Category Archives: Technology

Blackle? Google with a Black Theme

Someone suggested that Google could save a lot of energy around the world if they used black as their background color (because white is the most intense color that a monitor can produce where black is the absense of light). So some company created Blackle (which is powered by Google though not RUN by Google).

Their "about" page says that they're all about saving electricity and being green, but I'm wondering if they don't modify the ads that you see thus making their focus about a completely different kind of green…

Summary of Deep Packet Inspection and Net Neutrality

Here's a great summary of both deep packet inspection and net neutrality and why they're important. The short of it is that if a company can inspect your internet packets, they can figure out what you're doing. This lets them charge more for certain types of traffic than others.

The companies will be able to use their vast resources of technical and number crunching experts to find the best way to nickel and dime you while keeping you from getting just angry enough to do anything about it. If you can't imagine what this would be like, think of how Internet service is charged on cell phones now (per minute, or by over-all download) or remember what it was like before AOL changed the landscape by going to unlimited access for a single monthly fee (which was a major reason many people started to use the Internet).

History shows that people don't like having to worry about how they use a service and what the charges will be. Who has the time? What if every cable channel was unlocked and you get charged by how long you stay on any station, but you don't know what the fees are (sure they're in an agreement or pricelist somewhere, but you don't memorize these things). That's pretty much what the Internet will be like if Net Neutrality doesn't pass.

Supermarkets Treat You Like A Criminal – Fingerprints for Food

Some supermarkets now have fingerprint readers in lieu of credit card payments. You have to supply your fingerprint and attach your credit card to it, but then you can pay just by touching your finger to the reader.

There are many problems with this:

1) In theory, they're promising only to take the "data points" not the fingerprint, but if they use the same data points as other companies, then the data points are the same as your fingerprint. If every company uses different data points, as data from each breach is combined, it create a better and better picture of your actual fingerprint.
2) Unlike a credit card that can be re-issued or changed, fingerprints can't.
3) You don't leave impressions of your credit card everywhere you touch like you do with your finger. Fingerprints can be used for tracking and accountability that you shouldn't have to be responsible for unless you're a criminal.
4) There was nothing wrong with the system that was there before. Swiping a credit card is actually easier and faster than putting your finger on a reader and entering a PIN.
5) The more people that use the system, the more problems they will have with false matches (where your finger and someone elses are too close to distinguish. Granted that the PIN solves this problem to a degree, but these companies will have to add more and more data points to the algorithm to make the system work. The more data points they use, the closer to storing your actual fingerprint.

This is bad, bad news. I wonder when the first "fingerprint data breach" will happen.

Use Virtual Credit Cards to Control How Companies Use and Store Your Credit Card

A virtual credit card is a short term working credit card that has restrictions such as payout amounts, time of use, or merchants who are allowed to debit it. Using these, if the company you're buying from data-rapes you for your card number, it won't matter because the number they have is worthless after the set period of time or number of transactions etc.

(H/T to Lifehacker.com for the link)

Sender Controlled E-mail – Self Destructing or Single Read E-mail

Ever send an e-mail and then have second thoughts? What about wanting to make sure that the e-mail you send doesn't get shared beyond your original recipient. Using the same technique that spammers do to bypass filters and verify e-mail accounts, BitString uses images for the content of messages.

Since the reader has to load the image (which is stored on the BitString server) to view the message, if the sender wants to take it back, all they have to do is ask BitString to delete the image. As long as the image is destroyed before the reciever opens the e-mail, they can be assured that it's never been read.

Also, since BitString can track how many accesses are made for the image and what IP is requesting it, you can lock it to one individual either by specifying that after the first read of the image, it will be deleted. That will prevent forwarding of the message to your recipients friends.

That's pretty cool.

Verichip – The Human Tracking RFID People – A Summary

Verichip is the first major company to try to make a market out of implanting people with a hard to remove tracking device. They tout it as a "security" device in that it can be used for proximity detection in sensitive areas and can be used to link to medical information in an emergency where the patient can't speak for themselves (for a yearly fee of course).

Considering that the chips actaully weaken security, are hard to remove, and basically destroy all privacy you might have had, I find it hard to understand why people would consider this.

Anyway, there's a good summary of the Verichip company here.

Microsoft to Browse Your Personal Files, Send You Spam

I've blogged about how Microsoft has a wealth of spyware on your computer (Vista) for "piracy" reasons, but this is altogether far more sinister.

Feel free to read the article itself, but this is bad, bad news. What they're going to do is scan the content of your files, e-mail, music, and system status alerts to profile you and target you with ads. Penny Arcade covered this concept in one of their comics titled "Advertising in the Future". That was last October.

(For non-gamers, the comic describes a situation where two guys are playing a game, but see different in-game advertising based on the contents of their Internet browser history).

Harry Potter Book Leaked Online

This isn't that surprising. Rather than type in every word, someone photographed every page which makes for a hard read, but it can be done.

I'm actually against this practice. I think that leaking TV shows, music, movies, and such before they're released hurts the authors far more than is tolerable. It also creates headaches for the people who want to wait and get the real experience (because more and more people start talking about it thus increasing your odds of having the story spoiled).

The reason I bring this up is that I don't want to give people the impression that I'm a copyright hater (due to my hate for the business practices of the RIAA and MPAA. Let's keep this in perspective shall we? What I'm against is DRM and abusive business practices (like the RIAA lawsuits).

A Blurb About Manhunt 2

I don't know a lot about this game other than it's very violent and has been banned from the UK. Reading about it doesn't make it any better:

“In Manhunt 2, players can mutilate their enemies with an axe; saw their skulls in half castrate them with a pair of pliers; or kill them by bashing their head into an electrical box, where a power surges eventually blows their head apart, ? the letter charges. “On the Nintendo Wii, players will actually act out the violence. One review of the game describes using a saw blade to "cut upward into a foe's groin and buttocks, motioning forward and backward with the Wii remote as you go. ?

Wow, you couldn't make it more real if you tried. Parental groups in the US aren't necessarily determined to ban it and would be satisfied with just giving it an Adult rating. While this is a completely reasonable request and, as far as I'm concerned, a blatantly obvious decision, Take-Two (the game's producer) is fighting this for purely monetary reasons:

An Adults Only rating, however, could be a death blow to the game, since Nintendo and Sony, maker of the PlayStation platform, currently have policies that bar AO-rated games for their systems. That would limit sales for use only on personal computers.

New Firefox 3 Feature Makes it Easier to Spot Phishing

The Firefox team has decided to include a user-written plugin into the standard release of Firefox 3. This plugin highlights the domain name making it easier for normal users to see and understand what site they're actually on versus what they think they're on.

For example, most people think that just because the url says yourbank.com anywhere means that's the site they're on. The reality is that it must be in this format:

http://[anything at all].yourbank.com/[anything else]

to be valid. Any other arrangment is a phishing attack:

http://yourbank.loans.com
http://12.293.28.18/yourbank.com

etc.

This plugin will make it easier to spot by highlighting the valid part of the URL which is the domain (which is easily confused by less techie users who don't understand that the domain section of the URL is backwards).

Software Reads Fleeting Expressions to Know What You’re Really Thinking

It's well known that body language is very difficult to control and often gives away your true thoughts and feelings for those capable of looking for the signs. Now a German company is trying to make software that understands those slight signals in order to produce superior quality ads.

"With this type of technology there are always going to be significant questions," Ngo said. "People should have the right to say 'no' as well."

In the case of the IIS technology, the software doesn't identify individual people and then store the information for later. Instead, it compiles information and offers it as statistics, Küblbeck said.

"We do not store any patterns and try to re-identify the person," he added.

And with all such technologies, they must be banned or strictly controlled to prevent them from being turned against us at the flip of a switch.

Cell Phone Unlocking to be Next FCC Mandate?

Most people don't realize that in many cases, the only thing that prevents you from keeping your phone when switching to another carrier is corporate greed and a bit of non-obvious industry collusion. Everyone seems refuses to take customers unless they sign a new contract and buy a new phone.

The FCC chairman is proposing a new rule that would, in effect, do away with this sad state of affairs. Granted, that's only for the new 700Mhz band that will be opening up once TV is forced to go digital, but any company that wins the rights to that band will have to follow the new rules.

Now, what are the odds that all those big, bad cell companies will allow that kind of rule to go through? And isn't it pathetic that a company can even control what the head of the FCC does?

iPhone Hack Makes It Usable Without AT&T

One of the biggest problems with the iPhone is that they're exclusive to AT&T's service (a company that is at the very bottom of cell providers due to privacy problems). Fortuneately, it was only a matter of time before the good hackers of the world broke that link and they're making some progress already.

(H/T to Slashdot for the link)

Update: 7/6/07

Another hack here that seems to be more comprehensive. That didn't take long.

Second Life Property Battle In Real Court

Someone has finally sued second life for "seizing" his assets. Linden shut down his account and removed the rights to his property.

Considering that Linden sells virtual property in online auctions for real money, this would seem like a fairly strong case on the part of the player… if it wasn't for the fact that the guy got the property through cheating the auction site.

Anyway, it should be interesting to see how this plays out. One thing's for sure, if this guy wins, virtual land will become solidly a real-world asset. I'm not looking forward to the IRS taxing game playing.

Evading Digital Forensics

I don't support criminals, but evading forensics is also about privacy, not just breaking the law. For those with the interest and skill, check out the article for some tools used to evade detection of things you'd rather keep hidden. Here are some of them:

Timestomp – Destroys the timestamp evidence of files on your computer. Probably not something you'd want to run willy-nilly.
Transmogrify – Hide files by making them seem like other file types. For example, you have that picture of you in Tahiti, but you don't want someone who steals your computer to know it's there. Make it look like a text document.
Slacker – Breaks a file up and hides it in the free space at the end of other files. This could be very dangerous to use because if those files change, your hidden file could be destroyed. I'd be curious to see how this works in practice.
KY – Puts files into null directories. Most tools won't know the directory is there so your files will be hidden. This one has potential for home use. If I try it and it's good, I'll post it in my tools section.

(H/T to Slashdot for the link)

Google Street View

A new service from Google is taking their maps program down to the actual street level. You can browse around the streets of locations they've mapped like in a 3-d virtual game (though it's just pictures so not as smooth as an actual game… yet). What happens when they combine it with Fotowoosh?

The implications of this are currently unknown. For one, I suppose it gives you the opportunity to browse around a location before you actually go there so you can plan your trip better. Or if I was a terrorist, it makes it really easy to pick targets and become familiar with the neighborhood before the actual event. Another possibility is making game modifications like this one. Nothing like being able to wander around in Counterstrike blowing people away on your very own virtual street!

Don't get me wrong, it's neat technology and certainly better than live cameras. People and license plate numbers are all obscured at least. Then again, maybe not.