Google Transparency Report Adds Details on Subpoenas, Search Warrants, Court Orders

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Between July and December of 2012, 68 percent of the personal data requests Google received from government entities in the U.S. were through subpoenas; 22 percent were through search warrants; and the remaining 10 percent were mostly court orders.

Facebook Raises the Green-Eyed Monster

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Social media envy is alive and well, especially for Facebook users.

German researchers have discovered one in three people feel less satisfied with their lives after perusing Facebook.

Two studies, conducted jointly by two German universities, also revealed people who don’t post at all but read their friends’ posts are more prone to negative emotions.

“We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry,” researcher Hanna Krasnova from the Institute of Information Systems at Berlin’s Humboldt University told Reuters.

The most common cause of envy or bitterness? Vacation photos. Looking at holiday pictures, researchers found, caused more than half of all jealousy incidents.

Second on the envy list was social interaction. Users seeing friends receive more birthday wishes or more likes or comments on posts and photos also roused the green-eyed monster.

The report, ‘Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?’ also described users in their 30s as more prone to envy family happiness, while women were apt to resent physical attractiveness.

Feelings of envy drive male users to brag about accomplishments on the social networking site while women seem more compelled to put emphasis on their looks and social lives.

The findings may not bode well for Facebook,

“From a provider’s perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability,” the researchers concluded.

The findings were based on a survey of 600 people in Germany. The two studies are to be presented at a press conference next month.


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Facebook Raises the Green-Eyed Monster

Twitter Defect Gave Third-Party Apps Access to Private Data

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A hole in Twitter’s security enabled third-party applications to gain access to the direct messages of users who signed in to the apps using their Twitter accounts, said security researcher Cesar Cerrudo.

The chief technology officer of IOActive found the defect while testing a web application still under development — it allowed users to sign in using their Twitter accounts.

He chose to sign in with his Twitter account because he believed the social networking site would prevent the app from being able to access direct messages or see his Twitter password.

“After viewing the displayed web page, I trusted that Twitter would not give the application access to my password and direct messages,” Cerrudo wrote in a blog post. “I felt that my account was safe, so I signed in and played with the application. I saw that the application had the functionality to access and display Twitter direct messages. The functionality, however, did not work, since Twitter did not allow the application to access these messages.”

For the app to gain access, it would have to request proper authorization through the following Twitter web page:

The above page was not displayed to Cerrudo at the time. He had been playing with the app for some time, logging in and out of both it and Twitter to determine its functionality when he discovered the app was displaying all of his direct messages from Twitter.

“This was a huge and scary surprise,” he wrote. “I wondered how this was possible. How had the application bypassed Twitter’s security restrictions? I needed to know the answer.”

He logged in to Twitter to check its application settings. The page said: ‘Permissions: read, write, and direct messages.’

“I couldn’t understand how this was possible, since I had never authorized the application to access my ‘private’ direct messages,” Cerrudo said. “I realized that this was a huge security hole.”

He reported the problem to Twitter on Jan. 16 and it was addressed in less than 24 hours.

“They said the issue occurred due to complex code and incorrect assumptions and validations,” Cerrudo said.

The fix, however, does not appear to be retroactive. The app still had access to Cerrudo’s direct messages until he revoked access personally.

Cerrudo said Twitter’s disclosure policy leaves a lot to be desired — the social network has not issued an alert to its users about the now-fixed security issue.

He said millions of users could be oblivious to the fact that third-party apps had already accessed their private information.

“I love Twitter,” he said. “I use it daily. However, I think Twitter still needs a bit of improvement, especially when it comes to alerting its users about security issues when privacy is affected.”

He suggested users tweet the following:

Twitter shares your DMs without authorization, check third party application permissions #ProtectYourPrivacy (Please RT)



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Twitter Defect Gave Third-Party Apps Access to Private Data

Advocates Urge EU to Implement Strict Online Privacy Rules

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An alliance of privacy advocates is requesting the European Union issue strict new online privacy regulations.

“The European Union must act to help set a global standard protecting the fundamental right to privacy,” the Center for Digital Democracy, ACLU, Consumer Federation of America, Friends of Privacy USA and other groups said in reports supplied to EU officials Jan. 21.

A delegation of those representing consumer, privacy and civil liberties is currently in Brussels to meet with members of the European Parliament.

The group efforts appear to be a direct challenge to a document issued last week by U.S. officials asking European regulators to put new privacy regulations on hold, particularly those that could prevent some forms of data collection without opt-in consent.

“The United States believes that consent should be meaningful and that the methods of expressing such consent take into account the context,” the government paper says. “For example, consent need not always be express, affirmative consent, and the means for individuals to communicate their choices should match the scale, scope and sensitivity of the personal data that organizations collect, use, or disclose.”

The privacy watchdogs’ document says the new European rules will enhance privacy efforts “outside the EU as well,” adding that leading U.S. consumer groups support the EU approach to establishing a comprehensive legal framework for data protection.

“The European Union must act to help set a global standard protecting the fundamental right to privacy for citizens and consumers,” one of the reports reads. “The “self-regulatory” model endorsed by the Obama Administration and leading U.S. data collection companies has failed to protect consumers from having their information — including highly personal and sensitive data — being collected and used.”

The groups claim both the U.S. government and American companies are attempting to undermine policies associated with the proposed regulation out of fear the EU “will set a global standard” demanding fair, transparent, and accountable data collection practices.

“There is a dramatic expansion of data collection of online users, a digital “arms” race that is being fought in the U.S., EU, Asia Pacific, and other areas,” the report reads. “Personal data are compiled and sold to the highest bidder in “milliseconds” via online auctions—all without the knowledge or consent of the consumer.”

The use of “ad exchanges” courtesy of the U.S. online industry has mechanized the buying and selling of individuals not only in North America, but throughout the EU, the group says, adding U.S. companies are continually trying to collect more user information because there are few restrictions on their data collection rituals.

“Trust in the digital data system is challenged daily, as new forms of collection without user consent are revealed by the press,” the reports reads. “The industry is under siege because of its practices, and has to continually retool or launch new self-regulatory initiatives designed to calm policymakers and the public.

“Effective action from the EU setting a new standard for data protection will spur global public support for the digital economy. Such a EU policy will unleash greater growth for the online sector, foster innovation, and ensure citizens have meaningful rights in the Digital Era.”


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Microsoft Launching Surface Windows 8 Pro

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Microsoft is adding to the Surface family.

The company announced Jan. 22 its newest model — Surface Windows 8 Pro — will be available for purchase Feb. 9 in the U.S. and Canada.

Starting at $899 for the 64GB model, Surface Pro runs on an Intel Core i5 processor and can run Windows 8 applications, as well as current Windows 7 desktop applications. It will also come in a 128GB model.

Another new feature is the Surface Pen.

“Surface Pen is included and makes for an amazing experience for writers, graphic designers or even engineers, and with Palm Block technology writing and drawing is fun for everyone on Surface Windows 8 Pro,” said Microsoft Surface general manager Panos Panay in a blog post.

“Surface Windows 8 Pro is an exciting new addition to the Surface family, bringing a powerful, work-ready device that is just as at home in the boardroom as it is the family room. Whether you’re a road warrior, a student or someone who just wants a flexible and powerful Intel PC, the Surface Windows 8 Pro will deliver. It’s the perfect complement to the Surface Windows RT and delivers hours and hours of entertainment with plenty of power and productivity to get your work done as well.”

The Surface Windows 8 Pro can be purchased through all Microsoft retail stores, and at Staples and Best Buy in the U.S. as well as from a number of locations in Canada.

Customers will also soon be able to buy Surface Windows RT in 13 additional markets globally — more than double the number of markets in which Surface is currently available.

“The response to Surface has been exciting to see,” Panay said. “We’re thrilled to continue growing the Surface family with the availability of Surface Windows 8 Pro on Feb. 9 and by increasing the number of places customers can experience Surface firsthand.”

Additional Surface accessories will also soon be available:

• Surface Windows RT will be available in a new 64GB standalone version for an estimated retail price of $599 to allow customers the option of selecting a cover of their choice.

• Three new Touch Cover Limited Editions in red, magenta and cyan will be sold at an estimated retail price of $129.99.

• Customers will have the option of purchasing a Wedge Touch Mouse, Surface Edition, for an estimated retail price of $69.95 in all markets in which Surface is currently sold with additional markets to follow in the coming weeks.


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Microsoft Launching Surface Windows 8 Pro

Technology News Briefs — Jan. 23, 2013

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AT&T to Purchase Alltel U.S. for $780M

AT&T will be shelling out $780 million to acquire Atlantic Tele-Network’s Alltel U.S. retail wireless operations.

The purchase, which will include the licenses, retail stores and network assets, along with about 585,000 subscribers, is a bid by AT&T to increase its range in rural areas.

Alltel’s network encompasses roughly 4.6 million people, mostly in rural areas across six states: Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio and South Carolina.

AT&T said network upgrades will improve mobile Internet service for both Alltel and AT&T customers. Alltel runs on CDMA, so customers will need to be upgraded to GSM once the acquisition is complete.

The deal is subject to approval by the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice. The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2013.

Mozilla Announces Developer Preview Phones

Mozilla announced its developer preview phones Jan. 22 — devices that will allow developers to test its new Firefox OS.

The phones, which are being developed by Geeksphone in partnership with Telefonica and Geeksphone, are a bid by the company to “make the mobile web more accessible to more people,” says Mozilla director of websites and developer engagement Stormy Peters in a blog post.

“Developer preview phones will help make the mobile web more accessible to more people. Developers are critical to the web and to Mozilla’s mission to make the web accessible to everyone,” Peters writes. “Now we are working on bringing the power of the web to mobile, through Firefox OS, along with all the power of open standards and an open community.”

The developer phones, dubbed Keon and Peak, will run software created with HTML5. Peters says HTML5 apps can do “phone things — they can make the phone vibrate, make a phone call or send a text message.”

The Keon specs include: CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S1 1Ghz, UMTS 2100/1900/900 (3G HSPA), GSM 850/900/1800/1900 (2G EDGE), screen 3.5-inch HVGA multitouch, 3 MP camera, 4GB ROM, 512 MB RAM MicroSD, Wifi N, light and proximity sensor, G-Sensor, GPS, MicroUSB, 1580 mAh battery, over the air updates, unlocked, add your own SIM card.

The Peak specs include: CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.2Ghz x2,  UMTS 2100/1900/900 (3G HSPA), GSM 850/900/1800/1900 (2G EDGE), screen 4.3-inch qHD IPS Multitouch, Camera 8 MP (back) + 2 MP (front), 4 GB (ROM) and 512 (RAM), MicroSD, Wi-fi N, light and prox. sensor, G-sensor, GPS, MicroUSB, flash (camera), battery 1800 mAh.

300 More Blockbusters to Close

The ever-growing popularity of on-demand Internet streaming media companies like Netflix and online video sites such as YouTube means more nails are hammered into the coffins of brick-and-mortar video stores.

Dish Network announced this week it will close 300 more Blockbuster stores putting about 3,000 employees out of work.

Underperforming stores and those nearing the end of a lease will be on the chopping block. With the recent cut, only 500 U.S. Blockbuster stores will remain in business — 26 of them near Dish Network’s Colorado headquarters.

The Dish Network acquired Blockbuster out of bankruptcy for $320 million in 2011. At the time of purchase, Blockbuster had 1,700 retail sites and a streaming service.

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Technology News Briefs — Jan. 23, 2013