Archive for the ‘Red Herring articles’ category

Google Caught Tracking Your iPhone

March 3, 2012

By Matt Gallagher

Red Herring journalist

Yes, Google may well have been looking over your shoulder every time you surf your iPhone, iPad or MacBook, or anything using Safari for that matter.

The infraction was first discovered by Jonathan Mayer, a grad student at Stanford, who reported it to the Wall St. Journal. In addition to Google, Mayer identified Vibrant Media, Media Innovation Group, and PointRoll as companies that secretly circumvented Safari’s blocking of cookies. Unlike other web browsers, Safari blocks tracking cookies by default, and only accepts cookies temporarily from the current domain.

Normally, a plain HTTP request to put a cookie on a device would be either accepted (such as if Amazon wants to track your position on its site) or rejected (such as a third party like Google or Vibrant Media for tracking the websites you visit). Google needed to get beyond this coding wall for its Google+ feature that works similar to Facebook’s Like button, and installed a cookie to check if Safari users were logged into Google. It then circumvented Safari’s default setting excluding tracking by adding coding to some ads that made the browser think the user was filling out a form. Safari allows tracking in instances where the user interacts in some way, and Google fooled it with its own cookie survey.

Google closed that web loophole seven months ago, but somehow the tourniquet wasn’t tied properly around Safari. Each cookie installed was supposed to be temporary, but a technical quirk in Safari could sometimes result in an extensive collection of cookies that could survey the Safari user.

However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser,” Google said in defense of its snafu in a statement. “We didn’t anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers.”

How devious Google was with its hand caught in the cookie jar remains to be seen. It could be looked at as a more technical glitch, or a secret conspiracy to detect what you eat for breakfast. Either way, it’s a terrible PR blunder, as the move comes just as the company has come under heated scrutiny for changing its privacy policies.

Microsoft also tried to hitch a ride on the Google hating bandwagon, contending that Internet Explorer users were subject to the same cookie raid. However, their argument breaks apart like crumbs in milk when you take a good dunk.

When the IE team heard that Google had bypassed user privacy settings on Safari, we asked ourselves a simple question: is Google circumventing the privacy preferences of Internet Explorer users too?” Microsoft’s VP Dean Hachamovitch asked on a blog.
Yet it’s a question he already knew the answer to, clearly explained by the New York Times two years ago in a study that showed more than a third of sites visited by Explorer have a technical glitch that allows cookies to be installed. Its done by violating P3P protocol, rather outdated 2002 technology that even Facebook, in which Microsoft has invested, declines to follow because it’s as relevant as 8-track tape.

The organization that established P3P, the World Wide Web Consortium, suspended its work on this standard several years ago because most modern web browsers do not fully support P3P,” states Facebook’s Policy on P3P“As a result, the P3P standard is now out of date and does not reflect technologies that are currently in use on the web, so most websites currently do not have P3P policies.”

Google’s tracking of Safari, however, is certain to be its own jungle. It’s a long walk through the woods, and the lion’s in heat.

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Apple’s Bumper Solution

March 3, 2012

by Matt Gallagher

Red Herring Journalist

Figuring that most high-tech nuts won’t want to sport their new iPhone 4 wrapped up in duct-tape, Steve Jobs offered a more fashionable solution, though one that pretty much accomplishes the same thing. At a special press conference July 16, Jobs announced that Apple will provide free cases, either their own $29 Bumpers or one made by a third party chosen by the consumer. iPhone 4 users who have already purchased such products will be refunded for the case. The give-away lasts until Sept. 30, at which time Apple will consider a new strategy. Consumers also have the option to return their phone in 30 days for a full refund.

When Consumer Reports refused to recommend the iPhone 4 earlier this week because its lab tests confirmed that reception on the phone could be lost with a simple touch, recommending duct tape as a solution, the web has been in an uproar, wondering if a recall would be issued. Some users have posted demands for a recall; others jokingly predicted Apple would off free Bumper cases, but only in pink.

Experts blame the faulty signal on the phone’s redesigned antennae, built into the stainless steel band that rings the phone.

While a recall hasn’t been issued, the pink Bumper cases weren’t far off, though Jobs did not specify a color, nor did he specify that Apple nor the phone’s external antenna design was to blame for the problem. He continues to call the phone, “the best Apple has ever made,” but conceded that the lack of cases for the new iPhone may have contributed to complaints about its touchy reception. Jobs pointed out that only 20 percent of all iPhone 4 sales included cases, compared to the 80 percent of previous iPhone owners who bought cases.

Antennagate,” as Jobs coined the situation, “is not a unique problem to Apple.” He stated that the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the HTC Droid Eris and the Samsung Omnia II each had similar issues when they were first released.

The uproar over the sketchy signal “has been blown so out of proportion it’s incredible,” Jobs stated. Indeed, the situation has been the buzz of the Internet this week, with some bloggers comparing the PR blunder to that of BP. The problem has even made it to Congress. US Senator Charles Shumer, a Democrat from New York, wrote Jobs a public letter, calling Apple’s handling of the matter “insufficient,” challenging the company to address the issue “in a more straightforward manner.”

Still, 3 million iPhone 4s have been sold, and with less than one percent of consumers calling to complain and only 1.7 percent returning their phones, problems are relative. In fact, the new phone only drops one of out 100 additional calls than its predecessor, iPhone 3GS. What seems to be the biggest uproar is Apple’s handling of the problem. Bloomberg reported earlier this week that Jobs knew about the issue before the phone was released, alleging that management was been told about it by Apple’s antenna expert Ruben Caballero. Though Jobs described the story as “a crock,” Apple had suggested that as early as last month users simply buy a case or avoid touching the lower left corner, indicating they likely knew something was up.

So they’ll just give the cases away instead. It’s a lot cheaper than recalling every iPhone, a product that makes up 40 percent of Apple’s revenue.

Apple’s stock has taken a hit over the matter. The company’s shares have gone down 7.8 percent since June 23, a day before the iPhone 4 hit the market, despite record sales. Like the iPhone 4, markets can be touchy.

The Iris Has It

March 3, 2012

by Matt Gallagher

Red Herring Journalist

Is Big Brother here? See for yourself. Look him in the iris.

The biometrics R&D firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) announced plans today to roll out iris scanning technology to create, in its own words, “the most secure city in the world.” According to the technology news site Fast Company, it has partnered with Leon, one of the largest cities in Mexico boasting a population of more than 1 million people, to fill the city with eye scanners. Criminals will have their irises scanned automatically immediately upon processing, while scanning remains voluntary for law abiding citizens.

It’s the future. Welcome to it. Eye scanning technology is here, creating game changing implications for law enforcement, banks and marketers across the board. Within a decade, you’ll no longer have to carry your ID to the bar or your bank card to the ATM, as the truth of your identity will be right there in your eyeball.

Whenever residents in Leon use public transportation, visit a bank or ATM, they’ll have their irises scanned. Police will search a data base of collected iris scans, mostly from arrested criminals, that they will use to monitor activities potentially involving criminals. GRI is currently shipping scanning devices to the city, to be used by law enforcement forces at security checkpoints, detention areas and police stations in the first phase that will cost roughly $5 million. The second phase will take place in the next three years, as the scanners will be placed in banks, on mass transit and medical centers, as well as other public and private locales.

The major difference in GRI’s technology, as compared with previously existing iris scans, is speed and movement. While previous models took 30 seconds to scan an eye, GRI’s scans take less than a second, and can be done in motion. Devices range in size, some which can record the irises of 50 people per minute, to smaller scanners that can catch 15 to 30 people per minute. You can already picture  Winston Smith donning the dark glasses for his next date.

In certain spaces, eventually, you’ll be able to have maybe one sensor the size of a dime, in the ceiling, and it would acquire all of our irises in motion, at a distance, hundreds- probably thousands as computer power continues to increase- at a time,” said Jeff Carter, chief data officer of GRI, in a recent interview with Fast Company.

The technology has obvious potential at airport security checkpoints, but it can be applied across the board. It could feasibly be used to scan the eyes of commercial truckers, for instance, to decipher whether they’ve been driving on the road too long.

Aside from capturing the movements of criminals, the technology can also be used to track the movements of consumers.

But what’s important for advertisers is that this technology will determine your geo-location based on the iris acquisition and your spatial location,” Carter said. “Where are you in that space? And, based on how you are looking and moving, and your acceleration, what is your intent? In a retail environment, determining intent will be very important. Are you coming into the store? Are you leaving? Do you have packages? Are you looking at a sign? A sale? Matching that intent based on a lot of preferences that are all opt-in. …If you ever purchase signage at airports, they’ll give you lots of metrics on how many people walked past the sign each day. You can kind of guess what that means in terms of sales. It’s very nebulous. We’re going to make that very scientific.”

While privacy concerns already have the public twitching as information gleaned from sites like Facebook and FourSquare are used as consumer marketing demographics, this technology, like social media, isn’t going away. Like Facebook, the iris scans are optional, at least until you see the flashing red and blue. If an eye scan means you can leave your ID at home for the next happy hour, however, flashing the bartender your pretty blue eyes may just become another sign of the times.