January 26, 2008
Are Text Messages Private?
In some cases yes, and some cases no. An article in the Chicago Tribune surveys various wireless carrier policies in light of the scandal over romantic messages exchanged between the Mayor of Detroit and an aide. The Detroit Free Press has complete coverage on that, along with images of the messages. Oh what a tangled web we weave....
Florida School Officer on Hot Seat For Indirectly Linking to Porn on MySpace Page
There's a great story on what appears to be an investigation getting out of hand. Officer John Nohejl is the Gulf Middle School resource officer. He put up a MySpace page in order to communicate with students. Now he's being investigated because one of his "friends" has links to a legal adult site. Officer Nohejl is now being investigated because me may be making available adult content to underage children. The school, however, had a clip art page on its site that linked to a gay porn site. That link was taken down. No word, though, on whether the school's web master is on thin ice for not checking the veracity of the links on the page.
Wouldn't it make sense for Officer Nohejl to delete the friend once the offending links are brought to his attention? I hope they don't allow Google or Yahoo or Windows Live search on school computers as who knows what you might find in their search results. Shakespeare is studied in schools. He used the word strumpet in several of his plays. Make an unrestricted search on that term in Google and see what you get. Once you get past the definitions...some real word material may show up in three clicks. That's the same amount of clicks that go from Officer Nohejl's friend links to the objectionable content. Showing adult content to children is absolutely wrong. In this case, however, given the school's own lax oversight of their own page, they should conclude the investigation unless they find Officer Nohejl acted willfully.
More here from Wired.
Spectrum Auction News
The spectrum auction has gone three rounds now. Read the latest at PC World.
Can the Police Search Your Electronics In Public
Can your smartphone or laptop be searched incident to a traffic stop? Sounds unreasonable, but given Fourth Amendment law, it may not. Read the sticky details here.
January 24, 2008
Computer Can Identity Faces With 100% Accuracy
Being a face in the crowd usually confers some type of anonymity, but with technological developments that is changing. Face recognition software has the power to reduce that anonymity, though getting a computer to match a moving face in a variety of lighting conditions, angles, and with different grooming to a static picture requires enormous computing resources. Even with optical character recognition, an error rate of 6% per page would be high given the amount of time to correct each of those errors.
It comes with some interest, then, as ABC News describes a study by Rob Jenkins, a professor of psychology at the University of Glasgow that claims to have a system of 100% accuracy in facial recognition by a computer against images in a database. The underlying process uses an average of facial images as determined with 20 photos. The averaging washes out the variations and allows a computer to make accurate picks.
Aside from the new levels of accuracy, there are questions that remain of whether deploying surveillance systems such as this are an invasion of privacy. The notion of privacy in a public place is generally low. Governments use surveillance cameras all of the time, in high crime areas, at red lights, around certain types of installations, and other locations. Big Brother isn't exactly hiding behind the bushes. Does adding a "we know who you are" element change any of that?
What will really change is the value of a system to identify terrorists or criminal element in the open. That's where accuracy comes in. Mistakes may have legal consequences but even these may be minimized when official IDs such a passports and drivers licenses contain RFID chips with enough information that may cross reference identity. If that sounds scary, consider the REAL ID Act and its implications, the mandated passports containing these chips, and the precedent of cameras in public places. While governments will always take the high road on statements about protecting privacy, the privacy concerns will not stop a deployment of face recognition software once it hits an accuracy level that is useful to the government. So smile. You never know who's looking.
AT&T To Offer Free Wi-Fi to New and Existing Broadband Subscribers
AT&T is offering free Wi-Fi access to all but the lowest tier subscribers to an AT&T broadband subscriptions. The announcement came yesterday with details yet to come for subscribers as to how to access the AT&T hot spots. The press release is here. While we're at it, AT&T also received an Emmy award earlier in the month for the invention of coaxial cable in 1929 and patented in 1934. The award is in the category of Technology and Engineering. Perhaps George Westinghouse will win an Emmy next year for the invention of alternating current. Television couldn't exist without it.
January 22, 2008
How Much Tax Do You Pay on Your Cell Phone Bill?
Here's another one of those stupid things in life. Some states are prohibiting wireless carriers from disclosing the amount of state taxes paid on cell phone service. The net effect is hiding charges in a bill. Wireless carriers would like to do otherwise to show their fees compared to the state tax. The FCC stated that this violates federal law, but the 11th Circuit sent the issue back to the FCC to reconsider their position. The Supreme Court just turned the case down (2008 WL 169427). The lower court case is National Ass'n of State Utility Consumer Advocates v. F.C.C., 468 F.3d 1272 (11th Cir. Oct 03, 2006).
Read more here.
FBI Warns of New Cyberscam
There's a new twist to getting personal information out of people these days. Emails that claim to be a bank or other institution give phone numbers for the unwary to call and resolve whatever "problem" was stated in the email. The email usually states that the sender would never ask for information via email. Very clever. Details are here from Ars Technica and here from the FBI.
January 21, 2008
Fights Staged for YouTube Videos
Who would have thought that fight videos posted to YouTube are the rage among teenagers and young adults? Who would have thought that some of these video are actually staged by some individuals to promote a their own bravado for one reason or another? That is apparently the case as detailed in a report from the Chicago Tribune of five eighth graders at Benjamin Middle School in West Chicago. They staged a fake fight in the school bathroom for later posting on YouTube. They were caught by previewing the video on the cell phone they used to record the incident. Could it be that you can't believe everything you see on the web? Is the Internet going the way of wrestling? Read the details here.