Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Major Sites Plan Blackouts In Protests Against SOPA

Update: You may have already noticed several major sites including Wikipedia and Craigslist have already put up their blackout pages. Many sites are choosing to add a 3-4sec splash screen type delay. Just note that doesn't mean the sites were hacked. This is a planned organized protest.

Starting at 5AM PST (8AM EST) you may notice some of your favorite websites are offline. Don't be alarmed! This is in protest to the recently proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The protest is set to begin Jan 18th at 8AM EST and end at 8PM EST.

Several major websites including Google, Reddit, Wikipedia, BoingBoing, Imgur and Tucows, are planning a partial, if not total, blackout Wednesday to protest the controversial anti-piracy legislation being considered by Congress. According to Fight for the Future and SOPAStike, two of the groups organizing the protests, nearly 12,000 websites have said they will join the blackout. That number is still growing.

If you need to use some of your favorite sites like Wikipedia for any urgent research, make sure you do it today – come tomorrow, you’ll be clean out of luck.

So what is SOPA Anyway?

SOPA and PIPA are actually two independent pieces of legislation. SOAPA is currently being considered in the House and PIPA in the Senate. Both are designed to tackle the problem of foreign-based websites that sell pirated movies, music and other products.

The goal is to give Intellectual Property (IP) owners more tools to go after foreign sites they claim are infringing upon their IP and contributing to the theft and sale of U.S. goods, music, video and other material.

Opponents argue that the bills will give content and IP owners too much power to go after websites they decide are infringing on their rights. The argument is that while the bills are targeted only at foreign websites, there are still sections that provide for very sweepings powers that could be used against legitimate U.S. websites. Inevitably forcing then to undertake costly and impractical monitoring of their sites to ensure compliance with SOPA and PIPA.

The main issue is with DNS blacklisting. This very sticky provision would have required ISPs to prevent Americans from visiting blacklisted sites by altering the DNS service that translates site names like Google.com into IP addresses such as Instead, for the blacklisted sites, ISPs would have to return a negative result so their customer's browsers would show that the site doesn’t exist. You could still reach the site via it's direct IP address just not by the domain name.

According to MPAA tech policy chief Paul Brigner the Motion Picture Associaton of America has conceded that DNS filtering will not be included in the anti-piracy bills now making their way through Congress. His remarks came during a debate on SOPA at the State of the Net conference in Washington DC. The event was sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee.

Brigner's comments were echoed by Steve Tepp of the US Chamber of Congress, another major SOPA supporter. He said the DNS provisions of SOPA and PIPA have "essentially been taken off the table," as the sponsors of both bills—Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), respectively—have pledged to remove those provisions from the bill.

Many contend that while this provision was a major sticking point many of the provisions still in the bills will enable a sort of Internet censorship and prior restraint on free speech.

You can view the entire bill here (download PDF).

Related Articles:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Google Launches Android Design Site

Android developers looking for a little help will now have a new tool thanks to Google. Today the company has introduced Android Design: A site Google explains as the place to learn about principles, building blocks, and patterns for creating world-class Android user interfaces.

The site features a ton of information including advice for buildings apps with details on suggested iconography, patterns, colors, typography, and writing styles. While these are all just suggestions Google hopes that by following some of these guidelines there will be less fragmentation across the user experience and that apps that follow them will look like they belong on an Android device.

Android Developers Blog: Introducing the Android Design site

Thursday, January 05, 2012

iPhone 4S Uses Twice As Much Data As Previous iPhone

Recent studies suggest that Apple's latest iPhone consumes nearly double the data as the previous iPhone model and even more than previous generation of the smartphone and the iPad tablets due to the increasing use of online services like Siri.

IPhone 4S users transfer on average three times more data than users of the older iPhone 3G model which was used as the benchmark in a study by telecom network technology firm Arieso. Data usage of the previous model, the iPhone 4, was only 1.6 times higher than the iPhone 3G, while iPad2 tablets consumed 2.5 times more data than the iPhone 3G, the study showed.

According to Arieso CTO Michael Flanagan the top reasons behind the growing data volume include the addition of Siri and iCloud as well as other online services.

Apple users certainly aren't alone in their higher than average data usage, but they were in the top tier of Arieso’s research. Other heavy data users include owners of Samsung's Galaxy S and S II, as well as the Nexus One and HTC Desire S. According to the reports the study showed that users of the latest RIM BlackBerry smartphones, the Curve and the Bold Touch, were amongst the lowest downloading about five times less data than iPhone 4S subscribers.

To me the numbers really aren't surprising. As you add more services and features you should expect higher than normal data usage. More and more people are using their phones to record high-definition video and images adding to higher upload volumes. While more and more of us are using our phones to browse the Internet and play music and videos adding to higher download numbers. The downside is the burden on carrier demand as well as the need for higher capacity data plans. User that use to get by with a basic limited plan may now exceed those limits or face the need for a much higher priced plan.

Update: Here is the full report

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Facebook Scammers Exploit Users Wanting Their Old Facebook Back

Facebook users beware a new scam has cropped up over your dislike of the new Facebook Timeline feature and your desire to revert to the old look.

Facebook has recently given users the opportunity to update to the new Timeline feature, which by all accounts hasn't been as big a hit as they had hoped. Scammers it appears have began cashing in on the fact that many of the new users of the feature don't care for the new changes and have found a way to take advantage of this attitude.

Inside Facebook reports that "a number of scammers" are creating Facebook Pages filled with deceptive instructions which promise users the ability to go through a few steps to roll back to the old style. Unsuspecting users are seemingly unaware that the switch to Facebook's Timeline is permanent.

Among the instructions scammers are giving users are clicking various "Like" buttons, inviting friends to "like" a page, watching YouTube videos, downloading files, and so on. While some of these actions may not have terrible outcomes, many could lead to the installation and spread of malicious software and the theft of personal information.

Again users should be aware that the switch to Facebook's Timeline is permanent once you decide to try it you are stuck with it and there is no going back!

Facebook Announces 2012 Hacker Cup

Facebook is inviting programmers worldwide to try their hand at the company's annual Hacker Cup a worldwide programming competition that challenges contestants to solve increasingly difficult algorithmic problems.

"Whether we’re building a prototype for a major product like Timeline at a Hackathon, creating a smarter search algorithm, or tearing down walls at our new headquarters, we’re always hacking to find better ways to solve problems." wrote Facebook mobile engineer David Alves in a blog post announcing the contest.

The competition commences with a 72-hour Qualification Round on January 20, 2012 at 4:00 PM PT and ends on January 23, 2012 at 4:00 PM PT. All registered competitors will be presented with three problems. Every competitor who correctly solves at least one problem will advance to Online Round 1.

Online Round 1 will last 24 hours from January 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM PT and ends on January 29, 2012 at 10:00 AM PT. To advance to Online Round 2, participants must solve at least one problem correctly. If more than 500 people solve at least one problem correctly, then the top 500 participants will advance, as well as everyone else who answered the same number of questions correctly as the 500th-place contestant.

Online Round 2 will last three hours from February 4, 2012 at 1:00 PM PT and end February 4, 2012 at 4:00 PM PT. The competitors will have three hours to solve the presented problem sets. The top-scoring 100 participants from Online Round 2 will receive an official Hacker Cup t-shirt. The top-scoring 100 competitors from Online Round 2 will be notified via email that they have advanced to Online Round 3.

Online Round 3 will last three hours from February 11, 2012 at 1:00 PM PT and end February 11, 2012 at 4:00 PM PT. The 100 competitors will have three hours to solve the presented problem sets. The top-scoring 25 competitors from Online Round 3 will be notified via email that they have advanced to the final round at Facebook.

Facebook will fly the top-scoring 25 competitors to Menlo Park, California, for the final round of competition on March 17, 2012, where they'll receive some great cash prizes and other awesome goodies. Out of these 25 finalists, one champion will emerge and be immortalized on the Hacker Cup trophy. Finalists will be responsible for obtaining their own entry visa before arrival in the USA; however, Facebook will reimburse the finalist for any visa application fee and up to $100 USD in travel expenses incurred in obtaining the visa. Facebook will not reimburse any fees or expenses related to obtaining a passport.

For a look at what is in-store for the competition checkout  last year's challenges.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Scareware Targets Mobile Phone Users

A new fake antivirus suite has popped up this time targeting users of mobile operating systems like Android rather than traditional PC based OS's.

Late last week Kaspersky Lab researcher Denis Maslennikov posted details of the new threat on the Kapersky labs Securelist blog. As with traditional variants the new "scareware" or "ransomware" utilizes a replica of legitimate anti malware software to trick users into installing malicious programs that then steal private user information or encrypts hard drives and extorts money from the owner to decrypt the data.

Maslennikov says that cybercriminals are using black SEO for redirecting users to web pages which emulate AV scanning. All a user has to do is a basic Web search for some of the more popular mobile applications, such as the mobile version of the opera Web browser. The users are the redirected to scam Web sites offering "free" virus scans of mobile devices, including Android.

The website then proceeds with a fake scan of the device returning a false "positive" result. In turn encouraging the mobile device user to "activate" security protections on their device by clicking on a link in the scan results. Clicking that link downloads and installs a malicious application that Kaspersky detects as Trojan-SMS.AndroidOS.Scavir for Android. In the case of a non-Android device the user will be asked to download ‘VirusScanner.jar’: a file which is detected by us as Trojan-SMS.J2ME.Agent.ij.

When the application executes , the user is asked to press the ‘Continue’ button if he wants to launch VirusScanner with some options like ‘Turn on multi-level protection’, ‘Disable remote control of a device’ or ‘Turn on web site scanning’. But in fact after pressing ‘Continue’ this app will send SMS messages to expensive premium rate numbers.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Verizon Adding $2 Convenience Fee For One Time Online Payments

Update: Shortly after we posted this and the news hit the internet Verizon posted the following press release, announcing that customer feedback had led to a change in plans.

“At Verizon, we take great care to listen to our customers. Based on their input, we believe the best path forward is to encourage customers to take advantage of the best and most efficient options, eliminating the need to institute the fee at this time,” said Dan Mead, president and chief executive officer of Verizon Wireless in a statement.

In an age when convenience is key and online payments dominate Verizon has decided to cash in and add an extra $2 per month fee to users who pay their monthly bills online or by telephone. The fee is applicable to any users opting to make a single one time payment via the company's website or when talking with a Verizon rep, but will be waived if a customer enrolls in automatic bill pay or uses an electronic check.

Image courtesy Droid Life

The reports come via Droid Life and have not been confirmed via Verizon or any other sources at this time.

According to the report Verizon is claiming that the new "convenience fee" covers its ability to "continue to support these bill payment options". Off course they are the ones that are pushing these options because they said it was more costly to continue to provide regular mailed payments or payments through reps. So which is it Verizon, is it now more costly for you guys to process electronic payments than it is to process the old fashioned handwritten paper checks or to staff stores with more personnel to handle payments?

Hopefully Verizon changes its mind before the change goes into effect, purportedly on January 15th.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Google Music Offering Millions Of Songs For $0.49 Each

Google Music is currently running a blowout sale offering up “millions” of songs for $0.49 per track or $4.99 per album and no these aren't your mommas favorites. They are offering a ton of newer stuff as well as some good old favorites. Just from the main list I see some of today's top tracks from Eminem, Lady GaGa, Toby Keith, Coldplay, J-Lo and NIN. There are also some oldies but goodies like Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones.

The music is all DRM-free and can be used on any device including Apple devices (iPod, iPad, etc). To download the music, you can either do a browser download (limited to 2 times) or use Google Music Manager. The nice thing is that it appears the music will always be available in your Google Music Library and you can stream it anytime and/or download it to your device.

Google says this is a limited time offer but there is no word on when it will end. For more details checkout the Google Music section of the Android Market.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Next 5 Years In Tech According To IBM

Today IBM released the company's sixth annual “IBM Five in Five" (#ibm5in5) – a list of predictions of tech based products or enhancements that are going to change our lives in the next five years.

This year's list includes renewable energy for the homes user, the end of passwords through the proliferation of biometric identification to authenticate your identity, effective mind control over machines, the elimination of the digital divide and the end of spam.

The next Five in Five is based on market and societal trends as well as emerging technologies from IBM’s labs around the world that can make these transformations possible.

The efficient capture of renewable energy

IBM predicts: People power will come to life.
"Advances in renewable energy technology will allow individuals to collect this kinetic energy, which now goes to waste, and use it to help power our homes, workplaces and cities."

No more passwords

IBM predicts: You will never need a password again.
"Each person has a unique biological identity and behind all that is data. Biometric data – facial definitions, retinol scans and voice files – will be composited through software to build your DNA unique online password."

Much of this is already starting to become more mainstay. Everything from smartphone to tablets to Windows based PC are seeing more and more integration of facial recognition software.

Control machines with your mind

IBM predicts: Mind reading is no longer science fiction.
"IBM scientists are researching how to link your brain to your devices, such as a computer or a smartphone. If you just need to think about calling someone, it happens. Or you can control the cursor on a computer screen just by thinking about where you want to move it."

Researchers have been working on these devices for year and already found ways for us to control things like artificial limbs, pointer devices and some do some basic functions. Headsets exist that can monitor brain activity and map the areas associated with basic tasks. The technology is still in its infancy but they have made great strides over the past few years. Its not unreasonable to think we'll see even greater strides in the short term future.

An end to the digital divide

IBM predicts: The digital divide will cease to exist.
In our global society, growth and wealth of economies are increasingly decided by the level of access to information. And in five years, the gap between information haves and have-nots will narrow considerably due to advances in mobile technology.

Low-income, rural and some minority groups continue to lag significantly behind other U.S. groups in broadband adoption, according to a new report from the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). In other areas of the world large groups of people are cut off from access to our ever increasingly digital world. IBM predicts that as the prices of mobile devices comes down we will see less and less of a divide between those that are connected and those that aren't.

The end of SPAM

IBM predicts: Junk mail will become priority mail.
In five years, unsolicited advertisements may feel so personalized and relevant it may seem spam is dead. At the same time, spam filters will be so precise you’ll never be bothered by unwanted sales pitches again.

IBM is not specifically predicting that we will no longer see spam mail. Rather they feel as though that mail will now be more targeted. This seem really counter intuitive to me.

Steam Holiday Sale Now Live

Valve has officially kicked off their holiday season launching the Steam Holiday Sale. Not only are there some great sales prices but gamers will get their chance to complete tasks to earn free games and other free rewards.

The sale will feature different “highlights” every day with different games going on sale. Today’s big things are Portal 2 for ~$7, Metro 2033 for $4.99 and Fable III for $12.49, among other stuff.

In addition to the highlighted games, which feature the best discounts, almost every other game Steam offers has been added to the sale with at least a minor discounted price. Here is a complete list of titles. that Steam has made available. There are also a bunch of game packs featuring all the titles from select publishers. If that doesn't get the gaming juices flowing Steam is also giving away free games.

Those free games are earned by completing a series of in-game objectives which cycle everyday until January 1st. Completing each objective either gets you a freebie off the "Great Gift Pile" or a lump of coal, seven of which can also be traded in for an actual gift. Alternatively, you could save your lumps up -- each counts as an entry into a Steam sweepstakes, the grand prize for which is every game on Steam ever. Seriously, the prize is every game listed on Steam since it went public.

Now for the bad new. Due to heavy traffic the site has been very slow all day. So be prepared for some issue with browsing and checking out!

Skype Offering Free WiFi Calling In 60 Airports December 21- 27th

We all know the pains of being stuck in the airport over the holiday season. All you want to do is get home to see your family but the weather has other plans. Well the team over at Skype is making it a bit easier to stay connected with your loved ones this year.

Skype is offering a free hour of Internet access to third party wireless hotspots as well as free video or voice calling over WiFi in select airports across the U.S. from December 21st thru December 27th. You can use Skype Credit as payment so there is no need to buy a day-pass from another service provider. If you've downloaded Skype on your computer or iOS device Skype WiFi is easy to use:
  1. Sign in to Skype.
  2. Go to Tools > Options... > Skype WiFi Access.
  3. Tick Enable Skype WiFi Access.
  4. Connect to a WiFi public hotspot.
  5. In the Skype menu bar, click Tools > Skype WiFi Access.
  6. Follow the instructions on the screen to select and join a compatible public WiFi network.
From December 21st thru December 27th free Skype WiFi will be available in the following airports:

  • ALB - Albany International Airport
  • ASE - Aspen-Pitkin County Airport
  • ATL - Atlanta International Airport
  • AUS - Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
  • AZO - Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport
  • BIL - Billings Logan International Airport
  • BHM - Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport
  • BNA - Nashville International Airport
  • BOS - Boston International Airport
  • BUF - Buffalo Niagara International Airport
  • BUR - Bob Hope Airport Burbank
  • BWI - Baltimore/Washington International Airport
  • CWA - Central Wisconsin Airport
  • DCA - Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
  • DEN - Denver Int'l Airport - Concourse B Mezzanine
  • DRO - Durango La Plata County Airport
  • DSM - Des Moines International Airport
  • DTW - Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
  • ELP - El Paso International Airport
  • EWR - Newark Liberty International Airport
  • GEG - Spokane Airport
  • GRR - Gerald R. Ford International Airport
  • GSO - Piedmont Triad International Airport
  • HOU - Houston William P Hobby Airport
  • IAD - Dulles International Airport
  • IAH - George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport
  • IND - Indianapolis International Airport
  • JAC - Jackson Hole Airport
  • JFK - John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • JNU - Juneau International Airport
  • LGA - LaGuardia International Airport - Central Terminal
  • MBS - MBS International Airport Terminal 1
  • MDW - Chicago Midway Airport
  • MEM - Memphis International Airport
  • MIA - Miami International Airport
  • MKE - General Mitchell International Airport (Milwaukee)
  • MRY - Monterey Peninsula Airport
  • MSP - Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport - Lindbergh Terminal
  • OKC - Oklahoma City Will Rogers World Airport
  • OMA - Eppley Airfield Omaha Int'l Airport
  • ORD - Chicago O'Hare International Airport
  • ORF - Norfolk International Airport
  • PHF - Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport
  • PVD - T F Green International Airport
  • PWM - Portland International Airport
  • SBN - South Bend Regional Airport
  • SCF - Scottsdale Airport
  • SDF - Louisville International Airport
  • SFO - San Francisco International Airport
  • SMF - Sacramento International Airport
  • STL - Lambert St. Louis International Airport
  • SWF - Stewart International Airport
  • TOL - Toledo Express Airport
  • TVC - Traverse City/Cherry Capital Airport

*Note: The offer is good from Dec. 21-27, and it lets you make voice and video calls to computers for free and to landlines and mobile phones using Skype credit. It works on PCs, Macs, and iOS devices. You must have the latest version of Skype to take advantage of the freebie.

For more information on free Skype WiFi, please visit http://blogs.skype.com/en/2011/12/skypeholidaywifi.html.