Cognitive Dissident writes The Register has a story about federal prosecutors using a law signed by George Washington to force manufacturers to help law enforcement access encrypted data on devices they manufacture. The All Writs Act is a broad statute simply authorizing courts to issue any order necessary to obtain information within their jurisdiction. Quoting the Register article: "Last month, New York prosecutors successfully persuaded a judge that the ancient law could be used to force an unnamed smartphone manufacturer to help unlock a phone allegedly used in a credit card fraud case. The judge ordered the manufacturer to offer 'reasonable technical assistance' to make the phone's contents available." What will happen when this collides with Apple and Google deliberately creating encryption that they themselves cannot break?
Bennett Haselton writes: Social networking company Ello has converted itself to a Public Benefit Corporation, bound by a charter saying that they will not now, nor in the future, make money by running advertisements or selling user data. Ello had followed these policies from the outset, but skeptics worried that venture capitalist investors might pressure Ello to change those policies, so this binding commitment was meant to assuage those fears. But is the commitment really legally binding and enforceable down the road? Read on for the rest.
Contributor Bennett Haselton writes with a interesting take on the recent release of racy celebrity photos: "Lawyers for Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney succeeded in getting porn sites to take down her stolen nude photos, on the grounds that she was under 18 in the pictures, which meant they constituted child pornography. If true, that means that under current laws, Maroney could in theory be prosecuted for taking the original pictures. Maybe the laws should be changed?" Read on for the rest.
Bennett Haselton writes My LG Optimus F3Q was the lowest-end phone in the T-Mobile store, but a cheap phone is supposed to suck in specific ways that make you want to upgrade to a better model. This one is plagued with software bugs that have nothing to do with the cheap hardware, and thus lower one's confidence in the whole product line. Similar to the suckiness of the Stratosphere and Stratosphere 2 that I was subjected to before this one, the phone's shortcomings actually raise more interesting questions — about why the free-market system rewards companies for pulling off miracles at the hardware level, but not for fixing software bugs that should be easy to catch. Read below to see what Bennett has to say.
mask.of.sanity writes Forensics and industry experts have cast doubt on an alleged National Security Agency capability to locate whistle blowers appearing in televised interviews based on how the captured background hum of electrical devices affects energy grids. Divining information from electrified wires is a known technique: Network Frequency Analysis (ENF) is used to prove video and audio streams have not been tampered with, but experts weren't sure if the technology could be used to locate individuals.
jfruh writes: "Creators of compilers are in an arms race to improve performance. But according to a presentation at this week's annual USENIX conference, those performance boosts can undermine your code's security. For instance, a compiler might find a subroutine that checks a huge bound of memory beyond what's allocated to the program, decide it's an error, and eliminate it from the compiled machine code — even though it's a necessary defense against buffer overflow attacks."
Bennett Haselton writes: "In March I asked why Netflix doesn't offer their rental DVD service in 'virtual DVD' form -- where you can 'check out' a fixed number of 'virtual DVDs' per month, just as you would with their physical DVDs by mail, but by accessing the 'virtual DVDs' in streaming format so that you could watch them on a phone or a tablet or a laptop without a DVD drive. My argument was that this is an interesting, non-trivial question, because it seems Netflix and (by proxy) the studios are leaving cash on the table by not offering this as an option to DVD-challenged users. I thought some commenters' responses raised questions that were worth delving into further." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.
mask.of.sanity (1228908) writes "Criminals could potentially cause black-outs and mess with power grid configurations by exploiting flaws in a popular solar panel management system used by thousands of homes and businesses. The threat is substantial because, as the company boasts, its eponymous management system runs globally on roughly 229,300 solar plants that typically pump out 566TWh of electrical energy."
Bennett Haselton writes: "If you watch a movie or TV show (legally) on your mobile device while away from your home network, it's usually by streaming it on a data plan. This consumes an enormous amount of a scarce resource (data bundled with your cell phone provider's data plan), most of it unnecessarily, since many of those users could have downloaded the movie in advance on their home broadband connection — if it weren't for pointless DRM restrictions." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.
Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton writes: "A California company called Shape Security claims that their network box can disable malware attacks, by using polymorphism to rewrite webpages before they are sent to the user's browser. Most programmers will immediately spot several ways that the system can be defeated, but it may still slow attackers down or divert them towards other targets." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.
Bennett Haselton writes "Google created controversy by announcing that Google+ users will now be able to send email to Gmail users even without having those Gmail users' email addresses. I think this debate misses the point, because it's unlikely to create a deluge of unsolicited email to Gmail users, as long as Google can throttle outgoing messages from Google+ users and terminate abusive accounts. The real controversy should be over the fact that Google+ users can search a public database of the names of all Gmail users in the first place. And limiting the ability of Google+ users to write to those Gmail accounts, won't do anything to address that." Read below to see what Bennett has to say.
Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton writes: "Facebook settled out of court over displaying ads that told you which of your friends had 'liked' a product or service, and another lawsuit is currently pending over the use of minors' pictures specifically in similar ads. (Not to be confused with another recently filed lawsuit alleging that Facebook converts private messages into public 'likes'.) Google+ tried to limit its liability by only showing the faces of users over 18 when showing which friends 'like' a page. I'm all for more privacy for social networking users, and if it's true that Facebook has been silently marking users as publicly 'liking' a page because they mentioned the page in a private message, the plaintiff's lawyers ought to clean them out for that one. But in cases where you willingly and knowingly 'liked' a page, Facebook and Google+ ought to be able to tell that to your friends in advertisements, without being sued for it." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Research scientists could learn an important thing or two from computer scientists, according to a new study (abstract) showing that data underpinning even groundbreaking research tends to disappear over time. Researchers also disappear, though more slowly and only in terms of the email addresses and the other public contact methods that other scientists would normally use to contact them. Almost all the data supporting studies published during the past two years is still available, as are at least some of the researchers, according to a study published Dec. 19 in the journal Current Biology. The odds that supporting data is still available for studies published between 2 years and 22 years ago drops 17 percent every year after the first two. The odds of finding a working email address for the first, last or corresponding author of a paper also dropped 7 percent per year, according to the study, which examined the state of data from 516 studies between 2 years and 22 years old. Having data available from an original study is critical for other scientists wanting to confirm, replicate or build on previous research – goals that are core parts of the evolutionary, usually self-correcting dynamic of the scientific method on which nearly all modern research is based. No matter how invested in their own work, scientists appear to be 'poor stewards' of their own work, the study concluded."
Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton writes "A recent webinar for newsletter publishers suggested that if you want your emails not to be blocked as 'spam,' you paradoxically have to engage in some practices that contribute to the erosion of users' privacy, including some tactics similar to what many spammers are doing. The consequences aren't disastrous, but besides being a loss for privacy, it's another piece of evidence that free-market forces do not necessarily lead to spam filters that are optimal for end users." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.
An anonymous reader writes "The Register carries the funniest, most topical IT story of the year: 'Facebook's first data center ran into problems of a distinctly ironic nature when a literal cloud formed in the IT room and started to rain on servers. Though Facebook has previously hinted at this via references to a 'humidity event' within its first data center in Prineville, Oregon, the social network's infrastructure king Jay Parikh told The Reg on Thursday that, for a few minutes in Summer, 2011, Facebook's data center contained two clouds: one powered the social network, the other poured water on it.'"