By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 0 Comments
Jesse Brown on what the #ifihadglasscontest could mean for widespread adoption
The lucky winners of Google’s #ifihadglass contest have received their digital spectacles in the mail and are flaunting them around town (the towns in question primarily being San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles). To qualify, they have proven themselves innovative, or at least famous enough to be granted the privilege of paying Google $1,500 for a first generation pair of Google Glass headwear, and now they want you to know it.
This has prompted some concern. Over at The New York Times, Jenna Wortham worries “about the future of new technology and who gains access to it first — part of a much larger debate concerning the undercurrents of power and privilege that course through the Web.”
Between the hefty sticker price and the snobby Google selection process, Wortham speculates that ”Glass…poses an inkling of a trend toward technology for the 1 percent”.
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 10:16 AM - 0 Comments
Who’d have ever thought Knight Rider would almost be reality?
It’s unlikely that robot cars will become commercially available in 2013, but it’s a certainty that they will take big steps forward. So far, Google has been pushing forward with the development of self-driving vehicles, but the search company is not alone. Toyota is the latest to officially join the fray.
The Japanese car maker will be showing off its “active safety research vehicle, Intelligent Transport Systems and 2013 Lexus LS,” which is “equipped with the world’s most advanced pre-collision safety system,” at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. I’ll be checking it out and speaking with Toyota executives. Watch for more on this next week. Continue…
By Peter Nowak - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 9:37 AM - 0 Comments
With the start of a new year, there’s no better time to review and reflect on the federal government’s complete and utter failure in providing leadership on digital issues. The country has been waiting on a digital strategy–a comprehensive plan for how Canada intends to compete in the global information economy–for years. For example:
“More than one hundred representatives from libraries, museums, archives, publishers, copyright collectives, the education community and government gathered last week in snowy Montebello, Que. for a national summit on a Canadian digital information strategy. The by-invitation-only event marked the culmination of a year-long cross-country effort to ensure that Canada is not left behind as our trading partners race to develop their own 21st century digitization plans.” – Toronto Star, Dec. 11, 2006
“Free access to government data and equitable access to the Internet itself are key to a prosperous digital economy, say many of those who took part in recent federal consultations. For two months, the government has been seeking public input on its strategy for a digital economy… [Industry Minister Tony Clement] did not provide a specific timeline, but suggested Canada would take about the same time as other countries, who have typically developed strategies in six to 18 months.” – CBC, July 14, 2010
“For over a year Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have been talking about the need to create a digital economic strategy for the nation, with Industry Minister Tony Clement promising to reveal details this spring.” – IT Business, Mar. 23, 2011
“I will launch a Canadian-made digital economy strategy by the end of the year.” – Industry Minister Christian Paradis, Aug. 28, 2012
If the government’s latest broken promise is any indication, the wait is going to continue, despite numerous consultations and reports having already taken place. For those paying attention to other countries and their digital strategies (New Zealand had one in 2005, Japan in 2001), it’s exasperating at best, infuriating at worst.
Yet, the government could do worse. It could, as many fear, release a digital strategy that is low on specifics and without any real teeth. Such a plan would be a disservice. Canada is already behind in many ways, from web usage by businesses, to Internet access pricing, to research and development spending, to venture capital access. There are many problems to be fixed, so any digital strategy must take specific actions to get the country back on the right track.
The other danger with any sort of digital plan is the tendency to throw money at a problem in the hopes that it’ll fix itself. That’s also the wrong way to go, since government-provided funds are often squandered without any concrete results to show at the end.
Most importantly, a digital strategy must be bold. There is no sense in aiming for the future if you’re not aiming high. Timidity has no place in such a plan.
The government has already heard from a broad range of Canadians as to what the country’s strategy should contain. Here is a list of 10 suggestions, some of which are repeated from submissions and some of which are my own additions. The list–sort of a set of New Year’s resolution for government–is by no means comprehensive, but it would make for a good starting point.
Technology Minister: Creating a cabinet ministerial position that would deal with all things technological would go a long way to showing the public that the government does indeed take digital issues seriously. Which it currently doesn’t, obviously.
Merge Telecom and Broadcasting Acts: Telecom and broadcasting technologies have converged, as have their owners, so why are the laws governing them still separate? Indeed, the government should move to liberalize foreign ownership in broadcasting the same way it did last year with telecom. Maintaining the restrictions does much to counter any positives introduced by telecom ownership liberalization.
Infrastructure regulatory holiday: Any new company that wants to build a telecom network in Canada, whether wired or wireless, gets a 10-year exemption from any regulations affecting access to that network (in other words, they won’t have to give access to third-party independent internet service providers). The holiday could be even longer for northern Canada, where things are even more dire. Some might say this is unfair to the likes of Bell or Rogers or Northwestel, but those companies got to build their networks and customer bases with government-granted monopolies. Such an exemption might seem especially intriguing to certain search engine companies that are currently building fibre networks in the United States.
Broadband targets: Speaking of which, the government should institute pricing, speed and usage targets that ISPs must reach within three years. The targets would be set based on projections of what will be needed to measure among the top countries at that time. Failure by the ISPs to hit the targets would result in the government launching consultations on how to structurally separate network owners from retail operations, and/or the feasibility of building a nationally-owned fibre network. Is this de facto regulation? Yes indeed, but it’s market forces that have caused Canada to fall behind. When the carrot doesn’t do the trick, sometimes you need to turn to the stick.
Internet access subsidies: With broadband simply being too expensive for many poorer Canadians, a simple subsidy program is needed –- if your household income is under a certain amount, the government pays part of your monthly Internet bill. Not only would this connect the people who need Internet access the most, it would also saddle the government with a continually escalating tab. If that doesn’t cause politicians to spur better Internet service and prices, nothing will.
Computer programs: In that vein, there are also too many households that don’t have computers, wherein Internet access would obviously not make a lick of difference. The digital strategy should outline a specific plan to work with private-sector companies to provide such households not just with computers, but with the training required to use them effectively. Certain individuals have expressed a desire to help on this front; these people should be sought and hired to lead such projects.
Tech export credits: Canadian businesses aren’t using the Internet enough to reach global markets, so applying further tax rewards on sales specifically made using digital means might spur some to finally take online expansion seriously.
Foreign recruiting: Going the other way, the government should step up recruitment in countries that have large numbers of the sorts of skilled people needed here. Universities have tried various recruitment drives over the years, but they can only promise students so much. Government is much better positioned to deliver such workers jobs, not to mention a life in Canada.
Incubators, incubators, incubators: The venture capital problem might actually be one that can be helped with money. With early-stage investment identified as a real issue for Canadian startups, the government could accomplish much by funding lots of technology incubation projects, where entrepreneurs can cut their teeth until they get noticed by proper VCs.
R&D tax breaks: The federal government should take a cue from the provincial governments of Quebec, B.C. and Ontario, which created a vibrant video game industry through tax breaks. Those governments attracted large multinationals by giving them big discounts on labour costs, with the result being thousands of new jobs. More importantly, an ecosystem of very talented developers has formed, with Canada now becoming a leader in independent game design. The same model should be used to attract multinationals to set up research and development centres, with similar benefits likely to result.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, January 4, 2013 at 2:49 PM - 0 Comments
A. You can die.
It’s not the friendliest tactic to take in a negotiation, nor the most likely to succeed. But it’s probably the only honest reply software developers can offer the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which has extended a conditional, possibly symbolic, olive branch to the tech community.
Tech law blog Groklaw reports that the United States Patent and Trademark Office is inviting developers to attend a duo of roundtable discussions on the future of software patents, to be held in New York and in the Silicon Valley next month. They’re calling it the “Software Partnership,” and the intention is to get developers’ input on how their broken software patent system can be fixed. Continue…
By Emily Senger - Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 2:42 PM - 0 Comments
Keeping track of cattle and, perhaps one day, delivering the mail are emerging applications for UAVs
A fledgling company in southern Alberta is sending drone technology originally designed for the military into the sky to take pictures of sugar beets, potatoes and even cattle in an effort to help farmers better manage their crops and livestock. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used by Lethbridge-based Isis Geomatics can fit in a backpack when disassembled and, when launched, use cameras to tag each part of a field with an exact location. A farmer can then scan the images to determine where to apply water or fertilizer or keep track of cattle.
Agriculture is just one emerging commercial application for UAVs. Drones, such as those manufactured at Waterloo, Ont.-based Aeryon Labs, are becoming easy enough for anyone to operate; they’ve been used so far for wildlife surveys and to map shipping routes. Isis hopes to add oil- and gas-field surveying to its services. Other firms are planning to use drones as super-efficient couriers in remote areas. “People are recognizing the opportunities,” says Aeryon Labs’ vice-president of marketing, Ian McDonald.
By The Associated Press - Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 7:10 AM - 0 Comments
Incident highlights confusion around Facebook’s often changing and often confusing privacy settings
SEATTLE – Even Mark Zuckerberg’s family can get tripped up by Facebook’s privacy settings.
A picture that Zuckerberg’s sister posted on her personal Facebook profile was seen by a marketing director, who then posted the picture to Twitter and her more than 40,000 followers Wednesday.
That didn’t sit well with Zuckerberg’s sister, Randi, who tweeted at Callie Schweitzer that the picture was meant for friends only and that posting the private picture on Twitter was “way uncool.” Schweitzer replied by saying the picture popped up on her Facebook news feed.
The picture shows four people standing around a kitchen staring at their phones with their mouths open while Mark Zuckerberg is in the background.
By Kate Lunau - Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 4:43 PM - 0 Comments
Science writer Kate Lunau picks her favourite stories of the year
It was a big year for science.
Chris Hadfield, Canada’s first International Space Station commander, blasted off on the mission of a lifetime.
The line between human and machine became ever finer, as a paralyzed woman ate a chocolate bar with a prosthetic arm controlled by her own mind.
There was bombastic Canadian filmmaker James Cameron’s record plunge into the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the world’s oceans; and the Curiosity rover’s nail-biter of a landing on Mars, where the one-ton robotic geologist is now seeking signs that our neighbouring planet could support life.
On the 35th anniversary of its launch, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft was set to break free of our solar system altogether, becoming humankind’s first interstellar emissary.
And SpaceX’s Dragon capsule became the first private vehicle to dock with the Space Station, marking the start of a powerful new shift in how humans live and work in space.
The year’s most jaw-dropping moment, though, was the discovery of the Higgs boson—the so-called “God particle”—by a team of literally thousands of scientists from around the world, working for decades on one of the largest experiments ever conceived. A tiny bit of the universe, the Higgs boson particle explains why we all exist.
But as 2012 comes to a close, there’s enough lists out there. Instead of revisiting these major moments, here’s some of my other favourite science stories of 2012—stories that stuck with me —and a few things I’ll be watching in 2013.
1. A planetary bounty
Not so long ago, we didn’t know for sure if there were any planets outside of our solar system. Now we’re starting to see that other worlds might be more common than stars, and their variation is incredible. This year we learned about a massive diamond planet, a lonely rogue planet floating freely in space, and a place that resembles Star Wars‘ fictional Tatooine, but even more elaborate than anything George Lucas dreamed up: the two-sunned planet is orbited by two more stars, the only solar system of its kind ever seen.
Closer to home, the star Tau Ceti, a mere 12 light years away, might even host a planet that can support life.
Worlds in our own solar system have their own surprises, too: NASA’s Curiosity rover found evidence that water once flowed on freeze-dried Mars, and on Titan—one of Saturn’s many moons—a “mini Nile river” was spotted flowing into a large sea. (Unlike our Nile, Titan’s river is probably full of liquid hydrocarbons; it’s the only place we know of, other than Earth, with liquid at the surface.)
It’s tempting to want to pay these other places a visit, but current technology could never get us as far as another solar system. That might not be true forever. In September, a scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center revealed he’s working on a real-life warp drive.
2. Dinosaurs: fast and feathery
Remember when dinosaurs were fat, slow, and scaly? That’s how we used to depict them in movies, books and museums, but our understanding of these creatures has undergone some seismic changes, and continued to shift in 2012. Today, we know that carnivorous theropod dinosaurs like T. rex were often active, agile—and, at least in some cases, feathered.
This year, scientists unveiled the incredible Yutyrannus huali, or “beautiful feathered tyrant,” a massive cousin of T. rex covered in plumage, and by far the biggest feathered dinosaur we’ve found. And a Canadian team announced specimens of ornithomimids, 75 million years old, that also show evidence of feathers, making them the first feathered dinos ever seen in the Americas. (Until now, most have come from China.) Some palaeontologists now wonder if all dinosaurs had feathers—a striking idea. But traditionalists can rest easy for now, at least at the movies: next year, Jurassic Park is scheduled for re-release in 3D, and while its special effects look better than ever, the preview shows charging ornithomimids still scaly and featherless.
3. A personal factory, at home
Imagine being able to download whatever you like off the Internet, or even design it yourself—an electric guitar, maybe a full-size house—then print it off, in your own personal factory. That’s the promise of 3D printers, and this year, it seemed they were everywhere.
MakerBot, which sells a desktop 3D printer model for about $2,200, opened its first retail store in New York. Author Chris Anderson’s new book, Makers, spoke of a “new industrial revolution” as the DIY movement takes off, partly thanks to these devices. Beyond just metal and plastic, 3D printers are being dreamed up that could print everything from food, to human cells (maybe one day capable of turning out out a transplantable kidney) and body parts, too.
DNA pioneer Craig Venter talked about emailing downloadable vaccines around the world that could be produced on 3D biological printers. Washington State University scientists practised printing artificial lunar dust into various shapes, suggesting we could use 3D printers on the moon one day to make tools and other supplies instead of launching them from Earth. Of course, putting such a limitless technology in the hands of everyone, makes some people nervous. Defense Distributed, a Texas non-profit, wants to create a fully downloadable and printable gun, and this year they got very close to doing it, firing six rounds from a partially printed rifle before the gun broke apart.
4. Waking up to climate change (again and again and again)
This year, more than 62 per cent of the U.S. was plagued by widespread drought, decimating crops and causing food prices to soar. Arctic sea ice was reported shrinking to record-low levels yet again, reaching the smallest ever recorded, and covering less than half of the area that would have been typical just four decades ago.
Off the West Coast of Canada, a a massive geoengineering experiment came to light, igniting debate on a controversial idea—that we could deliberately tinker with the climate through manmade means, to slow global warming—which some say could save the planet, and others insist could doom us for good. After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in October, global warming briefly made an appearance in the U.S. presidential election: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, publicly backed President Barack Obama’s bid for re-election, saying he was a better choice to tackle the issue. Unfortunately, until then, climate change hadn’t come up once in the presidential debates.
5. Do animals qualify as non-human people?
In February I attended the annual meeting of the AAAS, the world’s biggest general scientific society, and got to hear talks on all sorts of fascinating stuff, like bizarre underwater creatures, and the science of superheroes.
One of the most well-attended was about “cetacean rights”—whether whales and dolphins should qualify as “non-human people.” By this point, we know that dolphins seem to understand numbers and abstract concepts. They’ve been observed using sponges as tools to find food. Whale species are said to have their own culture; I’ve previously written about the complexities of sperm whale language, and traditions passed down between generations.
As the movement to give cetaceans legal rights rolls on, we saw more news this year showing just how remarkably “humanlike” many animals can be: like an Asian male elephant, named Koshik, which can apparently speak in Korean. (Like dolphins and some other species, elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror.) Or a beluga whale that mimics human sounds, and orangutans and gorillas that love playing with iPads. We increasingly understand animals as intelligent, even moral, creatures. It could have all sorts of implications, maybe first and foremost for the meat industry. How’s that test-tube hamburger coming along?
Thanks to everybody who submitted suggestions for this list over Twitter @katelunau and @MacleansMag.
By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 12:24 PM - 0 Comments
Facebook users are ignorant. I should know, I am one.
I’m ignorant of who can see my status updates. I’m murky on the privacy settings of my photos. I don’t have a clue how many app developers I’ve let into my data. I’ve lost the plot, like everyone.
Events in recent months have revealed just how ignorant, and distrustful, we all are of Facebook. First we confused our own old promiscuous posts for a Facebook privacy leak (it wasn’t). Then we suddenly realized that maybe we weren’t OK with Facebook having control of all our content, so we spread around a magical incantation that we hoped would undo our TOS contracts (it didn’t). It’s often said that if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populated country in the world. It might also be the world’s dumbest country, with citizens who have no idea whether they exist in an anarchic utopia or a totalitarian surveillance state.
You might argue that Facebook benefits from our ignorance, that if we knew just how public our data is and how little control we have over the company’s ability to exploit it, we would have never signed up. But it’s too late. One billion of us did sign up, and now Facebook has rightly set out to educate us on just where we stand.
Today, Facebook introduces new, easier to use privacy settings, and an educational campaign to make us all less ignorant. This is a good thing. Continue…
By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 5:03 PM - 0 Comments
Perhaps for the first time ever, Canadians will have first and exclusive access to a hot new piece of technology. On Dec. 7, the Nintendo Wii Mini will be on sale in Canada, and only in Canada.
Just what is going on here?
Wired breaks it down to two possible scenarios:
1) In the U.S., the original Wii is already on sale for as little as $130 with bundled games, and it still sells briskly. A $99 Wii Mini, which lacks Internet connectivity, presents no particular bargain to American consumers. But in Canada, you’ll have trouble finding an original Wii for less than $150, so the Mini is a good deal.
2) In the U.S., 25% of Netflix subscribers use their Wiis to stream video onto their TVs. There are tons of dedicated gadgets that’ll sling the Internet over to your TV screen, but most of them start at $100. Throwing this capability onto a console is a major value-add for Americans. Not so much for Canadians, because Netflix isn’t nearly as popular here. That’s because the Netflix library is much smaller in Canada and because our ISPs tax us with crazy fees when we burst through our miserly bandwidth caps, resulting in a true cost for HD Netflix that’s well over the $7.99 monthly subscription fee.
So: maybe we’re a good first market for a cheap-o Wii because we inexplicably pay higher prices than Americans for the same products with our more valuable dollars. Or, maybe we’re a good market because of our lousy Internet service. Either way, there’s nothing here to be proud of.
I’ll throw a third possibility into the mix, which is just as depressing:
Consumer electronics are settling down from a cycle of rapid innovation to one of global market exploitation. Tablets, smart phones and motion detecting game consoles will increasingly be offered in stripped down, bare-bones forms to 2nd world markets–places where people can’t afford the slickest new iPad, and where they lack the telecom infrastructure and content licensing to make full use of such gadgets if they did.
Maybe Nintendo is offering the Wii Mini to Canada first because we present a low-risk test-market for such releases. Instead of being, as we’ve dreamed, the testing ground for the world’s hottest new innovations, maybe Canadians will become the industry’s downmarket guinea pigs.
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By Mika Rekai - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 4:59 PM - 0 Comments
Technophobes, rest easy. When the machines rise, humans will be prepared.
A philosopher, an…
Technophobes, rest easy. When the machines rise, humans will be prepared.
A philosopher, an astrophysicist and a software engineer have joined forces at Cambridge University with hopes of creating a laboratory that will analyze the dangers that technology poses to the future of humankind. The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), will study the potential dangers posed by rogue bio- and nanotechnology, extreme climate change, nuclear war and artificial intelligence.
“The seriousness of these risks is difficult to assess,” the founders write on the centre’s website. “But that in itself seems a cause for concern, given how much is at stake.”
The three founders, Cambridge philosophy professor Huw Price, cosmology and astrophysics professor Martin Rees and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, say that the centre is necessary to avoid opening a “Pandora’s box” where super-intelligent machines would be beyond human control. Reese, in particular, has long been a technology alarmist and is the author of the ominously titled Our Final Century. The book, published in 2003, is a detailed account of the threats posed by the unbridled rise of technology and rapidly improving artificial intelligence. While critics have dismissed the idea as a science fiction, the founders insist that just because a threat can be readily cited in pop culture, it does not mean it is not a present danger to the human race.
While CSER does not have an official opening date, the founders insist it will open sometime next year. Cambridge University, which in its 800 year history has withstood everything from the Blitz to the Bubonic plague, clearly does not intend to let the apocalyptic threat go unstudied.
By Peter Nowak - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 12:28 PM - 0 Comments
Way back yonder in journalism school, oh, about two decades ago, there was a funny division of students. In the undergraduate program, you had to choose a specialty stream at the halfway point of your four years. In those halcyon pre-internet days, that meant picking either broadcast, magazine or print. The problem was, the first two accepted very few students, so those who didn’t get in were shunted off to print where the majority of unwashed journalism students resided.
As a result, there were a good number of disgruntled wannabe broadcast and magazine students in print, but a good portion of us were also hard-core newspaper fans for whom the stream was the first and only choice. We jokingly considered broadcast students to be shallow people who only wanted to be on TV, while magazine students and their high-falutin’ big words and surfeit of adjectives were just artsy hipsters. To us, the people who were “print by choice” were the only real journalists.
As funny as those youthful days now seem, it’s doubly humorous to see a large company adopting that same sort of borderline immature stance in its marketing. If you follow the smartphone field, you’ve probably recognized that I’m talking about Research In Motion’s “BlackBerry by choice” campaign.
Earlier this year, RIM insisted that many of its woes stemmed from poor marketing – that it simply wasn’t doing a good job at pointing out all the positives of BlackBerry. To that effect, the company went out and hired a new chief marketing officer, Frank Boulben, to fix the image problem.
By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Forget that Canada’s new ePassports come with a hefty price-bump. Forget as well that they glorify a storied Canadian feminist who also happened to be a bizarre racist. The real problem with our new enhanced travel documents lies in their enhancement. Namely, each one includes an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip, a technology traditionally used to track cattle and Walmart goods.
RFID passports are notoriously insecure. In 2006, German hackers cloned them. In 2008, a hacker from the group called THC (the hacker’s choice) also cracked RFID passports and whipped one up belonging, it seemed, to one Elvis Aaron Presley. The anonymous hacker had it scanned at a self-serve kiosk at the Amsterdam airport. Sure enough, Elvis lived.
In 2009, ethical hacker Chris Paget bought a cheap RFID sniffer (you can get them online) and amped it up with signal-boosting antennas. He stuffed the whole kit (assembled for under $250) into his car and took a drive around San Francisco. Soon he had the personal passport data of two strangers, which he could have then cloned if he’d wanted to. Luckily, all Chris wanted was to prove that this kind of thing could be done, so that the world would think twice about issuing ePassports. This part of his experiment failed.
The Canadian Passport office is doing somersaults to explain how theirs isn’t that kind of RFID. For one thing, they explain, it’s not a tracking device, because it is “passive, which means that it does not have a power source. It cannot transmit signals over long distances”. This is just silly.
All(Update: Many) RFIDs are “passive” in the sense that they don’t emit signals on their own. When an RFID reader (sniffer) is pointed at an RFID tag from an appropriate distance, it emits an electromagnetic field that charges the tag, which then sends a signal. So no, it’s not like a self-powered GPS chip that constantly communicates its whereabouts. But yes, it can and is used as a tracking chip that tells you it’s there when it comes into contact with a reading device. Whether you’ve tagged cows or boxes or Canadian citizens with RFIDS, you did so explicitly to track them, and others could potentially track them as well.
But don’t worry, says our Passport office, because our new ePassports can only be sniffed at very close range; 10cm, they say. But in a subsequent demonstration, Chris Paget displayed techniques for long-range RFID sniffing, from distances of over 200 feet. Might these techniques be used to extend the range of transmission on our new passports? To the question “Can someone read the information on my ePassport without my knowledge?” the Passport office is careful not to commit to anything definitive, saying instead that this is “extremely unlikely”. After all, they explain elsewhere, “the personal information stored on the chip is privacy protected by basic access control (BAC),” which they call a “secure mechanism”. But BAC was hacked in 2006.
Since all of these breaches were publicly known years ago, the Passport office had a chance to subject our new ePassports to rigorous testing before issuing them. Sure, hackers are always finding new vulnerabilities, but at least known bugs can be tested for. Ideally, the results of such testing would be included in the information provided by the Passport office, but there’s no sign of anything like that on their announcement website. I asked them if they had done any independent security testing at all, and they said they’d get back to me. They haven’t yet, but if they do, I’ll update this post with their answer.
One thing they will be unable to assure me is that the ePassport is totally secure. That’s reasonable- a 100% fraud-proof passport is an impossibility, with or without an electronic element. Adding a potentially hackable chip may bring Canada in line with international standards, but doing so in the name of increased security is dubious. While RFIDs make passports harder to counterfeit through traditional methods, they invite all kinds of new malfeasance from crooks and fraudsters. Of course, the real danger may not lie in illegitimate uses of the ePassport, but in their intended application.
The ePassport’s RFID chips also contain digital copies of Canadian travellers’ passport photos, explicitly collected to be read by facial recognition software. This software is arguably more hackable and less reliable than RFIDs, but let’s put that aside for now. Whether it works or not, facial recognition is the first toe our government is dipping into the world of biometrics, and the establishment of a national biometric database is a major undertaking, fraught with privacy, safety, and civil liberty concerns, and we’re entering into it without much conversation.
Professor Andrew Clement of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information has been ringing alarm bells on biometrics for years. I asked him about the ePassports, and he had this to say:
“While the 10cm readability remains a 3rd party sniffing concern, in my view the creation of massive, on-line databases of biometric facial images in combination with facial recognition techniques, all done without any substantive independent threat, risk and social impact assessment nor public debate, is overall a much bigger concern.”
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By toban dyck - Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 3:30 PM - 0 Comments
In two recent cases, employees have been fired for personal, albeit distasteful, online activity
Michael Brutsch, a Texan who worked in financial services, and Justin Hutchings, a former Mr. Big and Tall employee from Ontario, have both been fired recently for messages they posted online, on their own time.
The cases of Brutsch (Reddit username: Violentacrez), who shared pictures of scantily clad, underage girls and images of women getting beaten on various forums called subreddits, and Hutchings, who posted a negative comment on Amanda Todd’s tribute page on Facebook, have raised tough questions over the extent to which HR departments may be called on to police employee behavior in the age of social media.
“Standard HR practice is now to, without question, Google people’s names, even before reference checks,” says Blaine Donais, president of the Workplace Fairness Initiative. But it may not stop there, as human resource professionals are increasingly using social media tools to monitor the non-work, private lives of staff; a trend blurring the lines between public and private, and exposing out-of-date labour legislation, say experts.
Unveiling the identities of the two trolls (a term used to describe someone anonymously posting extreme material on the Internet meant to elicit a strong reaction), resulted in both of them losing their jobs. Most would agree the comments and posts in question are distasteful and unworthy of defense, but the quagmire is in the complexities of an employer’s ability to police employees outside of office hours.
“In non-unionized work environments an employer can fire employees for almost any reason, provided adequate notice is given,” says David Doorey, professor of employment law at York University.
Online opinions can go viral; they can incite anger and create groundswells large enough to destroy and exploit lives, or, in Amanda Todd’s case, play a
tragic role in the end of a life.
Labour legislation explicitly addressing the consequences of posting offensive, radical content online may be a solution for dealing with cases like these, suggests Doorey, but such a move would stir debate over an individual’s right to free speech.
Both Brutsch and the Amanda Todd commenter wrote and posted using pseudonyms, a step some may see as them exercising due diligence in protecting their public identities (however reprehensible their actions).
“The law struggles with a case like this, because what matters is whether the employer’s economic interests were harmed by the employee’s conduct, and not whether the employer disagreed with the content of the employee’s expression,” says Doorey.
Yishon Wong, the CEO of Reddit, went on record, defending Violentacrez against calls for his ban from the site. Wong’s argument was against censorship, and not a specific endorsement of what was posted. “If we think people ought not to lose their job for expressing their views on the Internet, we would need to legislate that,” says Doorey. “This could be done, easy enough.”
Ultimately, employees should assume their employers are monitoring their social media activity and, as such, should be mindful of what they post on the Internet, according to human resource professionals. “Our lives are public like they’ve never before been,” says Donais. ”And the connection between private and public life are very blurred. We live in a brave new world.”
By Jesse Brown - Monday, October 22, 2012 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
I bring you big news on Apple tablets, a full day before the official announcement of the iPad Mini:
Yes, $250, the expected starting price of the new iPad Mini (or Air), is also the going Craigslist rate for used 1st generation iPads. It’s tomorrow’s price today, and as a bonus you’ll get a full-sized screen. If it’s scratched, you can probably haggle it down to $230. You’ll meet an interesting new person, and you won’t pay taxes.
Hate me yet?
Sorry everybody, but there’s no better time than right before a Cupertino product announcement to
troll Apple fansquestion society’s troubling devotion to the Apple cult. I’ve been called a partisan for suggesting Android tablets as an alternative to the pricey and constraining iPad, so let me clear the record by stating definitively that the iPad remains, by a small margin, the best tablet computer I’ve used. The problem is, none of the advancements since the first iPad have improved the experience much, while the sticker-price has yet to rationalize.
After a decade of technological innovation, Apple is now coasting on fumes, offering minor upgrades or pointless variations in increasingly transparent efforts to keep the product cycle spinning. Whereas once their products changed our lives, they are now marketed in Apple-speak as revolutionizing only themselves. iPhone 5, as the slogan goes, is ”the biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone.” Not since the Smurfs smurfed us very much has a product degenerated into such nauseating solipsism.
So: is the world clamouring for smaller tablet computers? Not really. But there exists a huge untapped market for cheaper tablets, which Apple doesn’t want to surrender to Android or anyone else. Without cannibalizing their own top-tier iPads, they are set to offer a down-market product in the form of the iPad Mini, which it seems Apple is slashing its profit margin on.
It’s an aggressive move to bring new markets (educational and developing nations included) into the Apple fold, where they will be constrained from buying music, apps, movies and books that are not sold by Apple.
As an independent critic who doesn’t get kickbacks (or even product loans, for God’s sakes) from any tech company, far be it for me to advertise for the competition by suggesting that an open alternative like Android might be the way to go.
Instead: if you want a cheaper iPad, by all means, buy an old iPad. It’s the best iPad to iPad iPad since iPad.
Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown
By Scaachi Koul - Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 6:01 AM - 0 Comments
If you think the web is evil, wait till you hear about the darknet
For anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000 euros, Mason will kill the mark of your choice. His only ethical restrictions are that he won’t “fix” anyone who’s pregnant or under 18. Mason claims to have worked as a hit man for more than 15 years in Europe, but he has just started advertising his services online. Not on the Internet. On the darknet.
It’s an alternate online universe where users are untraceable. “This is the only way I can offer my services to a wider audience,” says Mason, obviously not his real name, who hosts his own page on the darknet.
To get there, you need to download software that conceals your Internet protocol address. The best known is Tor, initially developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to protect government communications. Tor receives funding from U.S. and Swedish governments.
Tor started in 2001 with noble intentions: to provide Internet privacy to people who needed it, like users who didn’t want advertisers to store information on them, business owners who wanted secure online banking, and protesters in oppressed countries who wanted to organize revolutions. Its logo is an onion, which represents its layers of encryption. URLs end in .onion instead of the typical .com or .ca, and though you can find some on Google, you can’t open the pages. Tor, based outside of Boston, is still used by the military, police, activists and journalists.
But like most inventions, it can be subverted: the software connects drug dealers and users, sadists and snuff films, pedophiles and child porn, hit men and their clients.
“Criminals will use any technology,” says Andrew Lewman, Tor’s executive director. “Cars were not designed to help a bank robber.” While Tor administrators alert authorities about any illegal activity they find, they don’t go looking for it.
Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser at Sophos Canada, an IT security business, says the good and the bad of the darknet are a package deal. “There’s a dark, seedy underbelly to the whole thing, but I think that’s true anywhere where we see speech is free,” Wisniewski says. “I don’t like that child pornographers and drug dealers have a voice on the darknet, but I think it comes with the territory.” The darknet has also been used as a tool in the Arab Spring, allowing activists to anonymously communicate with each other to organize protests and avoid government censure.
The darknet also features an online marketplace called Silk Road, one of its better-known sites. It allows users to buy illegal drugs using Bitcoins, an encrypted digital currency. You can buy an eight-ball of cocaine much like you can order a book from Amazon.
When it comes to child pornography, the darknet is a portal to closed groups that are very sophisticated. “It’s like you would have a club and you have to be invited in,” says Parry Aftab, founder and executive director of WiredSafety, an American charity that promotes Internet safety and education. “They have some of the tightest Internet security that exists, often more than a ministry of defence.” Pedophiles who are good at hiding often move servers every few days, scramble their IPs, and use code words. While more secure than the regular Internet, it isn’t foolproof. Aftab says they still catch criminals—it just takes more digging. “There’s always somebody who’s stupid in the group who gets careless. It’s just old-fashioned law enforcement and luck.”
There’s no way to confirm that Mason is a hit man and not a 15-year-old boy in Kansas, but he was emailing in stilted English, quoted his prices in euros, and said he was a Caucasian male over the age of 35. His prices are on a sliding scale, depending on whether the victim is a public figure, how much time it will take to kill the intended target, and whether the client wants the murder to look like an accident. But even if he isn’t the real deal, there are plenty out there who are. “The darkweb offers people an escape route,” he says. “As long as there is a consumer, there shall always be a provider.”
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
In conversation with Brian Bethune
Brian David Johnson is Intel Corporation’s chief futurist, the man the computer-chip-making giant entrusts with looking ahead 10 or 15 years and predicting how people will be interacting with its products. He is also someone who passionately argues the future is what we make it, and being pessimistic and fearful is more liable to make it unpleasant.
Q: You have a very cool title: “futurist and director of future casting.” Your job is to divine the future—how you see it in social terms—and try to make technology that works for it?
A: Correct. Get an understanding of people first and foremost, right? Base it on people, because people don’t change all that much compared to technology. Base it on social science and people, and then take the work that we’re doing inside our labs and ask, “Okay, how can we use that technology to make people’s lives better?”
Q: It sounds harder than doing the opposite, saying, “We can make this,” whatever this is, “and surely someone will find a use for it.”
A: Oh, that is so intellectually dishonest, but it is something that we have been guilty of in the high-tech industry for a very long time. We create technology—really cool, brilliant technology—that is useless to people. To me that’s one of the greatest tragedies: amazing technology that does no good. It’s the end experience, not the specs—but how is this device, this platform, this future—how is that going to engage with people, make their lives better, make them more sustainable?
By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Once dismissed as a flight of fancy, the flying car is preparing for takeoff again
One spring day more than 15 years ago, Col. Joe Kittinger, an experimental test pilot and world-renowned extreme skydiver, slid into the driver’s seat of a 1954 Taylor Aerocar, coaxed it to a speed of 130 km/h on a runway outside Minneapolis, and took the craft, looking something like a stubby Volkswagen with wings, to the air. Kittinger was in his mid-70s and, as a fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, had flown dozens of aircraft over a career that spans 16,800 flying hours. Yet this was the first flying car, and it was almost 50 years old. “I didn’t have anybody to talk to who’d ever flown it before,” says Kittinger, speaking from his home outside Orlando, Fla. “I just got in it and taught myself how.”
Within a week, he’d learned the ins and outs of managing the Aerocar in flight. One quirk of the mechanism, he quickly learned, has to do with how the steering wheel controls both its front wheels and, simultaneously, the aileron, a flap on the trailing edge of an aircraft’s wings that manages roll. When landing, Kittinger realized he would have to jam the wheel dead straight to prevent it from lurching sideways when the front wheels hit the ground.
His last day piloting this “roadable” aircraft—which refers to a plane that also drives—coincided with an air show at the Anoka County Airport in Blaine, Minn., and Kittinger decided to give the crowd something to talk about. He installed a truck’s air horn and approached the spectators from the sky honking, the windshield wipers flapping, the turn signal blinking. “Everybody laughed their butts off,” he says. “Here was this airplane flying but looking like a car and sounding like a truck.” When he landed before the crowds, he immediately put the machine in reverse and backed up—something no airplane can do. “They thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen,” Kittinger says. “It was a spectacle.”
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 2:34 PM - 0 Comments
In 2006, a 13-year-old girl named Megan Meier hanged herself because of what was said about her on the Internet. The media dubbed it the “Myspace suicide,”‘ and it became the first major instance of “cyberbullying” to shock and outrage the world. The term, now infamous, typically describes an online swarm of invective and public shaming in which the vicious social dynamics of the school yard are amplified and rendered permanent by social media.
But that’s not what happened to Megan Meier. Meier wasn’t bullied by another teenager. She was the victim of a sadistic hoax, engineered by the mother of an estranged friend. The 47-year-old mother, Lori Drew, created a phony MySpace heartthrob, a fictional 16-year-old she called “Josh Evans.” Evans befriended Megan, flirted with her, and then suddenly turned on her. “You are a bad person,” wrote Drew as Evans, “and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life.” Megan Meier killed herself two days later.
Six years later, we are again trying to squeeze a complicated and disturbing case of abuse and manipulation of a minor into the “cyberbullying” box. We don’t yet know for certain who entrapped, extorted and exposed Amanda Todd. Individuals affiliating themselves with Anonymous have claimed that her tormenter is a 32 year-old B.C. man, and have posted documentation in support of this claim.
Whether this bears out or not, we know from Todd’s own tragic YouTube video that hers was not a simple case of high school social politics turned digital. A stranger coaxed her into flashing him online when she was 13. He captured her nude picture and tried using it to blackmail her into creating additional child pornography for him. When she refused, this stranger posted the original nude picture in places where her friends would see it. When Todd, ruined, changed schools, he tracked her down and exposed her all over again.
This set into motion a series of violent acts inflicted upon Todd, by herself and by others, ultimately leading to her suicide. Some of this abuse can certainly be called bullying.
But the full picture is much more insidious. It started with a stranger, presumably an adult, methodically victimizing a child for his sexual gratification and for the sake of cruelty itself.
“Cyberbullying” is an imprecise and easily manipulated term. A child making a negative comment about another child via email would fall afoul of many schools’ anti-cyberbullying policies. Using the same term to describe the crimes of a predatory child pornographer, which resulted in a girl’s death, is reductive and dangerous.
Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown
By Jesse Brown - Friday, October 12, 2012 at 12:05 PM - 0 Comments
From time to time I’ve argued that Julian Assange is an epic donkey whose ego, personal agenda, and lust for celebrity infamy supersede Wikileaks’ stated goal to “open governments.” Each time I’ve done so, I’ve been labelled an MSM (mainstream media) shill, an establishment hack working to discredit a disruptive but crucial voice. Whether these sentiments are expressed in comment sections or in emails to me, some invariably contain the phrase “We are Legion” and are signed, Anonymous.
Now, Anonymous (the amorphous Internet culture/movement often described as a “hacker group” ) has broken off with Wikileaks. Why? Because Julian Assange has opted to monetize the data he leaks. Millions of documents have been shoved behind a Wikileaks paywall. To see them, users are asked to whip out their credit cards and donate to Wikileaks (a.k.a. the Julian Assange legal defense fund). Another option is to tweet the donation form or post it to Facebook, in an attempt to take the fundraising campaign viral. It’s very tacky, it betrays Wikileaks’ mission, and it has pissed off Anonymous.
No one voice speaks for all of Anonymous, but the collective does have certain influential channels that dictate the mood of the horde. One of these, AnonymousIRC, broke with Wikileaks in a public statement:
[The Wikileaks mission] has been pushed more and more into the background, instead we only hear about Julian Assange, like he had dinner last night with Lady Gaga….The conclusion for us is that we cannot support anymore what Wikileaks has become – the One Man Julian Assange show.
By Peter Nowak - Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 12:33 PM - 0 Comments
The imbroglio that erupted earlier this week over Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawai is really quite funny. No really, it’s funny—and not at all scary, as some supposed experts would have us believe.
The company is being shut out of deals in the U.S. on fears that it may enable Chinese spying on Americans and the U.S. government. Security experts are also warning that Canada faces the same threat, given that Huawei has supplied a number of telecom companies here—including Telus, Bell, SaskTel and Wind—with their network equipment.
In fact, it looks like the Canadian government is strongly considering banning Huawei from bidding on national projects too, which only heightens the absurdity. Just about every phone and computer used in North America is made in China—should we start considering whether those too are bugged?
The fear-mongering is having its expected effect, with readers over on CBC predictably freaking out over the potential threat.
The problem is, there’s little proof of said threat while the fears themselves are totally bereft of logic.
By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
Yesterday, Heritage Minister James Moore announced that Canada has formally joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a group that is discussing a major trade agreement among us and Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam. The deal is at the negotiation stage now, but all countries at the table are expected to sign in late 2013.
Much of the chatter around TPP has focused on the impact it may have on Canada’s protected dairy and poultry industries. Beyond milk and chickens, TPP has other big implications. Among them are potentially disastrous new rules for the enforcement of intellectual property on the Internet.
By Jesse Brown - Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 2:20 PM - 0 Comments
If you expect privacy when you’re online, if you think you can anonymously use the Internet without the government finding out who you are and what you’ve accessed, then you’re being unreasonable. That’s what the Ontario Court of Appeals has said, making them the highest court in Canada to rule that privacy laws don’t protect Canadians’ names and addresses from warrantless requests by police.
The case in question, of course, involves child pornography. David Ward of Sudbury was convicted of possessing pornographic images and videos of children. Police found him after German authorities handed them an I.P. address linked to a Canadian Internet account, provided by Bell Sympatico. The cops took the I.P. number to Bell and told them it was a child porn case, and Bell handed over Ward’s name and address. With that, police were able to get a search warrant, which they used to seize Ward’s incriminating hard drive. The service agreement Ward had signed with Bell gave them the right to surrender his identity in the event of a criminal investigation, and, as we now know, no Canadian privacy law trumps that contract.
Why should we care? Locking up child porn users sounds like a good idea to most Canadians, and Ward’s case is unlikely to cause much of a stir. But that’s exactly why child porn cases are often used to set privacy-eroding precedents. Nobody wants to look like they don’t care about the suffering and exploitation of children, so it’s easy to ignore the larger implications of precedents set in the handling of pornography cases.
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Last week, SiriusXM showed off a slew of new products at an event in Toronto. The company’s new iOS and Android apps were on display. Any day now, subscribers will be getting the new app, which will finally give SiriusXM a proper tablet presence (untill now, the smartphone version has had to do). The service is also introducing a bunch of new features such as pausing music, starting a song from the beginning if you’ve tuned into it in the middle, and going back into programming by up to five hours after it’s been broadcast live.
I finally got hooked on satellite radio last year. Frustrated by the increasing number of ads and dwindling amount of music—much of which is overplayed, CanCon-enforced drivel—on the rest of radio. I haven’t looked back since. Indeed, nowadays I cringe when I get into a car without satellite radio.
It was with dismay, then, that I read a story this summer on SiriusXM’s financial troubles. The Canadian operation, majority owned by John Bitove (the same entrepreneur who runs cellphone provider Mobilicity), has asked regulators to decrease the amount of money it must funnel to Canadian content development. With losses having mounted over the seven years since Sirius and XM launched—they merged last year—is the company is in trouble?
I sat down with SiriusXM Canada chief executive Mark Redmond and discussed the company’s financial woes, as well as its general competitive situation. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation.