Facebook Crosses The Line With New Facebook Messenger App

First, this is VERY important to read and understand. I’m doing my best to look out for all the Facebook Users who aren’t as tech savvy as their kids or friends. I’m trying to help explain what’s happening because if I don’t…nobody else will!

If you’re anything like your neighbor…you probably use Facebook on your phone WAY more than you use it on a computer. You’ve been sending messages from the Facebook app and it probably always asks you if you want to install the Facebook Messenger App.

It’s always been OPTIONAL but coming soon to your Facebook experience….it won’t be an option…it will be mandatory if you care to send messages from your phone.

No big deal one might think…but the part that the average Facebook User doesn’t realize is the permissions you must give to Facebook in order to use the Facebook Messenger App. Here is a short list of the most disturbing permissions it requires and a quick explanation of what it means to you and your privacy.

  • Change the state of network connectivity – This means that Facebook can change or alter your connection to the Internet or cell service. You’re basically giving Facebook the ability to turn features on your phone on and off for it’s own reasons without telling you.
  • Call phone numbers and send SMS messages – This means that if Facebook wants to…it can send text messages to your contacts on your behalf. Do you see the trouble in this? Who is Facebook to be able to access and send messages on your phone? You’re basically giving a stranger your phone and telling them to do what they want when they want!
  • Record audio, and take pictures and videos, at any time – Read that line again….RECORD audio…TAKE pictures….AT ANY TIME!! That means that the folks at Facebook can see through your lens on your phone whenever they want..they can listen to what you’re saying via your microphone if they choose to!!
  • Read your phone’s call log, including info about incoming and outgoing calls – Who have you been calling? How long did you talk to them? Now Facebook will know all of this because you’ve downloaded the new Facebook messenger app.
  • Read your contact data, including who you call and email and how often – Another clear violation of your privacy. Now Facebook will be able to read e-mails you’ve sent  and take information from them to use for their own gain. Whether it’s for “personalized advertisements” or if it’s for “research purposes” ….whatever the reason..they’re accessing your private encounters.
  • Read personal profile information stored on your device – This means that if you have addresses, personal info, pictures or anything else that’s near and dear to your personal life…they can read it.
  • Get a list of accounts known by the phone, or other apps you use – Facebook will now have a tally of all the apps you use, how often you use them and what information you keep or exchange on those apps.

 Hopefully, you take this as serious as I do…after reading more about it and studying the permissions I have now deleted the app from my phone and don’t intend to use it ever again. I still have my Facebook app but I just won’t use the messaging feature unless I’m at a computer. Even then, I might not use messaging anymore.

With these kinds of privacy invasions I think Facebook is pushing the limits to what people will let them get away with. I remember when the Internet first began it’s march toward socializing dominance when AOL would send us CD’s for free trials every week. On AOL, we made screen names that somewhat hid our identities and protected us against the unseen dangers online. Now, it seems that we’ve forgotten about that desire to protect our identity and we just lay down and let them invade our privacy.

There may be no turning back at this point because many people won’t read this or investigate the permissions of Facebook’s new mandatory app but at least I can say I tried to help us put up a fight. Pass this along to your friends and at least try to let them know what they’re getting into.

Researchers Create “Wikipedia” for Neurons

The decades worth of data that has been collected about the billions of neurons in the brain is astounding. To help scientists make sense of this “brain big data,” researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have used data mining to create, a publicly available website that acts like Wikipedia, indexing physiological information about neurons.

The site will help to accelerate the advance of neuroscience research by providing a centralized resource for collecting and comparing data on neuronal function. A description of the data available and some of the analyses that can be performed using the site are published online by the Journal of Neurophysiology.

The neurons in the brain can be divided into approximately 300 different types based on their physical and functional properties. Researchers have been studying the function and properties of many different types of neurons for decades. The resulting data is scattered across tens of thousands of papers in the scientific literature. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon turned to data mining to collect and organize these data in a way that will make possible, for the first time, new methods of analysis.

“If we want to think about building a brain or re-engineering the brain, we need to know what parts we’re working with,” said Nathan Urban, interim provost and director of Carnegie Mellon’s BrainHubSM neuroscience initiative. “We know a lot about neurons in some areas of the brain, but very little about neurons in others. To accelerate our understanding of neurons and their functions, we need to be able to easily determine whether what we already know about some neurons can be applied to others we know less about.”

Shreejoy J. Tripathy, who worked in Urban’s lab when he was a graduate student in the joint Carnegie Mellon/University of Pittsburgh Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC) Program in Neural Computation, selected more than 10,000 published papers that contained physiological data describing how neurons responded to various inputs. He used text mining algorithms to “read” each of the papers. The text mining software found the portions of each paper that identified the type of neuron studied and then isolated the electrophysiological data related to the properties of that neuronal type. It also retrieved information about how each of the experiments in the literature was completed, and corrected the data to account for any differences that might be caused by the format of the experiment. Overall, Tripathy, who is now a postdoc at the University of British Columbia, was able to collect and standardize data for approximately 100 different types of neurons, which he published on the website

Since the data on the website was collected using text mining, the researchers realized that it was likely to contain errors related to extraction and standardization. Urban and his group validated much of the data, but they also created a mechanism that allows site users to flag data for further evaluation. Users also can contribute new data with minimal intervention from site administrators, similar to Wikipedia.

“It’s a dynamic environment in which people can collect, refine and add data,” said Urban, who is the Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences and a member of the CNBC. “It will be a useful resource to people doing neuroscience research all over the world.”

Ultimately, the website will help researchers find groups of neurons that share the same physiological properties, which could provide a better understanding of how a neuron functions. For example, if a researcher finds that a type of neuron in the brain’s neocortex fires spontaneously, they can look up other neurons that fire spontaneously and access research papers that address this type of neuron. Using that information, they can quickly form hypotheses about whether or not the same mechanisms are at play in both the newly discovered and previously studied neurons.

To demonstrate how could be used, the researchers compared the electrophysiological data from more than 30 neuron types that had been most heavily studied in the literature. These included pyramidal neurons in the hippocampus, which are responsible for memory, and dopamine neurons in the midbrain, thought to be responsible for reward-seeking behaviors and addiction, among others. The site was able to find many expected similarities between the different types of neurons, and some similarities that were a surprise to researchers. Those surprises represent promising areas for future research.

In ongoing work, the Carnegie Mellon researchers are comparing the data on with other kinds of data, including data on neurons’ patterns of gene expression. For example, Urban’s group is using another publicly available resource, the Allen Brain Atlas, to find whether groups of neurons with similar electrical function have similar gene expression.

“It would take a lot of time, effort and money to determine both the physiological properties of a neuron and its gene expression,” Urban said. “Our website will help guide this research, making it much more efficient.”


Facebook is spying on your mom, your relationships and your political views

Facebook has been spying on users’ ethnicities, political views, romantic partners, and even how they talk to their children. (Unlike the mood study, the Facebook studies listed below are observational; they don’t attempt to change users’ behavior.)

It’s unlikely Facebook users have heard about most of these studies, they’ve consented to them; the social network’s Data Use Policy states: “We may use the information we receive about you…for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”


Move over NSA:

The World Privacy Forum uncovered these lists, along with several others, while investigating how data brokers collect and sell consumer information. Marketers buy this data so they can target shoppers based on everything from their income to clothing size.

Other lists the nonprofit found included the home addresses of police officers, a mailing list for domestic violence shelters (which are typically kept secret by law) and a list of people with addictive behaviors towards drug and alcohol.

The mere existence of these lists highlights the need for increased government regulations, said World Privacy Forum executive director Pam Dixon.
On 6/5, 65 Things We Know About NSA Surveillance That We Didn’t Know a Year Ago

1. We saw an example of the court orders that authorize the NSA to collect virtually every phone call record in the United States—that’s who you call, who calls you, when, for how long, and sometimes where.

2. We saw NSA Powerpoint slides documenting how the NSA conducts “upstream” collection, gathering intelligence information directly from the infrastructure of telecommunications providers.

3. The NSA has created a “content dragnet” by asserting that it can intercept not only communications where a target is a party to a communication but also communications “about a target, even if the target isn’t a party to the communication.”

4. The NSA has confirmed that it is searching data collected under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act to access American’s communications without a warrant, in what Senator Ron Wyden called the “back door search loophole.”

5. Although the NSA has repeatedly stated it does not target Americans, its own documents show that searches of data collected under Section 702 are designed simply to determine with 51 percent confidence a target’s “foreignness.’”

 6. If the NSA does not determine a target’s foreignness, it will not stop spying on that target. Instead the NSA will presume that target to be foreign unless they “can be positively identified as a United States person.”

7. A leaked internal NSA audit detailed 2,776 violations of rules or court orders in just a one-year period.

8. Hackers at the NSA target sysadmins, regardless of the fact that these sysadmins themselves may be completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

9. The NSA and CIA infiltrated games and online communities like World of Warcraft and Second Life to gather data and conduct surveillance.

10. The government has destroyed evidence in EFF’s cases against NSA spying. This is incredibly ironic, considering that the government has also claimed EFF’s clients need this evidence to prove standing.  

11. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress when asked directly by Sen. Ron Wyden whether the NSA was gathering any sort of data on millions of Americans.

12. Microsoft, like other companies, has cooperated closely with the FBI to allow the NSA to “circumvent its encryption and gain access to users’ data.”

13. The intelligence budget in 2013 alone was $52.6 billion— this number was revealed by a leaked document, not by the government. Of that budget, $10.8 billion went to the NSA. That’s approximately $167 per person in the United States.

14. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has issued orders that allow the NSA to share raw data—without personally identifying information stripped out— with the FBI, CIA, and the National Counterterrorism Center.

15. Pursuant to a memorandum of understanding, the NSA regularly shares raw data with Israel without stripping out personally identifying information about U.S. persons.

16. The Snowden disclosures have made it clear the Obama administration misled the Supreme Court about key issues in ACLU’s case against NSA spying, Clapper v. Amnesty International, leading to the dismissal of the case for lack of standing.

17. The NSA “hacked into Al Jazeera’s internal communications system.” NSA documents stated that “selected targets had ‘high potential as sources of intelligence.’”

18. The NSA used supposedly anonymous Google cookies as beacons for surveillance, helping them to track individual users.  

19. The NSA “intercepts ‘millions of images per day’ — including about 55,000 ‘facial recognition quality images’” and processes them with powerful facial recognition software.

20. The NSA facial recognition program “can now compare spy satellite photographs with intercepted personal photographs taken outdoors to determine the location.”

21. Although most NSA reform has focused on Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, and most advocates have also pushed for reform of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, some of the worst NSA spying happens under the authority of Executive Order 12333, which President Obama could repeal or modify today.

22. The NSA collected Americans’ cell phone location information for two years as part of a pilot project to see how it could use such information in its massive databases.

23. In one month, March 2013, the NSA collected 97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide, including 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks.

24. The NSA has targeted Tor, a set of tools that allow Internet users to browse the net anonymously.

25. The NSA program MUSCULAR infiltrates links between the global data centers of technology companies such as Google and Yahoo. Many companies have responded to MUSCULAR by encrypting traffic over their internal networks.

26. The XKEYSCORE program analyzes emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals anywhere in the world.

27. NSA undermines the encryption tools relied upon by ordinary users, companies, financial institutions, targets, and non-targets as part of BULLRUN, an unparalleled effort to weaken the security of all Internet users, including you.

28. The NSA’s Dishfire operation has collected 200 million text messages daily from users around the globe, which can be used to extract valuable information such as location data, contact retrievals, credit card details, missed call alerts, roaming alerts (which indicate border crossings), electronic business cards, credit card payment notifications, travel itinerary alerts, and meeting information.  

29. Under the CO-TRAVELER operation, the US collects location information from global cell towers, Wi-Fi, and GPS hubs, which is then information analyzed over time, in part in order to determine a target’s traveling companions.

30. A 2004 memo entitled “DEA- The ‘Other’ Warfighter”, states that the DEA and NSA “enjoy a vibrant two-way information-sharing relationship.”

31. When the DEA acts on information its Special Operations Division receives from the NSA, it cloaks the source of the information through “parallel construction,” going through the charade of recreating an imaginary investigation to hide the source of the tip, not only from the defendant, but from the court. This was intended to ensure that no court rules on the legality or scope of how NSA data is used in ordinary investigations.    

32. The fruits of NSA surveillance routinely end up in the hands of the IRS. Like the DEA, the IRS uses parallel construction to cloak the source of the tip.

33. Even the President’s handpicked Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board recommended that the government end Section 215 mass telephone records collection, because that collection is ineffective, illegal, and likely unconstitutional.

34. The NSA has plans to infect potentially millions of computers with malware implants as part of its Tailored Access Operations.

35. The NSA had a secret $10 million contract with security firm RSA to create a “back door” in the company’s widely used encryption products.

36. The NSA tracked access to porn and gathered other sexually explicit information “as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches.”

37. The NSA and its partners exploited mobile apps, such as the popular Angry Birds game, to access users’ private information such as location, home address, gender, and more.

38. The Washington Post revealed that the NSA harvests “hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans.”

Many of the Snowden revelations have concerned the NSA’s activities overseas, as well as the activities of some of the NSA’s closest allies, such as the its UK counterpart GCHQ. Some of these have been cooperative ventures. In particular, the “Five Eyes”— The United States, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada— share citizen data amongst themselves - providing loopholes that might undermine national legislation.

 39. The NSA paid its British counterpart GCHQ $155 million over the last three years “to secure access to and influence over Britain’s intelligence gathering programmes.”

40. The Guardian reported: “In one six-month period in 2008 alone, [GCHQ] collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8-million Yahoo user accounts globally.”

41. GCHQ used malware to compromise networks belonging to the Belgian telecommunications company Belgacom.

42. Major telecommunications companies including BT, Vodafone, and Verizon business have given GCHQ unlimited access to their fiberoptic cables 

43. GCHQ used DDoS attacks and other methods to interrupt Anonymous and LulzSec communications, including communications of people not charged with any crime.

44. GCHQ’s Bude station monitored leaders from the EU, Germany, and Israel. It also targeted non-governmental organizations such as Doctors of the World.

45. The NSA’s partners Down Under, the Australian Signals Directorate, has been implicated in breaches of attorney-client privileged communications, undermining a foundational principle of our shared criminal justice system.

46. Australian intelligence officials spied on the cell phones of Indonesian cabinet ministers and President Susilo Bambang.

47. In 2008, Australia offered to share its citizens’ raw information with intelligence partners.

48. CSEC helped the NSA spy on political officials during the G20 meeting in Canada.

49. CSEC and CSIS were recently rebuked by a federal court judge for misleading him in a warrant application five years ago with respect to their use of Five Eyes resources in order to track Canadians abroad.

Ironically, some of the NSA’s operations have been targeted at countries that have worked directly with the agency in other instances. And some simply seemed unnecessary and disproportionate.  

50. NSA documents show that not all governments are clear about their own level of cooperation with the NSA. As the Intercept reports, “Few, if any, elected leaders have any knowledge of the surveillance.”

51. The NSA is intercepting, recording, and archiving every single cell phone call in the Bahamas.

52. The NSA monitored phone calls of at least 35 world leaders.

53. The NSA spied on French diplomats in Washington and at the UN.

54. The NSA hacked in to Chinese company Huawei’s networks and stole its source code.   

55. The NSA bugged EU embassies in both New York and Washington. It copied hard drives from the New York office of the EU, and tapped the internal computer network from the Washington embassies.

56. The NSA collected the metadata of more than 45-million Italian phone calls over a 30 day period. It also maintained monitoring sites in Rome and Milan.

57. The NSA stored data from approximately 500-million German communications connections per month.

58. The NSA collected data from over-60 million Spanish telephone calls over a 30-day period in late 2012 and early 2013 and spied on members of the Spanish government.

59. The NSA collected data from over 70-million French telephone calls over a 30-day period in late 2012 and early 2013.

60. The Hindu reported that, based on NSA documents: “In the overall list of countries spied on by NSA programs, India stands at fifth place.”

61. The NSA hacked into former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s official email account.

62. The Guardian reported: “The NSA has, for years, systematically tapped into the Brazilian telecommunication network and indiscriminately intercepted, collected and stored the email and telephone records of millions of Brazilians.”

63. The NSA monitored emails (link in Portuguese), telephone calls, and text messages of Brazilian President Dilma Roussef and her top aides.

64. Germany’s intelligence agencies cooperated with the NSA and implemented the NSA’s XKeyscore program, while NSA was in turn spying on German leaders.

65. Norwegian daily Dagbladet reported (Link in Norwegian) that the NSA acquired data on 33 million Norwegian cell phone calls in one 30-day period.”


I’m not sure if many of you know about this, but if you have any apps linked to your Facebook, you might want to go through them all. (I just went down from 125 apps to 8)
I noticed that SO MANY apps that link to Facebook collect a lot of unnecessary data about both you and the people in your friends list. The images above show just some of the data collected by one app. It’s ridiculous. I’m tempted to delete my Facebook page entirely after noticing this.
I’ve noticed that the worst of them were gaming companies like Zynga and Mindjolt as well as those silly little apps like “How Happy are You”, “Daily Heart”, and “I Can Guess Your Age”. Pretty much anything hosted directly on Facebook is like this. A lot of third party apps aren’t but I deleted them anyways because they don’t need access to my information and I don’t want them to unexpectedly update their terms of use without me reading them. One noteworthy example, however, was The Last of Us by Naughty Dogg. They only collected the needed information for their in game features.

Unlink everything from your Facebook account if you don’t want companies collecting data from you that they don’t need.


Just an FYI: Twitter is LYING and telling users they’re accounts “appear” to exhibit “automated behavior.” They are locking accounts, forcing you to enter a telephone number, so they can send you a code to enter, in order to unlock your account. This is but one way social media platforms and email providers try to attach phone numbers, and thus, identifying information, to your account. I gave them a fake number, got the code, and entered it. Data mining won’t work here, assholes. Twitter will hear about this from me. Isn't a Non-Profit, and It's Selling Your E-Mail Address to Fundraisers

Klint Finley

My latest for Wired:

What many people fail to realize is that isn’t a non-profit organization. Though anyone can set up a petition for free, the company makes an awful lot of money from all the data it collects about its online petitions and the people who sign them. It’s not just a path to The People. It’s a Google-like Big Data play.

In amassing data from its 45 million users and the 660,000 petitions they’ve created and signed, the company has unprecedented insight into the habits of online activists. If you sign one animal rights petition, the company says, you’re 2.29 times more likely to sign a criminal justice petition. And if you sign a criminal justice petition, you’re 6.3 times more likely to sign an economic justice petition. And 4.4 times more likely to sign an immigrant rights petition. And four times more likely to sign an education petition. And so on. uses this data to serve you petitions you’re more likely to be interested in. And, in many cases, it also uses the stuff as a way of pairing you with paying sponsors you’re more likely to give money to.

It’s an intriguing business, and as it turns out, a rather lucrative one. But for some, it also toes an ethical line. “We’ve sort of created an email industrial complex where we’ll do anything to get people’s email address,” says Clay Johnson, a Presidential Innovation Fellow who, in 2004, co-founded Blue State Digital, a for-profit consulting company that helped develop the Obama campaign’s finely targeted fundraising system.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Meet, the Google of Modern Politics

The Asteroid Data Hunter App Is Now Available to the Public

NASA released a new desktop application that will allow users at home to help identify new asteroids. The Asteroid Data Hunter uses an algorithm that increases detection sensitivity and minimizes the number of false positives in the images captured by ground-based telescopes.

This application uses images provided by the Catalina Sky Survey and data provided by the Minor Planet Center. In addition to using the provided data and images, amateur astronomers may analyze their own images with the application.

Currently, the application is available for Windows and Mac, with Linux becoming available soon. To download the desktop application, visit

Image Credit: NASA

FBI Plans to Have 52 Million Photos in its NGI Face Recognition Database by Next Year

New documents released by the FBI show that the Bureau is well on its way toward its goal of a fully operational face recognition database by this summer.

EFF received these records in response to our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for information on Next Generation Identification (NGI)—the FBI’s massive biometric database that may hold records on as much as one third of the U.S. population. The facial recognition component of this database poses real threats to privacy for all Americans.

What is NGI?

NGI builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data. NGI combines all these forms of data in each individual’s file, linking them to personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc. This immense database is shared with other federal agencies and with the approximately 18,000 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States.

The records we received show that the face recognition component of NGI may include as many as 52 million face images by 2015. By 2012, NGI already contained 13.6 million images representing between 7 and 8 million individuals, and by the middle of 2013, the size of the database increased to 16 million images. The new records reveal that the database will be capable of processing 55,000 direct photo enrollments daily and of conducting tens of thousands of searches every day.

NGI Will Include Non-Criminal as well as Criminal Photos

One of our biggest concerns about NGI has been the fact that it will include non-criminal as well as criminal face images. We now know that FBI projects that by 2015, the database will include 4.3 million images taken for non-criminal purposes.

Currently, if you apply for any type of job that requires fingerprinting or a background check, your prints are sent to and stored by the FBI in its civil print database. However, the FBI has never before collected a photograph along with those prints. This is changing with NGI. Now an employer could require you to provide a “mug shot” photo along with your fingerprints. If that’s the case, then the FBI will store both your face print and your fingerprints along with your biographic data.

Learn More

anonymous asked:

Could you possibly explain what you meant by datamining in the post where you said it caused you to back out of certain communities? Normally, datamining to me sounds like a good thing whereas it clearly isn't here so I'm just curious as to what you mean exactly. Sorry if this is too personal or triggering in some way. :(

Datamining can come in a couple of different formats. The most common method is when people will sift through blog posts and basically harvest data. They’ll then take that data and present it as their own so that they look more informed than they actually are.

This has another layer of hell for spirit workers, because there are people who might harvest data about your spirits or Unseen life, and use that to “prove” that they are traveling like you are. They can also use that to manipulate other spirit workers or astral travelers (”I have a message for you from your spirit who came to me and told me XYZ” is a common method of this happening), or they can use the data Over There to fuck up your life Over There (and there ain’t shit you can do about it).

This is why I try to link to or mention where I get ideas from. I try to be as transparent about where ideas are coming from and what I’ve thought up vs. when I’ve gotten an idea or have been educated about something from someone else (I bring this up because I have been accused of data mining by someone before). Citing where you’ve learned things from or gotten things from (the same way you’d post a biblio in a book or a thesis paper) is the best way to show that you’re not data-mining in my experience as it creates a level of transparency. It’s also why I’ve tried to urge others to post links to where they’ve gotten stuff from, because it’s only fair to support and highlight the people that helped us get where we are. It’s different than making a brand new post with all of this information and making it sound like it’s entirely from you and your mind. If you’re posting stuff that is erasing others’ hard work, then you’re moving into datamining territory.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to pin down when people are or are not data mining, and it can be challenging to tell when experiences are just weirdly overlapping vs. when someone is talking out of their butt, etc. And accusing people of datamining and being able to prove it is near impossible in some circles, and being accused of datamining can ruin your online rep, regardless of whether it’s true or not. It’s pretty much a huge damned mess, but it is a huge problem in the wider community.

I guess another way to describe is that it’s kinda like plagiarism, with a kick.

Hopefully that makes sense >.>;; My brain is srsly not running very well today.

Australian researchers say they have developed a mathematical model to predict genocide. A Swiss sociologist has sifted through a century of news articles to predict when war will break out — both between and within countries. A Duke University lab builds software that it says can be used to forecast insurgencies. A team assembled by the Holocaust Museum is mining hate speech on Twitter as a way to anticipate outbreaks of political violence: It will be rolled out next year for the elections in Nigeria, which have frequently been marred by violence.

What makes these efforts so striking is that they rely on computing techniques — and sometimes huge amounts of computing power — to mash up all kinds of data, ranging from a country’s defense budget and infant mortality rate to the kinds of words used in news articles and Twitter posts.

None of this has yet produced a perfect crystal ball to foretell mass violence — and for good reason. “Events are rare, data we have is really noisy,” said Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist who is developing a web-based early warning system to forecast mass atrocities. “That makes it a particularly hard forecasting task.”

But social scientists are getting better at anticipating where trouble might start — or as Mr. Ulfelder put it, “assessing risks.” That explains why the United States intelligence community has been exploring the field for years. The government’s Political Instability Task Force, which Mr. Ulfelder helped to run for over a decade, tries to predict which countries are likely to witness civil unrest in the near term. Its data is not public, nor is information on how the government uses its predictions.


Somini Sengupta, Spreadsheets and Global Mayhem

Another thing the US Government is keeping from us: predictions of genocide.


Corporations Snatch Education Data

There’s a whole group of private companies capturing, harvesting and studying your child’s education data. And thanks to federal privacy laws, law enforcement officials can’t do anything about it.

Companies like Bill Gates’ In-Bloom, McGraw Hill’s Connect - ED. Even Barack Obama’s ED-EX, are all offering certificates for students to hang on the refrigerator at home in exchange for their sensitive, private education data.

At the doctor’s office, your medical records are considered private. HIPAA laws demand it. But when you travel over into the education sector, the lines start to blur. It’s actually against the law for a school or a teacher to share a student’s educational data, as long as they’re under 18. But since the Education Department expanded their privacy allowances in 2012, new loopholes allow corporations and government programs to share and monetize your child’s information. That very same, important information that COULD lead to them getting accepted into college, or chasing their desired career path. Now, a growing number of parents are starting to realize how colleges are trying to make money by tricking their children, and they’re not too happy about it.

It starts out looking like an open, online course. Some of these courses are even available in local high schools. But when a teenage student logs on, they’re quickly asked to enter personal information in exchange for advanced placement coursework or college level certifications. What we’re starting to find out, is these students aren’t just handing out their name and email address, they’re also giving universities and private corporations their IP address, birth dates, drivers license information and a whole host of data about their educational inclinations, strengths and weaknesses.

As more parents start to realize how these corporations are exploiting and manipulating their children, they’re starting to gain a louder, more influential voice. In fact, outcry from upset parents killed the student database funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just about one year after it’s inception. The 100 MILLION dollar project bit the dust after parents objected.

Now, even the White House is getting in on the action, promising completion certificates to low income high school students if they cooperate and take their special class. But critics accuse Obama’s program of being nothing more than a well-choreographed advertisement used to harvest individualized education data, and trick students into handing over their private information.

The evolution of federal privacy laws continues to be one of the most intriguing stories coming out of Washington DC. We’ll keep a close eye on them, and keep you updated as we continue to learn more.

Darwin’s finches weren’t really Darwin’s finches. 

Using a new data mining technique called “Reference Publication Year Spectroscopy (RPYS)” a team of computer scientists have determined that it was David Lack, an evolutionary biologist, who 100 years later did the significant research connecting the birds geographic isolation to their evolutionary differences. It was Lack who popularized the term “Darwin’s finches”, not Darwin himself. 

Read More

Who Keeps Your Data Safe(ish) From the NSA?

For those concerned about National Security Agency interception of commercial data—information that you might share with Facebook, Google, and other online outfits—the Electronic Frontier Foundation keeps a running tally of encryption measures implemented by such firms. Since the NSA often hacks into data links without any legal niceties, such encryption has the potential to dramatically improve security. Even when government officials come with rubber-stamp court authorization in hand, or other tools for compelling compliance, tools like the perfect forward secrecy recently implemented by Twitter can limit the snoops’ take. It can even make it impossible for companies to do as the official eavesdroppers ask. That’s important for American firms that find their ability to compete both locally and globally seriously hindered by assumptions that their data storage systems are effectively reading rooms for the NSA.

According to the EFF, the table above shows where major online firms stand at the moment in their encryption efforts. This is a moving target, of course, so keep checking back with the EFF for new developments.

Definition-wise, encrypted data center links are important, because the NSA has been tapping into the free flow of information between servers owned by companies like Google. Encrypting that flow means snoops will nab scrambled and incomprehensible information (unless they crack the encryption).

HTTPS provides a secure connection to Web pages, so that your activity is less easily observed.

HSTS is basically a more secure form of HTTPS.

Perfect Forward Secrecy encrypts each session you spend on a service like Facebook independently, so that even if snoops or hackers get access to one encryption key, they can’t retroactively decrypt everything you’ve done in the past.

STARTTLS is a means on encrypting communications between email servers. Those with their status listed in red, above, provide email to the public, making it a bigger deal than those whose status is in grey, and provide only internal email.

Of course, all of this could be bypassed if the government forces online companies to build in technology that eases wiretapping, which it has already done to telecoms. In that case, look to overseas services—or implement your own encryption.