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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media | Technology | The Guardian

Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media | Technology | The Guardian

Military's 'sock puppet' software creates fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda

Gen David Petraeus has previously said US online psychological operations are aimed at 'countering extremist ideology and propaganda'. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP
The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.

A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.

The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.

The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.

The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries".

Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said: "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US."

He said none of the interventions would be in English, as it would be unlawful to "address US audiences" with such technology, and any English-language use of social media by Centcom was always clearly attributed. The languages in which the interventions are conducted include Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.

Centcom said it was not targeting any US-based web sites, in English or any other language, and specifically said it was not targeting Facebook or Twitter.

Once developed, the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated messages, blogposts, chatroom posts and other interventions. Details of the contract suggest this location would be MacDill air force base near Tampa, Florida, home of US Special Operations Command.

Centcom's contract requires for each controller the provision of one "virtual private server" located in the United States and others appearing to be outside the US to give the impression the fake personas are real people located in different parts of the world.

It also calls for "traffic mixing", blending the persona controllers' internet usage with the usage of people outside Centcom in a manner that must offer "excellent cover and powerful deniability".

The multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a programme called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged against coalition forces. Since then, OEV is reported to have expanded into a $200m programme and is thought to have been used against jihadists across Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

OEV is seen by senior US commanders as a vital counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation programme. In evidence to the US Senate's armed services committee last year, General David Petraeus, then commander of Centcom, described the operation as an effort to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard". He said the US military's objective was to be "first with the truth".

Centcom confirmed that the $2.76m contract was awarded to Ntrepid, a newly formed corporation registered in Los Angeles. It would not disclose whether the multiple persona project is already in operation or discuss any related contracts.

Nobody was available for comment at Ntrepid.

In his evidence to the Senate committee, Gen Mattis said: "OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda." He added that Centcom was working with "our coalition partners" to develop new techniques and tactics the US could use "to counter the adversary in the cyber domain".

According to a report by the inspector general of the US defence department in Iraq, OEV was managed by the multinational forces rather than Centcom.

Asked whether any UK military personnel had been involved in OEV, Britain's Ministry of Defence said it could find "no evidence". The MoD refused to say whether it had been involved in the development of persona management programmes, saying: "We don't comment on cyber capability."

OEV was discussed last year at a gathering of electronic warfare specialists in Washington DC, where a senior Centcom officer told delegates that its purpose was to "communicate critical messages and to counter the propaganda of our adversaries".

Persona management by the US military would face legal challenges if it were turned against citizens of the US, where a number of people engaged in sock puppetry have faced prosecution.

It is unclear whether a persona management programme would contravene UK law. Legal experts say it could fall foul of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, which states that "a person is guilty of forgery if he makes a false instrument, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person's prejudice". However, this would apply only if a website or social network could be shown to have suffered "prejudice" as a result.

• This article was amended on 18 March 2011 to remove references to Facebook and Twitter, introduced during the editing process, and to add a comment from Centcom, received after publication, that it is not targeting those sites.

A New Internet Privacy Law? -

A New Internet Privacy Law? -

Considering how much information we entrust to the Internet every day, it is hard to believe there is no general law to protect people’s privacy online. Companies harvest data about people as they surf the Net, assemble it into detailed profiles and sell it to advertisers or others without ever asking permission.

So it is good to see a groundswell of support emerging for minimum standards of privacy, online and off. This week, the Obama administration called for legislation to protect consumers’ privacy. In the Senate, John Kerry is trying to draft a privacy bill of rights with the across-the-aisle support of John McCain.

Microsoft, which runs one of the biggest Internet advertising networks, said it supports a broad-based privacy law. It has just introduced a version of its Explorer browser that allows surfers to block some tools advertisers use to track consumers’ activities online.

It is crucial that lawmakers get this right. There is strong pressure from the advertising industry to water down rules aimed at limiting the data companies can collect and what they can do with it.

Most oppose a sensible proposal by the Federal Trade Commission for a do-not-track option — likely embedded in Web browsers. They have proposed self-regulation instead, and we applaud their desire to do that, but the zeal to self-regulate tends to wane when it is not backed by government rules and enforcement.

Senator Kerry has not yet proposed specific legislation, but he has laid out sound principles. Companies that track people’s activities online must obtain people’s consent first. They must specify what data they are collecting and how they will use it. They need consumers’ go-ahead to use data for any new purpose. They are responsible for the data’s integrity. And consumers should have the right to sever their relationship with data collectors and ask for their file to be deleted.

But there are potential areas of concern. Senator Kerry so far has not called for a do-not-track option. He would allow companies to write their own privacy plans and submit them to the F.T.C. for approval.

That would give companies flexibility to adapt their solutions as technology evolved, but it lacks the simplicity and universality of a do-not-track feature. It could yield a dizzying array of solutions that would confuse consumers about their rights and options and make it more difficult to enforce clear standards. Moreover, it would make it tougher for consumers to keep track of how their information is used and to whom it is sold.

Advertising firms still argue that privacy protections could undermine the free Internet, depriving it of ad revenue by reducing advertisers’ ability to target consumers. This is overstated. Advertisers will still need to advertise. If many people opt out of behavioral targeting, the firms will find other ways to do it.

Privacy protections are long overdue. We hope the swell of support will lead to significant legislation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Apple tops smartphone satisfaction for fifth time | The Digital Home - CNET News

The iPhone is satisfying more customers than any other device.

Apple tops smartphone satisfaction for fifth time | The Digital Home - CNET News

Another year, another win for Apple in smartphone satisfaction.
According to findings released today from the J.D. Power and Associates 2011 U.S. Wireless Smartphone Customer Satisfaction Study, customers are more satisfied with Apple's iPhone than any other smartphone on the market. Apple secured a rating of 795 out of a possible 1,000 points in customer satisfaction. Motorola and HTC secured the second and third spots with 763 points and 762 points, respectively.

This isn't the first time Apple has placed at the top of a J.D. Power and Associates satisfaction study. In fact, Apple's latest win marks the fifth-consecutive year that it has bested all other smartphone makers in this study. However, customers were a smidge less satisfied with Apple's smartphone this year than they were last year. In J.D. Power and Associates' 2010 findings, Apple was able to secure 800 points of the available 1,000.
But Apple wasn't alone in seeing its satisfaction slip this year. Both Motorola and HTC have witnessed satisfaction for their devices decline significantly. In 2010, their figures stood at 791 points and 781 points, respectively.

J.D. Power and Associates said respondents based their opinions on "ease of operation, operating system, physical design, features, and battery function."
Smartphone market overall

In addition to looking at individual smartphones, J.D. Power and Associates also examined other areas of the space. It found that the average price of a "traditional mobile phone" has dropped to about $73 in 2011, down from its average price of $81 in 2009.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Internet Explorer 9 arrives, but not for XP | The Download Blog -

Internet Explorer 9 arrives, but not for XP | The Download Blog -

The training wheels have come off of the latest version of Internet Explorer as Microsoft unleashes version 9 of the world's most heavily used browser this evening at an event at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. Internet Explorer 9 (download after 9 p.m. PT) debuts to the public not only as the fastest, most standards-compliant version of IE yet, but also as one that can stand up and compete on features and looks with Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and the Opera browser. Along with IE's new features, though, Microsoft has a clear message for Windows XP users: hurry up and upgrade to Windows 7 already.

Microsoft's official explanation for why Internet Explorer 9 doesn't support Windows XP, the operating system that runs an estimated 40 percent to 50 percent of the world's computers, is that the graphics card-powered hardware acceleration that helps the browser load pages faster doesn't work properly with the device drivers on Windows XP. However, at least one other browser, Firefox 4 release candidate 1, offers full hardware acceleration across multiple operating systems, including Windows XP.
The lack of support for Windows XP aside, Internet Explorer 9 is a fantastic browser when compared with its predecessors, and competitive against its toughening rivals. The browser offers some great new features, such as Pinned sites, a revamped search box, and add-on performance impact notifications.
Pinned sites create a tighter integration between the browser and desktop by creating site-specific browsers. Drag the tab onto the Windows 7 desktop taskbar, and depending on the site developer's coding, you can get site-specific jump lists, unread e-mail notifications, or streaming media player controls. Other major sites that have Pinned integration include Groupon, CNN, Pandora, Hulu, Slacker, Facebook, Twitter, and eBay.

Meanwhile, the new unified search box manages to include all the functionality of the old search box, such as changing search providers on the fly, while introducing on-the-fly searching so that as you type, you see a relevant list of Web results, bookmarks, and browsing history.
The add-on performance notification is a small but useful feature that warns you when an add-on is slowing down the browser. You can customize what that level of impact is, too.
The performance of the browser itself has been lauded since last year when Microsoft rolled out developer's previews. Over the course of the following year, the developer's previews, betas, and release candidate version of IE 9 were downloaded more than 25 million times, and amounted to around 2 percent of all installed versions of Internet Explorer on Windows 7 by the time the release candidate was published.
For an in-depth review of Internet Explorer 9, check back here at 9 p.m. PT today when Microsoft makes the browser available to the public.

All Comcast Users should Get A Docsis 3 Cable Codem

If you use Comcast as your internet service provider make sure they give you a docsis 3 cable modem. It is no additional charge and will provide you with much faster speeds. See my numbers. I switched modems a month or so ago and now my speeds are almost always like this.  A Comcast lineman told me about this.  I had to pressure the telephone representative to get me one but she did.  It has made a world of difference.  You can also buy your own online.

Check for prices here.

First Look Video: Mac OS X Lion | The Download Blog -

First Look Video: Mac OS X Lion | The Download Blog -

AT&T to introduce data caps on DSL | Signal Strength - CNET News

AT&T to introduce data caps on DSL | Signal Strength - CNET News

Unlimited data will soon be a thing of the past for all AT&T customers, as the company confirms it will put a cap on data usage for its DSL and U-verse broadband services.
The blog Broadband Reports confirmed over the weekend that AT&T will introduce a data cap for its broadband services. Customers who exceed a monthly limit of 150GB of data in three separate months will be charged $10 extra for every additional 50GB of data they consume. Customers subscribing to AT&T's faster U-verse broadband service will have a limit of 250GB. The new policy goes into effect starting May 2, the company said.
The new capped data policy is aimed at reining in heavy data users. The way it will work is that only users who exceed the new usage cap three times will be charged the overage fees. AT&T will then alert customers multiple times if they are near the limit or if they exceed their limit. These notifications will occur when usage hits 65 percent, 90 percent, and 100 percent of total usage. The carrier also plans to provide online tools to help customers track their usage.
AT&T said that the new policy will affect only a small percentage of customers--roughly 2 percent--who it claims use a disproportionate amount of bandwidth.
The company already caps data usage on its wireless service. Last year, it revised its smartphone data pricing, eliminating its unlimited plan and instead offering customers the choice of a 2GB service for $25 a month or a $250MB service for $15 a month. Customers who exceed those limits are charged for the additional usage.
AT&T's move to impose caps on its wired broadband service follows similar action by other broadband providers. Comcast imposed usage caps on its broadband service in 2008. The company limits residential customers to 250GB of data per month. Comcast says that median monthly data usage of residential customers is about 2GB to 3GB of data per month.

To put this type of usage into context, Comcast says on its Web site explaining the policy that customers would have to do any one of the following to exceed its 250GB cap:
Send 50 million e-mails (at 0.05KB per e-mail)
Download 62,500 songs (at 4MB per song) Download 125 standard-definition movies (at 2GB per movie) Upload 25,000 high-resolution digital photos (at 10MB per photo)>
AT&T has been experimenting with usage-based broadband service. In 2008, it conducted a trial in Reno, Nev., and Beaumont, Texas, in which it capped usage between 20GB and 150GB, charging up to $1 per gigabyte, Broadband Reports said in its report.
While the caps that AT&T is imposing are large, analyst Craig Moffett at Sanford C. Bernstein said that as people watch more video online, these caps may not look so large in the future.

"Only video can drive that kind of usage," he said in an e-mail to investors. "To be sure, the caps are high, and the number of customers who will be affected is low. Still, the importance of the move cannot be overstated."
He expects other broadband providers to follow in AT&T's footsteps. Charter Communications, Cox Communications, and Time Warner Cable are likely first movers, he said.
"Usage Based Pricing is one of two critical feedback loops that must be considered in any serious analysis of over-the-top-video (the other is content availability)," he said in his e-mail. "To wit; if consumption patterns change such that web video begins to substitute for linear video, then the terrestrial broadband operators will simply adopt pricing plans that preserve the economics of their physical infrastructure."

In other words, broadband providers can't lose.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

MPU 045: Finding Files and Tagging « Mac Power Users

MPU 045: Finding Files and Tagging « Mac Power Users

Katie and David, joined by Mac mad scientist Brett Terpstra, cover the many ways to organize and find files on your Mac. This show includes tips on tagging, spotlight, naming conventions and more.