August 7th, 2012
chasewhiteside

How Apple’s Lax Security Allowed One Man’s Digital Life To Be Erased

Mat Honan writes for Wired about the pitfalls of having interconnected online accounts, and the ease with which 19-year-old hackers were able to erase his digital life (and takeover Gizmodo’s Twitter) via security oversights in Amazon and Apple’s systems.

 At 5:02 p.m., they reset my Twitter password. At 5:00 they used iCloud’s “Find My” tool to remotely wipe my iPhone. At 5:01 they remotely wiped my iPad. At 5:05 they remotely wiped my MacBook. Around this same time, they deleted my Google account. At 5:10, I placed the call to AppleCare. At 5:12 the attackers posted a message to my account on Twitter taking credit for the hack….

On Monday, Wired tried to verify the hackers’ access technique by performing it on a different account. We were successful. This means, ultimately, all you need in addition to someone’s e-mail address are those two easily acquired pieces of information: a billing address and the last four digits of a credit card on file. Here’s the story of how the hackers got them….

As of Monday, both of these exploits used by the hackers were still functioning. Wired was able to duplicate them. Apple says its internal tech support processes weren’t followed, and this is how my account was compromised. However, this contradicts what AppleCare told me twice that weekend. If that is, in fact, the case — that I was the victim of Apple not following its own internal processes — then the problem is widespread….

I bought into the Apple account system originally to buy songs at 99 cents a pop, and over the years that same ID has evolved into a single point of entry that controls my phones, tablets, computers and data-driven life. With this AppleID, someone can make thousands of dollars of purchases in an instant, or do damage at a cost that you can’t put a price on. 

Read the full article here.

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July 9th, 2012
erickstoll

The Stupidity Of Computers

David Auerbach writes in N+1 about the reductive algorithms computers use to quantify and organize our world. 

This has brought us Google and the iPhone, but it has not brought us HAL 9000. So what does the future hold? There are two pathways going forward.

First, we will bring ourselves to computers. The small- and large-scale convenience and efficiency of storing more and more parts of our lives online will increase the hold that formal ontologies have on us. They will be constructed by governments, by corporations, and by us in unequal measure, and there will be both implicit and explicit battles over how these ontologies are managed. The fight over how test scores should be used to measure student and teacher performance is nothing compared to what we will see once every aspect of our lives from health to artistic effort to personal relationships is formalized and quantified.

We will increasingly see ourselves in terms of these ontologies and willingly try to conform to them. This will bring about a flattening of the self—a reversal of the expansion of the self that occurred over the last several hundred years. While in the 20th century people came to see themselves as empty existential vessels, without a commitment to any particular internal essence, they will now see themselves as contingently but definitively embodying types derived from the overriding ontologies. This is as close to a solution to the modernist problem of the self as we will get.

Read the full article here. 

April 30th, 2012
erickstoll

How Apple Avoids Billions in Taxes

For The New York Times, Charles Duhigg and David Kocieniewski explain how Apple and other tech companies take advantage of outdated tax codes to avoid paying taxes.

Apple, for instance, was among the first tech companies to designate overseas salespeople in high-tax countries in a manner that allowed them to sell on behalf of low-tax subsidiaries on other continents, sidestepping income taxes, according to former executives. Apple was a pioneer of an accounting technique known as the “Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich,” which reduces taxes by routing profits through Irish subsidiaries and the Netherlands and then to the Caribbean. Today, that tactic is used by hundreds of other corporations — some of which directly imitated Apple’s methods, say accountants at those companies.

Without such tactics, Apple’s federal tax bill in the United States most likely would have been $2.4 billion higher last year, according to a recent study by a former Treasury Department economist, Martin A. Sullivan. As it stands, the company paid cash taxes of $3.3 billion around the world on its reported profits of $34.2 billion last year, a tax rate of 9.8 percent. (Apple does not disclose what portion of those payments was in the United States, or what portion is assigned to previous or future years.)

Read the full article here.

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April 18th, 2012
atomvincent
How Technology Foils Democracy
For The American, Michael Sacasas writes on the long-standing American fascination with technology and the ways its allure has come to inhibit our democracy.

When we ask questions about technology we often ask about matters such as safety and efficiency or costs and benefits. We don’t often ask, “What sort of person will the use of this or that technology make of me?” Or, more to the present point, “What sort of citizen will the use of this or that technology make of me?” We don’t often ask these sorts of questions because we tend to tacitly endorse a theory about the neutrality of technology, a theory we could call the NRA approach to technology. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This slogan nicely encapsulates the view that technologies are ethically neutral and ethical implications attach only to the use to which a technology may be put by individuals.
This notion enjoys a certain commonsensical plausibility, and, as far as it goes, it is true enough. A hammer could be used to build a home or it could be used to injure a person. Nuclear energy could power a city or flatten it. But it is not quite all that can be said on the matter. A fuller account of technology’s ethical ramifications would take into consideration how the use of a technology may inculcate certain habits and engender certain assumptions. In others words, technologies not only allow us to act in certain ways that may or may not be ethical, their use also shapes the user and this too may have ethical consequences. Winston Churchill’s observation about buildings captures this dynamic nicely. “We shape our buildings,” Churchill said, “and afterwards our buildings shape us.” He might also have said, we shape our technologies and afterwards our technologies shape us.

Read the full article here.
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How Technology Foils Democracy

For The American, Michael Sacasas writes on the long-standing American fascination with technology and the ways its allure has come to inhibit our democracy.

When we ask questions about technology we often ask about matters such as safety and efficiency or costs and benefits. We don’t often ask, “What sort of person will the use of this or that technology make of me?” Or, more to the present point, “What sort of citizen will the use of this or that technology make of me?” We don’t often ask these sorts of questions because we tend to tacitly endorse a theory about the neutrality of technology, a theory we could call the NRA approach to technology. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This slogan nicely encapsulates the view that technologies are ethically neutral and ethical implications attach only to the use to which a technology may be put by individuals.

This notion enjoys a certain commonsensical plausibility, and, as far as it goes, it is true enough. A hammer could be used to build a home or it could be used to injure a person. Nuclear energy could power a city or flatten it. But it is not quite all that can be said on the matter. A fuller account of technology’s ethical ramifications would take into consideration how the use of a technology may inculcate certain habits and engender certain assumptions. In others words, technologies not only allow us to act in certain ways that may or may not be ethical, their use also shapes the user and this too may have ethical consequences. Winston Churchill’s observation about buildings captures this dynamic nicely. “We shape our buildings,” Churchill said, “and afterwards our buildings shape us.” He might also have said, we shape our technologies and afterwards our technologies shape us.

Read the full article here.

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April 5th, 2012
chasewhiteside

Our Addiction to Stupid Games

Why do millions of people spend hours each week playing purposeless and endless games like Angry Birds? Sam Anderson chronicles our long obsession with stupid games, from Tetris to smart phones, for the NY Times Magazine:

There are people who see the proliferation of stupid games as a good thing. In fact, they believe that games may be the answer to all of humanity’s problems. In her book “Reality Is Broken,” Jane McGonigal argues that play is possibly the best, healthiest, most productive activity a human can undertake — a gateway to our ideal psychological state. Games aren’t an escape from reality, McGonigal contends, they are an optimal form of engaging it. In fact, if we could just find a way to impose game mechanics on top of everyday life, humans would be infinitely better off. We might even use these approaches to help solve real-world problems like obesity, education and government abuse. Some proponents point to successful examples of games applied to everyday life: Weight Watchers and frequent-flier miles, for example.

Corporations, of course, have been using similar strategies for decades, hooking consumers on products by giving them constant small victories for spending money (think of the old Monopoly game promotion at McDonald’s). The buzzword for this is “gamification” and the ubiquity of computers and smartphones has only supercharged these tendencies. Gartner, a technology research firm, predicted last year that, in the near future, “a gamified service for consumer-goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon.” Companies have already used online games to sneakily advertise sugary cereals directly to children.

Although there is a certain utopian appeal to McGonigal’s “games for change” model, I worry about the dystopic potential of gamification. Instead of just bombarding us with jingles, corporations will be able to inject their messages directly into our minds with ads disguised as games. Gamification seeks to turn the world into one giant chore chart covered with achievement stickers — the kind of thing parents design for their children — though it raises the potentially terrifying question of who the parents are. This, I fear, is the dystopian future of stupid games: amoral corporations hiring teams of behavioral psychologists to laser-target our addiction cycles for profit.

Read the full article here.
(And play the addictive built-in game that allows you to destroy the New York Times website!)

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March 20th, 2012
arvindsuguness
They Are Watching You
After 9/11 the National Security Agency’s warantless-wiretapping program placed wiretapping equipment at telecom switches throughout the country, collecting vast swathes of data on internet traffic. Writing for Wired, James Bradford investigates the immense complex being built in the Utah desert to hold all this data and the classified code-breaking program that will allow the government to decipher even encrypted communications:

Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” Binney says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life.
…
Meanwhile, over in Building 5300, the NSA succeeded in building an even faster supercomputer. “They made a big breakthrough,” says another former senior intelligence official, who helped oversee the program. The NSA’s machine was likely similar to the unclassified Jaguar, but it was much faster out of the gate, modified specifically for cryptanalysis and targeted against one or more specific algorithms, like the AES. In other words, they were moving from the research and development phase to actually attacking extremely difficult encryption systems. The code-breaking effort was up and running.
The breakthrough was enormous, says the former official, and soon afterward the agency pulled the shade down tight on the project, even within the intelligence community and Congress. “Only the chairman and vice chairman and the two staff directors of each intelligence committee were told about it,” he says. The reason? “They were thinking that this computing breakthrough was going to give them the ability to crack current public encryption.”

Read the full article here.
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They Are Watching You

After 9/11 the National Security Agency’s warantless-wiretapping program placed wiretapping equipment at telecom switches throughout the country, collecting vast swathes of data on internet traffic. Writing for Wired, James Bradford investigates the immense complex being built in the Utah desert to hold all this data and the classified code-breaking program that will allow the government to decipher even encrypted communications:

Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” Binney says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life.

Meanwhile, over in Building 5300, the NSA succeeded in building an even faster supercomputer. “They made a big breakthrough,” says another former senior intelligence official, who helped oversee the program. The NSA’s machine was likely similar to the unclassified Jaguar, but it was much faster out of the gate, modified specifically for cryptanalysis and targeted against one or more specific algorithms, like the AES. In other words, they were moving from the research and development phase to actually attacking extremely difficult encryption systems. The code-breaking effort was up and running.

The breakthrough was enormous, says the former official, and soon afterward the agency pulled the shade down tight on the project, even within the intelligence community and Congress. “Only the chairman and vice chairman and the two staff directors of each intelligence committee were told about it,” he says. The reason? “They were thinking that this computing breakthrough was going to give them the ability to crack current public encryption.”

Read the full article here.

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March 14th, 2012
erickstoll

We Shape Our Tools, and Thereafter Our Tools Shape Us

In 1995, Harper’s hosted a forum between four technology writers to examine how the internet was changing us. Though it occasionally betrays its age, the conversation remains insightful and prescient about the communications revolution underway. 

Sven Birkets: In living my own life, what seems most important to me is focus, a lack of distraction—an environment that engenders a sustained and growing awareness of place, and face-to-face interaction with other people. I’ve deemed these to be the primary integers of building and sustaining this self. I see this whole breaking wave, this incursion of technologies, as being in so many ways designed to pull me from that center of focus. 

John Perry Barlow: There is something so beautiful about that vision. I don’t know that I could do it as elegantly, but if I were to describe my aspirations I wouldn’t use many different terms from the ones you just did. Nietzsche said that sin is that which separates. And I think that information, as it has been applied primarily by broadcast media, and to a great extent by large institutions, has separated human beings from the kind of interaction that we are having here in this room. There was a long period when I adhered to your point of view, which is that the only way to deal with the information revolution is to refuse it. … And what I finally concluded was that there were so many forces afoot that were in opposition to that way of life that the only way around technology was through it. I took faith in the idea that, on the other side of this info-desert we all seemed to be crossing, technology might restore what it was destroying. There’s a big difference be- tween information and experience. What you are talking about, Sven, is experience. That is the stuff of the soul. But if we’re going to get back into an experiential world that has substance and form and meaning, we’re going to have to go through information to get there.

Read the full article here. 

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March 7th, 2012
erickstoll

iPads Aren’t Making Your Children Smarter

For the New York Times, Matt Richtel finds little proof that nationwide investment in technology in the classroom is improving education. 

The class, and the Kyrene School District as a whole, offer what some see as a utopian vision of education’s future. Classrooms are decked out with laptops, big interactive screens and software that drills students on every basic subject. Under a ballot initiative approved in 2005, the district has invested roughly $33 million in such technologies.

The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.

Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.

Since 2005, scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen.

Read the full article here. 

January 26th, 2012
erickstoll

The Human Cost of the iPad

In the second of a New York Times series about the global tech industry, Charless Duhigg and David Barboza explore the often brutal working conditions at the factories where some of America’s most iconic high-tech devices are made. 

In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.

However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.

Read the full article here.

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January 17th, 2012
chasewhiteside

Google’s History of Censorship

While Google is coming out against the proposed PIPA and SOPA legislation that would effectively allow the U.S. government and private U.S. companies to effectively censor foreign content deemed to violate domestic U.S. laws, it wasn’t that long ago that Google, seeking to expand its presence in China, the world’s fastest growing online market, had its own role in censoring the web. From Clive Thompson, for the New York Times Magazine:

Yet Google’s conduct in China has in recent months seemed considerably less than idealistic. In January, a few months after Lee opened the Beijing office, the company announced it would be introducing a new version of its search engine for the Chinese market. To obey China’s censorship laws, Google’s representatives explained, the company had agreed to purge its search results of any Web sites disapproved of by the Chinese government, including Web sites promoting Falun Gong, a government-banned spiritual movement; sites promoting free speech in China; or any mention of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. If you search for “Tibet” or “Falun Gong” most anywhere in the world on google.com, you’ll find thousands of blog entries, news items and chat rooms on Chinese repression. Do the same search inside China on google.cn, and most, if not all, of these links will be gone. Google will have erased them completely.

Read the full article here.

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