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Tuesday, March 16, 2010
The Online World is Buzzing and the War on Privacy Continues
The Online World is Buzzing and the War on Privacy Continues
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote an editorial here in WXPnews titled "Does Anybody Care about Online Privacy Anymore?" Many readers wrote to tell me, rather adamantly, that they do. Over the course of that year, however, it seems that more and more of our privacy has slipped away, and according to a piece by Declan McCullagh published in CNET News last week, the answer to my question is now a resounding "no." http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Privacy
The apparent inspiration for the article was Google's new social networking technology, Google Buzz. It integrates social networking features into Gmail, similarly to the way the Outlook Social Connector integrates social networking into Outlook. I wrote about the OSC in the February 25 issue of our sister newsletter, Win7News: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Outlook-Social-Networking
Buzz has generated more, well, buzz than OSC, even though Microsoft was actually first to announce its intention to integrate social networking with its email client. In this blog post, Sam Diaz touches on some of the reasons for this: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Buzz
I think another big advantage that Buzz has over Microsoft is the compatibility factor. You have to be using Outlook (2003, 2007 or 2010) to use OSC, and setting it up requires you to download and install the OSC software. Note that with Outlook 2010 beta, you have to first uninstall a version of OSC that's included, because it isn't compatible with the first plug-in, for LinkedIn - although presumably a functional version of OSC will come built into the final release of Office 2010.
Because Gmail is a web-based application (or some might say a "cloud" app), users don't have to do anything to update it in order to use Buzz; Gmail has already been updated for you. You just log into your Gmail account and there's a "Buzz" link in the left-side pane under the Inbox link. Click it and you'll see a video about how Buzz works, and you can add people you want to follow on Buzz. You can post a photo, but as far as I can tell there is no way to create albums; you have to post one photo at a time. As with other social networks, people can comment or "like" your post or photo. Unfortunately, not that many people seem to be using Buzz yet (at least, not people I know) which limits its usefulness. If you're interested, you can check it out at http://www.google.com/buzz
But back to the point of the original article: Much of the "buzz" generated by the new service had to do with privacy issues related to its default settings. Many privacy advocates were appalled to find that Buzz made the list of people they followed and those who followed them part of their public profiles, so that anyone who cares to look could find out who your friends are. Google has made some changes to the settings, but not everyone is satisfied that they go far enough: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Buzz-Privacy-Flaw
Maybe it doesn't matter, if McCullagh is right. He says "Internet users have grown accustomed to informational exhibitionism" and "Norms are changing, with confidentiality giving way to openness." And he seems to think that's a good thing. In fact, he says it's fortunate that courts have not embraced the philosophies of former Supreme Court Justice and privacy advocate Louis Brandeis, and states that less privacy "can lead to a more virtuous society."
Does he have a point? I can't argue with his observation that anonymity encourages (or at least enables) people to say and do things they wouldn't if their identities were known - and often those things represent the worst aspects of their personalities. In fact, one of the drawbacks, in my opinion, of web forums in comparison to email feedback is that although they certainly don't have to, most readers who send me email sign it - even those whose comments are critical. On the forums, most (although not all) participants have screen names that lend no clues to who they are. Luckily, our readers are generally a great group of people and the discussion has always remained civil, but I've seen other web boards where people hid behind screen names to post some pretty nasty comments.
Wishing others would have the courtesy to reveal their names when we're having a conversation, though, is a far cry from believing that we should have no qualms about having more intimate details about us published for the world to see. Some of my recent editorials have touched on specific privacy concerns: location- aware software that broadcasts where you are in real time and how that can make you a target of crime, use of webcams to remotely take a peek at you without your knowledge, having your data out there in "the cloud" where it's under someone else's control.
As almost anyone who's ever been in a romantic relationship of any duration can attest, sharing is good, but sharing everything -- not so much. What kind of world would it be if we could all read one another's minds, if our every passing thought was public, if we had no privacy whatsoever? In January 2009, 60 Minutes reported that researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University had some up with a way to determine what a person is thinking at any given time via an MRI scan. http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Private-Thoughts
There is a great deal of research going on in this area, and why not? The ability to read someone's mind would give you the ultimate power over that person. This has long been a subject of fascination for science fiction writers and fans. Stories like Minority Report by Philip K. Dick, on which the Tom Cruise movie was based, explore the idea of what life would be like if our thoughts were no longer private - and somehow that future never comes out looking like a pleasant one.
We know that hackers are rarely satisfied with just breaking into our computers and looking at our data. The next step is to change it or steal it. Once it's possible to intrude on a person's thoughts, the logical progression is to find ways to control those thoughts, or even to erase memories completely. Researchers have already developed a drug that can be used to erase painful memories. As with most inventions, it was created with the best of intentions, to help victims of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) let go of memories that disrupt their lives. But since our memories (and our thoughts) define who we are, perhaps it's not such a great idea to get rid of them - even the bad ones: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Erase-Bad-Memories
As scary as it is to imagine having your memories wiped out, it's even more frightening to think that someone could replace them with other, false memories. It's an accepted idea that false memories can be implanted by systematic brainwashing or even just suggestions made to a psychologically vulnerable person by someone in a position of trust, such as a therapist. There's even a name for it: False Memory Syndrome (FMS). And although the study of FMS has focused on memories of childhood abuse, it's logical that if one type of fake memory can be implanted in a person's mind, so can other types of memories.
Will technology one day advance so far that we'll be able to download all of our memories into a computer, thereby achieving a sort of digital immortality? In the Syfy channel's new series, Caprica, tech billionaire Daniel Graystone does just that with the memories and personality of his daughter, which exist both in an avatar in the virtual world and in a robotic Cylon. http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Caprica
We're still a long way from that, and the separation of our minds from our physical bodies is a bridge some believe will never be crossed, but in the meantime, it seems as if every technological advance strips away a little more of the privacies that we once held so dear. Do we still want to defend them, or is it time to give in to the seemingly inevitable and, in words reminiscent of a much more naïve time, "let it all hang out?" Tell us what you think about Buzz, privacy, and how far our tech will take us in the future. We invite you to discuss these topics in our forum at http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Forum-Discussion
Follow-up: Cloudy Days
In last week's editorial, I addressed comments from Steve Ballmer that Microsoft is betting its future on the "the cloud," and voiced my wish for a little moderation when it comes to the wholesale move toward delivering applications and data to remote Internet servers. After thinking more about this subject over the past week, I had some additional thoughts, which are too lengthy to include in this follow-up, so I put them into a blog post that you can read at: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Cloud-Cover
Meanwhile, there were quite a few responses from readers in the forum and via email and the majority of those responses were, if not completely anti-cloud, at least what I'd call "cloud wary." They confirmed my suspicion that most people still aren't ready to trust the cloud with their data and don't want to depend on it for their important applications. The biggest concerns seem to be security, reliability and performance.
Some of you likened cloud computing to the old mainframe model. That was more like the current idea of the "private cloud." While it had the same centralized structure, the control still generally stayed within the organization, rather than resting with a third party outside the company. Another reader said AOL was cloud computing and yes, it was - sort of. However, it was a single cloud application that ran alongside other, local apps. People didn't use AOL to compose their documents or store their work products on AOL's servers.
Of course, the vast majority of home computer users use what might be considered a variation of cloud computing for email. Not many run their own email servers at home as we do; instead they rely on their ISPs or a web mail service such as Hotmail or Gmail, or have their email domains hosted by providers. It's businesses that will be making a change by moving email into the cloud. But as DavidW pointed out, it's not exactly the same as the cloud computing model we've been discussing. However, I do think consumers are already much more comfortable with the cloud than most companies are. Many of you probably already store data on Skydrive or ADrive or Xdrive, although many use it just for backups and not as the primary storage repository.
And amongst all the sentiment against the cloud, opinions that Microsoft will not push the cloud to the exclusive of personal computing and speculate that if they do, Linux may finally rise in popularity, there were a few responses like this one from pwilson: "Will cloud computing become analogous to moving from candlelight to electricity? I'm sure early reliability and trust of electricity was suspect. There were early adopters and those that waited. It's not if, it's when." And Ernest said, "I totally agree with Ballmer's strategy -- they've probably read the tea leaves (think Chrome O/S) and realized the cloud is the only option, long-term!"
But as many of you brought up, in the short term there are far more issues than I addressed in my original article. One very good point was geographic location of the servers and thus legal jurisdiction. Alzie also pointed out that copyright issues get more complicated when data is stored in the cloud. And one reader mentioned the possibility of government takeovers in the IT industry as has happened in other industries. And a number of you pointed out that while cloud computing might be an option for those with unlimited Internet access, the trend with ISPs is going in the other direction (and in fact, metered access is the norm in many countries), making cloud computing a much more expensive solution.
We got more responses on the subject than most, and I enjoyed reading all the different opinions. As always, thanks to everyone who participated!
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XP users may face performance problem with new "advanced format" hard drives
A new type of hard drive that uses a new format for storing data are set to hit the shelves next year, and they will use the space more effectively because they store the data in fewer, larger sectors. However, Windows XP doesn't know how to handle the new format and XP users could run into problems if they install the new drives. Emulation software will allow XP to use the drives, but you may find that performance slows when writing to the drives - with up to a 10 percent reduction in performance. http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Advanced-Format
Don't press F1!
There were dozens of articles on the web this week with that headline. What it pertains to is a vulnerability in IE by which an attacker can write code to pop up a message box telling you to press F1 (which invokes winhlp32.exe, the Help file) and then run an .HLP file written by the attacker. Vista and Windows 7 don't use .HLP files, but XP is vulnerable. Despite all the hoopla, though, it's not as dangerous as it seems at first glance. Find out why here: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-XP-F1-Help-Bug
Xbox is top selling video game console but overall game sales are down
In February, Microsoft's Xbox took over the top spot in the video game hardware space from Nintendo's Wii, and Sony's PlayStation 3 is in third place, but not by much. Overall, though, hardware sales have fallen by 20 percent. Did everyone who wants one get one already, or are people playing less? Maybe it bodes well for the economy - if it means more people are back to work, with less time on their hands to play video games. Whatever the reasons, read about it here and find out what the top selling games were last month: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Xbox-Beats-Wii
How To: Using XP Features
Use Windows Live Sync to keep your computers "on the same page"
If you have multiple computers (a home computer and a work computer, or a desktop and a laptop, for example), it's handy to be able to keep the important files synchronized on both machines so you don't have to keep copying new versions back and forth. There are many different services and programs you can use to do this. One free option is Windows Live Sync. Here's how it works:
Sign up for a free Windows Live account if you don't already have one.
Download and install the Live Sync application on both computers.
Make sure both computers are turned on and connected to the Internet.
Sign into the Live Sync web site.
Click "Create a personal folder."
Find the folder on your hard drive that you want to synchronize with the other computer, or create a new folder for this purpose, and select it.
Click "Sync folder here."
Select the other computer from the list.
Now pick a folder on the second computer where you want to sync the folder you chose on the first computer.
Select whether to use Automatic sync (the folders will be synchronized for you without you doing anything) or on-demand sync (you sync the folders whenever you choose).
Now when you change anything in the synced folder on one computer, the changes will be propagated to the other computer.
Your wireless-enabled XP laptop could be advertising itself as an ad hoc wireless network without your knowledge, allowing other wireless users in the vicinity to connect to it. Oops! Read more about how this happens and what you can do about it: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Security-Hole
Americans are losing more money to online scams
When I receive a variation on the old Nigerian scam (and I seem to get at least two or three per week that are disguised well enough to slip through the spam filters), I laugh and wonder how anyone could possibly fall for that. But apparently quite a few people do, as a recent report from the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center says the amount of money lost to such fraudulent schemes has more than doubled since 2008. Last year it totaled over half a billion dollars. There's no doubt that the scams are getting more sophisticated, and a favorite tactic now is to impersonate a government agency. In fact, the number one reported scam was an email that falsely claims to be from the FBI. Forewarned is forearmed, so read more here: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Cost-of-Internet-Scams
XP Question Corner
DirectX 10 on XP: Yes or No? Well, Maybe
QUESTION: Got interested when you indicated in "Just Cause 2 won't run on XP" that XP will only support DirectX 9, not DirectX 10. Something clicked in my brain, so I checked the dxdiag utility in my WinXP system32 folder. What's this? My Windows XP Home (SP3) is running DirectX10! - Charles K.
ANSWER: That could very well be, Charles. Now for "the rest of the story." Officially, Microsoft does not support DirectX 10 on Windows XP. However, there are unofficial ports of DirectX 10 that can be downloaded from third parties and installed on XP. You can find these with a simple web search, but remember that if the software causes problems, you're on your own.
XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
Can't view video content even after installing Flash
If you use your XP computer to try to view video on a web site that is Flash based, you may be unable to do so even though Flash Player is installed. This could be an indication that the Flash Player is corrupted. You may need to remove Flash Player and install the current version or install a standalone version. To find out more about this problem, see KB article 914647 at http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Viewing-Video
Windows Movie Maker quits unexpectedly
If you're using Windows Movie Maker in Windows XP and the program suddenly and unexpectedly closes after you add a title, video transition or video effect to a movie, there are a couple of different possible causes. If you have the Divxaf.ax file installed (DivX Antifreeze filter), you need to rename it. You might also need to adjust your hardware acceleration settings. You can get instructions for doing both of these in KB article 836021 at http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100316-Movie-Maker
This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
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