Come join me on Mastodon!

Have you heard about Mastodon? It’s a social network that is growing like crazy, and it’s not like the annoying networks you’ve come to hate. I joined a while ago, and like it a lot. I published a page about Mastodon here, to give readers an idea of what it is and why I like it.

Sometimes when I don’t have the time or inclination to publish a blog post on Mirabilis.ca, I share interesting things I’ve found over there, on my Mastodon account. So if you like Mirabilis.ca content and wish for more, you might like to come hang out on Mastodon.

So, yeah. If you would like to be part of a social network that is friendly, non-commerical, and just generally a good thing, maybe give it a try. On Mastodon, I am @mirabilis@octodon.social. Follow me there, if you like. I’d love to have your company.

Secrets from smart devices find path to US legal system

From phys.org: Secrets from smart devices find path to US legal system.

An Ohio man claimed he was forced into a hasty window escape when his house caught fire last year. His pacemaker data obtained by police showed otherwise, and he was charged with arson and insurance fraud.

In Pennsylvania, authorities dismissed rape charges after data from a woman’s Fitbit contradicted her version of her whereabouts during the 2015 alleged assault.

Vast amounts of data collected from our connected devices—fitness bands, smart refrigerators, thermostats and automobiles, among others—are increasingly being used in US legal proceedings to prove or disprove claims by people involved.

In a recent case that made headlines, authorities in Arkansas sought, and eventually obtained, data from a murder suspect’s Amazon Echo speaker to obtain evidence.

The US Federal Trade Commission in February fined television maker Vizio for secretly gathering data on viewers collected from its smart TVs and selling the information to marketers.

The maker of the smartphone-connected sex toy We-Vibe meanwhile agreed in March to a court settlement of a class-action suit from buyers who claimed “highly intimate and sensitive data” was uploaded to the cloud without permission—and shown last year to be vulnerable to hackers. [continue]

How does this make you feel about the electronic devices in your life?

The future of the open internet

Now this, this is good information in a well-written article that will tell you a bunch of stuff you’ll wish you’d known all along. And see if the historical parallels don’t make you sit up and take notice! Here is Quincy Larson’s article: The future of the open internet — and our way of life — is in your hands.

…corporations want to lock down the internet and give us access to nothing more than a few walled gardens. They want to burn down the Library of Alexandria and replace it with a magazine rack.

Why? Because they’ll make more money that way. (…)

By the end of this article, you’ll understand what’s happening, the market forces that are driving this, and how you can help stop it. We’ll talk about the brazen monopolies who maneuver to lock down the internet, the scrappy idealists who fight to keep it open, and the vast majority of people who are completely oblivious to this battle for the future. [continue]

Thanks to Georgiy Treyvus for posting a link to this article on the Diaspora social network, which is where I spotted it.

Norwegian ‘anti-troll’ site makes you read before commenting

From phys.org: Norway ‘anti-troll’ site makes you read before commenting.

A Norwegian site may have found the key to muzzling malicious commenters on the internet: requiring people to read an article before discussing it.

As an experiment, NRKbeta, a media and technology subsidiary of public broadcaster NRK, has since mid-February required viewers to correctly answer three questions about articles before being able to comment on them. [continue]

That’s an interesting approach. Do you think it will work?

Meanwhile, Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC, has this absurd comment policy:

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada’s online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

How crazy is that? It would take zero effort for me to post a comment under your name, or some fictitious name. And what evidence is there, anyway, that a ‘real name required’ comment policy does any good? Grr.

But back to the Norwegian site. It’s at https://nrkbeta.no, so take a look at it if you like. But of course it’s all in Norwegian.

Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to have more power in our lives, and we should resist

From recode.net: Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to have more power in our lives, and we should resist.

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook a combination of a personal and company manifesto. He also spoke to a number of reporters regarding it. The manifesto is long, and it covers a ton of ground, some of it about the state of the world, but much of it, at least indirectly and directly, about Facebook and its role in such a world. The manifesto is notable for its concession that Facebook has enormous power and has, in some ways, contributed to some big problems plaguing the world. But, more worryingly, it seems to think the solution is more Facebook. [continue]

Yeah, I’d like to see a whole lot less of Facebook. It is the worst part of the internet these days, as far as I’m concerned.

Is Gravatar exposing your email address?

Do you use Gravatar to display a custom image next to your comments on various blogs? Or do you have a blog at wordpress.com? If so, Gravatar has your email address, and it might be easy for a hacker to figure out what that address is.

Wordfence explains the problem, and why it matters.

For example: A user may be comfortable having their full name and profile photo appear on a website about skiing. But they may not want their name or identity exposed to the public on a website specializing in a medical condition. Someone researching this individual could extract their Gravatar hash from the skiing website along with their full name. They could then Google the hash and determine that the individual suffers from a medical condition they wanted to keep private. [continue]

School for teenage codebreakers to open in Bletchley Park

Who can resist things that land on the intersection of history and geekiness? From the Guardian: School for teenage codebreakers to open in Bletchley Park.

Its first operatives famously cracked coded messages encrypted by the Nazis, hastening the end of the second world war.

Now Bletchley Park is planning a new school for the next generation of codebreakers in order to plug a huge skills gap in what is fast emerging as the biggest security threat to 21st-century Britain. [continue]

2016: the year Facebook became the bad guy

Are people starting to realize what a problem Facebook is? Olivia Solon gets it – this is from her article in today’s Guardian: 2016: the year Facebook became the bad guy.

As the year unfurled, Facebook had to deal with a string of controversies and blunders, not limited to: being accused of imperialism in India, censorship of historical photos, and livestreaming footage of human rights violations. Not to mention misreported advertising metrics and the increasingly desperate cloning of rival Snapchat’s core features. Things came to a head in November, when the social network was accused of influencing the US presidential election through politically polarized filter bubbles and a failure to tackle the spread of misinformation. The icing on the already unpalatable cake was Pope Francis last week declaring that fake news is a sin.

This was Facebook’s annus horribilis. [continue]

How to fight back against fake news

From good.is: The Simple Way You Can Fight Back Against Fake News

What can we do about this hateful, bigoted commentary? I was thrilled when I saw a new twitter account called Sleeping Giants. It’s an anonymous account whose goal is to “stop racist websites by stopping their ad dollars.” It simply asks people to take a screenshot of an ad on Brietbart News, tweet that screenshot to the ad’s parent company to notify them of the placement, and tag Sleeping Giants in the tweet. Then the word spreads. Sleeping Giants promotes each tweet to its 11,000 followers. It also offers simple instructions how to blacklist sites from your ad campaign, so your brand won’t show up on sites like Breitbart. The cool part is that it’s working. [continue]

On browsers, and the future of the internet

Oooh, this matters. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Save Firefox! post explains how an important organization has made a terrible decision that will affect the future of the web.

We need competition; we also need diversity. We need the possibility that young, game-changing market entrants might come along. We need that idea to be kept alive, to make sure that all the browsers don’t shift from keeping users happy to just keeping a few giant corporations that dominate the Web happy. Because there’s always pressure to do that, and if all the browsers end up playing that same old game, the users will always lose.

We need more Firefoxes.

We need more browsers that treat their users, rather than publishers, as their customers. It’s the natural cycle of concentration-disruption-renewal that has kept the Web vibrant for nearly 20 years (eons, in web-years).

We may never get another one, though.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), once the force for open standards that kept browsers from locking publishers to their proprietary capabilities, has changed its mission. Since 2013, the organization has provided a forum where today’s dominant browser companies and the dominant entertainment companies can collaborate on a system to let our browsers control our behavior, rather than the other way. [continue]

The inside story of Facebook’s biggest setback

From the Guardian: The inside story of Facebook’s biggest setback.

Manzar, who is 48, had spent much of his life working to help Indians get online, and now one of the biggest tech companies in the world had thrown its weight behind his cause. “The power of Facebook as a platform, how it has motivated people to come online, generate content, get even the non-literate to become literate … I am a great fan,” he said.

But Manzar’s optimism soured when he saw what Internet.org actually looked like: a threadbare platform that only allowed access to 36 bookmarked sites and Facebook, which was naturally the only social network available. There was one weather app, three sites for women’s issues, and the search engine Bing. Facebook’s stripped-down internet was reminiscent of old search engines that listed the early web on one page, when it was small enough to be categorised, like books in a library.

Crucially, Facebook itself would decide which sites were included on the platform. The company had positioned Internet.org as a philanthropic endeavour – backed by Zuckerberg’s lofty pronouncements that “connectivity is a human right” – but retained total control of the platform. “Their pitch about access turned into mobilisation for their own product,” Manzar said. [continue]

Facebook is not your friend, kids.

When internet mapping went terribly wrong

From Fusion: How an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell.

For the last decade, Taylor and her renters have been visited by all kinds of mysterious trouble. They’ve been accused of being identity thieves, spammers, scammers and fraudsters. They’ve gotten visited by FBI agents, federal marshals, IRS collectors, ambulances searching for suicidal veterans, and police officers searching for runaway children. They’ve found people scrounging around in their barn. The renters have been doxxed, their names and addresses posted on the internet by vigilantes. Once, someone left a broken toilet in the driveway as a strange, indefinite threat.

All in all, the residents of the Taylor property have been treated like criminals for a decade. And until I called them this week, they had no idea why. [continue]

The web we have to save

The Web We Have to Save is an important and thoughtful article by Hossein Derakhshan, who was jailed for blogging in 2008. He’s free now, and sad about what the web has become. I’m sad about this, too.

Six years was a long time to be in jail, but it’s an entire era online. Writing on the internet itself had not changed, but reading — or, at least, getting things read — had altered dramatically. I’d been told how essential social networks had become while I’d been gone, and so I knew one thing: If I wanted to lure people to see my writing, I had to use social media now.

So I tried to post a link to one of my stories on Facebook. Turns out Facebook didn’t care much. It ended up looking like a boring classified ad. No description. No image. Nothing. It got three likes. Three! That was it.

It became clear to me, right there, that things had changed. I was not equipped to play on this new turf — all my investment and effort had burned up. I was devastated. [continue]

I was on the web for years before blogs existed. Were you? In those days, you needed to know things about HTML in order to publish anything on the web. (The original version of mirabilis.ca was hand-coded, you know: HTML, typed by hand, with no blogging software in sight.)

When blogging platforms like Movable Type and then WordPress appeared, suddenly it was easy for all kinds of people to start blogs of their own and write what they pleased. And they did!

I loved the bloggy world of those days, and I miss it. Now so many people use Facebook and Twitter instead of blogging, and I think that’s sad. Why put your content on a commercial network that views you as the product? Why give your content to some entity that does not respect your privacy, and does not give you full control over your own stuff? The answer is usually “convenience” or “because everybody else does” or some such. I understand this, but I mourn for the days when everybody wanted to blog, instead of post to Facebook. I loved the decentralized, quirky, independent feel of the blogosphere.

And that is, in part, why I’m here, blogging. I will not give my content to some commercial entity, no matter who else does. You’ll not find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or what-have-you.

What about you? Do you value independent voices on the web? Independent sites, like blogs? Do you have a blog of your own? Or do you, too, let some commercial company host your social interactions?

And what do you think of Hossein’s article?

Google Chrome is listening, without your permission

I wish Google would take the lead in respecting privacy, rather than invading privacy. But no, we have news like this. From Privacy Online: Google Chrome Listening In To Your Room Shows The Importance Of Privacy Defense In Depth.

Yesterday, news broke that Google has been stealth downloading audio listeners onto every computer that runs Chrome, and transmits audio data back to Google. Effectively, this means that Google had taken itself the right to listen to every conversation in every room that runs Chrome somewhere, without any kind of consent from the people eavesdropped on. In official statements, Google shrugged off the practice with what amounts to “we can do that”. [continue]

Sigh.

Anonymous is supporting a new privacy-focused social network that takes aim at Facebook’s shady practices

From Business Insider: Anonymous is supporting a new privacy-focused social network that takes aim at Facebook’s shady practices.

As if there weren’t enough social networks out there, here’s another new social network. But this one hopes to attract the likes of online freedom activists, and it even wrangled the attention of Anonymous.

Minds.com is a social network like most others: It lets users share links as well as their thoughts with their followers via the usual status updates.

But Minds, which officially launched both its desktop and mobile apps today, hopes to entice users given its promise of security. The program is completely open source and encrypts all private messages sent between users.

“Our stance is the users deserve the control of social media in every sense,” Minds’ founder Bill Ottman told Business Insider.

This distinguishes itself from Facebook, which has long had questionable privacy practices.

Minds also promises to use a de-mystified algorithm to boost content. [continue]

Interesting. The registration page says Anonymous accounts are fine with us. So, hmmm, I’ll read through the terms of service and see if it might be worth trying. Do any of you use it?

Facebook begins mass rollout of free bluetooth business “beacons”

From DailyTech: Facebook Begins Mass Rollout of Free Bluetooth Business “Beacons”.

Facebook announced this week a foray into the embedded wireless advertising market, offering up free Bluetooth beacons for business owners.

For those in New York City this may all sound somewhat familiar as Facebook has been testing the roughly hockey puck sized devices at a handful of partner sites around the city under the “Place Tips” program.

The idea inject items pertaining to the beacon-outfitted business into the News Feed on a user’s smartphone Facebook app to jump to the business’s page, encouraging likes, offering information, and to check out tips from your friends about the business you’re visiting. The beacons will offer:

  • Prompts to like the business’s Page
  • Check in reminders
  • Recommendations from your friends
  • Posts from the business’s Page (…)

In an attempt to assuage users concerns over this new so-called “proximity-based advertising” feature, [continue]

Just when I think Facebook can’t possibly get any worse, they do.

Tutanota for private and encrypted email

Should any snoopy individual or entity be able to read your email, or would you rather have private email? I’m opting for the private approach, myself.

If you’d like to have private and encrypted email, you might want to check out Tutanota. It’s hosted in Germany, where privacy legislation is pretty decent. It’s encrypted, open source, and pretty cool. Get an account for free and try it out!

I’ve been using Tutanota for a while now. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty fine, and is improving all the time. I like it. I’m particularly pleased that it is dead easy to use, even for those those of your friends who aren’t so good at the whole internet thing.

Ancient Rome lives again on Google Earth

From Times Online: Ancient Rome lives again on Google Earth.

The glory that was Rome is to rise again. Visitors will once more be able to visit the Colosseum and the Forum of Rome as they were in 320 AD, this time on a computer screen in 3D.

The realisation of the ancient city in Google Earth lets viewers stand in the centre of the Colosseum, trace the footsteps of the gladiators in the Ludus Magnus and fly under the Arch of Constantine.

The computer model, a collection of more than 6,700 buildings, depicts Rome in the year 320 AD. Then, under the emperor Constantine I, the city boasted more than a million inhabitants — making it the largest metropolis in the world. It was not until Victorian London that another city surpassed it.

The project has [continue].

A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence

From the New York Times: A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence.

It was among the juicier post-election recriminations: Fox News Channel quoted an unnamed McCain campaign figure as saying that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent.

Who would say such a thing? On Monday the answer popped up on a blog and popped out of the mouth of David Shuster, an MSNBC anchor. "Turns out it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks," Mr. Shuster said.

Trouble is, Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.[continue].

Reminds me of that wonderful cartoon: On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

A copyright call to arms

From the Globe and Mail: A copyright call to arms.

In the era of peer-to-peer file sharing, on-demand television and easy copying of video games and movies, Canadians often take for granted the availability and ease of using digital media. It’s hard not to: the sheer amount of digital content available online is astonishing. For many, the Web is a black box that provides us with what we want, when we want it.

But with a new session of parliament a week away, a host of proposed changes to copyright legislation threaten to tip the legal balance further in favour of those who sell and disseminate cultural content, rather than everyone who consumes it.

As one example, under legislation sponsored by the Conservatives in the last parliament Canadians could be fined $500 for the downloaded songs on their computer. Thanks to our existing laws, no Canadians have been taken to court for downloading music, but, as customers, we have suffered from increasingly invasive measures taken by those who hold the rights to digital material. Companies aim to limit how many times we can install a song or piece of software, check to ensure that our music was purchased legally and may even track the websites we visit. [continue].

(Link found at Michael Geist’s blog.)

Continue reading

The story behind some weird lawn signs

Here’s a fascinating bit of research. From The Metric System: "Single?" Lawn Signs Conquer the American Landscape.

Over the past two years, I have developed a growing fascination with lawn signs. Not the ones advertising politicians or plumbers, but the ones advertising websites. Dating websites.

These signs are so prevalent in my area that I decided to launch a private investigation into who was behind them and just how far they stretched. What I found started in my small home town and led me all the way to the secret guerilla marketing infrastructure of a multimillion-dollar company…[continue].

Port of ‘second Carthage’ found

From Ansa: Port of ‘second Carthage’ found.

Archaeologists in Sardinia said Thursday they have found the port of the Phoenician city of Tharros, held by some to be the ancient people’s most important colony in the Mediterranean after Carthage.

Researchers from the University of Cagliari and Sassari found the submerged port in the Mistras Lagoon, several kilometres from the city ruins.

Excavations have long been going on at the site of the city itself, on a peninsula overlooking the Bay of Oristano in western Sardinia, but this is the first time its waterfront has been located despite almost two centuries of hunting.

As well as an impressive sandstone wall 100 metres in length and four metres in width, the archaeologists discovered [continue]

Summertime, and the wifi is elusive

I packed up my laptop and headed off to the summer cottage for a spell, planning to sign up for the new high-speed wireless internet access that’s being advertised in the area. I figured it would solve all my internet access problems in one fell swoop. Once settled at the cottage I phoned the company, only to find that their service is crazy expensive, and it doesn’t actually exist yet. Of course they still want me to sign up right away. Pffft.

So now we’re looking at a wifi service for boaters, which sounds promising.

Anyway. That’s where I’ve been lately: in an internet-free zone.

Mirabilis.ca now supports gravatars

What’s a gravatar? The Gravatar website explains:

A gravatar, or globally recognized avatar, is quite simply an avatar image that follows you from weblog to weblog appearing beside your name when you comment on gravatar enabled sites.

If you want a gravatar, you sign up at Gravatar.com. Then you select the image you wish to use as your gravatar, and you’re done. (It’s free.)

Once you have a gravatar, the gravatar image you selected will show up beside your name when you post comments on weblogs — so long as you post using the same email address you used when you signed up for your gravatar.

Here are a couple of recent Mirabilis.ca comment threads: