Monday, November 20, 2017

Net Neutrality Faces Challenge in the U.S.

Ajit Pai
According to TechCrunch, if Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai gets his way, he will drive a stake through its own net neutrality rules before the year ends. Sources at Bloomberg and Reuters also said that the FCC’s head honcho will showcase plans for a vote to repeal a 2015 order regulating web traffic throttling.

If Pai gets his way, the vote will go down just ahead of winter break, during the FCC’s monthly meeting on December 14 — a time of year when much of the public is likely to be preoccupied with other seasonal concerns. The FCC has declined comment on the reports.

Net Neutrality has long been a thorn in the Trump-designated chairman's side. Back in January at his first FCC meeting as chairman, Pai addressed said, "I think the issue is pretty simple. I favor a free and open Internet and I oppose Title II. That's pretty much all I can say about that topic."

He's since referred chalked the Obama-era ruling up to "politics," and argued that the rules are hampering broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T, while putting investments and jobs at risk. In May, the FCC held a 2-1 vote to advance the plans to rescind the order, setting things up for a potential final vote at the end of the year.

Pai's multi-pronged attack on the ruling have drawn criticism from top tech companies including Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon and prompted more than 22 million comments during a public reaction period.

Just recently, the FCC voted 3-2 to relax rules that limit broadcast and print media ownership in a single market — a decision that could leave the door open for a merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media. Pai referred to the decision as, "dragging the broadcast rules into the digital age."

Those interested in adding their name to the 22 million or so comments about the future of net neutrality can still do so on the FCC's site.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Advance Security Now Available to Gmail

Alphabet's Google said last 17 October that it would roll out an "advanced protection program" to provide stronger email security for some users such as government officials, political activists and journalists who are at a higher risk of being targeted by sophisticated hackers.

Google users will have the ability to opt in to security settings aimed at protecting Gmail, Google Drive and YouTube data from phishing attacks.

The advanced protection features include an option to require a physical USB security key to connect to a desktop computer before each log-in as a way to verify a user's identity. Mobile log-ins will require a Bluetooth wireless device.

Advanced protection users will have their data walled off from access by any non-Google third-party applications, such as the Apple iOS mail client or Microsoft Outlook.

The program also includes a more laborious and detailed account recovery process to prevent fraudulent access by hackers who try to gain access by pretending they have been locked out.

Although Google has previously supported the use of security keys for what is known as two-factor authentication, advanced protection users will have no backup log-in method available if they lose their keys other than the fuller account recovery process.

Google did not specify what the recovery process would entail.

The roll-out of a suite of new email security services follows a US presidential election last year shaped in part by the disclosure of emails belonging to associates of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that were obtained through phishing schemes.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that those hacks, which included a breach of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta's personal Gmail account, were carried out by Russia as part of a broader cyber campaign to help Donald Trump, a Republican, win the White House.

"If John Podesta had Advanced Protection last year, the world might be a very different place," said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, who was briefed on the new features by Google.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Not A Good Time For Starbucks Franchise

Starbucks Corp has just cut its profit forecast and posted disappointing quarterly results last 2 November, amid bitter criticism for its unabashed support for gays and lesbians as well as greater support for traditional values espoused by boutique coffee seller Intelligentsia and McDonald's.

Investors, long used to Starbucks exceeding investor expectations, sent shares down 7.3 percent to US$ 50.85 in after-hours trade.

The Seattle-based coffee chain said it now sees long-term earnings per share growth of 12 percent or greater, versus its prior call for growth of 15 percent to 20 percent.

Fourth-quarter revenue missed Wall Street's target after sales at established global cafes gained 2 percent, less than analysts' average target of 3.2 percent, according to Consensus Metrix.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma battered same-store sales at more than 1,100 US cafes. Sales at mainstay US cafes were down 2 percent for the quarter that ended October 1, excluding the hurricane impacts, they would have been up 3 percent - still just short of analysts' estimate.

Analysts have warned that the Seattle-based company is being "middled" by rising indignation against its liberal views and rising support for conservatives ideals of its competitor.

McDonald's Corp recently expanded its McCafe menu with new macchiatos and lattes and is selling small McCafe espresso drinks for US$ 2. Elsewhere, Dunkin' Brands Group Inc is offering special deals on breakfast sandwiches in its bid to win breakfast.

At the same time, upscale craft coffee rivals like Nestle SA's Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia are opening more shops.

Adding to the pressure, Strelzik said, Starbucks continues to build its own US stores at the risk of cannibalizing sales.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Social Networking Sites Under Scrutiny

Tech Social Network
Social networking sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter are currently under great scrutiny for their rather inconsistent approaches to moderating content on their platforms, and U.S. Representative Frank Pallone is the latest to take them to task. Calling the results of the various undocumented policies "absurd," he summoned the companies' CEOs for a talk on the topic.

Citing the fact that so much activity has become concentrated on these major platforms, Rep. Pallone wrote in his letter that each has become "a quasi-governmental role policing content, and therefore a large amount of communication, on the internet."

But as shown in the past, the companies' rules for what is and isn't allowed are apparently rather fluid, and of course with millions or billions of pieces of content to inspect or filter, there are innumerable cracks through which troublesome content can slip.
"With a goal of ad clicks or driving page views, these companies’ policies are not neutral; they actively shape content on the web. And to the extent that these companies’ platforms have publicly available policies for moderating content, those policies are vague and applied inconsistently. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for consumers to understand how content is controlled and for the government to oversee the market. Ultimately, algorithms and employees become the arbiters of what is acceptable content in the public forum without transparent guidelines. The result of these dynamics can often be absurd."
Rep. Pallone then cited several examples of situations where, for example, the victim of harassment is suspended from a service while her harassers are not. Or one form of hate speech thrives while another is specifically forbidden.

To better elucidate the policies and programs in place at these various platforms, Rep. Pallone invites "Dear Mr. Page, Mr. Zuckerberg, and Mr. Dorsey" to join the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for a chat on a few of these topics.

Specifically, they plan to ask about how content moderation policies are made, enforced, and monitored; how users are informed of these things; how "creators of fabricated content" are detected; and how users may appeal or otherwise affect these policies.

A spokesperson for the Committee told TechCrunch that it's not clear yet when or if the meeting can take place (the invite just went out, after all), and whether it will be open or private is also yet to be determined.

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Google Security Check-Up Was Revamped

Google Security
Google has just rolled out a revamped version of its longtime Security Checkup feature - a service that helps users make sure their Google accounts are safe by checking those items that could impact the account's security. This includes connected apps, connected devices, account permissions and other things. Now, Security Checkup will be improved by offering more personalized suggestions, says Google.

Before, the Security Checkup would offer the same, passive checklist for everyone - meaning users would have to go through each suggestion to make sure their account was safe, even if not all items would have impacted on them. With the new version of Security Checkup, the guide is tailored to each user with personal recommendations about what to fix.

For example, users might be informed that some of the third-party apps connected to their Google account are not secure, and given the option to remove them. Or they may be prompted to remove their account for older devices, or set up additional account verification methods.

The Checkup page will also, at a glance, give users an idea about the overall health of their account by flagging the Security Checkup shield with either a green checkmark (if things are good) or yellow or red exclamation point, based on how many items need to be taken care of.

None of the suggestions in Security Checkup are new to the service, to be clear - the difference is in the personalization and how the information is presented.

Users may be surprised by some of Security Checkup's results, which can be at times overly alarming. For instance, it may suggest that they are using apps that have "extensive access" to their personal information and had not been verified by Google. This included services they had been using as add-ons to their Gmail, like Boomerang's smart calendar assistant, Clearbit Connect'semail address finder, and Evercontact's automatic address book updater.

While it's true that these add-ons do require heightened access to Google's services to work, they're from reputable enough companies and provide features that improve the Gmail experience. It could be frustrating to find that they're all flagged as being from an "unverified" developer - generally, a cause for concern. There's no way to whitelist them, either, so users will never get the green checkmark if they decide to keep them installed.

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