearables business is in trouble, and all production of the UP line of trackers has been stopped. While Jawbone has yet to confirm any of this week’s news, the report from Tech Insider goes on to say that in addition to halting production, all the remaining inventory of UP2, UP3, and UP4 bands has been sold at a discount to a third-party reseller. This move was necessary to collect any possible revenue in order to keep the business afloat, the publication explains.

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella follows Apple’s Tim Cook to India – Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella is visiting India, reflecting the growing importance of the country as a market for multinational technology companies. Nadella’s visit follows the first trip to India by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who visited the country this month to drum up support for the company’s plans to offer refurbished iPhones in the price-sensitive market as well as to get permission to set up its wholly-owned stores in the country. Both deals appear to have been blocked by regulators, according to reports.

Google beats Oracle—Android makes “fair use” of Java APIs – Following a two-week trial, a federal jury concluded Thursday that Google’s Android operating system does not infringe Oracle-owned copyrights because its re-implementation of 37 Java APIs is protected by “fair use.” The verdict was reached after three days of deliberations. There was only one question on the special verdict form, asking if Google’s use of the Java APIs was a “fair use” under copyright law. The jury unanimously answered “yes,” in Google’s favor. The verdict ends the trial, which began earlier this month. If Oracle had won, the same jury would have gone into a “damages phase” to determine how much Google should pay. Because Google won, the trial is over.

Games and Entertainment:

The Best PC Games of 2016 – Whether you’re a fan of critically acclaimed indies or big-budget blockbusters, there’s a PC game for you. Check out our top titles in every genre.

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Doom is the Mad Max: Fury Road of video games – The signs weren’t good for Doom. Id Software’s reboot of the most storied shooter in gaming had languished in development hell for the better part of a decade. Talismanic studio founder John Carmack had left for Oculus. A public debut at E3 last year was less than inspiring. Even the box art sucked. But in one of those happy surprises that don’t come along often enough, Doom is actually fantastic. It takes a minimalist yet utterly modern approach to game design, rendering the original template in 21st century colors, and the result is a thrillingly straightforward experience that makes much of its competition feel bloated and laborious.

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Geforce GTX 1070: this is the graphics card you’ve been waiting for – It was clear the day Nvidia announced its new Pascal-powered GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card that there was a new champion for desktop gaming. The GTX 1080, according to Nvidia’s tests and our own, provides a significant bump in graphics power compared to the GTX 980, GTX 980 Ti and GTX Titan X. But the more pressing question for many PC gamers — especially those unwilling to spend $600 to $700 on a new graphics card — was how exactly the 1070 would compare to the existing slate of cards.

Dragon Quest Builders gets US release this fall on PS4, Vita – Dragon Quest Builders, the spin-off of the popular Japanese RPG series, is finally coming stateside this fall, Square Enix has announced. Featuring more than a hint of inspiration from Minecraft, the game will be released in October on PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. Until now it’s been limited to Japan, having debuted in January on PS4/PS3/Vita.

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HP launches new Omen line of gaming laptops, desktops, and accessories – HP is getting back into the gaming world with a new line of products called Omen. The Omen series will feature laptops, desktops, and accessories targeted across different price ranges, from cheaper notebooks up to higher-end towers for serious gamers with a lot of disposable income. The line is kicking off today with the announcement of four products: two laptops, a tower, and a display. For the most part, these first products are starting toward the higher end of the market.

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No Man’s Sky developer confirms new release date: August 9 – Earlier this week we reported that there was evidence the upcoming PlayStation 4/PC game No Man’s Sky was going to be delayed by a few weeks, missing its June 21st release date. The bad news is that it’s true, the adventure/space exploration game will be delayed, but the good news is that eager players won’t have to wait very long. Developer Hello Games has stated that No Man’s Sky will now be released on August 9th, adding an extra seven weeks.

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Off Topic (Sort of):

Watch this incredibly sweet short about growing up with video games – It seems like player two always gets the short end of things, from getting second choice to always being second to play. But a really sweet animated short published to Vimeo last month makes the argument that there’s something very special about going second when your older sibling is the one up first. I won’t say more than that except to say that you really ought to watch it — and that if you can relate to this at all, you’ll probably get kind of emotional before it’s over. The short was made by Zachary Antell. He says the animation was mostly done through rotoscoping.

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The life of a social engineer: Hacking the human – A clean-cut guy with rimmed glasses and a warm smile, Jayson E. Street looks nothing like the stereotypical hacker regularly portrayed in movies (i.e. pale, grim and antisocial). But he is one – he just “hacks” humans. Street is a master of deception: a social engineer, specializing in security awareness and physical compromise engagements. He’s outspoken, friendly, always wearing a smile, and besides working in the field, he’s also the InfoSec Ranger at Pwnie Express, and is well-known for his books and conference talks around the world.

Google Trends shows the most misspelled word in each state – We all have a special word or two that never looks quite right, that you have to stop and think about for a moment or two, that you may second guess yourself over. If you’re like me, you fire up Google and type the world out quickly to see whether you were right. According to Google, a bunch of people search for “how to spell” followed by a word, and it has used Trends to group the queries by state.

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McDonald’s ex-CEO: $15/hr minimum wage will unleash the robot rebellion – In an appearance on Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria, Ed Rensi claimed that a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour would result in “job loss like you can’t believe” before ceding ground to our new robotic overlords. “I was at the National Restaurant Show yesterday, and if you look at the robotic devices that are coming into the restaurant industry—it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries.” When pressed, Rensi admitted that he thinks “franchising businesses” like fast-food restaurants are already hurtling toward automation, saying that those businesses are “dependent on people who have low job skills that need to grow. If you can’t get people a reasonable wage, you’re gonna get machines to do the work. It’s just common sense. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not.” He then insisted that an increased minimum wage will make robotic worker adoption “just happen faster.”

Robots add real value when working with humans, not replacing them – In the popular media, we talk a lot about robots stealing jobs. But when we stop speculating and actually look at the real world of work, the impact of advanced robotics is far more nuanced and complicated. Issues of jobs and income inequality fade away, for example — there aren’t remotely enough robots to affect more than a handful of us in the practical sense.

Something to think about:

“One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.”

–   Euripides

Downloads:

9 free Windows apps that can solve Wi-Fi woes – If you believed the vendors, you’d think Wi-Fi was simple: Turn on your computer or other device, hop on the Internet and you’re set to go. But as we all know, life isn’t quite that easy. Your home or office network can have dead spots where devices can’t seem to connect, or where the connections get slow or flaky. Public hotspots can make you prey for hackers and snoopers. And when you are at a hotspot, you might need to share your connection with your other devices, including smartphones and tablets. While there is no way to immediately solve all the problems associated with wireless connectivity, there are applications that can make things better — and many of them are free. I’ve rounded up nine free pieces of Windows software that can go a long way toward helping you solve your Wi-Fi issues at home, in your office or on the go.

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Triple threat: The all-in-one LPR, speedometer, and facial recognition scanner – Call it the next generation of light bars. Ekin Technology, a Turkish law enforcement technology company, was recently granted an American patent for what just might be the surveillance trifecta: a light bar with an integrated license plate reader (LPR), speedometer, and facial recognition capability.

If the “Ekin Patrol” catches on in the United States, it will facilitate a notable acceleration in the advancement of spy tech. While speedometers are relatively old and LPRs are increasingly catching on, facial recognition technology is not yet widespread in America. Agencies ranging from the FBI to the California attorney general’s office have expressed their interest in the technology.

“The facial recognition equivalent of license plate reader scanning has always been a civil liberties nightmare,” Jay Stanley, an analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Ars. “We’ve definitely seen baby steps in that direction, but this technology, if widely deployed, would mean it’s arrived.”

To justify LPRs, American law enforcement agencies have relied on the 1983 Supreme Court case, United States v. Knotts, which famously held that “a person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another.” It’s likely that such agencies would rely on Knotts when using facial recognition technology on a wide scale as well, but it could take years for the Supreme Court to rule on the issue.

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Illinois senator’s plan to weaken biometric privacy law put on hold – Yesterday, Illinois Senator Terry Link filed an amendment to the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) to relax rules on the collection of facial recognition data, and he attached that amendment to an unrelated bill pertaining to unclaimed property. But on Friday morning, the senator’s spokesperson reached out to Ars saying that the bill “had been put on hold,” although he would not comment on the reasons for the decision, nor would he speak to when or if the amendment might be revived. If it passes, the amendment would pull the rug out from under a number of lawsuits filed against Facebook, Google, and Snapchat for using facial recognition in photo tagging.

At first, it seemed that the amendment would be quietly pushed through the legislative process. A law firm representing plaintiffs in the Facebook case suggested that Sen. Link proposed the amendment yesterday and added it to a bill that has been languishing since February so that state representatives would move to quickly pass the amendment before Memorial Day.

But Link’s amendment has drawn concern from privacy advocates. The Center for Democracy and Technology wrote that the piece of legislation was proposed “without time for sufficient public debate, less than a week before the end of a legislative session” in an “undemocratic maneuver that minimizes the potential for public engagement on a vital issue of policy and technology.” The Electronic Privacy Information Center also wrote that the amendment “would undercut legal protections, exempting facial recognition software from the law.” Chris Dore, a partner at the firm representing the Illinois plaintiffs, said that the Illinois attorney general had also come out this morning against Link’s amendment. The attorney general’s office confirmed to Ars that it is opposed to the changes, although it gave no further statement.

ACLU wants a piece of the Microsoft v. U.S. data gag order lawsuit – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today asked a federal judge to let it join Microsoft in suing the U.S. government over authorities’ use of gag orders that prevent the technology firm from telling customers their data has been demanded, court filings showed.

“A basic promise of our Constitution is that the government must notify you at some point when it searches or seizes your private information,” said Alex Abdo, an ACLU senior staff attorney, in a statement Thursday. “The government has managed to circumvent this critical protection in the digital realm for decades, but Microsoft’s lawsuit offers the courts an opportunity to correct course.”

The ACLU argued that it should be included as a plaintiff in the case because it is a Microsoft customer.

Trump’s wall misses the mark: We need a cyber wall, not a physical one – The issues for the general election campaign have, to a great extent, already been framed. And Donald Trump, being the world-class marketer he is, has successfully forced a debate about whether the U.S. needs to build a wall across the 1,954 miles of our southern border to secure our great nation. The project would cost the government more than $10 billion — unless Mexico pays for it, a deal Mr. Trump would have us believe he can strike as our president.

But Trump, whose platform is based on the premise that his business acumen is a fine — indeed, preferable — substitute for political experience, is making a big mistake. He’s focused on the wrong border.

It’s 2016. There isn’t a wall high enough to keep out the fastest-growing threat to our national security: Cyberterrorism. It follows that our vulnerable corporate networks constitute the border we most urgently need to secure, the one the man who has earned billions through corporate endeavors should care the most about.

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